The moment presented itself: Early in the game, down a couple runs, three Phillies had singled themselves on base. Juan Samuel, putting more faith in Christian Yelich’s arm than he probably deserved, had thrown up a stop sign for Vince Velasquez at third, loading the bases for the Phillies’ young clean-up hitter.
Maikel Franco stepped into the box, haters and doubters cackling from the shadows. By the time he was back at home plate moments later and disappeared into the sea of high fives, their awkward sighs faded into the evening’s spring breeze.
Yes, folks. That was one of major highlights of this game. Maikel Franco hit his MLB leading second grand slam in the third inning, a punishing blow that ruined the night for Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen and took the Phillies from an early two-run deficit to an early two-run lead. That’s seven hits, two walks, and ten RBI for the “struggling” Franco in his last five games, numbers that pushed his BA back over .200. Freddy Galvis ticked the score up a notch with a solo shot in the sixth, making it 5-2.
It was an evening of improvement in some key areas; those areas in question being certain people. Vince Velasquez, and inexplicable presence at the plate, scored on Franco’s blast after singling, but also was slightly more economic with his pitches. He made it through over six frames; a solid appearance, given how earnestly he would exhaust himself in his previous starts. He carried the Phils into the seventh, thanks to an offense that produced for him and 19 out of 26 first pitch strikes. His K’s were down - a mere three - but they don’t have to be in double digits if he’s producing outs. He would depart surrendering three earned runs - Phillies-killer Martin Prado wouldn’t be denied early on - six hits, and two walks. But he didn’t try to dig his way out of any holes tonight, showing some development as a starter.
Next came Tommy Joseph, who was only 1-for-4 with a single, but he didn’t strikeout, and his single was solidly stroked up the middle. It was not a huge success. But it was not a failure. And Tommy needs some encouragement right now.
Following Joseph’s base-touchery came Michael Saunders’ thunder stick. The fresh new Phillie had yet to make a mark with the club, scuffling to connect in a big way, come through in the clutch, or just log an extra base hit. He cracked his first-ever home run in red pinnies off former Phillies speed bump Dustin McGowan, a second-decker that put a dent in somebody’s head and made it 7-3.
A real lead was installed for Hector Neris, who followed 1.2 innings of silent relief work from Joely Rodriguez and Joaquin Benoit. And thank goodness for that lead, because Neris sprung a couple leaks, allowing a pair of consecutive singles that scored a run, but was able to contain any real trouble.
The successes of the evening were not without counter balances. Cesar Hernandez tampered his production of late with three first-pitch outs. Cameron Rupp stayed quiet with an 0-for-4, 3 K night at the plate. And Aaron Altherr only had one hit, one walk, one run scored, never mind, Aaron Altherr rules.
There’s still two more against Miami at The Bank this week [EDIT: No there’s not, there’s one], but already the Phillies’ future opponents have begun to grow concerned.
“Those Philadelphia Phillies that are coming to town have won five in a row tonight,” a Dodgers broadcaster said during their game against the Giants Wednesday night, with a quiver in his voice. Then Chase Utley hit an RBI single, as if sending a message to his former team: Go get ‘um, boys.*
Great baseball tonight.
*His actual message was “Oh thank god, my first hit since the season’s opening series, now I don’t have to keep digging a shame-tunnel from the back of my locker deep into the building’s architecture.”