Gabe Kapler called it stimulating and invigorating. He could have just as easily called it the best win of the Phillies' season.
"We have had a lot of special wins," the manager said following his team's come-from-behind 7-4 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night at a charged Citizens Bank Park. "That one was a lot of fun, I can tell you that."
The Phillies have had a lot of special wins, but this one was against the best-in-baseball Boston Red Sox. This one came on a night when the Phillies were in danger of slipping to three games behind the Atlanta Braves, who finished feasting on the lowly Miami Marlins. This one was provided by a newcomer who invigorated the offense that had gone dormant over the last week.
"Any time the action starts early and you're starting to make decisions early and you're thinking about tomorrow's game and the doubleheader [against the New York Mets] … it's really stimulating and invigorating. I think that's how we all felt in the dugout tonight — invigorated."
We did already know this team had grit. We had seen it over and over again, starting immediately after the disastrous season-opening road trip to Atlanta and New York. But this was different. This was a playoff atmosphere and Phillies starter Vince Velasquez put his team in a 3-0 hole in the third inning by walking the pitcher and hitting a batter faced with a 0-2 count before giving up a three-run double to Mitch Moreland.
"Just kind of a bad display of pitching on my end," Velasquez said.
The Phillies did not flinch. They won and split the four-game season series with the Red Sox. They won and remained two games behind the Braves.The Phillies quickly erased the early deficit with the help of three huge hits — two doubles and a triple — by veteran catcher Wilson Ramos in his first start with his new team. Kapler needed seven relievers to get to the finish line and they combined to allow just one unearned run over the final 6 2/3 innings.
Give a lot of credit to Hector Neris for the biggest win of the season. He came on with the bases loaded in the third and got two huge outs to start the train of brilliant bullpen work.
A lesser team might have folded Wednesday night, especially one that has struggled much of the season to score runs. That struggle had become monumental in the last week and was accentuated by Tuesday's 2-1 loss when the Phillies' offense managed just two hits against the Red Sox.
But the young Phillies are not quite as young now. In the last three weeks, they have added three 30-somethings who should help them through the final 6 1/2 weeks of the season. On paper, the offense is much better now. The Phillies did not get the grand prize of Manny Machado that so many teams sought at the trade deadline, but they did get Ramos, infielder Asdrubal Cabrera and first baseman Justin Bour, three guys with big-league resumes that include a combined 350 home runs and a .764 OPS.
They are not future Hall of Famers, but they give the Phillies' struggling offense a lot better chance of scoring runs than a lineup that includes Scott Kingery and Jorge Alfaro, a couple of youngsters who have struggled to swim in the deep end of the pool this season.
Kapler got his first chance to use all his new toys Wednesday when Ramos, acquired from Tampa Bay at the July 31 deadline, was activated from the disabled list after missing a month with a hamstring injury. Ramos might be the Phillies' biggest offensive upgrade of all.
The Phillies' young catching duo of Alfaro and Andrew Knapp ranked 12th in batting average, 16th in OPS and 23rd in home runs through 118 games. Ramos, even after missing that month, still ranked eighth among big-league catchers in home runs and had the third highest OPS among catchers with at least 250 at-bats this season.
"Wilson Ramos' track record of success and the veteran presence is huge for us," Kapler said. "We have a lot of young players and we have to some degree a lack of experience, but that's balanced by what Wilson Ramos brings to the table."
Cabrera, as noted in this space recently, is not considered a big-league shortstop any more, so it's not ideal to have him at that position. But he's still considered a dangerous hitter and given the problems the Phillies have had at the plate, he has to man the position for the rest of the season.
Kapler made it clear before Wednesday's game that Carlos Santana is still his regular first baseman, but he gave Bour his first start as a Phillie and he plans to give him plenty of at-bats as a pinch hitter. Why not? Bour is a .263 career pinch hitter with a .377 on-base percentage and five home runs. The Phillies did not have a pinch-hitter like that until he arrived.
"Santana's going to play every day," Kapler said. "Santana's going to play regularly. Bour is going to be a weapon off the bench for us."
The manager did, however, leave a little wiggle room to change his mind.
"Look, we can't see the future in its entirety," he said. "Santana's going to play every day. Right now, Bour is a weapon off the bench for us. He can start for us occasionally."
Bour started on this occasion and he started a vital seventh-inning rally with a single that later included a two-run single by Ramos. Santana, as it turned out, was a weapon off the bench, delivering a two-out RBI single that tied the game in the bottom of the fourth.