BALTIMORE — One out from completing the seventh inning here Thursday night, Nick Pivetta trudged back to the Phillies dugout after giving up a 400-foot, two-run home run on his 102nd pitch of the game.
OK, so it wasn’t the way Pivetta wanted to punctuate his final start before the all-star break.
Still, in every way, this represented progress. Given the gift of facing the dreadful Baltimore Orioles for a second time this season — he can thank a torrential rainstorm May 15 that postponed the game by nearly two months — Pivetta didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning. He pitched into the seventh inning for only the second time in nine starts. And he won his first start since May 21, a 5-4 decision that nudged the Phillies a half-game ahead of the Atlanta Braves and into sole possession of first place in the National League East.
The Phillies pounded 14 hits, including three apiece by Jorge Alfaro, Scott Kingery and Cesar Hernandez. Alfaro crushed a solo home run to straightaway center field in the sixth inning and finished a triple away from hitting for the cycle.
Once again, the bullpen delivered. Four relievers — Tommy Hunter, Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan, and Seranthony Dominguez — combined to record the final seven outs. And with less than three weeks until the trade deadline, the Phillies bullpen has quietly posted a 1.89 ERA in July, the lowest mark in the majors.
But nothing that happened before an announced Camden Yards crowd of 21,100 fans — enough of whom were Phillies fans that a loud, audible “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!” chant broke out midway through the game — was more important than Pivetta’s performance.
Pivetta didn’t make it out of the third inning in his previous start last Friday night in Pittsburgh. In the start before that, he got knocked out in the second inning by the Washington Nationals. His ERA since June 1: 7.34.
But one night after Vince Velasquez affirmed his spot in the starting rotation with six sparkling innings against the New York Mets, Pivetta did the same against the Orioles, who have the worst record in baseball (26-68) but nevertheless still possess Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo, and a few other dangerous hitters.
And so, for as impressive as prospect Enyel De Los Santos looked in winning his major-league debut Tuesday night in New York, Velasquez and Pivetta have muted any potential chatter about replacing them in the rotation.
Pivetta’s most challenging moment came in the second inning. Errors by first baseman Carlos Santana and shortstop Kingery enabled the Orioles to put runners on second and third base with one out. But Pivetta struck out Chance Sisco and got Trey Mancini to ground out, keeping the game scoreless.
The Phillies scored two runs in the third inning on a single by Santana and a fielder’s choice by Nick Williams. They added two runs in the fourth on a double by Alfaro. And Pivetta just kept rolling, getting Tim Beckham to ground into a rally-killing double play in the third inning, retiring the side in the fourth, and working around a one-out single by Sisco in the fifth.