Phillies use clutch hits to claim walk-off win

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Phillies use clutch hits to claim walk-off win

BOX SCORE

From going 0 for 13 with runners in scoring position and leaving a whopping 15 men on base to making two errors in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Colorado Rockies did everything in their power to give the Phillies a ballgame Wednesday night.

And finally, the Phillies took the gift.

The Phillies rallied for four unearned runs with two outs in the ninth inning to beat the Rockies, 6-3 (see Instant Replay).

The Phillies were one out away from falling a season-worst six games under .500 when Chase Utley tied the game with a single against Colorado lefty Boone Logan. The next batter, Ryan Howard, won it with a three-run home run, a bolt into the seats above the 387-foot marker in left-center.

It was Howard’s fifth career walk-off homer.

The Rockies, who had taken a 3-2 lead on a homer by DJ LeMahieu off Jake Diekman in the top of the eighth, left the door open for the Phillies to rally with two errors in the ninth. Second baseman Josh Rutledge threw away a ball with one out and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki dropped a pop up down the left-field line.

“That was big,” manager Ryne Sandberg said of Colorado’s miscues. “When you give major-league teams extra outs, something can happen.”

“It gives you life,” Howard said.

The Phillies hardly had a clean game, but performances like the one Mike Adams delivered put them in position to win.

Reliever Antonio Bastardo walked three batters in the seventh and catcher Carlos Ruiz made a throwing error. Adams was summoned into a bases-loaded, no-outs situation and calmly got his team out of the jam unscathed. Without Adams’ clutch work, the Phils probably aren’t in position to rally to win in the ninth.

“Phenomenal,” Howard said of Adams’ work.

Adams induced a 1-2-3 double play off the broken bat of Carlos Gonzalez before striking out Tulowitzki, the league’s leading hitter, on three pitches to end the threat and keep the game tied at 2-2.

Adams, who missed much of last season with a career-threatening shoulder injury that required surgery, has not allowed an earned run in his last 12 outings.

“If I’m healthy, I never doubted my ability,” he said. “All through my rehab, I believed and I am where I’m at now. Today was fun. That was a whole lot of fun.”

Adams faced Tulowitzki with first base open. Pitching coach Bob McClure went to the mound before the at-bat and gave Adams the option of walking the red-hot Rockie.

Adams never blinked. He was going after Tulowitzki.

“I was actually a little upset he gave me the option to walk Tulo,” Adams said. “I’m confident in what I do. I’m not going to back down from anybody. I ain’t scared. I don’t care who you are. I feel I’m better than the person at the plate.”

Sandberg said Adams’ performance came in “a closer-like” situation.

“Our backs were against the wall and he came up big,” Sandberg said.

Utley and Howard also came up big in the ninth.

The Phillies are 3-3 after six games on this 11-game homestand. Howard has had four hitless games (one was in a non-start) on the homestand. In the other two, he has five hits, including two homers, and eight RBIs. Both of those big performances have come in wins.

What has been the key for Howard in those games?

“I found the ball,” he said. “That’s about it. You don’t question it. You just roll with it.”

Howard hit a 2-2 fastball from Logan for his ninth homer. He knew it was a game-winner when he made contact.

“I knew I hit the gap,” he said. “I really didn’t care if it was out or not. I just knew once I hit it that it was going to be a base hit and game would be over. I really didn’t see where it landed.”

Howard’s home run touched off a home-plate celebration on a night when the Phillies appeared to be headed deeper into last place in the NL East.

Instead, they are just four games back in the division with the NL East rival Mets on their way in for five games.

“We’ve talked about trying to build on games like this,” Howard said. “Now it’s about doing it. It’s about going out there and executing. We have a chance to get ourselves back in this race. We’re not out of the race -- that’s the crazy thing about it. For as hot and cold as we’ve been all year, we still have a shot. I believe this is a championship-caliber team. We just need to start going out and playing like it.”

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."