The giveaway item Sunday at Citizens Bank Park was a John Kruk batting-practice pullover, a nod to the Phillies’ 1993 National League championship team that was honored before the franchise’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers.
As the top of the ninth inning approached, however, you wondered if the Curt Schilling cover-your-eyes-here-comes-Mitch towel might have been more useful and apropos. It was not entirely the bullpen’s fault that the Phillies had lost 11 of their previous 15 games as they arrived at work for the final game of their series with the hard-hitting Brewers, but the 5.28 ERA posted by the relief corps during that stretch sure did not help either.
Grand slams surrendered by Adam Morgan against the Cubs last week and by Luis Garcia against the Brewers on Saturday were also fresh in our memories and, regardless of what manager Gabe Kapler says, his actions are speaking loudest these days when it comes to his list of relievers he truly trusts with the game on the line.
You could argue, in fact, that it is a list of one. He is obviously head-over-heels in love with Seranthony Dominguez and it’s impossible to fault him for the attraction. Unless you’re a hitter, once you make eye contact with the electrifying stuff Dominguez sends to home plate, you cannot look at any of the Phillies’ other bullpen pieces in the same way.
“One of the things that kind of lights our dugout up is watching the opposing batters when they see the first pitch come out of Seranthony’s hands,” Kapler said. “We see a lot of ‘Wows’ and ‘Where did that come from?’ His stuff is really nasty.”
Kapler wants to see as much of Dominguez’s stuff as possible when his team has a lead late in the game and the Phillies’ 4-3 win over the Brewers provided more proof that the rookie manager is not going to wait until the ninth inning to deploy his most lethal weapon. Even though the Brewers were sending up the bottom of their order in the top of the seventh inning, Kapler went to Dominguez as his first option after getting six sensational innings from starter Zach Eflin.
“At this point going forward, we want to look for the highest-leverage situations to use Seranthony,” Kapler said. “Now, you might think because we’re at the bottom of the order that might not be quite as high leverage. But the idea that we’re going to use him for two innings, we know that he’s probably going to face the middle of their lineup, too. We just felt like there was no time to deploy him like then. We just wanted to preserve that lead.”
After an overpowering seventh inning, Dominguez surrendered a run in the eighth, but he left with the Phillies still in front by a run. Kapler, the manager without a closer, still needed a plan for the final three outs. It was by far a better situation than the previous two games when the manager just needed some guys to get the Phillies through blowout losses, but it’s always an unknown adventure these days to see what Kapler has planned for the ninth inning when his team holds a slim lead.
This time he turned to Garcia, who retired the first two hitters he faced before giving up a pinch-hit single to Domingo Santana. Now, the top of the order was coming up and those vintage Schilling towels sure could have helped a lot of people get through another nervous ninth. Things grew more intense when Lorenzo Cain looped a double down the left-field line.
Suddenly the tying run was on third, the go-ahead run was on second and Kapler was making a pitching change.
“Luis pitched well,” Kapler said. “There was some weaker contact there that knocked him from the game.”
Tommy Hunter was called upon to face Christian Yelich, who was already 6-for-13 during the series. The two had never faced each other.
“That’s the perfect spot for Tommy,” Kapler said. “It’s mostly based on pitch characteristics. Tommy throws a cut fastball that rides up and in to lefthanded hitters. Yelich is a guy who likes to go down and away to get the ball, and if the ball sinks back over the plate he’ll crush it to center field.”
Hunter threw a 1-0 cutter that Yelich grounded to the right side for the final out of the game.
“It was good to get an out,” Hunter said after recording his 18th career save.
It is always good to get the last out even when you have no idea at the beginning of the day which pitcher might be getting it. The Phillies and their manager got through their latest bullpen adventure. Tune in again Tuesday when play resumes against the Colorado Rockies. There’s no telling who Kapler will call upon that night. All we know for sure is that Seranthony will be on the mound late if the Phillies hold a slim lead.
Get insights on the Phillies delivered straight to your inbox with Extra Innings, our newsletter for Phillies fans by Matt Breen, Bob Brookover and Scott Lauber. Click here to sign up.