Pregame or postgame, before he's asked any questions, Gabe Kapler talks briefly about what's on his mind heading into or coming out of a contest.
On Wednesday, before any reporter had a chance to ask the generic, "So how big is this one?" question, Kapler offered this:
"This is a big game for us tonight, and I think it's worth noting that we're all thinking about it that way," he said. "There is a heightened sense of excitement, there's a heightened sense of urgency. Tonight's game means a lot to us. I wanted to demonstrate that that's the way we feel about it."
Kudos to Kapler for eschewing conventional coach-speak about each game carrying the same importance. In this case, it was true.
It was true because the Braves have had the Phillies' number all season, winning each of the prior three series. It was true because these teams don't meet again for 102 games, until the final 10 games of the season. The Phillies didn't want to sit around for four months thinking, "What do we have to do to beat these guys?"
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On Wednesday, the Phils closed out a series win by beating the Braves at their own game, scoring all four runs with two outs against an Atlanta team that has been by far the best in the majors in that regard (see first take).
Dominance from Jake Arrieta and Seranthony Dominguez also helped the Phils to this 4-0 win, their second shutout in three nights.
"When [GM Matt Klentak] went out to get Jake Arrieta late, the thought process was he's good all-around. We've talked about his leadership characteristics, the way he's guided some of our young starting pitchers," Kapler said.
"But really the reason Matt went out and got him and why we were so happy to have him tonight is because he can go through a lineup like the Braves' - the best in the National League to date - three times.
"Never once did we feel like he wasn't in complete control of the game. And that's why you go out and get a big-game pitcher like that. Because he can step up in these enormous moments."
The quirks of the Phillies' early-season schedule resulted in Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez each facing the Braves four times in their first 45 games. Arrieta, meanwhile, hadn't faced the Braves until tonight.
During his days with the Cubs, though, Arrieta dominated most of these Atlanta hitters. No Brave entered Wednesday's game with more than two hits off Arrieta.
And it's pretty clear that Arrieta is enjoying the pressure of Citizens Bank Park. After this gem, his ERA is 0.84 and his WHIP is 0.91 at home.
He got some help from a couple friends. Jorge Alfaro nailed another base-stealer, Ender Inciarte again, with a perfect throw to second. If Alfaro hesitates even slightly or doesn't have pinpoint accuracy on that 90 mph throw, Inciarte extends his major-league lead in steals.
Instead, a fast runner was erased in a key situation. Kapler noted that in conversations with other teams, it's becoming clear to him that the league is noticing Alfaro's defense and game planning for it. Wouldn't be surprising to see teams stop running on him for a little while.
Dominguez, once again, was magnificent. It seems clear that the Phillies will save for him whichever situation involves the highest leverage, whether that's the seventh, eighth or ninth. The four consecutive outs he recorded in a row put his season numbers at nine innings, one hit, zero runs, zero walks, nine strikeouts. He's essentially pitched a one-hit shutout, and after Wednesday's game, he admitted that even he is a little surprised at how strong this start has been.
But as they say, it all begins with starting pitching, and starting pitching is what will keep the Phillies competitive moving forward. We're at the point now where we can't just blindly write off the first seven weeks of the season as a fluke. The Phillies have enough talent offensively, in the rotation and bullpen to sustain these winning ways.
After finally conquering the Braves in this series, they'll also have some added swagger.
"I said before today's game that this game was different and I meant it," Kapler said. "It felt like it in the dugout, it felt like it in the ballpark and that was a special performance by Jake."