Power arms & bats give Phils second straight win

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Power arms & bats give Phils second straight win

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The power went on at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night.

John Mayberry Jr. belted a three-run home run and Carlos Ruiz added a solo shot in the Phillies’ 5-4 win over the Colorado Rockies (see Instant Replay).

The power didn’t stop in the batter’s box.

Starting pitcher Ethan Martin’s fastball was hitting 95 mph early in the game, and later on reliever Jake Diekman flashed a pair of 99s.

That’s Billy Wagner territory.

Power bats. Power arms. It’s a pretty good combination and it helped the Phillies win consecutive games for the first time in a month.

The Phils are 2-2 under interim manager Ryne Sandberg. He will get the job full-time if the club continues to show the life it did in this game.

The game’s high point came in the eighth inning when Sandberg brought Diekman into a one-run game to face possible future Hall of Famer Todd Helton with one out and men on first and second.

Diekman is a left-handed reliever that brings to mind the old baseball adage about nice guys. You like them to marry your daughter, but you don’t necessarily want them on the field during crunch time when a little nastiness comes in handy. Diekman is as nice a guy as there is in that clubhouse, but he doesn’t have much pit bull in him. He often looks a little nervous on the mound.

But against Helton, Diekman turned into a pit bull. He attacked Helton and struck him out on three pitches -- slider, fastball (96), fastball (98). That’s three major-league pitches if Diekman can command them.

After the game, Diekman was hilarious talking about facing Helton. His first thought about the assignment was:

“Holy crap,” he said.

And after the strikeout?

“It was good,” he said. “It was a big point in the game.”

Diekman thought he’d be out of the game after getting the lefty-hitting Helton, but this is “find out” time for Phillies officials -- they’re trying to find out who might be able to help next season -- so Sandberg stuck with Diekman as right-handed hitting Nolan Arenado came to the plate.

Diekman had a little mishap as he faced Arenado. He balked on the 1-2 pitch, then came back with some anger and fired two 99-mph pitches, the second of which was strike three.

“Diekman really preserved the game,” Sandberg said.

Sandberg said he didn’t know that Diekman had a 99-mph fastball in there.

Bullpen mate Justin De Fratus, who came up in the Phils’ system with Diekman, knew his pal had that type of heat.

“I’ve seen it,” De Fratus said. “It’s in there. He threw the hell out of it. Don’t be surprised if you see triple digits out of him.”

A reporter joked that Diekman should pay off the radar gun man and get that one more tick for 100 mph. The idea sounded appealing to Diekman.

“It’s just one guy behind home plate, right?” he said.

De Fratus also got two outs with two runners on base. Jonathan Papelbon completed the bullpen’s strong night with his first save since July 11.

De Fratus and Diekman are two of many players trying to open eyes for next season. They did in this game.

“You put them in opportunities like tonight and let them learn from it,” Sandberg said. “When they do what they did tonight it’s a huge boost for their confidence.”

Luis Garcia provided the only blemish on the bullpen’s record in the game. He allowed two runs in the eighth, but his troubles set up a meat-grinder situation that proved to be a good experience for Diekman.

Martin did a good job keeping his pitch count in check early and pitched into the seventh inning. It was the first time he went past the fifth in four big-league starts. Martin allowed four hits and two walks. He struck out six. He did not give up a run until Troy Tulowitzki smacked a hanging breaking ball into the left-field seats to lead off the seventh.

“He looked nice and calm out there,” Sandberg said of Martin. “He mixed his pitches, which is important for him. He wasn’t just relying on his fastball.”

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.