Everything goes right for Phillies as they beat one of baseball's best pitchers

Everything goes right for Phillies as they beat one of baseball's best pitchers


A lot of things have to go right for a bad team to snap an eight-game losing streak against a pitcher who finished in the top five of the American League Cy Young voting each of the last four seasons and might end up winning it this season.

And a lot of things did go right for the Phillies on Thursday night as they rallied for a 1-0 win over lefty Chris Sale and the Boston Red Sox (see Instant Replay), salvaging one game of a home-and-home interleague series that saw the Sox win twice in Boston on walk-off hits in extra innings and take the first game in Philadelphia, 7-3, on Wednesday.

Among the pluses that the Phillies strung together in winning their first ballgame in more than a week:

• Starting pitcher Nick Pivetta looked a lot closer to the guy who dominated at Triple A than the guy who struggled with his control in his first six big-league starts. The right-hander scattered four hits over seven shutout innings and struck out nine. He walked just two, a big improvement after he'd walked 16 in his first 29 1/3 innings.

• The defense was outstanding. Second baseman Howie Kendrick and leftfielder Daniel Nava combined to save three runs behind Pivetta with big plays.

• The relief pitching was on point. Pat Neshek's 25th inning of the season — he's allowed just two runs — might have been his best as he struck out dangerous Dustin Pedroia then got Xander Bogaerts to pop out to keep the game knotted at 0-0 in the eighth. Neshek got both of those outs with a man on third.

• The Phillies only had four hits on the night, but two of them were clutch — Andrew Knapp's one-out single off Sale in the bottom of the eighth and Ty Kelly's go-ahead, pinch-hit double that scored the game's only run one batter later (see story).

• The base running was also good as Knapp sprinted 270 feet from first base to score on Kelly's double. Third base coach Juan Samuel made a good call waving Knapp aggressively when he read a poor throw from leftfielder Andrew Benintendi.

That's a lot of good stuff from a team not known for good stuff.

"Boy, that was nice to see," manager Pete Mackanin said after the game. "We played those guys tough the whole series and we could have won a couple more."

One is better than none.

The win left the Phillies at 22-43. Despite having the worst mark in the majors, Phillies players buzzed with excitement after the game.

"That's an All-Star on the mound over there," said Knapp, reminding folks what pitcher the Phillies beat. "Going punch for punch with him gives us a lot of confidence. It's a pretty sweet win."

Sale struck out 10.

Pivetta had four 1-2-3 innings. He issued both of his walks in the second inning when things could have fallen apart for him if it weren't for Kendrick's tremendous diving play on a bases-loaded ball up the middle.

"Huge play," said the grateful Pivetta. "If that ball gets through, we're behind one or two runs and that's really hard against a guy like Sale. Just phenomenal. And Nava's play, too."

Nava gunned down a potential run at the plate in the fifth.

The game turned in the eighth, first with Neshek's work — he allowed a leadoff double and pitched out of trouble — then with the two improbable offensive heroes, Knapp and Kelly.

Knapp broke his bat on his single to left against Sale. That was a good thing because it allowed the ball to die in front of leftfielder Benintendi. Kelly's go-ahead double came on a breaking ball. He lined it into the left-field corner. Two nights earlier in Boston, Samuel had the potential tiebreaking run snuffed out at the plate on a throw from Benintendi. That was also in the eighth inning. This time, Samuel found redemption. It helped that Benintendi missed the cutoff man.

"Same kind of situation, exactly," Samuel said. "As you know, we're not scoring a lot of runs and we're not winning a whole lot of games. So in a situation like that you have to push the envelope a little bit.

"I was reading the throw and once I saw him overthrow the cutoff man, that had something to do with the decision also. But at the same time, we're facing Chris Sale. How many runs are we going to get? So you have to take some chances."

Is this the win that finally gets the Phillies going?

Who knows? Really, at this point it's reasonable to wonder if they are even capable of getting going. They put up a modest four-game win streak early last week then proceeded to lose eight in a row.

So maybe the thing to do is just enjoy this one, hope that Pivetta's outing was a sign of real growth, and get ready to play the Arizona Diamondbacks as they come in for the weekend.

MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

USA Today Images

MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and the Chicago Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to held the defending World Series champion Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Manager Joe Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (see full recap).

Tanaka, Yankees blank Astros to take ALCS lead
NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and the New York Yankees finally solved Houston Astros nemesis Dallas Keuchel, beating the ace lefty 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home and move within one victory of their first trip to the World Series since 2009.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

Just days ago, Houston was up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home in this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans (see full recap).

MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

USA Today Images

MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge ignited a rousing rally with a home run, then doubled during a four-run eighth inning to spur the New York Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and level the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Yankees trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored on Gary Sanchez's go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

The Yankees have rallied from a second straight 0-2 series deficit -- they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth, and New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs.

Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday and rematch of the opener, won by the Astros 2-1 (see full recap).

Dodgers on brink of World Series after shutout
CHICAGO -- Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a commanding 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive playoff win. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip -- on a long foul ball in the first inning.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd NL pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since their last championship in 1988. Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. The lineup is patient and pesky and the pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline (see full recap).