Lehigh Valley IronPigs part of the rarest kind of history

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PHOENIX — Despite being in the thick of the National League East race all season and leading the division every day since July 6, the Phillies have had a major flaw in their game: They are not a good defensive team. They made another error Tuesday night and had a catchable ball fall on the warning track for a double. Both miscues came in the eighth inning.

But credit where credit is due: Defense was a big reason the Phillies won Tuesday night’s game, 5-2, over the Arizona Diamondbacks (see first take).

The Phils turned four double plays in the infield and none of them were easy. Two of the double plays came with the game on the line in the late innings, one in a one-run game to end the seventh inning, the other a momentum-buster to end the eighth inning after the Diamondbacks had rallied for two runs and brought the tying run to the plate. 

“I thought (Asdrubal) Cabrera and (Cesar) Hernandez did a good job up the middle tonight, played some good defense, turned some nice double plays,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

First baseman Carlos Santana and reliever Luis Garcia also had a hand in one of those double plays, the one that ended the seventh and preserved a one-run lead.

The Phillies capitalized on poor defense by the Diamondbacks and rallied for four runs to take a 5-0 lead in the top of the eighth inning. Arizona rallied against newcomer Aaron Loup in the bottom of the inning and Kapler was forced to go to Victor Arano for the final two outs in that inning even though the right-hander had thrown 33 pitches the night before. 

Arano survived a misplayed fly ball by Odubel Herrera that became a run and an error by third baseman Maikel Franco that became another run and got out of the inning by getting dangerous Eduardo Escobar to ground into a 4-6-3 double play.

“It might go unnoticed, but Arano weathered a pretty incredible storm out there with the ball that dropped in center field and the misplay by Mikey,” Kapler said. “He was able to keep his wits about him, stay composed, stay under control and continue to deliver sharp pitches. He’s been excellent for us all year.”

Even with the two runs charged to Loup, the Phillies still have the best bullpen in the majors since July 1. Its ERA over that span is 2.70.

The starting rotation has been good all season and particularly good lately. Over the last eight games, the starting staff has allowed just nine earned runs in 55 1/3 innings for a 1.46 ERA. The Phils are 6-2 over those eight games. Both of the losses were by one run, in 13 and 14 innings, respectively.

Nick Pivetta became the latest starter to shine with six shutout innings. He walked one and struck out six in the Phillies’ NL-high 59th quality start.

Pivetta struggled throughout most of June and July, but the front office chose not to trade for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline. Pivetta has responded with two strong starts since then. He has given up just two runs in 12 innings, while registering 13 strikeouts and walking just one in those two starts.

“The organization has continued to show a great degree of confidence in Nick Pivetta and this is Nick kind of rewarding the organization for its patience,” Kapler said.

Pivetta appreciates the organization sticking with him.

“Gabe is an amazing manager,” the right-hander said. “He’s a great communicator. He sticks up for everybody in this clubhouse all the time because he believes in us. I think that’s important when you have a manager that’s fighting for us. I think that gives us a lot of confidence. We’re sticking with him just as much as he’s sticking with us.”

The Phillies beat a good one in Zack Greinke as they improved to 64-49. They lead the NL East by 1½ games over Atlanta. Greinke gave up just a run in seven innings, a homer by Nick Williams. The victory came a day after the Phils wasted eight shutout innings from Jake Arrieta and lost, 3-2, in 14 innings.

“We know how to take a punch,” Kapler said. “We took a punch last night and it was a hard one, but we bounced back today and it’s sort of the character of our club now. We get knocked down but we pop right back up.”

Vince Velasquez gets the ball in the series finale Wednesday afternoon.

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