May 27, 2017
It’s difficult to know exactly what Pete Mackanin said behind the closed clubhouse doors at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night, when he decided he had enough of watching his Phillies team find new ways to lose. His team had lost 21 of their last 26 games and had failed to win back-to-back games in more than four weeks.
But the general message was apparent from the reaction of the players afterward.
Be aggressive. Play with more energy.
In the bottom of the ninth inning a day later, in a late afternoon game with the Cincinnati Reds, Aaron Altherr did a little of both to set the table before Tommy Joseph cleaned it up and collected his second walk-off hit in three days to hand the Phillies a 4-3 win.
After leading off with a single, Altherr crept off first base when Reds reliever Michael Lorenzen tried to bury an 0-2 breaking ball low and outside the strike zone to finish off Joseph. But he buried the ball a bit too low, and it bounced, briefly out of the reach of catcher Tucker Barnhart.
Altherr took off. Seconds later, he slid headfirst into second base, moving the Phillies one hit away from their second win in three games with nobody out.
“Aaron did a heck of a job reading the ball, it got far enough away but he’s an incredible athlete with incredible instincts,” Joseph said. “He did the right thing there.”
“I just wanted to try to make something happen,” Altherr said. “I just kind of instinctively just took off.”
Joseph then did his part, battling back from an 0-2 count to get a 97-MPH pitch on the lower, outer half of the plate and serving it into center field to bring Altherr home with the game-winning run. Saturday’s victory marked the first time the last-place Phillies had won two games in a three-game span since exactly a month earlier, when they won back-to-back games over Miami on April 26-27.
“Those are the little thing that any winning team has to do – advance on things like that,” Mackanin said. “It was a close play and he recognized a ball in the dirt and took off right from the get go. It helped us win the game.”
Joseph’s blazing bat has helped, too. He also hit a go-ahead home run in the fourth inning that helped the Phillies rebound from a 2-0 first-inning deficit.
In the Phillies last two wins (on Thursday and Saturday), Joseph has:
• a game-tying home run in the seventh inning
• a walk-off hit in the 11th inning
• a go-ahead home run in the fourth
• a walk-off hit in the ninth
Joseph is hitting .321 with a 1.053 OPS and seven home runs in 24 games this month after hitting just .179 with three extra-base hits (including one home run) in April.
“At the beginning of April didn’t think I’d have an April like I did,” Joseph said when asked if he saw this month coming after his rough April. “So, it was just a matter of making adjustments with (hitting coach) Matt (Stairs), making sure that we stay a little more consistent with what’s going on, and it’s all about really sticking to the adjustments that we made.”
Coupled with Altherr (.294/.400/.600, six home runs this month), Joseph has given Mackanin consistent run producers as he waits for his Opening Day middle of the order bats (namely Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco, who combined to go 0-for-6 on Saturday) to get going eight weeks into the season. It’s been more than a pleasant surprise for the Phillies that the production has come from two guys that weren’t even in the picture 13 months ago.
“Especially having someone in the middle of the lineup, that 3-4-5 guy,” Mackanin said. “You are going to win a lot of games (with that). (Joseph) has been providing that for us.”
Cesar Hernandez and Michael Saunders also homered for the Phillies.
It was Hernandez’s fourth leadoff home run of his career and a home run that snapped a 107 at-bat drought without a home run. Hernandez has five home runs already this season, one shy of his career high from last season. Prior to last year, Hernandez had just two career home runs in 708 plate appearances/227 major league games.
Saunders, meanwhile, has hit five home runs in 23 games in May after hitting just one in April.
After issuing a two-out walk to Zack Cozart (4-for-4 with a home run and a double on Saturday), Hector Neris collected a very big final out of the top of the ninth inning when he got Joey Votto flailing at a splitter for his second strikeout of the inning. Neris has struck out seven of the 14 batters he’s faced over the last four games, heating up just like the rest of ‘pen.
The Phillies’ relief corps (3 2/3 shutout innings on Saturday) has been perfect in their last five games – they will carry a 19 2/3 inning-scoreless streak into play on Sunday. It’s the bullpen’s longest such streak since going 20 innings without yielding a run from April 24-May 1 in 2016.
More gaudy numbers: the ‘pen has a 0.61 ERA in nine games since May 19. And after opponents hit .255 with a .829 OPS against them in April, the ‘pen has held the opposition to a .237 average and .687 OPS in May.
This just in, Hector Neris is good at baseball pic.twitter.com/agYOhx7hQw— Batter Up, Philly (@BatterUpPhilly) May 25, 2017
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