Phillies relievers lock down 7-5 win over Nationals
PHILADELPHIA — As the 2017 wore on, the Philadelphia Phillies continued to see signs of positivity heading toward the future.
Though taking two of three from National League East champion Washington Nationals won’t change the outlook of either clubs’ season this late in the year, it was yet another good indicator that better baseball is coming back to Citizens Bank Park.
As the season winds down, the bullpen carried the Phillies to a strong final month. The relief crew was solid yet again Wednesday night, playing a big part as Philadelphia held off Washington 7-5 at Citizens Bank Park.
After being 29-58 (.333) at the All-Star break, the Phillies are 35-37 since, and they have won 11 of their past 18 games.
“I’m proud of the guys, the fact that they play hard the entire season in my opinion,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “We just didn’t have the offense clicking the first half, and that was part of our problems. But in the second half, things started clicking. We started playing better baseball.”
Trailing 5-3 after the Nationals scored three runs in the top of the fifth, the Phillies scored three of their own in the bottom of the inning.
Aaron Altherr’s two-run triple, his fifth three-bagger of the season, tied the score after Nationals starter Tanner Roark had walked two batters earlier. Odubel Herrera scored Altherr one batter later with a double, his 41st of the season.
That was enough for a Phillies relief corps that has been stellar of late, though the offense added an insurance run in the eighth inning.
Philadelphia’s bullpen entered the night with a 2.63 ERA since Aug. 27, which was good enough for fourth in the major leagues. In relief of Mark Leiter Jr. on Wednesday, five relievers combined to throw 4 2/3 scoreless innings, giving up three hits and walking four.
That came one night after the Phillies’ bullpen pitched four perfect innings, striking out nine in a 4-1 win over the Nationals.
Hector Neris pitched a perfect ninth inning Wednesday for his 26th save of the season. It was the 20th consecutive save for Neris, who hasn’t blown an opportunity since June 21 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Neris has that filthy split going now,” Mackanin said. “He didn’t have it all year, but the second half he’s started throwing it, and it’s really tough to hit it. It dives out of the strike zone. It’s good to see him doing that.
Yacksel Rios (1-0) posted his first major league win, getting two outs in the fifth inning.
Roark (13-11) took the loss, giving up six runs, seven hits and five walks in 4 2/3 innings. That snapped his string of five consecutive starts in which he threw six innings or more while allowing three or fewer runs. He hadn’t given up six runs in any start since June 25, a span of 15 outings.
“I didn’t have anything really tonight,” he said. “I feel like my legs were dead, just didn’t have anything behind the ball, and it’s one of those games.”
Despite the loss, the Nationals found out they will be playing the Cubs in the NL Division Series after Chicago clinched the NL Central with a win over the Cardinals on Wednesday.
Following four games in Pittsburgh to close out the regular season, Washington will host the Cubs on Oct. 6 to open the postseason.
“My thoughts are to finish the season strong and then we’ll worry about Chicago,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “We’ve got another four games to go, and we want to finish strong and go into the new season with some momentum.”
The Phillies got on board first Wednesday, plating three in the bottom of the second inning. Catcher Jorge Alfaro’s two-run double was the key hit in the inning.
Washington got one back in each of the third and fourth innings on an RBI double by Daniel Murphy and solo home run by Michael A. Taylor.
The Nationals took the lead in the top of the fifth inning, plating three to open a 5-3 advantage. After Trea Turner and Bryce Harper opened the inning with singles, Anthony Rendon tied the score with an RBI single.
Jayson Werth followed one batter later with a two-run double against his former club, which he helped lead to a World Series championship in 2008.
Rendon’s single chased Leiter, who gave up five runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings. He threw 56 of his 98 pitches for strikes, walked three and struck out five.
NOTES: The Phillies have an off day Thursday before beginning a three-game series Friday against the New York Mets to close out the season. Phillies RHP Ben Lively (3-7, 4.35 ERA) faces Mets RHP Matt Harvey (5-6, 6.60 ERA) in the opener. ... The Nationals end their regular season with a four-game home series vs. Pittsburgh starting Thursday. Washington RHP Edwin Jackson (5-6, 5.40 ERA) faces Pirates RHP Ivan Nova (11-14, 4.14 ERA) in the opener. ... Washington finished the season series with an 11-8 advantage over Philadelphia. ... The Phillies are now 37-36 against the NL East with three division games left; they are trying for their first winning record in division play since 2011. ... The time of game was 3:53, the longest nine-inning game the Phillies played this season.