The Phillies’ front office lost out on another bullpen trade target when the New York Yankees landed Baltimore closer Zach Britton on Tuesday night. The Phils had coveted the left-hander and tried to swing a deal for him. They also liked Brad Hand, another left-hander who went from San Diego to Cleveland.
It’s no secret that general manager Matt Klentak would like to add a bullpen weapon for the stretch drive.
But if you listen to the men in the clubhouse, no addition is really needed.
“Our bullpen is nasty,” Austin Davis said early Wednesday morning. “I mean, everyone from top to bottom is gross. I don’t know what the narrative is out there, but our bullpen is disgusting.”
Nasty. Gross. Disgusting.
These are superlatives in today’s pitching world. And the Phillies’ bullpen earned every one of them with the job it did Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. It racked up 11 innings of one-run ball — and the last 10 in a row were scoreless — in leading what might have been the win of the season, a wild, 7-4 victory in 16 innings over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park (see first take).
The stingy performance left the bullpen with a 2.54 ERA for the month of July.
That is the best in baseball.
Opposing batters are hitting just .201 against the Phillies’ bullpen in July. That’s the second-lowest mark in the majors.
“It's interesting,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We rewind six weeks or so and it was a big question mark. We were struggling. We had some really heartbreaking losses and a lot of that was pinned on our bullpen. There was some validity to that. At the same time, our bullpen has performed admirably since that time period. It's kind of been the next-man-up thing. It's been sensational. We've had a lot of different people step up.”
The Phillies trailed 3-0 early in the game, tied it on a booming, two-run homer by Jorge Alfaro in the seventh and won it on newcomer Trevor Plouffe’s three-run home run against the Dodgers’ ninth pitcher of the game, infielder Kike Hernandez, with one out in the bottom of the 16th.
The victory, which took five hours and 55 minutes to complete, left the clubhouse rocking at 1:30 a.m., and Brother Gabe gushing about his club, which leads the NL East by a game over Atlanta.
“The most notable performance was just the group, right?” Kapler said. “It was not one person individually. It was the bullpen. It was the big hits. It was the fight. It was the tenacity. It was the grind. It was the drive. It was the character.”
The Dodgers used Hernandez even though they had a starter, Rich Hill, warming in the bullpen. After the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he was saving Hill for a potential save situation. That never materialized.
Hernandez walked two batters before Plouffe came to the plate thinking of one thing: Win the game. Facing a soft-tossing infielder is not easy for a hitter who is wired to see hard stuff. Plouffe took a less-is-more approach and drove the ball over the wall in right-center for the win.
“It's tough,” said Plouffe, a former regular with the Minnesota Twins who was signed as a minor-league free agent earlier this season and had been playing at Triple A before coming up earlier this month to help on the bench. “You really have to tell yourself to slow down. They're throwing below the hitting speed usually, so I just tried to have a good at-bat. I was up there at that point trying not to strike out or hit into a double play.
“All I want to do is contribute to victories here. I love being on a winning team. I haven't been on many in my career. But they're amazing. They're fun. That's it. I just want to contribute. Tonight it was my chance to come off the bench and do it. I'm happy.”
Plouffe put much of the credit for the win where it belonged.
“Our bullpen won the game for us,” he said.
Starter Aaron Nola was hurt by poor defense and left the game after five innings. Adam Morgan allowed a homer in the sixth, but the bullpen pitched scoreless ball the next 10 innings. Victor Arano, Luis Garcia and Davis, an unheralded rookie who has racked up 24 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings, all pitched two scoreless innings apiece. Vince Velasquez was pressed into duty and got the win thanks to a big strikeout with runners on second and third and two outs in the top of the 16th.
Davis struck out three in his two innings of work. He also got to dig into the batter’s box against Dodgers All-Star closer Kenley Jansen. Davis struck out in the at-bat, but it did not dampen his enthusiasm for the events of the evening.
“When you win games like that, it makes it fun,” he said. “And we’re going to be ready to come tomorrow and, you know, beat them again.”
Wednesday’s series finale is set for 12:35 p.m. Sleep fast.