MILWAUKEE — Just when you thought the Phillies ran out of magic, or interim manager Rob Thomson left his pixie dust at home, they authored their most improbable victory of the season against the most unhittable closer in baseball.
Down to their last three outs Tuesday night, trailing by one run, and facing the Milwaukee Brewers’ Josh Hader, the Phillies got solo home runs from Alec Bohm and just-promoted Matt Vierling, then held on as closer Corey Knebel white-knuckled through the bottom of the ninth in a 3-2 victory in the opener of a three-game series at American Family Field.
You read that right. Bohm, who entered with 14 homers in 727 career at-bats, and Vierling, who woke up Tuesday in Omaha, Neb., went deep against Hader, who hadn’t allowed a run in 40 appearances dating to last July, tied with Houston’s Ryan Pressly for the major-league record.
“Somebody’s got to get him at some point, right?” Bohm said amid a rollicking, bass-thumping clubhouse. “Why not us?”
Sure, why not? The Phillies were 22-29 and 12 games out of first place last Friday when president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski fired manager Joe Girardi and replaced him with Thomson because, well, why not? Things could only get better, right?
So, make it five wins in a row for the Phillies, the last four coming on Thomson’s watch. It’s their longest winning streak of the season, and Thomson is the first Phillies manager to go 4-0 in his first four games since Dallas Green, who took over for Danny Ozark midway through the 1979 season.
The latest victory came at the expense of Hader, who was 18-for-18 in save opportunities and had faced 142 batters since allowing a home run 341 days earlier.
“Everybody knows what Hader’s doing,” Thomson said. “He’s one of the best in the game right now, so to do that off of him is pretty special.”
Once again, it was two young, homegrown players who lifted the Phillies to a rousing win.
Two days after rookie Bryson Stott’s three-run walk-off homer sent Citizens Bank Park into a state of delirium, Bohm connected on a 96 mph sinker and drove it over the fence in left-center field to tie the game. It was his first home run since May 21 and only his second since April 28.
Bohm said he got a quick scouting report from Nick Castellanos, who faced Hader often over the last few seasons with the Cincinnati Reds.
“He told me, ‘Hey, you’ve got to try and pull him,’” Bohm said. “That’s not something I really normally do. I’m thankful for him, I guess.”
Vierling got called up from triple A earlier in the day to give the Phillies an extra player on the bench. He flew from Omaha to Chicago, then took a car service to Milwaukee and arrived at about 2 p.m.
Thomson resisted the urge to send the right-hand hitting Vierling to the plate for lefty-swinging Mickey Moniak in the sixth inning against nasty lefty reliever Hoby Milner, a decision that paid off when Moniak’s turn to bat came up against Hader. Up stepped Vierling, who fouled off a two-strike sinker, waited for a slider, and hit it out to left-center, his first MLB homer since Oct. 1 of last year in his first major-league at-bat since May 10.
“Yeah, that just kind of happened,” said Vierling, who seemed numb, exhausted, or both. “Just a whirlwind. Getting to come back, getting the opportunity, and doing that? It’s pretty cool.”
Until the ninth inning, the Phillies were mostly muted. After scoring 32 runs in their previous four games, they were held to only one on a sacrifice fly by Bryce Harper. Otherwise, they left seven runners on base through five innings, wasting one opportunity after another against Brewers rookie starter Jason Alexander.
In the first inning, the Phillies had two on and nobody out. They didn’t score. In the second, they had a runner on third and one out. They didn’t score. In the fifth, they loaded the bases with one out. They didn’t score, as J.T. Realmuto smoked a ball to third base that the Brewers turned for a double play.
Leading 2-1, the Brewers pulled Alexander after five innings and passed the baton from Milner to Brad Boxberger to Devin Williams and finally to Hader. The outcome hardly seemed to be in doubt.
But Thomson’s Phillies haven’t run out of magic yet.
Why not them?
“It’s a loose group of guys that’s just playing together and having fun,” Bohm said. “Guys aren’t worried about their stats. Guys aren’t trying to do this or that. Everybody is just playing together, trying to win. I think we’re just having a lot of fun. Everybody is kind of coming together.
“With all the talent we have, it’s hard to say the luck we were having wasn’t going to turn. We just kept at it, kept working, put our heads down and kept fighting. And now we’re seeing a little bit of reward from it. We’re stringing together a few wins.”
Knebel hangs on
Knebel made things interesting yet again.
The struggling closer issued a leadoff walk to Andrew McCutchen and back-to-back two-out walks to Victor Caratini and pinch-hitting Jace Peterson. But Pablo Reyes couldn’t hold up on a 95 mph fastball, and the game was over.
Before the game, Thomson said he intends to stick with Knebel in the ninth inning, even though he allowed runs in three of his previous four appearances.
Stung by the shift
Ranger Suárez got back on track after three consecutive poor starts. In particular, the lefty exhibited improved command and increased efficiency, working into the seventh inning for only the second time in 11 starts.
But both Brewers runs were aided by hits that beat the Phillies’ defensive shift.
In the first inning, lefty-hitting Christian Yelich reached on a grounder to the uncovered left side of the infield, then scored all the way from first base on McCutchen’s double down the left-field line. In the fourth, Yelich did it again, stroking a leadoff single through the left side. He went to second on a wild pitch and scored two batters later on Rowdy Tellez’s two-out double to left field on a hanging sinker.
Didi looks sharp
Making his first start since May 4, shortstop Didi Gregorius reached base three times.
Gregorius drove a one-out triple off center fielder Tyrone Taylor’s glove in the second inning. He reached on an error by Brewers second baseman Keston Hiura in the fourth inning and drew an eight-pitch leadoff walk in the sixth.