ST. LOUIS -- How many times have you seen it over the last decade of mostly losing seasons and completely playoff-less baseball?
The Phillies rally, get a late lead, then implode under the weight of poor defense and poor bullpen work.
Not this time.
The Phillies survived a pressure-packed ninth inning to beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 1-0, at Busch Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
"It felt like playoff baseball a little bit, I guess," said Alec Bohm, who endured a ninth-inning trip through the meat grinder only to come out as filet mignon. "I've never experienced it, but it's kind of what you imagine."
There was so much to this one, so much to the ninth inning, let's start with an important big-picture fact:
The Phils, now 25-10 since June 1 and a season-high seven games over .500, have opened this series with two straight wins to go two games up on the Cardinals for control of the third and final National League wild-card spot. There's a lot of baseball left, plenty of time to go up or down in the standings, but if the Phils find themselves tied with the Cardinals for a wild-card berth at the end of the season, they will prevail because they have won the season series. The Phils are 4-1 against the Cardinals with two games to play, Sunday and Monday. (The Phils have also won their season series with Milwaukee, another team that could be in the wild-card picture.)
The Phils will lean on their bullpen to get them through Sunday afternoon's game. Right-hander Nick Nelson will start. Lefty Cristopher Sanchez will be in play, as well. The bullpen has been sensational over the last 16 games (just four earned runs in 50 innings for a 0.72 ERA) and it was again in nailing down Saturday's win. The starting rotation has also shined lately, especially against the Cardinals. The Phils have beaten the Cardinals three times in three games this calendar week. All three have been shutout wins. Zack Wheeler has twice delivered seven shutout innings. Kyle Gibson, rebounding from two poor starts, pitched seven shutout innings Saturday.
Cardinals righty Dakota Hudson matched zeroes with Gibson through six innings. The game was scoreless entering the ninth. Manager Rob Thomson thought about pinch-hitting for Darick Hall against lefty Genesis Cabrera in the seventh -- Hall had not faced a lefty in his week in the big leagues -- but decided against it because he wanted to keep Hall's bat in the lineup for later in the game.
"It crossed my mind," Thomson said. "But I know he's coming back in the ninth. It worked out. Sometimes it doesn't, but it worked out today."
It worked out because Hall stroked a leadoff double in the ninth against Giovanny Gallegos. The Phils turned that into the game's only run after a bunt hit by Didi Gregorius and a sacrifice fly by Bohm, the same guy who homered twice in Friday night's 2-0 win.
With Seranthony Dominguez unavailable, Thomson asked Corey Knebel to get the final three outs for the first time since he lost the closer's job. Knebel did it, but he had to survive a walk and a Bohm error to do so. He got the final three outs with a man on third and the final two with men on second and third.
The big plays in the inning were a strikeout of dangerous Nolan Arenado (Knebel capped a nine-pitch showdown by freezing Arenado with a curveball) for the first out and a super heads-up play by first baseman Rhys Hoskins and second baseman Bryson Stott on a Dylan Carlson ground ball. Juan Yepez, the potential tying run, froze at third on the play -- Hoskins said he was surprised Yepez did not break for home -- and Knebel did not break to cover first. But Stott alertly covered the base and the Phils got the out, 3-4 on your scorecard. Knebel then got Corey Dickerson on a fly ball to right to end the game.
Bohm has only been around for three seasons, but he knows the Phillies have lost plenty of games like this. He's lived through some. And after his error ...
"Fans see something like that happen and think they've seen this movie before," he said. "You see where it's heading. But then Corey comes up big and gets Arenado. You see that and you're like, 'All right, we've got a chance to get out of this.'
"Darick had that big double. Didi gets a bunt hit, and I get one deep enough to score a run. Then I turn around in the bottom half of the inning and I make a pretty crucial mistake. But that's what this team does. We pick each other up. Corey was there to pick me up. Rhys and Stotter made a big play and we got out of it."
Hoskins has also lived through games like this, games that the Phillies have lost.
"They've done it to us," he said of the Cardinals.
"I've obviously never played in October," Hoskins continued, "but those types of innings, those types of situations, especially on the road -- it's probably our best chance to feel (what October is like) before we get there."
Consider it a test passed.
"Everybody kept their composure and did a good job," Thomson said.