The Phillies had enjoyed some brilliant starting pitching in beating the San Francisco Giants three straight nights, but for a while it looked like the trend would end in the finale of a four-game series Thursday afternoon. Two of Vince Velasquez’s fastballs ended up over the wall before he could record four outs and he and the Phils were staring at an early three-run deficit.
Right there on the mound in the second inning, Velasquez had a little meeting with himself.
“I just pretty much put my foot down,” he said.
The right-hander had gotten angry with himself over performance plenty of other times in his career, but it had often led to frenzy and more problems. This time, Velasquez said, he was able to channel his anger into the fuel that allowed him to stop the bleeding, last six innings and strike out 12 in a 6-3, come-from-behind victory that gave the Phillies their first four-game sweep of the Giants since 1982 — a decade before Velasquez was born (see first take).
Why was Velasquez able to handle his emotions better this time?
“I just kind of said, 'Forget it,'" he said. “I’m thinking of the other word, but you’ve just got to forget it and keep moving on and get a little more aggressive to the point where you can control it and not get wild about it.”
Many pitchers have talked about this concept over the years. Jamie Moyer used to stress over bad innings and the threat of being sent to the minors. Finally, he learned to say, “Forget it,” and it changed his career. Cole Hamels used to talk about how he learned to move past bad pitches or innings by saying to himself, “OK. Start over.” Maybe a month before his 26th birthday, Velasquez is starting to show the maturity that could unlock his huge upside.
“Look,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “There’s a brilliant pitcher in there. No matter what the outcome, we always see that that brilliant pitcher exists. It wasn’t there every moment today. But it was there in flashes. He showed a calm, relaxed demeanor that leads to a graceful delivery, good stuff and swings and misses.
“What we saw from him today, he was less fidgety. There wasn’t a whole lot of anxiety. It was a calm, relaxed attack. I think that’s what will lead to consistency and long-term success for Vinny.”
By stopping the Giants’ onslaught, Velasquez gave the Phillies’ bats time to come alive and Carlos Santana — he has awakened — put the Phils ahead for good with a three-run homer in the fourth inning. Santana had three homers and 13 RBIs in the series. He wasn’t the only standout. Odubel Herrera had seven hits and eight RBIs.
Oh, yeah, and the starting pitching, from Zach Eflin to Aaron Nola to Nick Pivetta and, yes, to Vince Velasquez, was sensational. It allowed just four runs in 24 2/3 innings, walked four and struck out 40. That’s how you stop a hot team and the Giants, winners of five straight series coming in, were hot.
“We could have taken three of four and that would have been a positive,” Kapler said. “But our guys got greedy. We stayed on the gas. Sweeping that team is a huge accomplishment.”