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April 22, 2017

Maikel Franco's walk-off gives Phillies first win streak since August

The Phillies were one out away from their first winning streak since mid-August.

But then the magical mystery tour that is the current back-end of Pete Mackanin's bullpen – more specifically, his closer du jour – took an ugly turn on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park. And a razor sharp defensive game by the home team took an ill-timed timeout, too.

Maikel Franco managed to save the day.

With the Phillies trailing by a run, Franco, entering the night hitting .164, short-hopped the fence in right field with two outs and the bases loaded in the 10th to deliver his team a 4-3 walk-off win.

"Stay positive," Franco said of the Phillies' resolve on Saturday night. "Keep doing what everyone is doing right now, play the game the right way. Never give up, play hard, show a lot of energy. Just try to come in and have a good game, help your teammates and do everything you can do."

The Phillies have won three games in a row for the first time since Aug. 14 of the 2016 season, when they swept the Colorado Rockies to reel off their fourth straight victory. The Phils (8-9) have the opportunity to climb up to the .500 mark by completing a sweep over the Braves on Sunday afternoon.

After Jaime Garcia handcuffed Phillies hitters for the game’s first five innings – and out-pitched Jerad Eickhoff, who simply needed too many pitches to get through his own five, still-effective innings – Cesar Hernandez led off the sixth with a single and Aaron Altherr followed with a double. Odubel Herrera made it three straight with a run-scoring single to tie the game before Franco hit a ball sharply into the hole at shortstop to bring Altherr in with the go-ahead run.

But just as quickly as the Phils turned the game around in their favor, it went bad.

With closers Hector Neris and Joaquin Benoit unavailable, and Jerad Eickhoff only going five, Mackanin had to improvise with his relief corps. It worked for the first 3 2/3 innings.

Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia, and Pat Neshek provided the bridge to the ninth inning (and got some awfully strong defense from the guys behind them in doing so). Ramos, the hard-throwing right-hander who made headlines on the last homestand for throwing at Mets shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, was Mackanin’s man for the ninth.

Ramos fired an array of fastballs (topping out at 96 MPH), curveballs, and sliders to retire the first two batters on strikes. But then he hung a slider, and the long-time Cincinnati Reds second baseman and three-time All-Star made him pay.

Phillips launched the second pitch (and second slider) he saw, a ball belt high and over the heart of the plate, and sent it into the left field seats.  

"Just hung a breaking ball," Mackanin said.

In the 10th, both Tommy Joseph and Franco airmailed throws – Joseph's coming on a routine sacrifice bunt play when he fired to third, where no one was covering because no one was running to third – and Atlanta capitalized on the home team's errors. An inning after sending the game into extras, Atlanta grabbed the lead.

Even though we made three errors and some funny-looking plays ... you've got to agree with one thing: the guys don't quit. They came back and it was great to see.

"I caught the ball, I turned around and (Dansby) Swanson was making the turn (at second)," Joseph explained of his throwing error. "Everyone was running over there. I tried to make the heads up play, threw it away and put ourselves in a jam. But like the rest of the night, the offense put together some good at-bats and we were able to succeed there."

As Joseph alluded to, the pesky Phillies responded in the home half of the inning. Pinch-hitter Brock Stassi, Hernandez and Altherr strung together consecutive hits. After Odubel Herrera swung wildly at strike three to move the Phils one out away from defeat, Franco jumped on an offering from Jim Johnson and sent the patrons at Citizens Bank Park home happy.

"My approach is just go up there and look for my pitch, a good pitch to hit," the normally pull-happy Franco said of taking a pitch the other way to win the game. "He threw me a fastball away and I put good contact on it."

The Phillies defense took a holiday in the 10th inning, but as Mackanin mentioned after the celebrating was through, several plays earlier in the night also played a part in Saturday night's one-run win.

"Even though we made three errors and some funny-looking plays, you've got to talk about the play Freddy made at shortstop, the diving catch by Altherr and Odubel – he went a long ways for that ball," Mackanin said. "That was a great catch. ... You've got to agree with one thing: the guys don't quit. They came back and it was great to see."

Here are some of those defensive gems:

Herrera's catch was his second highlight reel-worthy, wall-crashing grab in two nights. 

"It's a lot of fun because you're helping your team," he said. "You're saving the game."

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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