From the smokin’ bats of Odubel Herrera and Carlos Santana to Nick Williams’ game-changing, pinch-hit home run in the finale, it was quite a homestand for the Phillies. They won five of six games, capping it all with a 4-2 win over the New York Mets in South Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon (see first take).
Williams’ three-run homer with two outs in the sixth inning was the game’s big blow and it made a winner of deserving starter Aaron Nola.
“Oh, man,” Nola said of Williams’ homer. “That’s as clutch as you can get right there. Coming off the bench, too. That was pretty awesome.”
You know what was really awesome on the homestand? The starting pitching. Nola, the quality-start machine, gave up just one run – on a mistake curveball – in six innings Sunday afternoon. So for the homestand, Phillies starting pitching allowed just five runs over 38 innings. The run of strong starts goes back even farther than that. Over the last eight games, Phillies starters have given up just seven runs in 49 innings. The only thing standing between the Phillies and an 8-0 record in those games is a pair of blown saves by Hector Neris.
It was not surprising that manager Gabe Kapler stayed away from Neris in a two-run game in the ninth inning Sunday. Kapler never officially named Neris his closer. He has been purposely vague so he can choose a ninth-inning man based on matchups, etc. Edubray Ramos got the call Sunday and recorded his first big-league save.
“The game is on the line, there’s no room to mess up,” Ramos said.
Before entering the game, Ramos received some words of encouragement from Neris.
“He told me to take a deep breath and throw strikes and make sure you calm down because it’s the ninth inning and the game is on the line,” Ramos said.
Nola is 6-1 with a 1.99 ERA in nine starts. Over his last three starts, he has allowed just two earned runs in 20 1/3 innings. He has walked three and struck out 23.
“We have a top 10 pitcher in baseball,” Kapler said.
Even top 10 pitchers need run support. Nola finally got some in the bottom of the sixth when Williams hit a 2-1 slider from Paul Sewald over the wall in right. It was Williams’ second pinch-hit homer of the season. He is not playing regularly because of a numbers issue in the outfield, but he’s making things happen when he gets his chance.
“Man, what a tremendous job off the bench,” Kapler said. “What a difficult thing to do – come off the bench and lay the fat part of the bat on the ball and get the ball out of the ballpark. A really impressive at-bat.”
Kapler praised Williams for his attitude and maturity in staying ready despite not getting as many reps as others.
“It’s difficult,” Williams said of his part-time status. “Whenever my name is called I’m trying to do whatever I can. You have to stay in the game.
“Nola was spectacular. It was great to give him a win because he’s been pitching his butt off.”
All of the starters have been. The 5-1 homestand gave the Phillies a 23-16 record heading into Monday’s off day and Tuesday’s game at Baltimore. The Phils will use a designated hitter in that interleague series so Williams is likely to get some regular at-bats.
He’s earned them.