ST. LOUIS — Gabe Kapler walked to the mound Thursday night as Busch Stadium started to come alive. The Phillies, clinging to a one-run lead, were suddenly on the ropes. And the manager called on his youngest arm to bail them out.
Seranthony Dominguez needed just eight pitches in the seventh inning to retire two batters and strand two runners, and the Phillies went on to 6-2 win over the Cardinals. It was the 23-year-old’s introduction to major-league pressure after being promoted from triple A earlier this month. This was high leverage. Dominguez did not blink.
The tension was created when Vince Velasquez, who pitched terrifically, “allowed” a double to Matt Carpenter. The hit seemed like a routine flyout to left field before confusion overcame Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera. Herrera raced over from center and appeared to call off Hoskins, who dropped to his knees at the last minute to get out of the way. The ball dropped, the Cardinals had runners on second and third, and Kapler walked to the mound.
Velasquez did not allow a run in 61/3 innings as he struck out five and walked two. He allowed just five hits and dominated with his fastball, which touched 98 mph. He was excellent.
Velasquez has made an effort to slow himself down and find his rhythm as he channels his aggressiveness. Thursday night he commanded the mound with a patient presence. He has allowed four earned runs over his last 171/3 innings. Velasquez may have turned a corner.
That tension Dominguez faced was alleviated shortly afterward when Aaron Altherr drove in two runs in the eighth with a bases-loaded single. Herrera followed with an RBI double to right and the Phillies suddenly had a 4-0 lead. Herrera reached base three times, extending his on-base streak to 43 consecutive games, dating back to last season. He is one game shy of tying Chuck Klein’s mark from 1931, which is the fourth-longest in Phillies history. He left nothing to chance as he slid headfirst in the seventh to reach on an infield single, flopping across the bag to beat the throw.
The eighth-inning rally proved crucial when Yacksel Rios walked the leadoff batter to bring Luis Garcia in from the bullpen. Garcia allowed a single and hit a batter before allowing two runs to score. The lead was cut to two, but the Phillies quickly built it back behind a two-run homer from Pedro Florimon, who hit his first major-league homer since September 27, 2013. The game felt safe, again.
The run Dominguez was called on to protect came in the fifth on a homer by Carlos Santana. It was Santana’s eighth homer of the season and his sixth in his last 11 games. Santana’s torrid month continues as he pulls himself out of the funk that marred his April.
The Phillies do not have a closer and Kapler has no plans to give a pitcher that title. He has shed any type of bullpen roles, instead using his relievers where he best sees fit on a particular night. Thursday’s pivotal situation — runners on second and third with one out and a one-run lead — called for Dominguez.
The righthander became a relief pitcher three months ago. He blitzed through the minor leagues and needed just 11 appearances this season before the Phillies saw enough to promote him. Thursday was his 10th day in the big leagues and just his fifth time on a major-league mound. But it was hard to tell. He forced a groundout and a flyout and walked to the dugout with a one-run lead protected and a ballpark silenced. He did his job.