Asdrubal Cabrera turned to the Phillies dugout on Sunday afternoon and tapped his fist to his chest as his home run raced toward right field.
It had been nine days since the Phillies traded for Cabrera, the midseason acquisition they hoped would inject some life into their lineup for the season’s stretch run. The immediate returns weren’t exactly bright: Cabrera had just three hits in his first 24 at-bats.
But as Cabrera looked into the dugout Sunday, it was easy to remember why the Phillies traded for him. His mammoth two-run homer in the eighth gave the Phillies a 5-3 win over the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park to complete a rare four-game sweep.
It was his second homer in as many days, and the 415-foot shot — it landed in the second deck — came just an inning after the Phillies blew a three-run lead.
The Phillies were teetering on the edge of a crushing loss, but then Cabrera provided what he was brought here for. The Phils have won five straight for their longest winning streak of the season and are a season-best 15 games over .500. They will fly west for a six-game road trip in Arizona and San Diego with a 1½-game lead over Atlanta.
“I don’t know if that’s why they got me, but I like the situation,” Cabrera said. “And I put a good swing to get the win for the team.”
The win salvaged a challenging afternoon for Aaron Nola, who battled the heat and an uncommon lack of command to turn in six innings. He struck out two, walked two, and served up a two-run homer in the seventh to Derek Dietrich. It was a grind, Nola said.
Three batters later, Justin Bour golfed a slider off Seranthony Dominguez to tie the game at 3-3.
Cabrera’s home run took Nola and Dominguez off the hook, and Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter kept the Marlins at bay. Neshek threw just 13 pitches in the eighth and Hunter needed just eight in the ninth to earn the save.
“When we got Neshek and Hunter we got them for this moment,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “When some other things didn’t go our way, we had two guys rock solid to depend on. Tommy to close it for us and Neshek has just been extraordinary since he has come off the DL.”
Kapler remarked during the game to bench coach Rob Thomson about how deep the lineup looked with Odubel Herrera batting sixth after primarily batting third this season. It does, Thomson said, and pointed out that Maikel Franco, one of the team’s most productive hitters for the last two months, was batting seventh.
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That lineup shuffling was made possible only by the arrival of Cabrera, who batted fifth. The veteran gives the Phillies an extra threat to stick in the middle of the order and the luxury of batting Herrera and Franco, both of whom drove in runs in the sixth, near the bottom of the order. Their lineup is now longer and not carrying easy outs toward the bottom.
“Asdrubal being in the heart of our lineup definitely lengthens us. And that’s why Matt Klentak went out and got us that piece. And it was really important because it does make our lineup deeper,” Kapler said.
“That’s not to say that we don’t have like Scotty [Kingery] come in and keep our lineup deep as well, and we have a lot of confidence that he can do so/ But Asdrubal in the middle of our lineup gives us a threat, it lengthens out our lineup, and we’ll wear down pitchers even more.”
The Phillies relied heavily on their pitching staff for the season’s first four months. That strategy worked as they reached first place. But to maintain that lead, reach the playoffs, and actually present a threat, they will need to have a lineup that can produce. They scored five runs in each of their four wins against the Marlins. The lineup seems to be rising just in time. When Cabrera tapped his chest, one of the reasons became obvious.
“With Franco batting seventh, if we get guys on in the second or third inning or get guys on in the bottom of the lineup, we have a threat to drive the ball out of the ballpark by one of our hottest hitters for the past couple months,” Rhys Hoskins said. “When you have that at the bottom of your lineup, we’re scoring runs all game. It makes it tough to pitch to us. You can’t really pitch around a guy to get to another guy unless it’s the pitcher. That puts more stress on them and we end up getting more mistakes.”
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