BOSTON — Jake Arrieta returned to the Phillies' dugout after allowing a run in the sixth inning here Tuesday night when manager Gabe Kapler sat down beside him to discuss possibly taking him out of the game.
"Jake almost demanded the ball," Kapler said. "He was adamant that he'd take down that inning."
Kapler turned 43 on Tuesday, and if age has taught him anything during his rookie season as a major-league manager, it is to occasionally yield to his players. And so he sent Arrieta back to the mound for the seventh inning. Seven pitches later, Arrieta was back in the dugout having plowed through the bottom of the Boston Red Sox's high-scoring lineup, punctuating a dominant performance in a 3-1 victory at sold-out Fenway Park.
"It had a playoff feel to it," leftfielder Rhys Hoskins said. "That's the best team in baseball. We went toe-to-toe with them both games and came out on top tonight. And I think getting some experience with that intensity in a baseball game, in this kind of stadium, with these kind of fans, that kind of atmosphere, is good for us."
The Phillies snapped a four-game losing skid and finished July with a 59-48 record. They will begin August in first place for the first time since 2011 and the 11th time in franchise history. They have reached the postseason in all but two of those seasons, 1964 and 1982 being the exceptions.
Earlier in the day, general manager Matt Klentak pulled off a pair of trades to aid the team during the stretch run. He acquired two-time all-star catcher Wilson Ramos, who figures to boost the offense once he finally returns from a strained left hamstring, and lefty specialist Aaron Loup for the bullpen.
One thing the Phillies did not do: add a starting pitcher. While other NL contenders made moves for starting pitching, Klentak insisted he's "really excited" about the Phillies' rotation. And he could submit the last two nights at Fenway served as Exhibits A and B for why his optimism, at least about the top of the rotation, is rooted in fact.
After Aaron Nola threw a gem against the Red Sox in an extra-innings loss Monday night, Arrieta backed him up with seven sparkling innings. The Red Sox have the highest-scoring offense in baseball, averaging 5.29 runs per game. But Nola and Arrieta combined to hold them to two runs on 10 hits in 15 innings, delivering the kind of 1-2 punch that no team — even a Red Sox juggernaut that has won 75 of its first 109 games — wants to see in October.
"I think it's pretty standard for them, especially Nola," Hoskins said. "Showed no fear, both of these guys. Jake's done it before, obviously on the biggest stage. To get what we got from him tonight, that's why you get a guy like that."
This was vintage Arrieta. The offense supported him with solo runs in the second and fourth innings. But he leaned on his signature sinker, throwing it 46 times out of 94 pitches. He got 66 strikes, 10 on swings and misses. And he got stronger as the game wore on, retiring the Red Sox on 12 pitches in the fifth inning and seven in that seventh inning he wanted so much.
"We had a conversation about it. I told him, 'I've got everything,'" said Arrieta, who finished July with a 2.80 ERA in six starts after posting a 6.66 ERA in June. "I was honest. If I was dragging, if I didn't have command of an off-speed pitch that I was going to need against a couple lefthanded hitters, I'd probably tell him, 'Let's go to Tommy [Hunter] there.' But I had it going and I felt confident I could get through that inning without having to exit early. I felt like going back out was the right decision."
Probably the best one that Kapler made on his birthday.