CHICAGO - When a team goes into Wrigley Field and outlasts a first-place Chicago Cubs club in 10 innings, it's a heck of a win.
And there's no doubt the Phillies enjoyed that kind of a win Monday night. They fell behind early, rallied for a lead, gave it away, tied the game, and finally went ahead for good on a solo homer by J.T. Realmuto with two outs in the 10th inning.
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The 5-4 win over the Cubs was the Phillies' fourth in a row and it left them at a season-best nine games over .500 (see observations).
The Phillies got strong performances from several corners of their roster. Most notable was Realmuto, who shined at the plate and behind it.
But if the Phillies were completely honest with themselves as they headed for the team bus after the game, they would have admitted that the victory was actually more difficult than it should have been.
On a night when the Phillies made two excellent defensive plays to cut down runs at the plate in the early innings, they played a ragged eighth inning and that allowed the Cubs to rally for three runs and take a 4-3 lead. Only a one-out double by Maikel Franco, a huge, two-out walk by Andrew McCutchen (after being down 0-2) and a game-tying bloop single by Jean Segura saved the Phillies in the top of the ninth. They came all the way back on Realmuto's homer in the 10th - five innings after he made a defensive gem on the receiving end of a Bryce Harper strike to the plate (see video).
"We talked about us acquiring the best all-around catcher in the game and it's hard for me to imagine there's a better one out there," manager Gabe Kapler said after the game.
Prior to this victory, the Phils had been 0-14 when trailing after eight innings.
Again, a heck of a win.
But that eighth inning was troubling.
First of all, reliever Seranthony Dominguez had trouble throwing strikes in his second inning of work. He walked two and both came around to score on a one-out triple by Daniel Descalso.
Second, there was the defense - not so much Segura's errant throw that bounced off of Descalso and allowed him to score the go-ahead run, but what preceded that.
Descalso's triple split the gap between leftfielder McCutchen and centerfielder Odubel Herrera. Off the bat, the ball looked like it should have been caught for the second out of the inning. Next thing you knew, it was rolling toward the wall.
"I've got to catch that ball," McCutchen said after the game. "It's a ball I know I can catch if I stay on my route."
Kapler called the play a "communication challenge" between McCutchen and Herrera. He went on to acknowledge that while the play was not routine, "with a little better communication, that ball is caught."
McCutchen looked to be in control of the play until Herrera came into the picture. McCutchen said he had a bead on the ball but had to "veer off" his route because he feared colliding with Herrera.
"We have to do a better job communicating," McCutchen said. "We're still learning each other. Once [Herrera] knows I can get that ball, he doesn't have to go 100 percent to get it. Those balls can't hit the ground."
And when they do, three runs can score in the blink of an eye.
In this case, it all conspired against Jake Arrieta. He was on his way to getting the win in his Wrigley Field return before the fateful eighth.
Dominguez was in the game for a second inning because he had a strong, 1-2-3 seventh and Kapler was trying to pick his spot with Pat Neshek. Neshek warmed up but never came in as Dominguez unraveled. After the game, Kapler revealed that Neshek was a little sore before the game. That's why Kapler did not use him to close out the 10th after the Phils got the lead. Juan Nicasio got a double-play ball to end the game.
It was a hard-fought win for the Phils with a couple of big hits putting them over the top. But it was probably more hard-fought than it needed to be. McCutchen was right: Those balls can't hit the ground.
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