The Phillies won again Sunday while the region held its collective breath over the LeBron James decision. Andrew Knapp hit a walk-off homer to end a 13-inning marathon, and then LeBron crushed Philly by going to LA. His loss. Perhaps he could have thrown out the first pitch Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park when the Phillies return from their day off. They took three of four from the Nationals and have won seven of their last 11. The Phils are on a roll, and the schedule is about to get easier. LeBron might not be here, but not all is lost.
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The Phillies finished June with a 13-14 record as they survived their toughest stretch of the season. Their reward? They will enter the All-Star break after playing 13 games against teams with a combined .398 winning percentage. It was OK simply to survive against teams such as the Yankees, Nationals, Brewers, and Cubs. But now the Phillies have to clean up.
This stretch against the Orioles, Mets, Pirates, and Marlins is a chance to rack up wins and pick up ground in the standings. The Orioles, who will come to South Philly on Tuesday, have just 24 wins. The Phillies earned their 24th victory on May 16. Good teams take care of games like these. If the Phillies are to remain in the playoff hunt next month, these next two weeks could play a crucial role.
"I think we can build on it," Gabe Kapler said of the series win over the Nationals. "We can consider it momentum. We can consider it a platform, and we can consider it a confidence boost for not just our players, but our clubhouse in general."
Nick Pivetta pitched an inning of relief Sunday just two days after he started against the Nationals. The Phillies were out of relief pitchers, so Pivetta volunteered his services as he said he owed the team something after being rocked Friday. He ended up earning the win.
The Phillies don't have the name-brand star power that teams such as the Nationals have, but they are still on pace for 88 wins as they begin July. The Phillies think they are for real, David Murphy writes, and who are we to tell them they are not.
Gabe Kapler managed Sunday as if it was Game 7 of the World Series. He lifted Jake Arrieta in the fifth inning. He used seven relief pitchers before turning to Nick Pivetta. And he would have used Jesmuel Valentin to pitch if Andrew Knapp didn't hit a pinch-hit homer. It was a wild day at the ballpark.
Today: The Phillies are off.
Tomorrow: Zach Eflin starts vs. the Orioles, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Aaron Nola starts on the Fourth of July, 4:05 p.m.
Thursday: The Phillies are off, but Extra Innings is not.
Friday: Phillies open series in Pittsburgh, 7:05 p.m.
Andrew Knapp's walk-off homer Sunday was his first since Aug. 8, 2015, when he was at double-A Reading. And some of the faces waiting for him at home plate Sunday were the same ones waiting three years ago at FirstEnergy Stadium. J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams started that day for Reading. Zach Eflin started, and Edubray Ramos entered from the bullpen. Nick Pivetta, who won Sunday's game for the Phillies, and Jake Thompson, who pitched three scoreless innings of relief Sunday, were then in Reading's rotation.
"Same group of players pretty much," Knapp said. "We kind of seem we have a knack for that — sticking in ball games and staying into it. It was really cool to come out on top."
Question: Do you know the significance of Rhys Hoskins' hand gesture when rounding second base after he hits a home run? Since he's not from Texas, it probably isn't the "hook-'em horns." Jim A., email