The Phillies last won consecutive games on April 26th and 27th. It is also the last time they won a series. You might recall that the 27th marked the end of their 6-game winning streak, which brought the Phillies into second place in the East and 2 games above .500. Over a month later, it is an empirical certainty that that mark will be the zenith of their season. With any luck, the first game of this series against the Giants will mark its nadir.
Today’s matchup between Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore supplied the best opportunity for consecutive wins the Phillies might see all season. The Giants are among the worst hitting teams in the league, and Moore is the latest poster-child for TINSTAPP (pitching prospect, no such thing), even when they look like an ace throughout their minor league careers. Hellickson, for his part, has not been good in a month. But he smothered the competition in April. So, maybe he could find his precision and weak contact again against a line-up with lots of weak spots.
Hellickson did not begin the game well, as he surrendered a first-inning homer to newly minted Phillie-killer Eduardo Nunez. But he settled in enough to allow the Phillies offense to stake him to an early 3-run lead. They doubled up 2-run innings in the first and second thanks to a power surge. Doubles by Odubel Herrera and Howie Kendrick each plated a run in the first and Freddy “The Incredible Julkz”* Galvis, hitting from the right-side, splashed a 2-run homer down in the western sea of blue seats in the second inning.
Unfortunately, in 2017 no win is easy and offense in one moment never portends offense in the next. The Phillies ship now began to sway in choppy seas, lurching from padded leads to deficits as it navigated the middle and late innings. The seas first rose up in the third. Hellickson entered facing the bottom of the order with a reasonable pitch count. He finished the third up just one run and on pace to pitch just five innings. The miasma began when Matt Moore singled and broke out into boils when Tommy Joseph threw a potential double-play ball off Moore’s helmet, into left-field, putting runners on the corners with one out.
At this point Hellickson chased strikeouts like the last hare in the woods, only to return with nothing but walks. Consecutive walks plated one run and kept the bases loaded with one out for Buster Posey. I found it now difficult to suppress the sensation that the game was about to become beyond reach. Yet somehow Hellickson kept Posey to a sacrifice fly and escaped the inning with a lead.
The ship then swayed back. In the bottom of the third Kendrick scored on a wild pitch. And Hellickson allowed us all to grip the sides long enough for Odubel to extend the lead to 3-runs, again, with a dinger in the 5th.
Starting in the 6th, the waves started crashing over the gunnels. Mackanin probably tried to get more out of Hellickson than he should have. Hellickson did not have his best command today and he was facing the Giants lineup for the third time while having thrown nearly 100 pitches, 38 in an extremely stressful third. Maybe he should have just turned the game over to Edubray Ramos then and there. But he didn’t. Hellickson got one out and then surrendered a 2-run homer to Brandon Crawford that ended Jeremy’s day.
Ramos came in and finished the 6th quietly. Mackanin left him in to start the 7th, where he finished his reliever’s inning and left after managing one out while putting a runner on. Joely Rodriguez continued to fail to get lefties out by hitting Brandon Belt with his only pitch of the day. Luis Garcia, 5th on the Phillies in rWAR, came in to turn the ship into the swells but almost sank it instead. Crawford (again) plated two with a line drive to the left of Howie Kendrick, giving the Giants their first lead of the game and bringing that familiar sinking feeling back to all attentive Phillies fans.
Thankfully, the Phillies made one last push to right the ship. In the bottom of the seventh, Cesar Hernandez, who reached base in 3 of 5 plate-appearances today, walked with one out and Odubel—whose series against the Giants gives a glimmer of hope—doubled up his doubles driving in Cesar, tying the game. Pat Neshek maintained the balance, as he’s done so often this young season. And, finally, in the bottom of the eighth, Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis guided the ship to calmer waters. Franco led off the inning with an opposite field homer on a pitch that nipped the top of the zone. It’s the kind of homer that makes me think, “Why can’t he effing stay through more pitches like that?!” After Cameron Rupp struck out, the Incredible Julkz hit his second dinger of the day, this time from the left-side of the plate. He joins Jeltz, Jimmy, and Tomas Perez as the only Phillies to hit homers from both sides of the plate. I know Galvis sells out everything for his power and it makes him a bad offensive player, but it sure is fun to watch him play home-run derby every at bat.
Hector Neris locked down his 5th save, getting two strikeouts against the top of the Giants order. And with that, the Phillies won their second straight game and first series for this first time in over a month. Savor it now. Have a cocktail or something. The next is not promised.
*Or, if you prefer, “Hulk Jeltz.”