Maybe Ruben Amaro Jr. should have gone all tough guy and threatened to make trades back in April. He did that a week ago when the Phillies opened a crucial, 10-game July homestand and since then, well, his team has played outstanding ball.
The Phillies won for the fifth time in seven games on the homestand, beating the Washington Nationals, 3-1, on Thursday night (see Instant Replay).
The Phils have won three straight series, two against first-place teams and one against the team immediately in front of them in the NL East standings.
For the remaining three games of the homestand they will have to avoid playing down to the competition as they host the Chicago White Sox, last place in the AL Central, beginning Friday night.
“We’ve stepped up to the competition,” said Kevin Frandsen, whose 11th pinch-hit of the season broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning and made a winner of Kyle Kendrick, who survived a poor defensive showing by his infield.
“Now we need to go out and get another one tomorrow against Chicago. They have a hell of pitching staff.”
The Phillies are back to a game under .500. They have shadow-boxed with that mark for weeks, spending just two days at .500 since early April and just one day over the mark all season -- June 6.
They need to prove to management that they can get over .500 and stay there to avoid having the team broken up by trades in the two-plus weeks that remain before the trade deadline.
“We’re just starting to click,” Frandsen said. “We’re getting some breaks. The first half, we got no breaks.
“We’ve played some good teams. But we’re a good team, too. We’ve got a lot of accomplished guys here and a lot of good, hungry young guys.”
The Phils took three of four from Washington. They beat a top pitcher in the finale. Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann has a league-high 12 wins and entered with the sixth-best ERA in the league (2.45). He was very good Thursday night -- he allowed eight hits, two runs, walked none and struck out six -- but the Phils were able to capitalize with a two-out RBI single by Ben Revere in the fifth and Frandsen’s tie-breaking pinch-hit in the seventh. Darin Ruf led off that frame with a double.
“We beat a really good pitcher, a stud, for sure,” Frandsen said. “Any win is a good win, but you beat a shutdown guy like Zimmermann when they’re trying to even up the series and that’s pretty good.”
Frandsen is 11 for 31 with nine RBIs as a pinch-hitter.
“He’s very valuable,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “As Walter Alston used to say, ‘A guy like that can win you some games.’”
The Phillies made four errors, three by Chase Utley and one by Michael Young, but none came back to haunt.
Manuel credited Kendrick for that.
“He really had to battle,” Manuel said. “We made mistakes and he got us out of it. He overcame the mistakes.”
Kendrick allowed just five hits over seven innings in snapping a two-game losing streak. He got a nice helper from leftfielder Domonic Brown, who gunned down Bryce Harper at the plate in the first inning.
“That was huge,” Kendrick said. “It was a great throw. Could have been a game-changer right there.”
The Phillies will face three lefties in the series against Chicago. The Phils are 9-12 against lefty starters this season.
The Phils are hot, but they still have miles to go before they convince management to hang on for a possible second-half run.
“We’ve got to play hard,” Manuel said. “We’ve got to outplay them. We’ve got to do the same thing against the Chicago White Sox as we did against Washington and the Braves. We’ve got to play as hard or harder. You don’t let up. You stay right at it.”