CHICAGO - Sometimes words aren't needed.
Hector Neris emerged from a back room in the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field early Thursday evening. He stopped near his locker, took a big swig of cold water, smiled and gently patted his chest a few times.
If Neris' ticker was still racing 20 minutes after he grinded through the final three outs of the Phillies' three-hour, 55-minute, 9-7 win over the Chicago Cubs (see observations), it was completely understandable. Those final three outs were agonizing. The final two came with runners at second and third and the winning run at the plate after the Cubs had already pushed across one.
"Got the save," the relieved reliever said. "My team got the win."
It was a Wrigley Field special, a wild one, and the victory gave the Phils a split in the four-game series. They could have had three wins but they blew a one-run lead in the ninth on Tuesday.
The Phillies tried hard to blow a seven-run lead in this one and manager Gabe Kapler went deep into his bullpen and used five relievers after yanking Aaron Nola at 93 pitches with a five-run lead with one out in the sixth.
"I thought I was staying in," Nola said. "I didn't know Gabe had already called to the bullpen.
"I felt like I could've stayed in. I felt good. I kind of expected to face (Jason) Heyward right there. I felt like I just needed to execute a pitch and get a double play right there."
On a day when Nola's command was not sharp, Kapler decided to make a change.
"I don't think Nola had his best command," Kapler said. "He walked four batters. There was some hard contact in that inning and a near miss. It just felt like the right time to get (Adam) Morgan in there.
"Sure, Noles being who he is could have gotten through that inning, but we don't have the ability to have the alternate universe and see what could have happened if we left Nola out there. These are the debates, the natural debates that happen after a game like this."
The parade of relievers that followed Nola mostly struggled. Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez survived walks in the sixth and Pat Neshek was tagged for three runs on a pair of homers in the seventh. Jose Alvarez got out of the seventh and Neris got out of the eighth before surviving a single, a walk and an RBI double in the ninth.
Kapler's management of the bullpen has come under fire lately, even in his own clubhouse. It's not ideal to use five relievers on a day you have a big lead with a big series against powerful Milwaukee looming, but Kapler defended himself.
"You always want it to be a piece of cake," he said. "But that would be a pie-in-the-sky fantasy. It doesn't work like that. Players are too good. You have to be prepared for things to go sideways. Sure, in a perfect world, things would have been smoother. They weren't smooth. But we stayed tough in the dugout all the way through that game."
Neris got a tough out when he retired Javier Baez to end the eighth with two runners on. As Baez's fly ball was landing in Andrew McCutchen's glove, he passed Neris on the infield grass.
"Hey, you're good, man," Baez told Neris.
"Hey, you scare me," Neris responded.
Neris did a good job managing his emotions in the ninth when, after allowing the first two men to reach base, he came back from a 3-0 count to strike out Heyward. Heyward was so ticked off he snapped his bat over his knee.
"I'm happy for Hector," Kapler said. "He had the gutsiest performance possible out there. That lineup is never ending and every guy can hit the ball out of the ballpark. The way it went today, you always thought there could be more home runs. My initial thought when that ball landed in McCutchen's glove (for the final out) was ‘Good for Hector.' Good for such a dependable, rock-solid human being and a stud. So awesome to see that happen for him."
The Phils' offense was good. It got big hits and drove Jon Lester from the game early. The defense also came up big, particularly third baseman Sean Rodriguez, who stopped a potential Cubs' rally with a huge play in the sixth.
"I know it's an old saying, probably used more in basketball than it is in baseball, but offense gets the glory but defense wins the game," Rodriguez said.
The NL East-leading Phillies head for Milwaukee at 29-21. The Brewers (29-22) are just 1½ games behind the first-place Cubs in the NL Central. The Brewers beat the Phils up last week in Philadelphia, but the Phils believe they built some confidence against the Cubs in Chicago.
"We've got enough talent here in this room to beat anyone in the league," shortstop Jean Segura said.
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