ATLANTA – Carlos Santana swung wildly Friday night at the first two pitches he saw in the 11th inning, chasing a fastball and missing a change-up. The Phillies lauded Santana in December for his ability to control the zone when they signed him to a $75 million deal. But the hitter – with the game on the line – looked lost. Those swings, manager Gabe Kapler said, were "not perfect Santana swings."
And then Santana found himself. He laid off a pair of fastballs to even the count. Santana was grinding, Kapler said. The fifth pitch from Braves righthander Shane Carle was a high fastball and Santana pounced, delivering the run the Phillies needed to seal a 5-4 win at SunTrust Park. The at-bat was incredible and unbelievable and exceptional, Kapler said. Santana did exactly what was needed to slice a sacrifice fly to left field and bring home J.P. Crawford.
It was a fitting way for Kapler to earn his first victory as manager as Santana, the hitter whose approach the manager praised throughout spring training, drove in three of the team's five runs. Santana homered in the fifth for his first hit with the Phillies and had a sacrifice fly in the third. Kapler called his first win a "shared victory." And there were nine pitchers that shared the 11 innings.
Kapler showed in the season opener that he will not be shy this season to turn early to his bullpen. The meltdown on opening day, when five relievers combined to blow a five-run lead, failed to alter the manager's approach. Kapler is committed to his beliefs. The way Kapler uses his bullpen – and how he manages to keep those arms fresh – will be fascinating to watch. He used eight relievers Friday with the last two innings going to winning pitcher Drew Hutchison. The first five relief pitchers faced three batters or fewer.
Nick Pivetta lasted just four innings, exhausting 73 pitches and allowing three runs. He allowed three hits on five hits, struck out three and walked two. It was not his best start but he displayed some promise with his elevated fastball, which he worked on throughout spring training. Pivetta relied heavily on his fastball and catcher Andrew Knapp regularly called for it up in the strike zone. Pivetta was able to use it effectively and also spun a tight curveball. There was some hope in his four innings.
Kapler relieved Pivetta with Victor Arano and lifted the righthander after retiring the two batters he faced. Hoby Milner faced two lefthanders and exited. Edubray Ramos threw one pitch, a fastball to retire Chris Stewart. Adam Morgan came on to record the final two outs of the sixth and started the seventh with a nasty slider to whiff Ryan Flaherty. Morgan handed off to Yacksel Rios, who was in minor-league camp in Clearwater, Fla. on Friday morning before flying to Atlanta in the afternoon. He finished the seventh by retiring two of the next three batters.
Luis Garcia allowed the tying run in the eighth and looked to allow the go-ahead run when Dansby Swanson doubled home Peter Bourjos, who slid with two outs to beat an excellent relay throw from J.P. Crawford. But Bourjos had lifted his front leg when he slid and did not touch home before Knapp tagged him. The Phillies challenged and the umpires used replay to overturn the call. The inning ended and the game remained tied.
"It looked to me like the throw beat the runner," Kapler said. "But you never know until you see it in slow motion."
Rhys Hoskins homered in the second inning for his first home run of the season. Scott Kingery singled twice in his major-league debut and Nick Williams singled in the sixth to put the Phillies ahead by a run.
Kapler, for the second-straight game, turned to his bullpen to protect a lead. They would need to record the final 12 outs. For the second-straight game, they could not do it. But the relievers held in there just long enough for the team's offseason acquisition – their professional hitter – to find himself. Kapler had his first win. And the misery from opening-day seemed a little further away.