Was this a “must win” game?
Of course it was. Not only do the Phillies need to win every single game they can down the stretch here, they also cannot give away games against weak competition. They already did once this series, so letting it happen again could not happen.
Luckily, they had Zack Wheeler on the mound.
Wheeler was excellent yet again tonight against the Orioles. After a month of August where he stumbled often, he has been the polar opposite in September, limiting damage almost all the time. He got to face a Baltimore lineup that looked complete overmatched against the velocity Wheeler was able to bring. The result was that he struck out nine over six innings, allowing only four hits and one run. It was a performance that nine times out of ten will result in his getting a win as a decision.
Sadly, the Orioles apparently have some kind of voodoo magic at use with their pitching staff against the Phillies. Keegan Akin, a nondescript lefty, looked like vintage Clayton Kershaw tonight, only allowing one run over 5 1⁄3 innings himself, striking out six. That one run though was a biggie. With Baltimore leading 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth, manager Brandon Hyde decided he did not want Akin to face the middle of the Phillies’ lineup for a third, taking him out after 90 pitches, allowing Harper to single with one out and a righty in J.T. Realmuto coming up. Hyde would call on Eric Hanhold to get the next two batters and he started out ok, getting Realmuto to fly out before he faced Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen has been slumping badly, but when a fastball is left in the middle of the plate, he still knows what to do with it.
That home run gave the Phillies the lead....
...that they gave right back.
Sam Coonrod came on in relief and got the first out, then allowed the next two runners on on a single and a walk. He threw a wild pitch to the next batter, sending the two runners scampering ahead one base. A groundball by Trey Mancini, one that might’ve been a double play to end the inning, instead allowed the runner on third to score and tie the ballgame at two.
The bottom of the seventh then started with Matt Vierling hustling out a single, followed by a Brad Miller double with nobody out. Odubel Herrera flied out meekly to left field, not deep enough to score Vierling, so the job would be left to Jean Segura. Segura would deliver a sacrifice fly to nudge the Phillies ahead, 3-2, but still in need of insurance. Realmuto would provide that insurance.
That two run lead was still in peril because the bullpen was a bit thin, meaning Cam Bedrosian had to throw the eighth. He got a fantastic assist from Vierling to open the inning, one that would loom large.
Bedrosian got hit pretty hard the whole inning, eventually resulting in Pedro Severino smoking a RBI double that brought the Orioles within one with a runner on second and two out, bringing Pat Valaika to the plate. Valaika would continue to theme of “ripping Bedrosian’s fastball” by drilling a ball to right, but our MVP candidate was ready.
The Phillies couldn’t get anymore insurance in their half of the eighth, meaning the game was in the hands of Ian Kennedy, hands that haven’t been stable since his arrival in Philadelphia.
Kennedy got the first two outs of the inning pretty easily, but then he decided to Kennedy all over the mound. He walked Jahmai Jones and Cedric Mullins to give the Orioles two runners on, then threw about 500 pitches to Ryan Mountcastle, who kept swinging at balls over the strike zone. The 33rd pitch of the innings was driven to rightfield, but into the glove of Harper and the game was over.
This was a game the Phillies had to have, so they went out and got it. We will never speak of the first game of the series again.