Hector Neris walked through the bullpen door, smacked his glove against his thigh and charged to the mound.
The Phillies had a lead to protect in the ninth inning of Friday's 4-3 win over Atlanta. And for the second straight night, Neris was the one called to protect it. He looked like a closer as he jogged to the mound. He pitched like one, too, nailing down the save after a 24-minute rain delay. But don't call him a closer just yet.
"I'm not naming him the closer," manager Pete Mackanin said before the game. "Like I said, it is nice to have two guys that I feel comfortable with in the ninth inning."
Neris made his trek to the mound and was met almost immediately by a quick-moving thunderstorm that enveloped Citizens Bank Park. Play continued, and a drenched Neris yielded a leadoff homer to Adonis Garcia, which sent the game into a delay as the storm continued. You can blame his homer on the rain.
The righthander returned after the delay and retired three of the five batters he faced. He recorded two quick outs before allowing a pair of singles and working a full count against Tyler Flowers. Neris made it interesting but ended the game with a strikeout on his vaunted splitter.
"When he throws that split and throws it well, he's the best man for the job in my opinion," Mackanin said after the team's third win in four games.
"The game is the game no matter what inning," Neris said. "I can pitch in the eighth or the ninth. Call me, and I'm going."
Mackanin's other guy - Joaquin Benoit - pitched a scoreless eighth, which was highlighted by a fantastic running catch by Odubel Herrera. He tracked down a deep fly ball, reached up to grab it and then crashed into the wall. It was a catch worthy of one of Herrera's bat flips. Perhaps he should have flipped his mitt.
Jeremy Hellickson provided the lead for Neris and Benoit to protect, allowing just two runs in seven innings. The righthander allowed three hits, struck out five and walked none. He has walked one or zero batters in five of his last six starts dating back to last season.
It was Hellickson's first start since Clay Buchholz had surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon, which likely ended his season. The Phillies packed both veterans in their rotation this season with hopes to flip them for prospects at the trade deadline. Buchholz' value is gone, while Hellickson's seems to grow with each start. He has a 1.88 ERA in his first four starts this season.
Hellickson needed just 90 pitches to finish seven innings, ending the inning with his fifth strikeout of the night. He retired the first nine batters he faced before running into trouble in the fourth when Ender Inciarte doubled to start the inning. Hellickson buckled down, averting the damage and allowing just one run. His other run came on a homer in the sixth by Freddie Freeman, one of the National League's premier first baseman. Hellickson was in control.
"For me, it's keeping the ball down, mixing it up, throwing my offspeed in fastball counts and trying to get weak contact," Hellickson said. "I feel good. Fastball command is better than it's been in a long time. They're just down. Not missing up too often. Just have to keep that up."
The offense was keyed by Cesar Hernandez, who finished with three hits, and Cameron Rupp and Aaron Altherr, both of whom had two hits. Joseph, Altherr, Freddy Galvis and Maikel Franco each drove in a run. Altherr went 2 for 4 in his second straight multi-hit game as he looks to capitalize on increased playing time while Howie Kendrick is on the disabled list.
"I'm just approaching it as going out and having fun and try to help the team win," Altherr said. "It's unfortunate for Howie that he got the injury, and hopefully he can get back as soon as possible. But I'm just going to have fun, make the most out of it and hopefully get some wins."
Neris still needs work if he is indeed the team's closer. He entered the game to the steel drums that are played during the ballpark's "Bongo Cam." The track quickly changed to a Lenny Kravitz jam. Neris has still not picked out his entrance song. After all, he's technically not the closer. But Neris said he has a song in mind.
"It's a secret," Neris said as he roared in laughter and put a cap on another save.