Behold the redemptive powers of baseball.
The Phillies got back to work Sunday afternoon, just a few short hours after blowing a late lead and losing to the Washington Nationals the night before. Maikel Franco made a damaging error in the eighth inning of that game and Hector Neris gave up a fatal two-run homer with two outs in the ninth.
This time, Franco and Neris were among the stars of the Phillies’ 4-3 win over the Nationals.
Neris got back on the horse and struck out the side in the top of the ninth inning of a tie game and Franco delivered a one-out solo homer to left in the bottom of the frame to give the Phils the walk-off win in front of a sellout crowd on Big Piece Day at Citizens Bank Park.
The home run was Franco’s 15th of the season and 100th of his career.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Franco, who has lost his job, regained his job and generally endured a series of ups and downs over the last couple of seasons while never losing his upbeat personality.
Manager Gabe Kapler channeled Burgess Meredith in praising Franco.
“You’re going to get punched and you’re going to fall down and you’re going to hit the mat,” Kapler said. “It’s how quickly you can get back up and how hard you hit back. Mikey had an error that hurt us yesterday. But he bounced back today. He really showed the resilience and toughness we talk about.”
Neris could be added to that list.
Jake Arrieta, too.
The right-hander made his first start since it was confirmed that he has been pitching (poor recently) with a bone spur in his elbow. Arrieta couldn’t say if it was icepick pain or toothache pain, but it hurts. He pitched through the discomfort and gave his team five innings of one-run ball and left with a lead. Ultimately, the Phils will need more than five innings from Arrieta or else it’s going to expose the bullpen. But for a team that desperately needed a win Sunday, Arrieta gave the club something to feel good about.
“I feel like from this point on it’s going to be tough each and every time I go out there, but I can deal with pain and I’m going to do the best I can to continue to go out there and give my team a chance to win every fifth day,” Arrieta said.
Arrieta’s velocity was at 93 mph early in the game and it was down to 91 by the fifth inning. He threw 88 pitches. He is not able to throw many cutters because it hurts his elbow. He believes he can get by with sinkers, curveball and changeups. He did Sunday.
“It’s going to be painful,” Arrieta said. “The good thing is I’m not going to injure it any further. I want to pitch for the guys in this clubhouse.
“To have 40,000 people in the seats and people watching you on TV and a team competing on the other side, I don’t care how painful it is, it’s always fun.
“I think collectively everyone should realize I’m not 100 percent and I’m OK with that. I’m going to do everything I can do to be as good as I can for our team and help us shrink the margin down the stretch and hopefully get back in the race for winning the division.”
The Phillies have lost miles of ground over the last six weeks, from leading the NL East by 3 ½ games over Atlanta and 10 games over Washington to trailing both. The Phils entered Sunday 8 ½ games out of first place.
The Phils’ slide and struggles led club president Andy MacPhail to say on Friday that the team was more than one piece away from winning a World Series — he is right, by the way — and that would be reflected in the club’s conservative approach to giving up prospects in trades later this month (see story).
Arrieta did not have any qualms with what MacPhail said. He believes he shares a clubhouse with the answers to the Phillies’ problems.
"We need some more out of our starting pitchers collectively, but I believe we can do it,” Arrieta said. “You look at the way we started the season. We were winning a ton of games really consistently. I think the group in here can do it. We just need more productivity out of some of our guys. It’s plain and simple. It’s easy to always look outside for the solution. It might be cliché, but we have the guys here that can continue to win on a consistent basis. We just need to perform and that’s really all there is to it.”
The Phillies’ performance over the last six weeks does not exactly inspire confidence. Neither does the arrival of the mighty Dodgers on Monday night. But at least Sunday was a tiny step in the right direction, a nice respite from some of the dreck the team has provided in recent weeks.
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