For nine innings Tuesday night, the Phillies provided a clinic, at least on the offensive side of things, in self-destructive baseball.
They had a runner on third base with one out in the first inning and did not get him in. They had 12 opportunities with runners in scoring position in the first nine innings and had only one hit. And, perhaps most glaring, Bryce Harper ran into two outs on the bases, including one at home plate in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Harper atoned for his poor base running with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning when he raced home from first base with the winning run as the Phillies rallied for a dramatic, potential season-saving, 3-2, win over the Baltimore Orioles at Citizens Bank Park.
J.T. Realmuto was the hero with a walk-off, two-run triple against Orioles’ right-hander Cesar Valdez, who walked Harper intentionally with a man on third to get to Realmuto.
“Bryce is one of the hottest hitters on the planet,” Realmuto said afterward. “I was pretty sure they’d walk him.”
The last-gasp victory ensured that the Phillies would stay three games behind first-place Atlanta in an NL East race that might go right down to the wire. The Phillies have just 11 games left. The Braves have 13 left.
Despite Tuesday night’s dramatic win, the Phils still face an uphill battle. If the Braves simply play a game under .500 and go 6-7 in their remaining 13 games, the Phils would have to go 8-3 just to tie them.
The Phillies’ challenge would have been even greater had they lost Tuesday night.
“We found a way to win this game and that’s all that matters,” manager Joe Girardi said.
Having run out of starting pitching, the Phillies employed their bullpen for the fourth time this month and things worked out well with Adonis Medina giving up just one run in 3 2/3 innings and four other pitchers allowing just three hits over 6 1/3 innings.
“We got a lot of great pitching,” Girardi said.
The offense was the problem. The Orioles entered the series with the worst record in the majors, 55 games under .500. They also have the worst team ERA in the majors at 5.91. But even against baseball's worst pitching staff, the Phils scored just one run in the first 18 innings of the series. They were shut out, 2-0, on Monday and had just one run in the first nine innings Tuesday.
It didn’t help that Harper ran into an out trying to stretch a single into a double in the fourth inning Tuesday night and was cut down at the plate in a 1-1 game with two outs in the eighth as he tried to score on a ground ball to second base.
Girardi had entrusted Harper to make his own base-running “read” on the play.
“It ended up being a bad one,” Harper said. “Getting thrown out at the plate, that can’t happen. I saw the ball down, got off too far, hesitated and decided to go. That can’t happen in that situation. I made two bad base-running mistakes tonight. I need to clean it up.”
Harper has carried the Phillies in the second half. Without him, there would be no playoff race. Girardi pardoned Harper’s base-running mistakes and chalked them up to trying to do too much.
“I’ll take that over being passive and not running the bases hard,” Girardi said. “His running the bases hard has created some runs for us this week.”
The one in the 10th inning Tuesday night was the biggest.
The Orioles had pushed across the ghost runner to take a 2-1 lead in the top of the 10th. The Phillies were down to their last out with a man on third when the Orioles walked Harper intentionally. It was all on Realmuto. He got a 2-1 changeup, off the plate, from Valdez and laced it to right, just out of the reach of Anthony Santander.
As Realmuto ran to first base, he thought Santander might make the catch to end the game.
“It was a pretty stressful 90 feet,” Realmuto said. “I was worried until I saw it hit the ground.”
The crowd was just 18,955 but it helped push Harper home from first.
“There was no chance I wasn’t going to try to score,” he said. “I thought I got a good read and a good jump and once I heard the crowd roar when it landed, I kicked it into another gear.”
No baserunning mistake this time. Head-first into home plate. Big run. Big win. Maybe even a season-saver.