Ty Kelly turns into Phillies' unlikely hero against Red Sox ace Chris Sale

Ty Kelly turns into Phillies' unlikely hero against Red Sox ace Chris Sale

Less than two months ago, Ty Kelly wasn't on the Phillies' roster. 

He'd spent his nine seasons in pro baseball with five different organizations. And after the Mets designated him for assignment in early April, Kelly bounced from Queens to Toronto's Triple A team in Buffalo before finally landing in Philadelphia.

So when the same Kelly — who entered Thursday night with just 87 career major-league at-bats under his belt — stepped to the dish in the bottom of the eighth against a lights-out Chris Sale, he was facing one of the hottest arms in baseball, one with a 0.93 WHIP and a 95-plus mph heater.

But it was the career minor leaguer and not the five-time All-Star who delivered, with Kelly slapping a hanging slider from Sale down the left-field line. Phils third base coach Juan Samuel waved Andrew Knapp home for what would wind up being the game-winning run in a 1-0 victory (see game story).

The double was only the seventh hit for Kelly this season. For a guy who has seen little action this year, the moment did not faze him.

"The expectations are kind of tempered a little bit because [Sale's] pitching so well," Kelly said. "You're just going up there trying to do something positive, try to hit a ball hard, and hope it falls ... I'm pretty relaxed going into those kind of at-bats and I don't feel a ton of pressure. If anything, it's less pressure against someone like that."

Sale cruised through the first 7 1/3 frames. The southpaw struck out 10 and had surrendered only two hits before Knapp came up a third time in the eighth and earlier results hadn't been pretty for the first-year catcher against Boston's ace. Yet after striking out and grounding back to the pitcher, Knapp roped one into left to set up Kelly for what would be the crucial point of the night.

Like Thursday's hero, Knapp also has seen limited chances this year. Backing up Cameron Rupp, the Phillies' 2013 second-round selection made just the 27th appearance of his rookie campaign Thursday and entered with only 19 hits in 81 at-bats.

Yet, as Knapp made his way around third, he had nothing on his mind but sending his team on its way to a win, one that ultimately snapped an eight-game skid.

"I knew anything could happen down [in the corner]," Knapp said. "But the mentality you have to have going around the bases is, 'Yes, yes, yes,' and then they stop you. I was going until he stopped me and [Samuel] just kept waving me."

For a struggling lineup, it was another quiet night.

The first seven guys in the Phillies' order mustered only two hits and a walk to go along with eight strikeouts vs. Sale. No one seemed to be able to figure out his side-arm stuff that had already earned him eight wins and a sub-three ERA this season. 

So when Pete Mackanin's team needed a lift and Sale made what he called "the worst pitch of the game at the wrong time," a pair of unexpected offensive outlets got the job done.

"It's always huge when you get a pinch hit and it happens to win the game for you," Mackanin said. "It was a good call by Juan Samuel — late in the game, I like to see him be aggressive like that. ... All in all, there's a lot to be said for [Knapp and Kelly]."

The last time Kelly came to bat in as critical a situation as Thursday's against this caliber of a pitcher was last year's wild-card game when he pinch-hit for the Mets against Madison Bumgarner. Although he did turn that eighth-inning chance into a base knock as well, he was stranded on second.

This time, although Kelly found himself on second at the end of the eighth once again, he'd done his duty — and against one of baseball's best arms, adding to the best moments of his still-short major-league career.

"Those are the at-bats that, as a player, you want," Kelly said. "It's way harder to hit down 10 [runs] or up 10 against somebody because there's nothing riding on the at-bat. So when you've got a chance to just put a ball in play and it could move the guy over, there are tons of positives that can come out of an at-bat like that."

So what's different about this one?

"I don't know. Maybe more of my friends will text me tonight," Kelly laughed.

Best of MLB: Josh Reddick's big day helps Astros sweep A's

Best of MLB: Josh Reddick's big day helps Astros sweep A's

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Josh Reddick homered and scored four runs, Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez each went deep and the Houston Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 12-9 on Thursday.

The major league-leading Astros completed a four-game sweep with their 10th straight victory in Oakland and their 15th win in 16 games against the A's overall. They've won 12 of their last 14 road games. Their 27-8 record away from home is the best in the majors.

Reddick also doubled, tripled and drew a walk, and Marisnick and Gonzalez each drove in three runs.

David Paulino (2-0) struck out six and gave up three runs, seven hits and two walks. The 23-year-old rookie right-hander struck out five of his first six batters in his sixth career start.

Astros center fielder George Springer left with a left hand contusion after being struck by a fastball from Jesse Hahn (3-5) leading off the game. The ball also grazed Springer's left shoulder. Springer is tied for second in the AL with 21 home runs. His status is day-to-day (see full recap).

Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks blast Rockies
DENVER -- Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Owings hit three-run homers, Zack Godley threw well into the eighth inning, and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Colorado Rockies 10-3 on Thursday.

Goldschmidt finished with three hits and four RBIs to increase his season total to 64, tops in the majors.

Arizona took two of three in the NL West matchup and is now tied with Colorado for second place in the division behind the Dodgers. The Diamondbacks have won 12 of 14 and are a season-high 19 games above .500.

Godley gave up a home run to Charlie Blackmon to lead off the first inning, but shut down the Rockies from there.

Blackmon drew a walk in the third, then Godley erased him with a double-play ball to end the inning. He didn't allow a hit after Nolan Arenado's one-out single in the first and retired 19 of the next 20 batters before Raimel Tapia and Pat Valaika singled and doubled to lead off the eighth.

Godley (3-1) allowed three runs on four hits and struck out eight in seven-plus innings. He also helped himself with an RBI single in the eighth.

The Diamondbacks hit a Colorado rookie pitcher hard for the second straight night. Wednesday they scored 10 runs in the fourth off Jeff Hoffman, and Thursday they battered right-hander Antonio Senzatela (9-3) for nine runs in five innings.

Owings' homer in the third, his ninth, made it 5-1, and Goldschmidt hit his 18th to cap a four-run fourth to make it 9-1 (see full recap).

Knebel sets strikeout mark as Brewers top Pirates
MILWAUKEE -- Corey Knebel broke Arodlis Chapman's modern-era record for most consecutive games by a reliever with a strikeout at a season's start, fanning a batter for the 38th straight game and closing out the Milwaukee Brewers' 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.

Knebel struck out Josh Bell on a foul tip leading off the ninth. The 25-year-old right-hander retired Elias Diaz and Andrew McCutchen on popouts, finishing a four-hitter for his 12th save in 15 chances.

Chapman had set the mark since 1900 as part of a streak of 49 games for Cincinnati that began in August 2013 and ended the following August.

Travis Shaw drove in three runs with a homer and two doubles, and he came within inches of a second home run.

Chase Anderson (6-2) allowed two runs and two hits in six innings (see full recap).

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Odubel Herrera’s return to the dugout was so slow that home plate umpire Nic Lentz had to clap to speed him along. Herrera obliged, accelerating to an effortless jog until he left Lentz’s sight. Then he went back to a hung head and a crawling pace as he reached the steps. Boos met his ears through it all. 

Herrera was picked off third base by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for the second out of the fourth inning on Thursday. It didn’t matter much as the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), guided by Aaron Nola’s the best outing in a long time (see story)

However, Herrera made a base-running blunder at the same spot Wednesday night, when he blew through a Juan Samuel stop sign and was out by a mile at home plate to make the final out in the ninth inning of a tie game. And later on Thursday, while on second during a running count and Maikel Franco behind him at first, Herrera didn’t run on the pitch.

These are mistakes any big-leaguer should avoid. And when he’s the only player a team has signed to a long-term deal, which is supposed to last into a new era that involves winning games, the mistakes sting a bit more. 

“I’m not pleased about it,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. 

Had Wednesday night’s gaffe been avoided, maybe the Phillies could have gone on to win. Thursday’s was more embarrassing than damaging. While displeased, Mackanin, who said he thought about giving Herrera Thursday off, understood what happened this time around.

“He was running contact. And when you’re running contact, you’re susceptible to getting picked off by a catcher, especially with a left-handed hitter up,” Mackanin said. “You have to be aware of that. They’re taught to be aware of that. He just didn’t take that first hard step back. And that deters the catcher from throwing to third base. It happened.” 

The Phillies have been picked off eight times this season. Entering Thursday, only four teams had been picked off more. 

The Phillies own a run scoring percentage (percentage of base runners that eventually score) of 28.0, which puts them in the bottom third of the league. While much of that can be attributed to bad bats, mistakes like Herrera’s are not helping the cause. 

At 25, Herrera is still figuring this whole thing out. But he was the Phillies’ only All-Star last year and is supposed to be a consistent presence in the lineup. 

Andres Blanco, on the opposite end of the spectrum, first saw major-league action in 2004, and should be providing a consistent presence in the Phillies’ clubhouse. Yet on Thursday, starting at second base instead of Howie Kendrick, Blanco made a veteran play on the base paths, which felt like the remedy to Herrera’s mental lapses.

In the bottom of the fifth, with two outs and Blanco on second base, Freddy Galvis grounded a ball up the middle. Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz sent an errant flip to second to get the final out, and Blanco was smart enough to round third and score after the ball got loose in the infield. Mackanin called it a heads-up play. 

“That’s the kind of players you’re looking for, the guys that are going to look for those kinds of things to happen,” Mackanin said, “and they don't assume a play is going to be made and assume they might be able to take an extra base.

“He’s a veteran. I’m glad he paid attention.”