The out-of-town scoreboard in right field had already delivered the news from Citi Field in New York: ATL 4, NYM 2. The Phillies were down to their last three outs against the Miami Marlins. Lose this one to the team with the second-most losses in the National League, and the Phillies would find themselves in second place for the first time since July 5.
"Get on base," the voice inside Rhys Hoskins' head told him before he went to the plate as the leadoff man for the Phillies in the bottom of the ninth. "I thought if we get the leadoff guy on base we have a good chance to at least tie it there. If we tied the game and get a little momentum, we liked our chances."
Sure enough, Hoskins drew a five-pitch walk from reliever Kyle Barraclough. The oft-maligned Carlos Santana reached on a one-out, shift-beating infield single. Newcomer Asdrubal Cabrera drew the most important walk of his embryonic Phillies career to load the bases. The Phillies tied it on slow roller to shortstop by Nick Williams.
All that set up a wild home-plate celebration when Maikel Franco hit a 2-0 slider into the first row of the left-field seats for the first walk-off homer in his career. The Phillies went to bed in first place for the 28th straight night.
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Austin Davis was the reason Hoskins felt the Phillies would win if they could at least pull even with the Marlins in the ninth inning Thursday night.
"They had burned some of their better guys in the bullpen," Hoskins said. "We had pretty much a full bullpen with the way Austin Davis was able to pick us up for a couple of innings."
Davis, a rookie lefthander, actually has been picking up the bullpen since his big-league debut June 20. He did so Thursday night by retiring all six Miami batters he faced, keeping the score at 2-1 and the Phillies' best relief arms out in the bullpen. Davis had allowed runs in consecutive games for the first time all season in his final two July appearances, but he bounced back with his most impressive outing of the season against the Marlins.
His ERA sits at 3.38, and he has struck out 26 and walked just six in 20 1/3 innings.
"I just wanted to keep us in the game," Davis said. "I knew our offense was going to come around and we were going to score. It was my job to keep it close, and that's what I did. But I don't think the story today was the two innings I threw. I think it was [Franco's] home run and [Nick] Pivetta's start — six innings, two runs, that's awesome."
Perhaps, but as supporting acts go, Davis' was a good one.
The champions are coming, the champions are coming. Ahead of the weekend reunion that will honor the Phillies' 2008 run to the franchise's second World Series title, Scott Lauber and I interviewed a long list of participants in the crazy Game 5 clincher that took three days to complete. I'm biased, but I think it's a fun read and I give my teammate most of the credit.
Alumni weekend will kick off Friday night with the Phillies honoring the Flyin' Hawaiian, Shane Victorino. The former all-star center fielder announced earlier this season that he wanted to retire officially as a Phillie, and our Scott Lauber caught up with Victorino ahead of Friday night's ceremony.
Here's a full schedule of events for alumni weekend at Citizens Bank Park.
We might never know what Maikel Franco felt when he was benched by manager Gabe Kapler in June to make way for J.P. Crawford at third base, but he was on top of the world Thursday night after hitting the first walk-off home run of his career. Maybe the benching was the move Franco needed to motivate him to fulfill the lofty expectations that have been with him since his arrival in the big leagues five years ago as a top minor-league prospect. My column explores what he has done over the last eight weeks.
Newly acquired catcher Wilson Ramos made his first appearance in the Phillies clubhouse Thursday and promised he would be ready to return from a hamstring injury before Sept. 1.
The Phillies are in the pennant race, but columnist David Murphy decided to fast-forward to free agency and provide a glimpse of what the team might do this offseason.
Tonight: Shane Victorino retires as Phillie pregame; Vince Velasquez pitches vs. Marlins, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Roy Halladay and Pat Gillick become Wall of Famers; Zach Eflin vs. Marlins, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday: Ace Aaron Nola vs. Wie-Yin Chin, 1:35 p.m.
Monday: Jake Arrieta pitches series opener in Arizona, 9:40 p.m.
Wednesday: Velasquez pitches series finale vs. Diamondbacks, 3:40 p.m.
We said before the start of this season that the Phillies would have to beat up on Billy the Marlin's favorite team if they had any hope of winning the National League East this season. Miami, of course, had gone through an offseason fire sale that included the trade of Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees by a team president (Derek Jeter) who was not far removed from a Hall of Fame career with the Yankees. Anyway, the Phillies had lost two in a row to the Marlins and were the only team in the division with a losing record against them before pulling out a 5-2 victory on Franco's walk-off home run Thursday night. The Phillies improved to 5-5 against the lowly Marlins. Atlanta and Washington are each 8-3 against Miami.
Why didn't the Phillies seem to make an effort to get Cole Hamels back on the team for the stretch run?
Bill M., via email
Answer: The Phillies provided two answers to this question. One is that they are comfortable with their rotation in its current form, citing a bunch of numbers, including the fact that the starting rotation has had one of the best team ERAs all season. Before Thursday, they ranked eighth in baseball and fifth in the National League with a 3.81 ERA. General manager Matt Klentak also made it clear that he'd prefer not to trade prospects for deadline rentals. He does not think that's a good way of doing business.
I disagree with the Phillies' stance here. As Scott Lauber noted recently, they took a gamble that their young pitchers — Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin — will be able to handle the pressure of the playoff push while also logging more innings than they have during their professional careers.