PITTSBURGH – The Phillies didn’t hit Powerball on Thursday night, but they did hit their magic number.
When the Phillies score at least four runs, they are tough to beat. They scored their fourth run in the second inning Thursday night and beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-7, behind Zack Wheeler at PNC Park.
The win was more difficult than it should have been.
It was an 8-2 game heading into the bottom of the ninth. Jeurys Familia was tagged for five runs in the inning, forcing Seranthony Dominguez to come in for the save.
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“You’re up 8-2, you don’t think you’re going to need your closer, but sometimes that happens,” manager Rob Thomson said.
“But I thought we played very well. We swung the bats well. Everybody had a hit. We played really good defense.”
The Phillies are 24-2 the last 26 times they’ve scored four or more runs and 43-16 for the season on those occasions.
Not too shabby.
The victory over the Pirates, in the opener of a key-four game series days before the trade deadline, left the Phils at 52-47 on the season, tied with St. Louis for control of the third and final NL wild-card spot. The Phils actually have the upper hand over the Cardinals based on winning the season series between the two teams.
The Phils rolled into Pittsburgh on the heels of a 7-2 win over Atlanta on Sunday. The Pirates entered the game with eight losses in their previous 10 games and were 18 games under .500. On top of it all, they are the worst offensive team in the National League. All of this added up to a mismatch in the Phillies’ favor, but that didn’t guarantee anything. Earlier in the week, the Phillies were swept by the Chicago Cubs, another NL Central team with a bad record and no chance at making the postseason.
Thomson warned of taking the Pirates lightly when he said on Sunday, “Don’t take anything for granted. You go in there, play your game. You get out in front, put your foot on the pedal and run over people.”
The Phillies wasted no time in getting out in front. They had four straight one-out hits, including a two-run triple by Darick Hall and an RBI single by Nick Castellanos, in scoring three first-inning runs against Pittsburgh starter Zack Thompson.
Alec Bohm had one of the hits in the first inning. He added an RBI single in the second.
Bohm batted third in the order as Thomson rested catcher J.T. Relamuto. Bohm has swung the bat brilliantly over the last month. He is hitting .418 (36 for 86) in his last 23 games and is riding a 13-game hitting streak. Bohm also made a terrific defensive play at third base behind Wheeler in the fifth inning.
“Simplicity, not trying to do too much,” Bohm said of his recent success at the plate. “Seeing the ball over the plate and swinging at it. And the swing is working right. I’ve been on time more often than not lately and I think that leads to success.
"You’re only as good as the pitches you swing at. So, keeping it simple and being on time are the two keys for me.”
Wheeler praised Bohm after the game.
“He’s a good, solid hitter,” the pitcher said. “He hits the ball to the opposite field well. He’s very disciplined. Those guys are tough to face just from experience, guys that can hit the ball to the opposite field. And he’s also shooting the gap for power so it’s nice to have one of those guys on your team.”
Giving Wheeler a four-run lead in the second inning is like giving a hungry dog a T-bone. He ain’t giving it up.
The right-hander went seven innings and allowed just three hits and two runs. He walked three and struck out eight. He did not allow a run until the seventh when he gave up a two-run homer to Cal Mitchell.
Over his last 16 starts, Wheeler has pitched 101 innings and allowed just 23 earned runs for a 2.05 ERA.
Funny thing is, Wheeler said he’s been “off a tick,” in his last couple of starts. He’s given up just three runs in 14 innings in those starts. He ought to be really good when he figures out why he’s off a tick.
“I couldn’t tell you,” he said of his minuscule shortcoming. “I’m trying to figure it out.”
The Phillies out-hit the Pirates, 15-7. Castellanos had three hits for the Phillies. Kyle Schwarber swatted his league-leading 32nd homer.
Good way to start a series, except for the part about having to use your closer in what was a six-run game at the start of the ninth. Thomson didn't fret it. He said Dominguez would still be available Friday night.
Lefty Bailey Falter goes for the Phils in that one. Lefty Jose Quintana will pitch for the Pirates. The Phillies are looking to add starting pitching before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Quintana is very much available and could be a potential fit for the Phillies.