There was no way the Phillies were winning this game, right? Seriously, best team in the majors against one of the worst. Nick Pivetta carried a 6.75 ERA into his start — that's the fifth-highest ever by a Phillies pitcher in a season in which he'd pitched at least 110 innings — and he was facing one of the best pitchers in the game in Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night.
Kershaw, a three-time National League Cy Young award winner, entered with the best ERA in the majors — 2.12 — and he'd allowed just one run in 31 innings in his previous four starts against the Phillies.
What's more, five players in the Phillies' lineup had never faced Kershaw, and usually, the advantage goes to the pitcher in those situations.
So what happens?
The Phillies win the game, 4-3, and one of those players who'd never faced Kershaw accounts for all the runs with a grand slam, the first one that Kershaw has allowed in his career (see observations).
"That's obviously pretty special to be the first one to do that," said Aaron Altherr, who provided the grand slam in the bottom of the sixth inning. It turned a 2-0 Phillies' deficit into a 4-2 lead.
"I definitely don't take it for granted. He's obviously a really good pitcher. I just thank God I was able to get a pitch to hit."
"You try to make it just another game when you face him, but deep down you know it's really not because of how good he is and how good he's been over the years. He's a future Hall of Famer. So it's definitely awesome to be able to play against a guy like that."
And beat him.
"Boy, that was fun, any time you beat Kershaw, it’s really nice to see," manager Pete Mackanin said.
Kershaw is now 17-4 with a 2.26 ERA.
While Altherr's grand slam was the big blow, it wasn't the only important contribution from the Phillies' side.
Pivetta (6-10) allowed a pair of solo homers on the first five pitches of the game — one was a leadoff, inside-the-park homer to Chris Taylor — but settled down nicely and followed with five scoreless innings to give his team a chance.
Pivetta, who'd allowed 13 runs in 10 innings in his previous two starts, gave up just two hits (both singles) and a walk after the first inning. He finished with eight strikeouts. His stingy work over his final five innings kept the Phillies in the game until Altherr's heroics with two outs in the sixth.
"The thing I like about him is he really thinks he’s good, he really believes in himself," Mackanin said of Pivetta. "He didn’t quit and he keeps battling, that’s the thing I like about him the most, along with his stuff."
The Phillies' decisive sixth inning against Kershaw started with a pinch-hit walk by Ty Kelly and included a one-out single by Freddy Galvis and a two-out, full-count walk by Rhys Hoskins. Altherr followed with his grand slam.
"It was nice to do something like that but it honestly wasn't all me," Pivetta said. "I wouldn't have gotten that win if Altherr hadn't hit that grand slam and it wouldn't even have started if Ty didn't get that walk and Freddy didn't get that hit and we didn't get another walk, so the guys putting up good ABs in that situation was really nice to see. This win goes out to the team around me and not just me. I mean, yes, I put in five shutout innings after that, but just having those guys pick me up at the end, I think that's what really contributed to this win. It was a nice little boost because I haven't been doing the best lately."
Altherr's grand slam came on a hanging, 1-1 slider. It came off the bat at 107 mph and landed 418 feet from home plate in the second deck above left field.
"I was just telling myself not to get beat," Altherr said. "The first two at-bats, I got jammed. I just wanted to make sure I got the head out. I think he threw me a slider again. I was finally able to get the barrel to it."
The bullpen made the lead stand up, though Hector Neris allowed a solo homer to Curtis Granderson in the ninth to make it a one-run game. Back on April 29, Neris allowed three ninth-inning homers to blow a lead at Dodger Stadium. It was one of the Phillies' worst losses of the season.
"I thought about that right at the start of the inning," Mackanin admitted. "I’m sure he was thinking about it. But the thing I liked about him is he looked like he was eager to go right after the hitters, even when he gave up the home run, he didn’t back off. He went right after them, which was nice to see."