This weekend was supposed to provide fans one of their last chances to bid adieu to Ryan Howard. On Friday night, Howard played out that script with a homer and a couple of walks before being lifted in a double switch. But for the rest of this weekend he's been benched with soreness in his knee. So, instead of waving farewell to Howard--and by proxy memorializing the greatest (or second greatest) era of Phillies baseball in franchise history--fans watched a team on which to hope justify that hope to a large extent.
From the first batter, the Phillies worked deep counts against Marlins starter, Andrew Cashner. Those deep counts paid off often, as none of the first four batters were retired. Overall, the Phillies went BB, BB, 1B, 1B, F9, 1B, 4-3 in the first, producing 2 runs while forcing Cashner to throw 38 pitches. They did not smash any hits, which is reflected by the lack of extra bases; nevertheless, they let Cashner put himself in bad counts and then took what he gave them. Indeed, when Cesar Hernandez became over-exuberant and tried to make something happen by stealing second after his leadoff walk, he created yet another out on the basepaths. He got a poor jump and was out by a yard. If not for that out the Phillies might easily have scored a third run in the inning and perhaps even more than that if Aaron Altherr had reached the plate. At the time of his attempted steal, Hernandez had just worked a walk and Cashner didn't look sharp. I'd prefer Hernandez to see whether Cashner will hang himself. (Of course, he shouldn't make it a policy never to steal in such situations because the batter derives some advantage from the pitcher believing a runner might steal.)
In the midst of a stunningly good offensive season, Cesar has had a notably bad season running the bases. His overall baserunning production is above average because his speed allows him to take extra bases. But he's lost a lot of potential production by making mental errors on the bases and being atrocious at stealing bases for such a speedy runner. Recently, it seems as if he never passes up a chance to steal second when he reaches first. Perhaps, he's getting practice during a stretch of meaningless games at the end of the season. I can live with that if he becomes more selective when games matter. At any rate, he needs to become more selective or learn how to get better jumps (or both).
Meanwhile Alec Asher opened up the game with competent albeit uninspiring pitching. He worked through the first quickly, got into and out of trouble in the second, and worked quickly through the third. In the bottom of that inning, Odubel Herrera added to the Phillies lead with a screamer out to rightfield and the complimentary batflip.
it's been a long time, shouldn't have left you, without a dope bat flip to step to pic.twitter.com/xfJ0WVMWCL— chris jones¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (@LONG_DRIVE) September 18, 2016
Odubel generally had another solid game at the plate, hitting the ball hard in every at-bat. It is good to see him turn his hitting back around and, hopefully, have finally made some adjustments to whatever pitchers were doing through the middle of the season to make him a replacement level hitter.
Odubel's dinger made the score 3-0 and made the game feel as if the Phils would cruise to a sweep, given how poorly Cashner was pitching and how locked in the Phillies hitters seemed to be. But starting in the top of the 5th, the Phillies began waffling like a fatherless Danish prince. The Marlins turned some hard contact against Asher into hits, and with just one out in the inning they had already plated two runs while threatening more with runners on first and second. At this point, Mackanin lifted Asher for Joely Rodriguez, whose stuff looks every bit the part of a dominant lefty middle reliever. He came in firing high hard fastballs and diving sliders to Ichiro Suzuki. After going full to Suzuki, Rodriguez induced a double play roller to Galvis and ended the inning with the Phillies clinging to the lead.
Rodriguez would work an easy 6th and after that Freddy Galvis--who at 26 was the oldest starter today--extended the Phillies lead to 4-2 with his 20th homer of the season.
are you kidding me. Freddy Galvis has 20 homers on the season. pic.twitter.com/MlAadvDPUW— chris jones¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (@LONG_DRIVE) September 18, 2016
He's now 6th on the list of Phillies single-season dingers by a shortstop, which is the craziest sentence I have ever written in my life even though I've written copiously about Martin Heidegger. If only 20 homers made him better than a replacement level hitter.
Michael Mariot and Hector Neris combined to get through the top of the 7th and the Phillies went quietly in the bottom half. That brought Neris into the 8th. Although he looked sharp in the one batter he faced in the 7th, he got his sinker up in the 8th, which cost him and the Phillies the lead. He gave up a leadoff single, recorded a strikeout, then allowed Christian Yelich to slice a ball off of the leftfield foul pole to tie the game.
Neris was not good in the 8th but, as in Thursday's game, a crucial error led to a crucial run. After surrendering the homer, Neris forced Marcel Ozuna to pop a ball up behind first base. It was quite high giving both Tommy Joseph and Cesar Hernandez time to camp under it, which in turn allowed them to interfere with each other as the ball descended. Ultimately, the ball clanked off Hernandez's prematurely closed glove and Ozuna landed on second base (despite jogging to first) whence he would score the go-ahead run, after advancing to third, on a groundball deep down the third-base line that Maikel Franco could not field in time to record an out. Neris finished the inning with a loud out and an unfortunately large number of pitches, the score having become 5-4 Marlins.
The Phillies made little noise after that. True, Jimmy Paredes reached second with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but that went for nought as Roman Quinn grounded to second, flew down the line, and narrowly missed beating the throw.
Even though the game went for a loss, we saw some good signs. The Phillies hitters were patient and hit some balls hard that went for outs anyway. Galvis continues to be a wizard with the glove, even though his errorless-streak ended today. And Jorge Alfaro showed off the kind of arm that can halt a running game. In the midst of a long stretch of meaningless games--for the fans at any rate--it's good to see some grounds for hope.