ST. LOUIS — David Montgomery always kept score when he watched his team play.
How he would have loved this one.
Jerad Eickhoff, a quiet, hard-working and serious competitor out of the Montgomery mold, pitched the best game of his career Wednesday afternoon to lead the Phillies to a 5-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium (see observations).
Just hours after Montgomery, the beloved former Phillies team president, lost his courageous, five-year battle with cancer, Eickhoff beat the Cardinals with eight shutout innings as the Phils took two of three in the series.
“It’s special to be able to honor David Montgomery with this win,” manager Gabe Kapler said afterward. “I thought Eickhoff represented David beautifully. He carried our team today in the same way David Montgomery carried our organization for so many years.
“It was a pretty special moment as a group to be able to win this series and feel like we were doing it in honor of David Montgomery.”
The win left the Phillies at 21-15, tops in the NL East.
Eickhoff, who hails from not far down the interstate in Evansville, Indiana, had a couple of dozen friends and family members in the stands. Good thing they didn’t get stuck in traffic because he worked quickly and efficiently — get the ball, throw the ball — in holding a good Cardinals’ lineup to one hit through seven innings and three overall.
“He was a man on a mission with a purpose,” Kapler said.
The start time — 12:15 p.m. local — was not lost on Eickhoff.
“It's an early game,” he said. “I'm trying to just attack them from pitch one, maybe catch them sleeping a little bit.
“I'm going to go right at them, keep them off balance as much as I can. These guys behind me made some really good plays. The double plays were huge. (Maikel) Franco throwing home to get the lead runner (in the eighth) was huge. These guys are just awesome behind me.
“And J.T. (Realmuto) did a heck of a job calling the game. I think I shook him off one time.”
On 106 pitches.
Cesar Hernandez led the offense with a single, a double and a homer. Over his last 26 games, he is hitting .357 (35 for 98) with eight doubles, three homers and 10 RBIs to raise his average to .305. Hernandez doubled home two runs in the Phils’ four-run fifth inning against Jack Flaherty. The Phils sent 10 men to the plate in that inning and saw 43 pitches, including 10 by Bryce Harper in a walk.
The Phils scored 16 runs in winning the final two games of the series. But as nice as the offense was — it was also opportunistic in capitalizing on St. Louis’ sloppy defense — the starting pitching was the story. And it has been for a couple of weeks. Aaron Nola preceded Eickhoff’s gem with six innings of one-run ball on Tuesday night. Over the last 13 games, Phillies starters have pitched to a 2.42 ERA. The club is 9-4 over that span.
Pitched is the right word to use when talking about Eickhoff. In this era of harder, faster and more powerful is better, Eickhoff relies on artful change of speed, change of location and studious game-planning as he features a curveball-slider mix that makes his well-spotted 89-91 mph fastball look quicker than it is. There is no thrower in Eickhoff. He’s all pitcher. And after two injury-plagued seasons and an opening day assignment in the minors this season, he’s back and looking like the guy who was the Phillies’ top starter in 2016. He has made four starts since returning to the majors. Over his last three, he’s pitched 20 innings and given up just one run.
“He pitches with a fearlessness, any pitch, any count,” Kapler said. “Did we expect him to go through the Cardinals lineup three times here in St. Louis in early May? I don’t know that anyone expected a performance like today. It was one of the best pitching performances we’ve seen on either side all year long.”
Those keeping score surely enjoyed it.
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