Phillies ride energy to walk-off win over Rockies

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Phillies ride energy to walk-off win over Rockies

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For the second time in the last four games, Michael Young was the man at the plate for a walk-off win. For Wednesday night’s 4-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park, Young actually recorded an RBI with his walk-off piece (see Instant Replay).

But where would Young (or the Phillies) be without some table setters? In the game-winning ninth inning of Wednesday’s victory, it was a pair of catchers doing the heavy lifting.

Erik Kratz and Carlos Ruiz both smacked doubles in the ninth to lead the Phillies’ comeback. Kratz, the starting catcher for the game, led off the inning with the team trailing by a run with a hard double down the left-field line. A groundout by John Mayberry Jr. pushed pinch-runner Casper Wells to third before Ruiz dug in as a pinch hitter.

Three pitches later, Ruiz hit a low liner just inside the third-base line and hustled in to second with the game-tying RBI. An intentional walk to Jimmy Rollins brought up Young, who ended it on the first pitch he saw from Rockies’ closer Rafael Betancourt.

Manager Ryne Sandberg couldn’t have designed a better ending to the game if he tried.

“The ninth inning was big. Kratz with the leadoff double. [Mayberry] got him over and Ruiz with the pinch-hit double,” Sandberg said. “Ruiz has had a good homestand. He’s swinging with more authority and showing more pop in his bat. [That was] a big hit right there.”

Along with three wins in Sandberg’s first six games as manager of the Phillies, perhaps the biggest development as of late has been Ruiz’s reemergence as an offensive threat. Seemingly reeling in a lost season, marred by the 25-game suspension for improperly using the prescription drug Adderall, followed by a long stint on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Ruiz picked the worst time to struggle.

With a winter of free agency looming and his 35th birthday drawing closer, the likelihood of a return to the Phillies in 2014 seemed remote. Ruiz won’t try to insult anyone’s intelligence by saying his pending free agency wasn’t on his mind.

“If I said no, I’d be lying to you,” Ruiz said. “It’s something I was thinking maybe not every day but once in a while. But who knows, it’s not in my hands. All that’s in my hands is to play hard and see what happens.”

But as it goes so often in baseball, things started to click for Ruiz. He hit his first three homers of the season after the All-Star break and is batting .333 with six extra-base hits in 17 games during August.

For Ruiz, it all started with a 4-for-4 game on Sunday, following by a 2-for-4 showing with a double and homer on Monday. In the last four games, Ruiz is 7 for 12 with three extra-base hits.

“He’s finally just getting his stroke,” Sandberg said. “He’s using the whole field. He’s found a little bit of a hot streak. He had a four-hit game a few days ago. It's a confidence builder there. He's had a nice homestand.”

Still, Ruiz had to wonder if it was ever going to come together for him. That was especially the case when he was batting just .235 in July after having missed 52 games. But Ruiz stuck with it and didn’t let himself get too down over the suspension or the hamstring injury.

Ruiz said it was just a matter of putting in the work before he was off and running.

“With everything that happened, it was tough for me,” Ruiz said. “I came back from the suspension, then I got hurt. It’s not an excuse but it was hard to pick it up. There’s nothing I can do about that, it’s in the past, so I’m going to do my best right now and hopefully I’ll do well.”

And if Ruiz can keep hitting as well as continuing to play his high-caliber of defense, the Phillies might not have too many better options at catcher than Ruiz. It certainly hasn’t hurt Ruiz’s cause that minor-league catching prospect Tommy Joseph has struggled with post-concussion symptoms this season. With Joseph’s arrival in the big leagues seemingly delayed, Ruiz could be the only in-house option for the Phillies.

According to Sandberg, there’s a lot Ruiz can do in the final 36 games to help his cause.

“I think these games, he has a chance to be evaluated and have the decision made,” Sandberg said. “From what I see, he's a leader on the team.”

Said Ruiz: “I’ll keep working and hopefully finish strong. We’ll see what happens when the season is over.”

Meanwhile, the Phillies won a game started by Cliff Lee for the first time since July 5, though the left-hander didn’t figure in the decision. In seven innings, Lee scattered nine hits and allowed just a pair of runs. He handed a tie game over to the bullpen in the eighth. That’s where the Rockies pieced together a run off Justin De Fratus.

Red-hot reliever Jake Diekman kept the Rockies in check in the ninth, which set the stage for the dramatics at the end.

For some reason, the Phillies felt like the night was going to end well.

Call it a hunch.

“I see the guys on the bench,” Sandberg said. “I see them at the top rail in the ninth inning. There is a lot of energy in the dugout. There are a lot of guys pulling for each other. That's all good. When you pull out a game like this that pays dividends and goes a long way for the games ahead of us.”

The Phillies and Rockies finish the four-game series on Thursday night when Kyle Kendrick (10-9, 4.48) takes on rookie right-hander Chad Bettis (0-2, 5.30).

The stench of recent losses prompts a Phillies team meeting

The stench of recent losses prompts a Phillies team meeting

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ATLANTA – After every Phillies road game, it’s customary for reporters to enter the clubhouse and stop into the manager’s office to collect a few observations from the ol' skipper.
 
On Wednesday night, Pete Mackanin, still in his uniform pants and red undershirt, took the unusual step of leaving the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field and approaching a group of reporters as they waited in the hallway outside the room.
 
What gives?
 
Did the toilets overflow or something?
 
Well, in a sense, yes.
 
The stink of a 12-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves led some of the team’s elder statesmen to call a players-only team meeting (see Instant Replay). That meant Mackanin had to do his postmortems outside in the hallway.
 
“I don't know who called it, but it’s nice to see,” Mackanin said. “Somebody cares.”
 
Catcher Cameron Rupp revealed that the meeting was called by veterans Ryan Howard and A.J. Ellis. The Phillies have lost five of their last six games and given up a ridiculous 63 runs over that span. They lost, 17-0, Sunday in New York and blew a 6-0 lead in losing, 7-6, Tuesday night in Atlanta. Losing by a 10-spot on Wednesday night added to the embarrassment and dropped the Phillies to 70-88 with four games remaining in the season.
 
“We have some older guys, Howie and A.J. that have been around and they don’t want to see guys stumble to the finish line,” Rupp said. “Finish hard, finish strong. We’ve had a good year in a lot of guys’ eyes. We’ve improved on last year. There has been a lot of good things we can build off and that’s what the message was – continue to work and get better.
 
“There are four games left – don’t quit,” Rupp said. “Come to the ballpark expecting to win and see where it takes you. We got pushed around the last couple of nights and in New York. Stuff happens. It’s part of the game. But with four games left, there’s a lot that each player can prove.
 
“A lot can happen in four days. We can ruin somebody else’s season.”
 
The Phillies play their final game at Turner Field on Thursday night – the Braves will open a new stadium next year – then return home Friday night to play the Mets, who are locked in a tight race for the National League wild card.
 
The weekend series against the Mets will mark Howard’s last three days in a Phillies uniform.
 
He has swung the bat lately like a man who still has pride. His part in the team meeting reflected that pride.
 
“A.J. and I felt like having a quick meeting and that we did,” Howard said. “We need to refocus on these last four games. We got beat up tonight. We have to put a halt to that momentum and refocus on the last four games.
 
“It’s important to finish strong. It would be easy to cash it in, but we want to go out on a high note and we have four games to try to do that.”

Mackanin admitted the series in New York – three losses in four games to the Mets – “took the life out of everybody” and the malaise followed the Phillies to Atlanta.
 
“It's all about pitching,” Mackanin said. “Pitching keeps you in games. That's why we won 70 games. Now we're not getting the pitching.”
 
The Phillies have struggled to score runs all season. In fact, they are the only team in the majors not to reach 600 runs. (They have 599.) But recently, the pitching has gone downhill, especially in the bullpen.
 
Mackanin tried to give the bullpen a break on Wednesday night. That’s why he had Adam Morgan suck up five innings on a night when he didn’t have it. The lefty allowed 10 hits and nine runs in his final start of the season.
 
“It’s pretty bad,” Morgan said. “It’s not the way that I wanted to go out.”
 
Morgan made strides recently as he picked up a two-seam fastball and used his changeup more. But he is 2-11 with a 6.04 ERA.
 
“Below average,” said Mackanin, assessing Morgan’s season. “It wasn't a successful season for him. He has ability, but the numbers matter. If you want to go by the numbers, they're not good. It doesn't mean I don't like him. It doesn't mean he doesn't have a future. At some point, you have to put up numbers.”
 
Speaking of numbers, the Phillies have put up some awful numbers against the NL East. They are 16-35 against the NL East in their last 51 divisional games.
 
“I look at the team statistics,” Mackanin said. “When you're 13th, 14th and 15th in 10 of those categories, that tells you all you need to know.
 
“We're down at the bottom in hitting. We're sinking fast in pitching.
 
“As far as a yardstick to measure, I look at those stats. Numbers matter. They tell you the story.”
 
In four days, the story of the 2016 Phillies will be over. Maybe Wednesday night’s players-only meeting will inspire a couple of final wins.

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Best of MLB: Hyun Soo Kim's pinch HR gives Orioles win

Best of MLB: Hyun Soo Kim's pinch HR gives Orioles win

TORONTO -- Hyun Soo Kim hit a pinch-hit, two-run homer in the ninth inning off Roberto Osuna, and the Baltimore Orioles beat Toronto 3-2 on Wednesday night to move within one game of the AL wild card-leading Blue Jays.

With Toronto ahead 2-1, Jonathan Schoop singled with one out, pinch-runner Michael Bourn stole second and Kim homered on a 3-2 pitch into the visiting bullpen in right, causing the Orioles relievers to jump in celebration.

Osuna (3-3) has five blown save chances, including two in his last three appearances.

Mark Trumbo hit his major league-leading 46th home run, a solo drive off Jason Grilli in the eighth.

Brian Duensing (1-0) got one out, and Zach Britton finished for his 47th save in as many tries (see full recap).

Mets win to keep grip on wild-card spot
MIAMI -- The Marlins walked half a block alongside a hearse carrying their ace away from Marlins Park at the start of a funeral motorcade Wednesday, and then peeled away with watery eyes to go back inside and play a game.

Drained by four days of grieving, they didn't have much left for the New York Mets.

Jay Bruce hit his 32nd home run, James Loney also homered and the Mets helped their NL wild-card chances by beating Miami 5-2.

New York began the night leading the Giants by half a game and the Cardinals by 1 1/2 games in the race for the two wild-card spots. The Mets conclude the regular season with three games at Philadelphia starting Friday.

The Marlins' loss in their home finale eliminated them from playoff contention. Despite high hopes this year, they still haven't been to the postseason since 2003.

Set Lugo (5-2) went 5 1/3 innings and allowed two runs.

Jose Urena (4-9) allowed five runs in five innings (see full recap).

Cano's HR boosts Mariners' playoff hopes
HOUSTON -- Robinson Cano hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and the Seattle Mariners beat the Houston Astros 12-4 Wednesday to keep pressure on the other AL wild-card contenders.

Kyle Seager added another three-run drive in the eighth, his 30th home run this season, as Seattle pulled within 1 games of Baltimore for the second AL wild card. Houston dropped three games back as its magic number for elimination was cut to two. The Orioles were at Toronto on Wednesday night.

Cano's career-best 36th home run, a drive off Doug Fister (12-13), landed in the first row of the Crawford Boxes in left field. Cano has nine homers and 25 RBIs in 19 games against Houston this season (see full recap).

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