Phillies

Jake Arrieta was not the star Tuesday night, but he delivered in his most important start as a Phillie

Jake Arrieta was not the star Tuesday night, but he delivered in his most important start as a Phillie

Jake Arrieta made his 45th start with the Phillies on Tuesday night. It might have been his most important and here’s why:

The veteran right-hander had pitched poorly in his previous two starts, both losses in California on the team’s last road trip. He gave up 10 runs in 9 2/3 innings in those two losses and was tagged for a whopping 17 hits, including five homers.

And that brings us to Tuesday night and Arrieta’s start against the Arizona Diamondbacks. One night earlier, the D-backs had crushed Phillies pitching for eight homers and 13 runs. So this didn’t figure to be a good matchup for the Phillies — a struggling Arrieta, his sinker recently missing up in the zone and screaming, “Hit me!” against a thunderous lineup like Arizona’s. What’s more, a loss could cost the Phillies their share of first place in the NL East. Yeah, it’s only June 11, way too early to panic, but tumbling out of first place after living there since April 26 would have been a blow to the Phillies, even if only symbolically.

So this was all a little gut check for Arrieta.

And he delivered.

He wasn’t the star of the game.

He didn’t pitch his best game.

Far from it.

But he delivered. Six innings. Three runs.

And the Phillies stopped a two-game losing skid with a 7-4 victory (see observations). They awakened Wednesday still in first place with a chance to win a series.

“One of the best assets you can have in this game is a short memory,” Arrieta said. “You have a tough loss like we had last night, set a record for homers combined. It was a tough one but we have the ability here, collectively as a team, to show up on any given day and win a game regardless of what happened the night before.

“I just wanted to be efficient down in the zone and if I missed, missing down is ideal. If you miss over the heart of the plate, elevated, with fastballs against a team like this they’re going to find the seats so that was definitely in the back of my mind.”

Arrieta continued to struggle with walks. He issued four of them and gave up six hits for 10 base runners. But he limited damage. He was clutch in the sixth when he protected a three-run lead by getting the last two outs of the frame with two runners on base. Manager Gabe Kapler considered going to the bullpen in that situation, but decided to stick with Arrieta with the game possibly on the line.

“We knew we had J.D. Hammer out there,” Kapler said. “He might be a guy who could get a strikeout for us. And we all kept thinking to ourselves, 'Jake's probably the best option for the next couple of hitters.' Just because he's so poised. He was determined to get through that inning and give us a chance to win.”

That’s what starting pitching is all about: Giving your team a chance to win. Keeping your team in the game so the bats have a chance.

The Phils’ bats produced a dozen hits, including a three-run homer by Scott Kingery. That’s three homers in two games for the Phoenix native against his hometown team. Jay Bruce and Bryce Harper also had important run-scoring hits.

“There's an extra edge going against your hometown team,” Kingery said. “I grew up watching them play and it's fun to hit some home runs to beat them."

Kapler did a little gushing about Kingery, who is hitting .324 with 7 homers and a .995 OPS in 108 at-bats.

“The development of Scott Kingery and how far he’s come in the last calendar year … I just think it's worth noting that he's been sensational for us so far this year,” Kapler said.

You know who else has been sensational? Hector Neris. He capped off a good night’s work by the bullpen — one run in three innings — by racking up his 14th save in as many chances.

“It's worth noting that Hector has also been off-the-charts good for a calendar year,” Kapler said. “I know that the All-Star voting has begun. I know that this is a bit out of the fans' control, but Hector Neris is deserving of that kind of nod in my opinion.”

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Bryce Harper fumes at umpire as Phillies lose more ground to put winning season in peril

Bryce Harper fumes at umpire as Phillies lose more ground to put winning season in peril

After a homestand that saw them lose four of six games, and with a killer, 11-game road trip looming, the question no longer seems to be will the Phillies make the playoffs, it’s will they even have a winning season?

They have done neither since 2011.

Making the playoffs became the longest of long shots after the Phils lost a pair of games over the weekend to the Boston Red Sox. The Sox completed a two-game sweep with a 6-3 win on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies scored just four runs in the series. Only two of their 12 hits were for extra bases and they struck out a staggering 25 times.

Twenty-freaking-five.

With 14 games remaining, the Phils are 4 ½ games back in the NL wild-card race and their overall record is 76-72. They need to go at least 6-8 to finish with a winning record and that won’t be easy with this remaining schedule:

Three games in Atlanta.

Three games at Cleveland.

Five games at Washington.

Three games at home against Miami.

Atlanta, Cleveland and Washington entered Sunday a combined 74 games over .500 and Miami gives the Phillies fits.

Finishing with a winning record will be a challenge.

But for now, manager Gabe Kapler remains focused on keeping the Phillies’ faint playoff hopes a-flicker.

“My only concern is the step right in front of us,” Kapler said after Sunday’s loss. “That's winning the game (Tuesday night) in Atlanta. I'm already past what happened in this Boston series. It's going to sting. It's going to suck. The plane ride's going to be difficult, and we'll start game-planning for Atlanta. One game at a time, one step at a time.

“We have no choice but to continue to fight. You know what? Sometimes you see the best come out in people when their backs are against the wall. Ours are against the wall. My expectation is that you'll see our best.”

The Phillies were not at their best on Sunday.

Starting pitcher Jason Vargas did not keep his club in the game and lasted just three innings for the second straight start. His ERA over his last four starts is a plump 7.63.

“It's one of those things where you don't want to say one game means more than the other but it's easier to say that earlier in the year than later in the year,” said Vargas, who surrendered a third-inning grand slam to Christian Vazquez. “When it comes down to it, you really feel like you're in a spot where you have to put Ws on the board and when it doesn't happen you feel like you let everybody down."

The Phillies were also not at their strongest on Sunday. At least they did not have their strongest personnel on the field, not after Bryce Harper got ejected for protesting a called third strike with home plate umpire Gabe Morales in the fourth inning.

Morales missed the call and Harper retreated to the video area behind the dugout. He watched the replay of the pitch, saw that it was outside the zone, returned to the dugout and shouted, “It’s not even bleeping close,” to Morales.

The umpire ejected Harper.

“Then I kind of let him have it,” Harper said. “It just sucks. You’re in the middle of a race and you’re in a 1-2 count and (Boston starter Rick) Porcello throws a front-hipper like he did in my first at-bat, which was a good pitch. I’m going to tip my cap when he throws me a good pitch, but I disagreed with that call and I kind of looked back at him and said, ‘That’s not a strike.’ He kind of looked at me like, ‘Yeah, right, stupid.’ It was that kind of look and I went back and thought, ‘Maybe he’s right.’ I went back and looked at it and it wasn’t close.”

Kapler was also ejected for defending Harper.

“I think everybody can look at the pitch and see why both Bryce was upset and I was upset on his behalf,” Kapler said. “It’s an enormous game, obviously, with a lot of implications and I thought, obviously, Bryce was right about the pitch, but just as importantly, I thought, in a game of this magnitude there could have been a little bit of a longer leash to allow him to stay in this game and allow it to play out on the field.”

A pool reporter attempted to speak with Morales shortly after the game. Morales was present but said he could not speak because crew chief Jerry Meals had already departed for the airport. Talk about your quick getaways.

Harper did not dispute that his getting ejected left his team in a bind.

“You can’t get thrown out in that situation, of course,” he said. “I don’t want to get thrown out in that situation. But, you know, it happened.

“I usually don’t complain unless it’s there. I’m pro pitcher, too. If a pitcher throws a good pitch, I’m all about it. Like I said, first at-bat Porcello threw that front-hipper and punched me out, so I tipped my cap to him right there. So the next at-bat, I’m kind of sitting on the same pitch because he kind of did the same thing and it wasn’t close. You get into a 2-2 count against him and you see another pitch. He might have punched me out on the next pitch, but also I might have hit a double in the gap and I’m on second base.

“On both sides, you have to be better, especially in these games right now. You have to be better back there. I know he’s not trying to call a strike or not call a ball, but he just has to be better for me.”



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Another loss as Phillies continue to play their way out of NL wild-card picture

Another loss as Phillies continue to play their way out of NL wild-card picture

BOX SCORE

The Phillies continued to play their way out of National League wild-card picture on Sunday. They dropped a 6-3 decision to the Boston Red Sox, who completed a two-game interleague series sweep at Citizens Bank Park.

The loss dropped the Phillies to four games out of the second wild-card spot and they could be 4 ½ games out by the end of the day, depending on the outcome of the Chicago Cubs-Pittsburgh Pirates game in Chicago.

The Phils have just 14 games left.

Christian Vazquez paced Boston’s offense with a grand slam against starter Jason Vargas in the third inning.

The Phillies did not get much offense in the two-game series. They scored just four runs. (They lost Saturday night’s game, 2-1.) They had just 12 hits and only two of them were for extra bases. (Rhys Hoskins had them both, a double Saturday night and a homer Sunday.)

Phillies hitters also struck out 25 times in the two games.

Ouch.

Vargas’ day

For the second straight start, Vargas lasted just three innings. He hit a batter, gave up a single and a one-out walk before serving up the grand slam to Vazquez in the third. Vargas also made a throwing error that led to a run in the first inning.

The left-hander is not exactly providing a lift down the stretch. He has a 7.63 ERA in his last four starts and the Phillies have lost three of those games.

Booted

Bryce Harper was ejected in the fourth inning for giving home plate umpire Gabe Morales an earful from the dugout. Moments earlier, Morales had rung up Harper on a pitch outside the strike zone. He also missed a pitch in Harper’s first at-bat. Manager Gabe Kapler was also ejected after he came out of the dugout to protest Harper’s ejection. It was believed to be the first time in major-league history that a guy named Gabe ejected another guy named Gabe.

Harper’s second ejection of the season meant the Phillies were forced to play the remainder of the game without one of their top players, never a good thing with the season on the line — at least mathematically.

Harper was replaced in right field by September call-up Jose Pirela. Not long ago, the Phillies likely would have replaced Harper with Nick Williams. But Williams is hitting .157 and is buried so deeply on the bench it makes you wonder why he was added in September.

Dickerson still sore

Corey Dickerson was out of the starting lineup for a third straight game because of a sore left foot. Brad Miller got the start in left field. The Phillies have missed Dickerson’s bat. Added at the trade deadline, he drove in 34 runs in his first 33 games with the club.

A little too hospitable

The Phillies are just 11-21 all-time against the Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park.

On the bright side, the Phils are 11-20 all-time at Fenway Park.

Wait a minute. There’s nothing bright about that.

Overall

The Phillies are 76-72. They need to win six of their final 14 games to have a winning season.

Up next

The Phillies are off on Monday. They open a three-game series in Atlanta against the Braves on Tuesday night.

Pitching matchups:

Tuesday night — RHP Vince Velasquez (6-7, 4.95) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (8-5, 3.35)

Wednesday night — RHP Zach Eflin (8-12, 4.20) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (10-9, 3.50)

Thursday afternoon — RHP Aaron Nola (12-5, 3.62) vs. RHP Mike Soroka (12-4, 2.47)

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