ATLANTA — Rhys Hoskins crouched on the turf Tuesday night, two innings before he would deliver the decisive blow in a 5-1 win over the Braves. Hoskins took off his helmet, unstrapped his batting gloves, and held his hands to his head. His fourth hitless at-bat and another strikeout – his third of the game – had brought a moment of frustration. The always unflappable Hoskins looked perturbed.
Hoskins felt as if he had abandoned his approach at the plate, the one he always clung to with great discipline. He sought another chance, a shot to redeem a difficult night. His opportunity came — with the game tied in the 10th inning with two outs and two on base — and Hoskins did not let it pass. He was within one strike of his fourth strikeout before he crushed Jose Ramirez' 95-mph fastball to right field for a two-run double.
The Phillies finally had the runs they had sought all night. And Hoskins had his redemption. Maikel Franco followed with a two-run double of his own. The Phillies had more than enough.
"I think I learned from an early age that you have to want that fifth at-bat," Hoskins said. "Somehow, the baseball gods always seem to put that guy into a situation to try and win the game. It happened today and that's what we dream of as hitters, to be in that situation in extra innings."
Scott Kingery started the eighth with a four-pitch walk. First base coach Jose Flores reminded Kingery of the information they reviewed before the game. Ramirez' time to the plate created a favorable chance to steal. Kingery broke on the righthander's second pitch to Cesar Hernandez and slid past second base but somehow kept his fingertips on the bag just long enough to beat the tag.
Hernandez then laid down a perfect bunt, squaring to the right side and beating the throw for an infield single. Both players, manager Gabe Kapler said, made those decisions on their own. The Phillies had runners on first and third with no outs. But this rally was quick to lose promise. Carlos Santana struck out and Odubel Herrera popped up. In stepped Hoskins with two outs.
"I mean, you just kind of felt like he was going to come up big for us in that situation," Kingery said.
Ramirez threw two quick strikes. The pitcher was in control. But Hoskins stuck to his approach, the one he felt he earlier abandoned. He waited for Ramirez to throw him a pitch up in the strike zone. The righthander throws hard and that would be his best chance, Hoskins figured, to drive in runs. Ramirez threw a high fastball and Hoskins jumped on it. He pulled into second base, clapped his hands, and gestured to the Phillies dugout. Everyone "erupted on his behalf," Kapler said. The results of those previous four at-bats were forgotten.
"He's just a strong-minded individual," manager Gabe Kapler said. "There are so many guys who fold in that situation. Across the league, you can point to them. The night starts off bad, they're 0 for 3, they've punched out several times, and boom. They're just licked mentally. He just has a different level of grind. He's just very, very strong mentally."
Their 10th-inning rally wiped away the frustration that followed the Phillies throughout the night. The Phillies grounded into double plays to end four innings. A rally felt impossible to build. Kapler used his entire bench, but still could not find a spark. Their lone run before Hoskins' hit came on an Odubel Herrera third-inning single.
Nick Pivetta allowed one run on five hits in five innings. He struck out two and walked none. The righthander has a 2.49 ERA through his first four starts of the season. He relied on his fastball, which touched 97 mph. Pivetta threw it for 64 percent of his pitches. The Phillies would have to rely on their bullpen, and Hoby Milner, Yacksel Rios, Adam Morgan, Luis Garcia, Hector Neris, and Drew Hutchison pieced together the final five innings. Neris kept the game tied with a scoreless ninth, which he punctuated with a strikeout of Freddie Freeman.
"Hector's split was alive tonight," Kapler said. "You could tell in the dugout. He was really getting after his split tonight. It had that depth to it that we like to see. He attacked Freeman pretty good there."
Neris earned the win because the Phillies were unable to give their closer a lead to protect. A lead felt possible in the eighth inning when Hernandez led off with a walk. But that rally would have little luck. Santana struck out and Herrera grounded out. Then came Hoskins, who quickly worked a 3-0 count. A walk would have been enough. But Hoskins struck out on three straight pitches. He spiked his bat to the ground. And then he crouched in frustration. It was a night ripe with discouragement, but it was not yet over. Hoskins would get his shot at redemption.
"He's incredibly resilient," Kapler said. "That's the way I describe Rhys tonight."