Didi Gregorius, Jose Alvarado and Ian Kennedy -- three Phillies who have struggled for small or large chunks of the season -- were right at the forefront of Friday's tense, series-opening 4-3 win in New York.
Gregorius had his most impactful game of 2021 with a web gem that helped keep the Mets off the board in the seventh inning and a crucial two-out RBI double in the eighth.
Alvarado entered with two men on, nobody out and the game tied in the sixth inning and recorded three quick outs when it looked like the Mets would go ahead.
And Kennedy picked up a four-out save after Archie Bradley allowed two runs in the eighth to make it a one-run game.
The Phils (75-72) have won three in a row. They picked up a game in the NL East race and are two behind the Braves, who began an 11-game West Coast trip with an extra-inning loss in San Francisco. The Braves have lost 13 of 21.
Zack Wheeler started against his former team and cruised for three innings before losing command in the fourth. He gave up two singles, walked a batter and hit a batter but minimized the damage, surrendering just a run.
Manager Joe Girardi lifted Wheeler at 93 pitches for Alvarado after the Mets opened the sixth inning with back-to-back singles.
"They picked me up," Wheeler said of the bullpen. "Alvy, that’s twice in a row he’s picked me up. He’s a really solid reliever. He just has to be consistent and he has been lately."
The Phillies are being cautious with Wheeler’s pitch counts, not wanting to extend him too far above 100, given his huge workload and importance every fifth day. He leads the majors in innings, pitches thrown and batters faced.
Wheeler has three starts left: next Wednesday at home against the Orioles, the following Tuesday in Atlanta and the final day of the season in Miami. He has surpassed 200 innings for the first time in his career.
The Phillies had to piece together the final three innings -- a scary thought -- because Hector Neris had pitched three innings the last two days. Neris has been a workhorse for the Phillies, averaging less than one full day of rest between appearances since August 27.
They did so without Girardi, who was ejected in the seventh inning after a check swing call went against Matt Joyce. Girardi fumed, yelled "that's bull---" a handful of times at the umpire who tossed him and was still peeved as he went down the dugout steps. He lamented the quick hook, saying he was ejected simply for putting his hands up and before any words were exchanged.
Gregorius helped Sam Coonrod pitch a scoreless seventh by extending fully on a dive to his left, turning and flipping the ball on a hop from a grounded position to Jean Segura for a force-out.
“That’s one of the best plays I’ve ever seen,” Girardi said. "I don’t imagine they run many option plays in Curaçao but it was an option flip, good stretch by Jean, just an unbelievable play. I mean, that’s the difference in the game, that play right there."
The Phillies scored their first run in the second inning when J.T. Realmuto singled, stole second, tagged up to third and touched home on a Freddy Galvis sac fly.
A half-inning after the Mets tied things in the fourth, Brad Miller homered to put the Phillies ahead. Miller, whose seventh-inning single helped the Phillies score again, has 19 home runs in 337 plate appearances this season. Nobody in the majors with so few plate appearances has that many home runs in 2021.
Matt Vierling produced an important insurance run with a bases-loaded sac fly off of Seth Lugo in the seventh and Gregorius added another in the eighth after Bryce Harper and Realmuto stranded runners on the corners.
Harper went 1 for 4 with a double. He has an extra-base hit and/or an RBI in nine straight games, 11 of 12 and 18 of 22.
The series continues with Aaron Nola (7-8, 4.58) opposing Carlos Carrasco (1-2, 5.59) Saturday at 7:15 p.m. Nola and Sunday’s starter, Kyle Gibson, have allowed 27 earned runs in 29⅓ innings this month for an 8.28 ERA. They need to step up over these next 48 hours.
“The vibe, I think, is we’re in the trenches,” Miller said. “We know to this point that this season hasn’t been perfect or easy but we know we’re in it and we have this opportunity and this team can do some really cool stuff when our back’s against the wall.”