After comeback vs. Pirates, Phils keep sights on playoffs
Very little has come easily for the Philadelphia Phillies this season.
But somehow, they’re within striking distance of the Atlanta Braves in the National League East, and that’s all they can ask for with nine games remaining.
The second-place Phillies trail the Braves by two games, and they’ll look to inch closer when they host the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday.
Philadelphia (79-74) fell behind 6-0 but rallied for a 12-6 victory over the Pirates on Thursday.
“Every game is a grind right now,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “When you’re in it, it’s a good thing. We’re in it.”
The Phillies labored yet managed to win two of three against another last-place team, the Baltimore Orioles. Despite an early deficit, the Phillies came back again to oust the Pirates, who have lost 95 games this season.
Ronald Torreyes drove in three runs with a pinch-hit home run, and J.T. Realmuto homered, singled twice and drove in four runs in the win over the Pirates.
“Every series is difficult. That’s just the way it is at this time of year,” Girardi said. “You’ve got teams playing loose, young kids trying to prove themselves.”
Didi Gregorius, who had been struggling mightily at the plate, also hit a solo homer in the third inning.
Girardi stuck with his veteran shortstop, and the move paid off.
“And if we’re going to do anything, Didi has got to hit,” Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line. I like the experience that he has going out there every day in this type of situation. I’m going with the experience.”
The Phillies will hand the ball to Kyle Gibson (10-8, 3.51 ERA). Gibson was a winner in his only start in his career vs. the Pirates, which came in his first appearance for the Phillies after they acquired him from the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline.
On Aug. 1 in Pittsburgh, Gibson gave up two runs and five hits in 6 2/3 innings, good for an ERA of a 2.70 ERA.
The Pirates had an unexpected day off when their game against the Cincinnati Reds was rained out Wednesday.
Then they started red-hot with six quick runs against the Phillies before falling short.
Ke’Bryan Hayes homered and knocked in three runs, and Colin Moran also homered.
The Pirates (57-95) lost again but continued to show massive improvement at the plate.
Since hitting coach Rick Eckstein was dismissed at the end of August, a number of the Pirates’ young players have responded.
“I do think the one thing we’ve been more consistent on is our approach, and I give those guys credit,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “I think we’ve put a little bit more of an emphasis on that.”
Hayes’ home run came from the leadoff spot, a position he hadn’t been in much. But Hayes has reveled in the new role.
“I did it a few times in 2019 in Triple-A,” Hayes said. “Other than just being the first one to hit for the team at the beginning of the game, once the game gets going, it’s just like hitting second or third.”
In what appears to be a bullpen game, the Pirates’ starter will be left-hander Sam Howard. He has made 49 appearances this season, and 95 in his four-year career, and he has never made a start.
Howard is 3-4 with a 5.80 ERA, with 51 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings. He has gone two innings twice this season, and has not pitched since Saturday. He has never faced the Phillies.
Shelton is counting on his team showing up and playing hard.
“The one thing that’s stayed consistent throughout has been the effort, regardless of who’s been here, and I think that’s a credit to our players,” Shelton said. “It’s also a credit to the culture we’ve created.”
–Field Level Media