IronPigs rally to help Phillies end West Coast trip with 2 straight wins

IronPigs rally to help Phillies end West Coast trip with 2 straight wins

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SAN FRANCISCO — Ben Lively, his eyes wide before his eighth big-league start, looked around at his teammates moments before the game.
 
"Dude, this is a really familiar dugout," he told Rhys Hoskins.
 
Indeed. Six of the Phillies' nine starters Sunday afternoon at AT&T Park were recent teammates at Triple A Lehigh Valley. They recently graduated to the majors and on this day joined together in rallying for a 5-2 win over the San Francisco Giants as the Phils closed out a West Coast trip with two wins and five losses (see Instant Replay).
 
It was a very entertaining ball game for several reasons:
 
The Phillies came back from a run down in the eighth inning and scored three times on a succession of five straight singles against Giants reliever Hunter Strickland.
 
Closer Hector Neris pitched himself into a tight spot when he plunked Buster Posey with a first-pitch fastball to load the bases in the bottom of the eighth. Posey took exception with the pitch, said something to Neris and moaned about it to reporters after the game (see video).
 
And then there was the IronPigs. All of the recent additions from Triple A had a hand in the win. All five of the Phillies' runs were driven in by players recently promoted. In Saturday night's win, a cast of recent additions drove in 10 of the Phillies' 12 runs. So, newcomers drove in 15 of the Phillies' 17 runs the last two days.
 
"We were pretty talented down there and I think it's good for this organization to have that kind of burst of energy," Hoskins said. "Hopefully it carries over to the homestand."
 
The IronPigs' impact started with Lively, who was recalled before the start and delivered six innings of two-run ball — "just what we needed," manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
It continued with utility man Pedro Florimon starting in left field, throwing out a runner at the plate and driving in three runs, including the tie-breaking run in the eighth.
 
Jorge Alfaro started behind the plate and drove in the tying run with a base hit in the eighth after coming back from an 0-2 count.
 
In all, the Phillies had five straight one-out hits in that inning — by Hoskins, Maikel Franco, Alfaro, Nick Williams and Florimon. All but Franco was in Triple A until recently.
 
"It's awesome," Lively said. "Everyone is getting an opportunity. A lot of people are making the best of their opportunities. That fires me up more than anything."
 
Two others who had been at Lehigh Valley this season, Adam Morgan and Luis Garcia, chipped in with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.
 
Hoskins gave the Phillies a little breathing room in the ninth inning when he bashed his fifth homer in his first 11 games in the majors. All of them came on this trip to his home state with a slew of friends and family in the seats.
 
"I think we could have come away with a couple more wins, obviously, but we're feeling pretty good going home, split the series after dropping the first two," Hoskins said.
 
The wins were the Phillies' only two in the state of California this season. They went 2-11 in the land of the Double-Double.
 
The game was not without some drama. With two outs and runners on first and second in the bottom of the eighth, and the Phils clinging to a two-run lead, Mackanin summoned his closer, Neris, as the dangerous Posey — who had already singled and doubled — stepped in the box.
 
Neris' first pitch, a 95-mph fastball, hit Posey in the side. The usually mild-mannered Posey was angry and said something to Neris before cooler heads prevailed.
 
After the game, Posey was still angry.
 
"I'm pretty certain he hit me on purpose and it's just a shame because I wanted to compete in that at-bat," Posey said. "I guess he didn’t feel he could get me out.
 
"It was a big spot. It would have been fun to hit."
 
Neris was incredulous when he heard what Posey said.
 
"Not a chance," he said when asked if he hit Posey on purpose. "I don't want to put the tying run on second base. I don't want to hit anybody in that situation."
 
Mackanin said there was no way Neris threw at Posey.
 
"If Hector hit him intentionally, I'm not real happy with Hector to put the tying run on second base and the go-ahead run on first," Mackanin said. "It doesn't make sense to me."

Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

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Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It's time for the 2017 Cleveland Indians to be introduced to the one and only 1884 Providence Grays.

They share some unlikely history, the two teams, which played a mere 141 years apart, are the only two clubs to have ever won 27 out of 28 games.

The Indians joined the Grays on Thursday when Francisco Lindor's three-run homer led Cleveland to a 4-1 victory and three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels.

The Grays ended up winning 28 of 29, leaving the Indians one game shy of matching the record (see full recap).

Cubs rally in 9th, beat Brewers to open big series
MILWAUKEE -- Javier Baez grounded a tying single with two outs in the ninth inning, Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer in the 10th and the Chicago Cubs widened their NL Central lead over Milwaukee, beating the Brewers 5-3 Thursday night.

The Cubs now are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Brewers after winning the opener of a four-game series.

Milwaukee was in position to win it in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with one out. But Wade Davis (4-1) struck out Domingo Santana and then, after falling behind 3-1 in the count to Orlando Arcia, came back to retire him on an easy comebacker on a full-count pitch.

The Cubs trailed 3-2 when Ian Happ led off the ninth by hitting a grounder that first baseman Neil Walker fielded wide of the bag. Reliever Jeremy Jeffress covered first and Happ was called safe in a close play, a ruling upheld on replay (see full recap).

Twins rout Tigers, lead AL wild card by 2½ games
DETROIT -- With a postseason berth tantalizingly close, the Minnesota Twins snapped out of their mini-slump in emphatic fashion.

Joe Mauer and Jorge Polanco had three hits each, and the Twins extended their lead for the American League's second wild card by beating the Detroit Tigers 12-1 on Thursday night. Minnesota is 2 games ahead of the Angels in the race for the AL's final postseason spot. Los Angeles lost earlier in the day to Cleveland .

The Twins had lost five of six coming into the night, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, but they routed a depleted Detroit team that is 4-17 in September after trading Justin Verlander and Justin Upton.

"As a whole in this season, it's been pretty impressive," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. "Staying away from the long losing streaks, coming back from some tough losses and some tough stretches and getting back to playing winning baseball, for the most part,” (see full recap).

Fowler delivers again as Cardinals beat Reds
CINCINNATI -- The St. Louis Cardinals rinsed the bad taste of being swept by the Chicago Cubs the best way they could -- sweeping the Cincinnati Reds.

Dexter Fowler delivered again, hitting two doubles and a single as St. Louis overcame Scott Schebler's two home runs to beat the Reds 8-5 Thursday night.

The Cardinals began the day 2 games behind Colorado for the second NL wild-card spot and five games behind the Central-leading Cubs.

Fowler drove in two runs. He went 7 for 13 with two home runs and six RBIs in the three-game series (see full recap).

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

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In the end, things reverted to form: The Dodgers won and the Phillies lost.

The Dodgers are headed to the playoffs, the Phillies to who-knows-where.

Los Angeles scored twice in the seventh inning Thursday afternoon to beat the Phils, 5-4, and salvage the finale of a four-game series (see observations).

The Dodgers, the majors’ best team at 97-56, lowered their magic number to one for clinching a fifth straight NL West championship. The Phils, baseball’s second-worst team at 61-92, were left with a lovely parting gift: hope.

“I think it’s a good lesson,” J.P. Crawford, the rookie shortstop-turned-third baseman, said of the series as a whole. “It showed us, or showed me, we can compete with the best teams in the league. Just can’t wait to see what next year has in store for us.”

Crawford, the 16th overall pick in 2013, drew three walks in four plate appearances and fielded eight chances flawlessly, at least four of which could be described as moderately difficult.

In addition, Mark Leiter Jr. pitched six strong innings, Rhys Hoskins did another Rhys Hoskins thing — i.e., hit a two-run double in the fifth — and Nick Williams launched a two-run homer.

So it was that the Phillies finished the homestand with a 7-3 record. They have won eight of their last 12, and are 32-34 since the All-Star break, after going 29-58 beforehand.

There are those who question how much it means for an also-ran to excel in September, when the pressure is off. It would appear that Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is not among those people. He mentioned in particular how valuable it is for his young relievers to face teams in the thick of the race.

“To get this kind of experience is worth a lot,” he said. “It’s a big part of this year.”

One of those relievers, Ricardo Pinto, faltered Thursday, allowing those two seventh-inning runs to take the loss. But Leiter, who had pitched to a 9.39 ERA in three previous September starts, allowed just one earned run on five hits over his six innings of work. He struck out three and walked one.

So it’s one for his résumé going forward. And he said a strong finish to the season — the Phils have nine games left — is “important for everybody.”

“I don't know if it's more important for us than other teams,” he said, “but you want to finish strong and start strong. Those are the goals. That's baseball. You're going to have some ups and downs, and to take a series is a good thing.”

Crawford, called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on Sept. 5, hit .200 without a walk in his first six major-league games. In his last nine, he is slashing .296/.474/.481, with 10 walks and seven strikeouts in 38 plate appearances.

“Just a matter of getting my feet settled down,” he said, “and just being comfortable in the box.”

“It’s good to see,” Mackanin said. “He was advertised as someone who controls the strike zone and he’s proven that he can do that. Walk’s as good as a hit — the old saying. He keeps innings alive and he doesn’t expand the strike zone, he makes the pitcher get him out and he’ll take a walk, which is important.”

Speaking generally about such an approach (and not about Crawford in particular), Mackanin had only one small reservation.

“One of the problems with a guy who walks too often is you’d like him to be a little more aggressive at times,” he said, “but in general it’s good to see.”

Crawford made his eighth start at third base, and while he doesn’t possess the power bat normally required of someone who plays the position, he certainly looks like he can hold his own with the glove.

“There’s not really much transition,” he said. “I’m just going over there, reacting, catching the ball, throwing the ball.”

If nothing else, he gives the Phillies a possible alternative to Maikel Franco, who has struggled all year.

And if nothing else, the team as a whole has shown there is some reason for hope.