Phillies gain ground on pursuits both good and bad


As the Phillies try to make the playoffs and have a winning season for the first time since 2011, they also find themselves approaching an ignominious major-league record.

They made strides on all fronts Wednesday night.

The bullpen gave away a pair of late leads as it moved closer to that aforementioned ugly record, but the bats managed to overcome both of them and the Phils rallied for a 6-5 win over the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park.

The ending was not pretty but not much is with the Phillies these days. Andrew Knapp scored the winning run on a passed ball with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

"It would have been easy for us to crumble after giving up the lead a couple of times," Knapp said. "For us to continue to fight back and win in that fashion, I think it shows a lot of heart."

Jose Alvarado blew a two-run lead in the top of the eighth inning. The Phillies got the lead back on a solo home run by J.T. Realmuto on the first pitch of the bottom of the inning then blew it again in the top of the ninth when Ian Kennedy surrendered a home run to Matt Duffy to tie the score at 5-5.

The blown saves were the Phillies' 31st and 32nd of the season. The Phillies have already set a club record in that dubious department and are closing in on the single-season major-league record of 34 by the 2004 Colorado Rockies.


After Kennedy's blown save in the top of the ninth, Knapp led off the bottom of the inning. He started at catcher with the sore-shouldered Realmuto playing first base.

Knapp, who entered the game hitting .150, stroked a full-count single up the middle to lead off the bottom of the ninth. He moved up on a bunt and a groundout and scored when Cubs catcher Robinson Chirinos could not handle a curveball from Trevor Megill.

"Big hit by Knapp," manager Joe Girardi said. "It doesn't matter what players have done in the previous 144 games. It matters what we do going forward. Players need to put the first 145 games behind them and look at the next day and how can you help us.

"We won this game and that's all that matters. That's the important part. At this point, it doesn't matter how you do it. We catch a break. We get a curveball that backs up and Chirinos wasn't able to handle it. The important thing is we won the game."

The victory was just the Phillies' fifth in 13 games this month. It put them at 73-72 with 17 games remaining. 

Most importantly, they remained in a couple of playoff chases. They picked up a game on first-place Atlanta and trail the NL East leaders by 3½ games. They are 3 games back in the wild-card race but trail three clubs.

Regardless of whether the Phillies make the playoffs or have a winning season for the first time in a decade, they will come out of this season feeling like they've found a strong starting rotation piece in Ranger Suarez. The 26-year-old lefty allowed just two runs over six innings and struck out a career-high eight. His ERA in 84 innings this season is a microscopic 1.50. He's made nine starts and recorded an ERA of 1.65 in those games.

Suarez did an excellent job pitching over an error by shortstop Didi Gregorius in the third inning. Gregorius, who has struggled this season in the field and at the plate, booted a potential double-play ball and that required Suarez to throw 14 extra pitches in the inning.

Girardi is trying to keep his starters around 100 pitches down the stretch so those extra pitches in the third prevented Suarez from going seven innings. Hector Neris pitched a scoreless seventh. Had Suarez' pitch count allowed him to go seven, Neris could have pitched the eighth and the Phillies might have avoided Alvarado's meltdown, which included two hit batsmen, a wild pitch and a two-run home run by Chirinos.

Kennedy has blown saves in two of his last three outings. He's allowed three killer home runs in those blown saves.

But all's well that ends well. At least it was Wednesday night.

The series concludes on Thursday night and it will be a bullpen game for the Phillies, not exactly a comforting thought, but the chase (all of them) must go on.

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