The Phillies acquired Asdrubal Cabrera at the trade deadline for one reason.
The acquisition paid dividends Friday night when the Phillies went out and beat the best team in the National League, the Chicago Cubs, 2-1, in 10 innings at rainy Citizens Bank Park (see first take).
Cabrera delivered the decisive blow, a solo homer to left-center against Cubs reliever Steve Cishek with one out in the 10th.
“That’s a good feeling when you help the team win,” Cabrera said afterward.
His heroics came just as the Pittsburgh Pirates were finishing off a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Braves.
The Phillies went to bed on Tuesday night trailing the first-place Braves by 4½ games in the NL East.
They went to bed Friday night trailing the Braves by two games.
The Braves have lost three in a row. The Phillies have won two in a row for just the second time since Aug. 4-5. The calendar flips to September on Saturday. There are 28 games left. It is not the prettiest pennant race you’ve ever seen. But it’s a race, nonetheless, and it’s going to be interesting, especially with the Braves and Phillies slated to play each other seven times over the final 11 games.
“We're paying attention to the scoreboard,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “A lot of us watched the Cubs-Atlanta game [Thursday night]. Certainly, we're thinking about it. We take care of business, we do our part, we kind of feel like we’re in control of our destiny. And we really are. We play great baseball down the stretch, we're going to win the National League East.”
Scoring just two runs in 10 innings might not qualify as playing great baseball, but the Phillies still were able to do a lot of things right in getting this series against the Cubs off on the right foot with Zach Eflin and Aaron Nola slated to pitch the second and third games.
Starting pitcher Nick Pivetta allowed eight base runners in five innings. That’s not good. What was good, however, was his limiting the damage to one run, with a big, bases-loaded strikeout of Anthony Rizzo in the third inning standing tall.
Roman Quinn continued to spark the offense. He doubled in the sixth and scored on a two-out hit by Cesar Hernandez to tie the game.
The bullpen was brilliant. Victor Arano, Adam Morgan, Seranthony Dominguez, Hector Neris and Pat Neshek combined on five scoreless innings. Neshek inherited a runner in the 10th and pitched out of trouble with some help from a huge defensive play by first baseman Carlos Santana.
“I cannot dote on our bullpen enough,” Kapler said. “They have just come up so many times. They have not gotten the attention that they deserve. We have ridden them so hard. And we've put them in incredibly difficult, unique, new positions for all of them. They've just answered the bell continually. We're asking them to pitch without their traditional roles. And all they've done is stepped up to the plate and done a tremendous job. Tonight was a perfect indication of that.”
Cabrera was acquired from the Mets a month ago because the Phillies desperately needed offense. But he had hit just .218 with two homers and a .604 OPS in 29 games with the Phils entering Friday night.
“This game is not easy,” Cabrera said. “Up and down. I know that I probably can do better, but I trust myself and I come every day to play.
“We've got a really good team. We've got good talent. The last week we didn't play really good, but we've got talent. I believe in the team and we're going to be fine.”
Cabrera hit a 1-2 sinker from Cishek.
“That's why we traded for him, right?” Kapler said of Cabrera. “Biggest moment. Right-handed pitcher on the mound. The ball is sinking away from him. He has that sweet stroke. Absolutely demolished that ball to left-center field.”
The home run earned Cabrera a Gatorade shower and Kapler loved it.
“That was a really good celebration in the dugout,” he said. “We had a lot of fun tonight. One of the things we've stressed recently is in these times, they kind of get a little bit stressful, but we're going to have fun. We're going to smile. We're going to laugh.”
And they're going into the month of September in a race.