Nick Pivetta threw 55 fastballs, got eight swing and misses on them and hit 97.9 mph on the radar gun in firing seven shutout innings against the Atlanta Braves. But as good as Pivetta's fastball was Monday night, it wasn't even the most effective on his own team.
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Bazooka-armed Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro made three spectacular throws in the late innings to help lock down a 3-0 win over the Braves in an early-season showdown for first place in the NL East (see first take).
"I don't know if there's another catcher that I've ever seen - and I played with Pudge - that makes that play in the ninth inning," said manager Gabe Kapler, comparing the 23-year-old rookie to Hall of Famer Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez. "He is spectacularly talented, spectacularly athletic, incredibly durable. He's starting to look like a guy who is going to be a fixture in our lineup for a long time."
The play Kapler referred to was the game-ender. Alfaro sprung from behind the plate, retrieved a bunt by Ender Inciarte up the third-base line, wheeled and threw a bullet to first to nip Inciarte for the final out. Two innings earlier, with the Phillies nursing a 1-0 lead thanks to a homer by Nick Williams in the fourth, Alfaro gunned down Johan Camargo as he tried to steal second with one out. Camargo had reached base on Pivetta's only walk.
"That was a really, really big out," Pivetta said. "It made my life a lot easier."
After gunning down Camargo, Alfaro ended the top of the seventh by retrieving a swinging bunt by Dansby Swanson and gunning him down.
Alfaro's throw to second to get Camargo registered 88.3 mph on MLB's Statcast. His throw to first to get Swanson was 80 mph. The velocity on Alfaro's game-ender was unavailable. The eyes said it was a laser.
"How many perfect throws has he made in a row?" Kapler said. "On the button, like you couldn't place it any better. The exchanges are incredible. The velocities are incredible. His cat-like reflexes. We knew he was talented. It's starting to come together. It's still a work in progress, but it's really fun to watch."
In addition to Williams, the Phils got a homer from Aaron Altherr, a two-run, pinch-hit blow in the bottom of the seventh. Maikel Franco and Rhys Hoskins joined Alfaro in making fielding gems.
Pivetta has been brilliant in his last three starts - one run, 10 hits, two walks, 25 strikeouts in 19 innings. His seven shutout innings Monday night came in the most meaningful game - at least in the standings - the Phillies have played since 2011.
"It's a big series, but it's still early," Pivetta said. "We just have to focus on winning games and not look too far ahead."
The Phillies (27-18) and Braves (28-18) play again on Tuesday night. With a win, the Phillies will move into first place. Again, it's early, but after too many losing seasons, first place sure beats other places the Phillies have been since the start of the 2012 season.
"I think it makes your heart beat a little faster in the dugout," Kapler said. "As a fan of baseball, it's nice to see two teams with rich histories and amazing fans competing for first place in the National League East. I'm a baseball fan at heart and thinking about that gives me goosebumps."