WASHINGTON – The Phillies did not play perfect baseball in their doubleheader against the Washington Nationals, but that didn’t seem to matter as celebratory music blared in the clubhouse after 12 hours at the ballpark late Friday night.
The Phils survived a series of miscues that included leaving too many runners on base in the opener and costly bullpen walks, two base running mistakes and an almost-fatal fielding error in the nightcap to pull off a sweep of the Nationals.
The Phillies took the opener, 5-3. The second game was a wild one and the Phils won it, 8-7, in 10 innings.
The two victories pushed the Phils to a season-best four games over .500 at 35-31. They have taken the first three games of this five-gamer and have now won five straight series for the first time since 2011, the last time they made the playoffs.
The Phils are 14-2 in June and 13-2 under new skipper Rob Thomson.
“Great day,” Thomson said when it was over.
He acknowledged that the team overcame some miscues during the long, hot, exhausting day.
“That’s just the character of this club,” he said. “They believe.”
The biggest reason the Phillies were able to cover their shortcomings in the nightcap – baserunning mistakes by Rhys Hoskins and Kyle Schwarber, two damaging walks and a wild pitch by Nick Nelson in the sixth, and an error by shortstop Didi Gregorius that allowed the Nats to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth – was that they did some little things so well.
J.T. Realmuto beat out a potential double-play ball to keep the eighth inning alive for pinch-hitter Bryce Harper to come off the bench and stroke a game-tying, two-run double to right-center.
Little things …
Washington reliever Kyle Finnegan was clearly trying to pitch around Harper and appeared to walk him on four pitches. However, umpire Clinton Vondrak called the fourth pitch, which was out of the strike zone, a strike. Harper wasn’t happy with the call – and he still wasn’t after the game. Finnegan’s fifth pitch was a strike and Harper crushed it.
“Harp was upset it wasn’t ball four, but I was like, ‘Good, let him hit,’ “ Thomson said. “J.T. beating out that ball and getting Harper to the plate was really key.”
Realmuto was initially called out, but the Phillies challenged and won.
After Harper tied the game in the eighth, Matt Vierling belted his second homer of the game in the top of the ninth to give the Phils a 6-5 lead.
The Phillies went deep into their bullpen on the day. Corey Knebel, Jeurys Familia and Andrew Bellatti got important outs in the nightcap and Jose Alvarado was on the verge of closing out a one-run win in the ninth when Gregorius committed a two-out throwing error that allowed Washington to tie the game.
Alvarado finally ended up closing it out in the bottom of the 10th. He got the win after Realmuto singled home two runs. The two runs were huge because the Nats scored an unearned run to make it a one-run game in the 10th.
Hoskins scored the second run in the 10th thanks to another of those little things, specifically third base coach Dusty Wathan’s knowledge of the obstruction rule. Washington shortstop Luis Garcia interfered with Hoskins’ path to third as Realmuto’s ball went up the middle. Wathan noticed the obstruction, saw third base umpire John Bacon’s hand go up, and furiously waved Hoskins home to ensure that the run would count.
“Dusty knows the rule,” Thomson said. “Huge. Really smart.”
“It just goes to show what a great baseball mind he has,” Harper said of Wathan.
The Phillies actually go over that play in spring training. It seldom comes up, but when it did in this game, everyone was ready.
It would not be difficult to imagine the Phillies losing a game like this back in the first two months of the season, back when the offense was inconsistent, the bullpen was having occasional meltdowns and the defense was shaky.
The defense and the bullpen are still far from perfect, but things are improving.
“We’re finding ways to win games we’re probably not supposed to and that’s what good teams do,” Hoskins said. “ I don’t think we ever feel like we're out of a game. That has a lot to do with the way we’re swinging the bats, but I also think the guys in the bullpen have been great lately, attacking the zone, and when we’ve scored we’re throwing up some zeroes.”
The Phils won the first game in three hours, 32 minutes.
They won the second game in three hours, 45 minutes.
“It was a great day of baseball,” Harper said. “Win the series today with two more games to hopefully do good and get out of here feeling good.”