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June 03, 2017

Lively brilliant in debut, offense clutch late as Phillies snap five-game skid

If there was a script, the Phillies, in desperate need for some improv to break up the stale brand of baseball they’ve played in the last month, decided to toss it aside on Saturday afternoon.

Because in their last 13 games, the Phils only had two wins and both had a very familiar formula: game-tying or go-ahead home run from Tommy Joseph at one point in the game, walk-off hit by Joseph later in the same game.

Those two wins came in the span of three days on the last homestand. Beyond that it’s been nothing but one loss after another in the last two weeks, when the team’s five-week skid has managed to get worse with each passing day.

So when Joseph, a former San Francisco top prospect traded away for Hunter Pence, ripped a game-tying home run off Johnny Cueto in the sixth inning, you knew what was coming. He was primed for a walk-off hit in a few innings, right?


For the first time in a long time, one player wasn’t asked to carry the Phillies to victory. For the first time in a long time, the Phillies got a superb performance from their starting pitcher, strong defense, and a clutch hit in one inning, followed by a crooked number on the scoreboard in the next. If it wasn't for Hector Neris's ninth-inning struggles, it was close to the team's most perfect game of an imperfect 2017 season.

Despite the latter event, they won.

Ben Lively was remarkable in his big league debut while Joseph and an awakened Odubel Herrera supplied the thunder as the Phillies collected a 5-3 win over the Giants on Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

"Needless to say, Lively is my favorite pitcher," said manager Pete Mackanin, who watched each of his last three starters fail to pitch into the fourth inning, let alone the seventh. "He did a heck of a good job."

Lively, the 25-year-old right-hander the Phillies received in one of their first rebuilding trades 2 1/2 years ago, from Cincinnati in exchange for Marlon Byrd, held San Francisco to four singles in seven innings. He walked three and didn’t strike out a batter, but he also didn’t allow an extra-base hit and the only blemish on his line was a second-inning sacrifice fly.

Lively was just the second Phillies starter in the team’s last 26 games (Aaron Nola on May 21) to give the team at least seven innings. He became the first Phillies rookie to pitch at least seven innings in his major league debut since Gavin Floyd in 2004.

"I love going deep in games, that’s one of my things," said Lively, who pitched six innings or more in 21 of 28 minor league starts since the beginning of last season, including seven of his nine starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley this season. "Once I get past six, I’m like, 'Another gear, let’s go.'"

If there were any nerves, Lively, who had been up with the club twice before this year but never pitched as an emergency arm in the 'pen, didn't show any. The burly, 6-4, Florida native attacked the Giants lineup as if they were just another minor league team that happened to be on his schedule.

"The thing that impressed me the most," Mackanin said, "is he showed no fear. From the first pitch on, he pitched like he belonged here."

The only possible breaking moment came for Lively when he walked off the mound for the final time after the seventh and caught glimpse of someone he knew in the family section.

"I kind of looked up, caught eyes with my mom," he said. "And she's a little crybaby, so that’s when it all kind of sunk in."

Lively also collected a single off Cueto in his second big league at-bat, making him the first Phillies starting pitcher to throw at least seven innings and collect a hit in his debut since Dave Downs on Sept. 2, 1972.

The 1972 Phillies lost 97 games. The way the 2017 Phillies have played in the last five weeks, flirting with 100 losses for the second time in the last three years seemed like a given.

But they showed some positive signs, at least for one afternoon.

An inning after Joseph’s latest clutch home run (and his ninth home run of the year), Maikel Franco led off the seventh with his second hit of the game and Andrew Knapp followed suit with a single of his own. The Giants tried to slow the Phils’ rally by summoning in easily-agitated right-handed reliever Hunter Strickland, but Freddy Galvis ripped the first pitch Strickland threw into left for a go-ahead single.

Two batters later, with the bases loaded and one out, Herrera, like Franco, collected his second hit of the game, too. Only this one put the game away, providing the reeling Phillies with a much-needed cushion.

Herrera ripped an 0-1 pitch into the center field gap, bringing everyone on the bases across home plate. He flipped his bat, of course.

Herrera may want to watch his back in three years. Strickland never forgets.

On Saturday – and probably any day, really – Odubel Herrera didn’t really care.

"I’m not trying to offend anyone – that’s just the way I am and that’s the way I’m going to play," Herrera said. "I don’t want to get drilled. But I’m not going to change the way I play."

The Phillies can just hope a hit that broke Saturday's open helps cure Herrera's ailing bat. He entered the afternoon in a 2-for-25 funk and finished it with a .607 OPS, the latter ranking 164th out of 172 qualifying big league hitters.

Franco, who got the seventh-inning rally started, ranks 160th on that same list with a .636 OPS.

"That’s what these guys all need," Mackanin said. "They need to be able to breathe a little bit knowing they can still perform. It grates on you after a while. Both Maikel and Odubel really benefited, I think, from (those hits) today."

-- Tommy Joseph's home run traveled 447 feet and left at an exit speed of 111-MPH, according to MLB Advanced Media Statcast data, making it both the hardest hit home run of the season for Joseph (he hit a 112-MPH shot last June) and the farthest home run hit by a Phillies player this season (Andrew Knapp's 434-foot shot on May 28 was the previous best).

-- Ben Lively was the first Phillies pitcher to throw at least seven innings without recording a strikeout since Vance Worley (Aug. 1, 2012). Lively at least had fun at his own expense over that discrepancy on his otherwise sterling pitching line:

-- On Sunday, the Phillies will attempt to win back-to-back games for the first time since April 27 (a span of 32 games since) and they'll also try to win their first series since that date, too. The Phils need a win on Sunday to avoid their first 11-series losing streak in 76 years. The Phillies lost 14 straight series from June 10 to July 24 in 1941, when they finished with a franchise-worst 111 losses.

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