But let’s back up.
Almost all of this game was a pitchers duel. Zach Eflin was absolutely fantastic, getting a bunch of his outs in the air and limiting the Braves to just three hits and one run. He retired the first ten hitters he faced before giving up a hit. That hit came in the top of the fourth, just one batter (and one commercial break) after Scott Franzke told the listeners that “Jim Jackson will take over the perfect game duties.” When the hit came, Jackson said “Blame Franzke, folks.” It was adorable.
But there was no reason to blame anyone for anything, especially since a perfect game probably would have robbed us of the orgasmic eighth inning. Yes, I said orgasmic. Find me a word that better describes what we saw and I’ll use it, but until then I’m going with orgasmic. After Michael Saunders hit a pinch-hit double to lead off the inning, Cesar Hernandez came to the plate. And he hit a home run, breaking the 1-1 tie. With the Phillies now up 3-1, Aaron Altherr was up. And then HE hit a home run. After the Braves mercifully let Arodys Vizcaino leave the game to replaced by Ian Krol, it was Odubel Herrera’s turn... (You know where this is going, right?) ...to hit a home run! The Phillies went back-to-back-to-back, thwapping the Braves’ bullpen with their glorious bats.
It was the eighth time the Phillies had hit back-to-back-to-back home runs in their history. And it was the first time they’d done it since June 13, 2008. They were playing the St. Louis Cardinals, and Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Pat Burrell hit three straight home runs in the first inning. (Swoon.)
Up 5-1, it was time for Hector Neris in the ninth. And even though it was scary, I loved so much about it. The infielders came in two separate times to try and calm Neris down after a balk was called, trying to give him as much time as he needed. Pete Mackanin got Joaquin Benoit up in the bullpen (a little too slowly if you ask me, even with the result), but gave Neris a chance to get himself out of it. Neris isn’t the official closer (yet), but if he’s going to be, he has to be given the opportunity to grow, and a pitcher does that by facing difficult situations. The inning got off to a rocky start, and Hector allowed a run before loading the bases full of Braves, the winning run at the plate with just one out. But he got through it. A pitcher can only earn the trust of the manager when he’s given a chance to do it, and Mack is finally giving that to Neris.
But what I loved the most about the ninth inning was the crowd. I never got a good visual grasp on how many people were actually there, but the attendance announced was just over 28,000. Regardless of how many of them were there, every single one of them was behind Neris on every single pitch. After the inning got off to a rocky start, they cheered with every strike, and were on their feet when the final out was gotten. It was absolutely wonderful.
After the game was over, Hernandez was talking with Gregg Murphy when someone ran out and poured a random bottle of water on his head. Now, Cesar’s homer did break the tie. But... are they just pouring things on whoever talks to Gregg Murphy now? It’s clearly time to keep an eye on this.