The Phillies had yet to score on Sunday when Zack Wheeler ran to the first baseline. He wasn’t sprinting, Wheeler said after a necessary 4-2 win over the New York Mets, but he wasn’t running either. The pitcher dropped a perfect sacrifice bunt in the second inning at Citi Field and was âjust around the cornerâ towards the first.
âI try to put a little pressure on who it’s for, to make the right shot,â Wheeler said. “It’s just my state of mind there.”
His strong stride proved to be sufficient as second baseman Jeff McNeil dropped the first base pitch from pitcher Marcus Stroman. The runners – Nick Maton and Ronald Torreyes – climbed a base, but more importantly, Wheeler was safe. And that mattered when OdÃºbel Herrera followed with a sacrifice fly that would have ended the set, but instead led into the first set of the match.
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The Phillies needed a performance like the one Wheeler delivered on Sunday as he pitched seven white innings and struck out eight while allowing just four hits and two walks. As he has been all season, Wheeler has been excellent on the mound. On Sunday he helped with his stride.
âThis is why I have always loved the NL,â said Wheeler. âYou have to get the cavities down and move the runner. It’s the little things that sometimes add up. If you put the ball in play, sometimes good things happen. It’s the state of mind to go up there: make the pitcher throw shots, make his shots count and just be a batting tough. Even if you don’t come out of there with a hit, just be a tough batting. “
The Phillies left New York with a division in their four-game series. They are still three games below .500 and are five games away from the Mets. They were in a position to win all four games against the division leaders, but they missed saves in three of the four games.
The Phils play a rescheduled game Monday in Cincinnati before a six-game home game against the pesky Miami Marlins and mighty San Diego Padres. Sunday’s victory was beautiful, but it was a reminder of what the weekend could have been.
âWe could have had four. We had two, but we could have had four. It’s kind of how I leave, âsaid manager Joe Girardi before boarding the flight from New York. “But we have to move on and we have to finish strong before the break.”
Archie Bradley allowed a homerun in Sunday’s ninth inning, but recorded his first save with the Phils after JosÃ© Alvarado – the team’s new closest to HÃ©ctor Neris’ place – allowed a point in the eighth to create a backup situation. Bradley and Alvarado both made saves this weekend, but Girardi said Alvarado remained his closest.
He deployed Alvarado in the eighth inning so the left-hander could face the top of the Mets roster. Francisco Lindor scored twice and scored on a single from Pete Alonso. Alvarado made it interesting before removing Michael Conforto and James McCann. Bradley gave Kevin Pillar a homerun but struck out the other three hitters he faced in the ninth. The enclosure cracked but did not collapse.
“We had a bad day on Wednesday,” Girardi said of the reliever box. âFriday, the races were not deserved. Saturday, the races were not deserved. Right? It was our defense. When you start asking people to get four withdrawals, it sometimes causes problems. Now I know they are capable of getting four withdrawals. And I know we brought some guys in there. But our defense really hurt us. We didn’t give up a earned run on Friday.
Phillies starters – Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin and Matt Moore – allowed just one earned run this weekend in 23 1/3 innings. All four pitchers combined for a 0.39 ERA against the first-place Mets, putting the Phils in a position to move up the standings. But the defense burned them down, the lineup struggled and the reliever box was unreliable. The Phils didn’t spoil Wheeler’s performance on Sunday.
âWe struggled last time around so we knew we had to turn the game around and do as we were,â said Wheeler. âWe have the right guys to do it with the starting staff. Everyone had a good lap and you’re just trying to keep up with their performance and outdo them. This is the best way to go about it. It is a friendly competition. This is how we push each other.
Wheeler’s decay helped the Phillies take an early lead. They would veer onto three more tracks, building a lead big enough for their lift pen to protect themselves. Torreyes and Andrew McCutchen each had three hits. Maton doubled in one point and scored twice. The Phillies left nine runners on base, but they could survive that with the way Wheeler was throwing.
He was dominant lowering his ERA to 2.20. It was the kind of performance the Phillies needed. It wasn’t enough to make up for the weekend, but it was enough to save him.
âWe really needed it. He was exceptional, âsaid Girardi. âSeven beautiful sleeves. He was efficient with his throws on a very hot day. It was really humid today. As if the difference between Friday and Sunday is incredible when it comes to the weather. And we needed it. His fuss just over decay made a difference in this game because he comes in first because he shoved. Zack was really, really good again today.