ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - First with his glove and then with his bat, Aaron Altherr came up huge in helping the sizzling Phillies stay hot with a 10-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday afternoon.
Altherr saved two runs with a diving catch in right field to end the sixth inning. Had he not caught Denard Span's first-pitch scorcher against reliever Luis Garcia, the Rays would have tied the game and who knows what would have happened the rest of the way.
Instead, the Phillies carried a two-run lead into the seventh inning then extended it to seven on the strength of a five-run eighth inning. Altherr highlighted that uprising with a three-run home run.
Altherr had been off to a frigid start - 2 for 34 - before the home run.
Altherr's offense and defense helped the Phillies sweep the Rays. It was the Phils' second straight series sweep and first in a three-game series against an American League East team since they swept Baltimore in June 2003. The Phils took three from Cincinnati last week and head to Atlanta for three on Monday.
With six wins in a row, the Phils are now 9-5. That's their best start since 2011, the last year they made the postseason.
The Rays are 3-12.
Ben Lively did not have a good start. He lasted just four innings, gave up seven hits and three runs. He allowed two runs in the first on a solo homer by Span and an RBI triple by Mallex Smith.
The Phillies' offense came alive against Tampa Bay lefty Ryan Yarbrough in the third inning. The Phils scored four runs in the frame, three of which were unearned after an error by shortstop Daniel Robertson. Rookie Scott Kingery had the big hit in the inning, a three-run double with two outs. Kingery hit an 0-2 fastball over the centerfielder's head to clear the bases. Seven of Kingery's 14 hits are doubles and he has 12 RBIs in his first 13 big-league games.
In addition to Kingery and Altherr, the bullpen came up huge for the Phillies. It picked up five innings after Lively left and allowed just an unearned run.
The stickiest spot came in the sixth when the Rays, trailing by two runs, had runners on second and third with two outs and the lefty-hitting Span at the plate. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler called for the right-hander Garcia, but he did not exactly fool Span. The Rays' leadoff man smoked a first-pitch liner to right. Altherr was well positioned. He took a few steps forward and made a diving catch, saving two runs.
• The Phils move on to Atlanta for three games beginning Monday night. Pitching matchups:
Monday night - RHP Aaron Nola (1-0, 1.96) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (0-1, 7.07)
Tuesday night - RHP Nick Pivetta (1-0, 2.70) vs. RHP Mike Foltynewicz (1-1, 2.93)
Wednesday night - RHP Vince Velasquez (1-1, 3.52) vs. RHP Brandon McCarthy (2-0, 3.31)