After 370 pitches, 74 of which resulted in foul balls, the Phillies outlasted the Nationals by a 6-2 final last night to take the first of a three-game set.
It was a notable victory because it felt like a loss right about the time when Kyle Schwarber singled home Juan Soto in the bottom of the sixth to cut the Phils’ once three-run lead down to one.
It felt like a loss because up 3-0, the Phillies had the Nationals on the ropes in the top of that inning with the bases loaded and no outs. With the chance to deliver a knockout blow that has so often eluded the Phillies this season, Joe Girardi opted to let starting pitcher Chase Anderson swing the bat.
At the time, Anderson had retired 15 of 16 Washington batters but had also failed to record an out in the sixth inning of any game this season.
Girardi’s gamble did not pay off. Anderson produced a weak fly out that failed to score Rhys Hoskins from third.
By the time Andrew McCutchen struck out and Jean Segura’s 14-pitch at-bat ended with a lineout to center, the Nationals were back on their feet. No knockout was delivered, and they were quickly swinging back.
But the Phillies responded. Odubel Herrera, who has a .429 on-base percentage over his last eight games, teamed up with Alec Bohm to provide a momentum-turning insurance run in the eighth.
Andrew Knapp, who entered the game after J.T. Realmuto suffered a knee contusion on a foul ball, would finally deliver the crusher later in the inning with a key two-run single to give the Phillies a four-run lead, a lead they would not relinquish.
— Hunter Brody (@Brodes81) May 12, 2021
And that is the setup for tonight’s game, one in which the Phillies can finally put to rest an absurd stretch of road futility.
The Phillies have not won a road series since Aug. 26 of the last season when they secured the second game of a quick two-game set in Washington to complete a mini-sweep. Since then, the Phillies have failed to win any of their following nine series away from Citizens Bank Park, posting a miserable 0-7-2 series record during that time. They have also played to a brutal 11-24 road record since that day.
After last night’s game, I asked Knapp about about the Phillies’ increasingly large sample of poor road play. Specifically, I wanted to know if it’s something on the team’s radar.
Note: it took me 29 seconds to ask the question. My bad. That’s on me. I’ve gotta do a better job.
— Bob Wankel (@BobWankelCB) May 12, 2021
“I noticed we’ve given away quite a few games over the past years on the road, but it’s hard to win on the road in general, especially in the east,” Knapp said. “You go to Atlanta, that place is poppin’, you come here, there’s some good lineups. But we definitely know what’s going on here.”
Credit Knapp for the acknowledgement that, yeah, it’s on their radar, and, yeah, it hasn’t been good enough. I wrote earlier in the week about the Phillies’ need to prove to themselves — not fans — that this isn’t the same team. While a Wednesday night in May probably won’t determine the trajectory of their season, each failure to stop a negative narrative only allows it to gain more steam.
Tonight, they get an opportunity to slow down the story when they send Zack Wheeler to the mound.
Off of a dominant complete game shutout of the Brewers his last time out, Wheeler enters tonight with a 1.88 ERA over his last three starts. The Phillies will follow tomorrow with Zach Eflin, who is turning skeptics into believers following a stellar start to his season. They will not be opposed by Max Scherzer in either game.
In other words, they have the right setup.
After squandering an opportunity to secure a big road series win in Atlanta this past weekend, these next two games carry more weight than one would think. It’s time.