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September 24, 2016

Phillies nearly blow 10-0 lead in wild win over the Mets

NEW YORK – October baseball is special, and when it’s at its best, it’s arguably the best theater in any sport.

September baseball, on the other hand, may have its share of pennant race theater, but also has its games like the last three nights in Flushing, when expanded rosters made the games about an exciting as being forced to watch a nonstop marathon of Keeping up with the Kardashians for the entirety of a weekend.

Thanks to expanded rosters (what other sport plays by one set of rules for the first five months of the season and then changes them for the final month?) the Phillies and Mets used a total of 30 pitchers in the first two games of the four-game series at Citi Field. On Saturday night, the Mets latest fill-in starter, left-hander Sean Gilmartin, was pulled before completing the first inning, when the Phillies batted around and scored five times.

Gilmartin deserved the hook, of course, but Mets manager Terry Collins might as well taken the nickname Captain Hook with his seemingly endless walks to the mound this week. But he wasn’t just pulling pitchers: in the fifth inning of Saturday night’s game, Collins also pulled his top four hitters in the lineup – Jose Reyes, Asdrubal Cabrera, Yoenis Cespedes, and Curtis Grandson – and replaced them with his team trailing by double digits.

An inning earlier, the Mets were trailing 10-0 and being no-hit by Phillies rookie Alec Asher, too.

“It’s a totally different game in September,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said before the game. “I know one thing, when you look at the last couple of days and you look what they’ve got on the bench, there’s not a move I can make that can’t be counteracted. You know? If I’m in the hunt, that would be very frustrating. Even when you’re trying to win a game, even if you’re not in the hunt it’s frustrating.”

Terry the Hook’s moves inspired his National League Wild Card-leading team, however. The Mets scored six runs in the fifth and sixth innings, inspiring Phillies scribe Kevin Cooney of Calkins Media to (allegedly) declare that he’d walk home to Philadelphia if Mackanin’s boys blew a 10-0 lead.

Cooney didn’t have to make the 102-mile walk back to South Philly, though. The Phillies pen flirted with trouble, but played bend-but-don’t break in helping their team collect a 10-8 victory on Saturday night.

"I mean that’s kind of game that you get anxious a little bit," admitted Maikel Franco, who homered for the third straight night. "They stayed in the game all night long. We were up 10 runs and they never gave up. ... That’s the kind of game that, just, I’m glad we won tonight."

"The positive is that we won the game," Mackanin said when the game came to a merciful end. "We should have won the first game. The offense has come alive, they’ve been swinging the bats well all week. ... I’m talking myself into being happy, let’s put it that way."

Michael Mariot got the "save." (Save in "air quotes" because he served up a home run and walked two). Mackanin had originally planned on having relief ace Hector Neris pitch the game's final two innings with closer Jeanmar Gomez on a break, but Neris's pitch count was too high after the eighth, in the manager's eyes. And so, Mariot.

"I just told myself to keep throwing strikes and good things will happen," said the right-hander who didn't join the big league team until August. 

Entrusted with putting an end to a game that wouldn't end, the 27-year-old Mariot didn't make it easy, like the relievers who preceded him, but still recorded the 27th out.

"You can't really ever check out because that can happen so you try not to check out" Mariot said. "You try to stay focused and stay in the game somewhat. Obviously later on in the game you've really got to check in."

The win was the Phillies 70th of the year. It should have been one of the easiest of the season, after scoring more runs in the first inning than they had in 106 of their first 154 games entering the night.

Instead it was a victory that probably had Mackanin’s already silver hair turning whiter with each out from just before the seventh inning stretch until the last out was recorded by his very uncertain pitching staff.

"The bullpen has been sputtering – 11 base runners in 4 innings,"  Mackanin said. "Too many walks. But we won the game and that’s the best part."

And it cost everyone in the Philadelphia area from seeing this:

Or this:

Alas, Cooney will take the train instead tomorrow to cover the Eagles game on Sunday while the Phillies wrap up their Never-ending Story of a weekend in New York. The first three games of the series have lasted 11 hours and 50 minutes.

The Phillies did win the third of those September marathons and there were some highlights.

 Maikel Franco (whose critical error in the fifth spurred the Mets comeback) homered for the third time in as many nights at Citi Field. He has a team-best 25 this season. 

 "You see the ball really good and you put good contact on the ball and it really flies," Franco said. "That’s what it's about. Trying to go out and see a good pitch to hit and make good contact."

 Darin Ruf, who hadn't played in 10 days when he hit a pinch-hit home run on Friday, homered for the second straight night. Ruf didn't have any home runs (in his albeit short time) in the big leagues this season before Friday.

 Odubel Herrera continued his torrid September by going 3-for-5 with a triple and two runs scored. It was Herrera's seventh multi-hit game in his last 11 games. Herrera is hitting .465 (20--for-43) in that 11-game stretch since Sept. 12. 

 Alec Asher was on the mound when the Mets comeback began, but he did not allow an earned run in five innings. He has a 1.66 ERA in four starts since joining the rotation this month. Asher had a 9.31 ERA in seven starts with the Phillies in 2015.

 • Neither Tommy Joseph or Ryan Howard homered on Saturday, but they have helped their team own this historical fact: the Phillies are the first team in major league history with two first basemen with at least 20 home runs each in a single season.

 • Rookie Jake Thompson will square off against fellow right-hander Robert Gsellman when the Phils and Mets wrap up their four-game series on Sunday. Thompson is tentatively on tap to also pitch on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park, in the penultimate game of the season, too. But Mackanin said it's possible the Phils could decide to shut down the 22-year-old, too, after a hefty workload this summer in Triple-A and the major leagues.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21