A toweled Hector Neris entered the Phillies' clubhouse, saw a group of reporters congregating around Maikel Franco, looked over and gave his buddy a quick message.
"Franco,” the perpetually grinning Neris said, “make sure to say something funny.”
Neris and Franco, two friends who have been through a hell of a lot together as Phillies. They've seen years with no expectations and high expectations. They've played important roles and lost their roles. They've been key cogs and been demoted.
On Tuesday night, both were instrumental in another Phillies comeback win over the Mets. Franco hit the game-winning two-run homer in the sixth inning of the 7-5 victory, a night after also delivering the decisive two-run homer in the middle innings.
Neris picked up four huge outs for his 16th save in 17 chances. With the tying run on base and one out in the ninth, Neris struck out young lefty Dom Smith and got veteran righty Wilson Ramos to ground out to second base.
Smith and Michael Conforto in particular, were fooled by Neris' trademark splitter. They both expanded the strike zone and looked bad doing it. Neris feasts on over-aggressive hitters who can't lay off the split.
"It's a very unique pitch," manager Gabe Kapler said, "one that it doesn't matter how many times you see it, it still doesn't give you an advantage."
Kapler was ejected in the sixth inning when he argued a warning from umpire Joe West after Scott Kingery was hit by a pitch near the head. The manager was still in a good mood after the win and didn't necessarily think the Rhys Hoskins-Jacob Rhame episode two months ago played a role.
After the Phillies' win Monday, Jean Segura had called Franco one of the Phillies' key bats. Segura talked about how much he enjoys relying on Franco on the left side of the infield. He mentioned how Franco can change a game with one swing and how when he, in particular, is going right, the Phillies' offense is just a lot better.
It's true. Franco offers offensive upside that veteran utilityman Sean Rodriguez does not. Franco can pop one at any moment. He can pound a mistake. He can also pound a hittable pitch into the ground to the left side, as he had done far too frequently the last six weeks, but when Franco is on and feeling confident, he's dangerous.
"It makes me feel great," Franco said of Segura's comments last night. "I've been around good teammates. They've been great and supporting me. That makes me push myself every single day and perform and do everything I can to get better and make adjustments."
After one of the Phillies’ four home runs, Franco and Segura were on the field to do their handshakes with Rhys Hoskins. As Segura turned back toward the dugout, Franco took a couple hops toward him and gave him a hard noogie.
This team is not playing tight.
The Phillies picked up their starting pitcher for the second straight night. Jake Arrieta and Zach Eflin have combined to allow 11 runs in 11 innings against the Mets but both have received wins because the Phils' bats came alive during the half-innings they were pinch-hit for.
The Mets held early leads in both games. The Phillies could have gone into a shell after the seven straight losses that preceded this series. Instead, the lineup finally looked the lineup it was supposed to be.
"It was exactly what we needed the last couple nights," Arrieta said. "It wasn't ideal from a pitching perspective the last couple nights from me and Zach, but sometimes that's what you need. The guys picked both of us up. Would have loved to have thrown the ball better. There were some really good things that happened, and some not so good. But we were able to kind of put it behind us in a positive way with a win and a chance to get a couple more before we go on the road. So the guys are feeling good about it."
The guys are also feeling good about these bamboo plants. First, one was in Brad Miller's locker Monday. Then a giant bamboo plant was on the table in the middle of the clubhouse Tuesday. Arrieta said Tuesday night he might put one in his locker tomorrow. Kapler said there might be one in every locker.
Miller is doing more than keeping the mood light. He gave the Phils insurance with a pinch-hit solo shot Tuesday and is 3 for 4 with two extra-base hits as a pinch-hitter.
"They're going to think I'm crazy going back to that place tomorrow for the third day in a row but I told them I would see them tomorrow," Miller said. "They're going to keep hiking the prices up on me. It was worth it.
"Everyone has been awesome from Day One. I showed up and we went through a tough stretch, but nobody seemed to panic or anything. The first night, I saw a bunch of guys out at dinner and tried to join in and work hard and earn their respect and get to the party and enjoy it. It's been fun."
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