BOSTON – This is why the Phillies gave Jake Arrieta 75 million big ones. For nights like this. For performances like this. For picking up a team that had fallen down and getting it back on its feet again.
Arrieta came up huge Tuesday night. He pitched seven innings of one-run, no-walk, seven-strikeout ball against the biggest, baddest offense in the majors in leading the limping Phillies to a tense 3-1 win over the Boston Red Sox at raucous Fenway Park (see first take).
There were other contributors. Maikel Franco, often maligned for poor on-base skills, drew two big walks that turned into runs. Jorge Alfaro, Scott Kingery and Carlos Santana drove in big runs and Rhys Hoskins had a key double to set up a run in the ninth. Nick Williams and Roman Quinn made big catches in the outfield. And Tommy Hunter and Seranthony Dominguez combined for six tough outs out of the bullpen as the loud Fenway crowd stood on its feet.
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But it was the work of Arrieta that really lit up the night. He was the definition of a stopper, putting an end to a four-game losing streak, preventing it from becoming a season-high five-game losing streak, and keeping the Phillies in first place in the NL East even after a difficult road trip that produced just two wins in six games.
OK, we'll say it:
It was the Phillies' most important win of the season.
Manager Gabe Kapler acknowledged as much by the way he spoke after the game. Brother Gabe was full of passion, faith and appreciation for the job his disciples had done in one of baseball's grand cathedrals.
"What a gutsy performance by Jake," Kapler said. "I mean, huge amounts of heart. I think the story of tonight's game was heart. Everybody looking for the opportunity to put the rest of the team on their shoulders and carry them. Jake was obviously leading that charge to the point where, in the sixth inning, we were considering bullpen usage for the rest of the game and Jake almost demanded the ball. He was adamant that he'd take down that seventh inning. Then he went out there and he was lightning in that inning. Really special. Efficient. Attacking the zone. Swings and misses. So if there was ever any doubt about that, the ability to throw the ball by people and strike dudes out, obviously that's still there for Jake Arrieta.
"I mean, that was Fenway Park. Biggest stage. Brightest lights. And one of our horses stepping up in a big way for our club."
The galling part of the Phillies' quick, two-day trip to Boston was they should have swept the two-game set against baseball's best team. Aaron Nola was brilliant with eight innings of one-run ball on Monday night. The Phillies lost that game, 2-1, in 13 innings. A base-running mistake and a fielding mistake by Odubel Herrera led the to the loss, which Kapler called "punch in the face."
"What I said in conjunction with ‘a punch in the face' is we know how to take a punch and get back up and keep fighting," Kapler said. "We've shown that all year long. Every time we go down on the mat for just a little bit, we pop right back up. We come out swinging. We were able to overcome. We are a bunch of fighters. There's a lot of grit and determination and heart in that room. Those are the things we can be very proud of in this moment."
Arrieta, now 9-6 with a 3.32 ERA in 21 starts, is one of only a handful of Phillies with pennant-race experience. After the game, he tried to downplay any sense of urgency he felt going in, but clearly it was there.
"I was thinking about trying to split a two-game series on the road against the best team in baseball for many reasons, but to show that we can win big games on the road against teams like that," he said. "Even though we would like to have done a little better on the road trip, getting out of here with the way we played last night and coming up short and then winning the game tonight and doing a lot things well is very important for our team.
"Every win is vitally important for us. The teams around us aren't going to slow down. We know what Atlanta is doing and Washington has the ability to play well for a long stretch and put themselves back in contention so we have to continue to increase our skills sets consistently. We have to pitch a little better, field a little better and the same thing at the plate. At this point in the year, teams are playing really well, especially teams that have a shot to get into the playoffs, so we have to do everything consistently from this point forward if we want to get to where we're confident we can go."
Several hours before the game, the Phillies added slugging catcher Wilson Ramos and reliever Aaron Loup in trades.
"They can definitely benefit our club," Arrieta said. "We made some good moves. That tells us the front office is confident in the players that we have here to get the job done. It makes a statement. It's something that I think the players are happy about."