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.