Bats and bullpen push Phillies to win at Wrigley

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Bats and bullpen push Phillies to win at Wrigley

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CHICAGO – The Phillies came into Wrigley Field on the heels of two losses in Texas in which the bullpen could not protect a late lead.

So pretty much the last thing Phillies fans wanted to see Friday afternoon was Ryne Sandberg popping out of the dugout with one out in the sixth inning to remove a starting pitcher who was pitching with a lead and doing quite well.

Really? You’re entrusting this bullpen to get 11 outs, Ryno?

Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, Antonio Bastardo, Mario Hollands and Jeff Manship made Sandberg’s decision to go to the ‘pen early a good one, as they combined for 3 2/3 shutout innings in the Phillies’ 7-2 win over the Chicago Cubs at the 100th season opener at Wrigley Field (see Instant Replay).

The Phillies are 2-2 on the young season.

They’d be 4-0 if the bullpen had pitched as effectively in Texas as it did Friday at chilly Wrigley, where the game-time temperature was 38 degrees with a wind chill of 28.

The offense, a major concern in spring training, continued to click as the Phillies out-hit the Cubs, 11-3. Chase Utley belted a two-run homer to give the Phils the lead in the fifth inning and added an RBI single in the seventh. Utley is 7 for 18 (.389) on the young season. John Mayberry Jr. came off the bench with a two-run, pinch-hit homer in the eighth to push the Phillies’ lead to four runs. Mayberry has four RBIs in two pinch-hit at-bats so far.

The extra cushion made life a little less stressful on the relievers, but there was no denying their effectiveness: None of them gave up a hit. Bastardo walked two batters in the eighth, but kept it together and rolled an inning-ending double play ball.

Roberto Hernandez became the second Phillies’ starter to get a win as he held the Cubs to two runs over 5 1/3 innings.

Hernandez was at 73 pitches when Sandberg came out to get him after he struck out the first batter in the bottom of the sixth.

The decision to remove Hernandez immediately raised eyebrows, but the manager had his reasons.

“I had an eye on him,” Sandberg said. “He hadn't really thrown to hitters in nine days because of rain. He had a simulated game in the cage in Florida, which wasn't real life at all. His velocity went down to 85, 86 (mph). He still had movement on the ball, but they had the middle of the lineup -- the left-handed bats -- coming up so I elected to go with Diekman there.”

The lefty Diekman made quick work of two lefty hitters and De Fratus, who hadn’t pitched since spring training, got the third on opening the bottom of the seventh.

The lefty hitters were a big concern to Sandberg because the wind was blowing out to right at 23 mph. He figured Diekman had a better chance of neutralizing them than Hernandez, a right-handed sinkerballer.

Sandberg said it took no extra nerve to go to his bullpen, though he would have been second-guessed all the way back to Philly if the ‘pen didn’t come through.

“The guys in the bullpen need to pitch,” he said. “It's early in the season. They need that experience. To see them come through, like Hollands two days in a row, that's all part of it. The guys are going to pitch. I've already seen improvement.

“They all chipped in and did a good job with matchups.”

Sandberg managed as if this was a must-win and for him it probably was, though he wouldn’t admit it. These are the Cubs, after all, the team with which he enjoyed a Hall of Fame playing career, the team he dreamed of managing until he had to go to Philadelphia to find managerial upward mobility. Sandberg was part of a Hall of Fame foursome, joining Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ferguson Jenkins in throwing out a ceremonial first pitch.

“Well, it was Opening Day and that’s a big deal out here,” Sandberg said. “It’s a big deal at Wrigley Field today. It’s good to take the first game and set the tone for the series. We’ll get after it again tomorrow.”

By going deep into his bullpen, Sandberg could have manpower issues in the coming days. The Phils are scheduled to play Saturday, Sunday and Monday before their next off day. However, none of the relievers who worked Saturday were extended much. Diekman threw 12 pitches, De Fratus 13, Bastardo 18, Hollands 10 and Manship 2.

Sandberg heard a few boos from the chilly crowd when he brought Manship in to face the final batter of the game. Sandberg just wanted Manship to get some work before cobwebs developed on his body. Brad Lincoln still has not appeared in a game. Sandberg said Lincoln was healthy. The right-hander was acquired from Toronto in the offseason and was a shoo-in to make the team because he is out of minor-league options.

Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

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Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge circled the bases for the 50th time this season, breaking Mark McGwire's major league record for home runs by a rookie, and returned to the Yankees dugout to exchange handshakes, hugs and high-fives with excited teammates.

And then, he walked up the steps and back onto the field.

Embarrassed by the attention, he managed four short waves with his right hand before heading back to the bench just three seconds later.

"They kind of told me: `You got to go out there. You got to go out there,'" he would later recall. "First curtain call. I hope it was a good one."

Judge had his second straight two-homer game in an 11-3 rout of Kansas City on Monday. On an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon, the Yankees won for the 16th time in 22 games during a playoff push that earned no worse than a wild card.

The 6-foot-7, 25-year-old slugger tied McGwire's 1987 mark with a two-run drive to right-center off Jakob Junis (8-3) in the third inning that put New York ahead 3-0, driving a 93 mph high fastball 389 feet about a half-dozen rows into the right field seats (see full recap).

Russell makes food run, Cubs beat Cards to near clinch
ST. LOUIS -- Say cheese!

Addison Russell and the Chicago Cubs were all smiles after moving within a victory of another division title Monday night.

Russell hit a three-run double in the first inning, then made a food run for a fan in enemy territory while the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 10-2. Chicago can wrap up the division with a win Tuesday against the Cardinals or a loss by Milwaukee against Cincinnati.

Russell helped the Cubs get to starter Luke Weaver (7-2) early, then made some friends out of rival fans. After diving into the stands chasing a foul ball down the third-base line and spilling a man's tray of chips, Russell emerged from the dugout a few innings later with a plate of nachos and delivered it to the fan. Russell stopped to take a selfie before heading back to play shortstop.

"That was pretty entertaining," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said (see full recap).

Donaldson, Blue Jays stop Red Sox winning streak at 6
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox would like to get the AL East wrapped up quickly so they can start resting some banged-up players.

Josh Donaldson homered and drove in three runs, powering the Toronto Blue Jays past the first-place Red Sox 6-4 on Monday night.

Boston's six-game winning streak was snapped and its magic number to clinch a second straight division title remained at three. The Red Sox lead the second-place New York Yankees, who beat Kansas City earlier in the day, by four games with six remaining.

But the most important thing for the Red Sox was the loss of two key players to injuries. For how long? They don't know yet.

Eduardo Nunez and Mookie Betts both left the game early. Nunez aggravated a right knee injury that sidelined him for 13 games, and Betts came out with pain in his left wrist (see full recap).

Rangers fall to Astros, wild-card hopes fading
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBIs as the AL West champion Houston Astros beat Texas 11-2 on Monday night, putting the Rangers on the brink of elimination in the wild-card race.

Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, the American League leader with 199 hits and a .348 batting average, left in the eighth inning after he was hit by a 95 mph fastball. The team said X-rays were negative and Altuve had a bruised forearm.

Gonzalez had two hits and scored twice in an eight-run fourth, including a two-run single that chased starter Andrew Cashner (10-11). Gonzalez later hit his 23rd homer, a solo shot in the sixth.

Collin McHugh (4-2) struck out six while throwing 112 pitches in five innings. The right-hander is 15-0 with a 2.94 ERA in 19 starts in September or October during his four seasons with the Astros (see full recap).

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

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Before beginning a season-ending six-game homestand Monday night, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin singled out Aaron Nola when asked about the positives of what is mostly a dismal 2017 season. 

“Nola has really established himself,” Mackanin said pregame. “To me, he’s a solid No. 3 starter.”

Nola then looked the part in what was likely his final start of the year, using a sharp curveball to strike out nine over six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see observations)

“I felt like just the command and getting ahead of hitters helped out this year,” Nola said. 

Returning from elbow surgery that ended his 2016 season in July, Nola (12-11) became the best starter on the team thanks to the development of a changeup in spring training to go with his fastball and dominant curveball. 

“I felt a lot stronger,” the soft-spoken Nola said when asked to sum up his season. “I felt like I was using my legs more and that increased my velocity a little bit.” 

Nola allowed two runs or fewer in 18 of his 27 starts. His 184 strikeouts are the most by a Phillies pitcher who made fewer than 30 starts in a season. 

“I wouldn’t call him a power pitcher. He doesn’t appear to be a strikeout pitcher,” Mackanin said. “But when you can locate your fastball and get ahead with your fastball down in the strike zone and have that kind of curveball and then you add that kind of changeup, now the hitter has three pitches to worry about.”

He struck out 36 over his final four starts and 25 1/3 innings, using his sweeping curve as an out pitch. All but one of his strikeouts Monday night came on the curve. 

“It’s been good,” Nola said. “I’ve been able to command it on both sides of the plate and down, which has helped me. I felt like my fastball command was better this year than it was last year.” 

In a rotation in which basically nothing else is settled, Nola gives the Phillies an anchor for next season. The 24-year-old LSU product has a 3.54 ERA and the changeup gives him three quality pitches. 

“It’s been kind of the cherry on top, a little bit, being able to throw that right-on-right,” catcher Andrew Knapp said of the changeup. “It’s a hard pitch to hit when you’re a left-handed hitter. But when you’re right-handed and coming to that back foot, it’s a really good pitch.” 

Nola retired the first four hitters before Jayson Werth singled and Michael A. Taylor followed by crushing a 3-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his 17th homer. 

It was the 18th home run allowed by Nola. But he got into a groove from there. Facing a lineup without Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, Nola held the NL East champions to two runs and five hits with two walks. 

But it didn’t prevent the Phillies from losing for the fourth time in five games. 

Odubel Herrera’s solo home run on an 0-2 pitch from A.J. Cole (3-5) in the fourth was all the offense the Phillies could muster. They’ve managed seven runs in four games. 

Rhys Hoskins is slumping (0 for 4 and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14) and Nick Williams struck out three times. 

“Our bats have gone silent for a few days now,” Mackanin said. 

They still have to win one more to avoid 100 losses, and many changes are possible in the offseason. Mackanin said before the game that “I still don’t know if I’ll be back here next year," (see story)

It’s a team that still has plenty of holes and lots of questions ahead of 2018. 

Nola, though, appears to be someone they can rely on. 

“The goal is to have five [reliable] guys on every start. But it’s nice,” Mackanin said. “When Nola pitches, we all expect to win. He’s done an outstanding job. He’s had the arm issues, but he came back from that better than he was before.”