MILWAUKEE — Maikel Franco was on deck Sunday afternoon when the call came from the opposing dugout that it was him and not Carlos Santana whom the Brewers wanted to take their chances against.
Franco, starting for just the second time in 11 days, likely did not need any more motivation after being relegated to a reserve role. But this — intentionally walking Santana to load the bases with two outs in the seventh despite Franco’s homer three innings earlier — provided some more fuel. And Franco ignited.
He roped a two-run single to extend the Phillies’ lead to three in an eventual 10-9 win at Miller Park. Franco drove in four runs and worked a key walk in the sixth. Sunday’s victory gave the Phillies consecutive series wins for the first time in two months. And Franco needed a game like Sunday if he is to work himself back into the playing-time rotation.
It was just the second time since April 30 that Franco drove in more than one run. It was the first game since May 9 that he reached base three times and he hit his first homer since May 26, which was also his last extra-base hit. Franco has struggled so much that he didn’t even start Friday against a lefthanded pitcher. It was a promising sign that all four RBIs on Sunday came against righthanded pitchers. It felt like a statement.
“If I said ‘It’s not hard,’ I’m going to lie to you,” said Franco about his shift in playing time. “I know it’s hard. I know it’s tough. But I don’t want to think about that. I just want to think about when I get opportunities to be in the lineup and I try to do my best.”
Franco’s big hit gave the bullpen some extra insurance as it pieced together the final nine outs. Scott Kingery added an RBI double in the eighth and Odubel Herrera led off the ninth with a homer.
Seranthony Dominguez, pitching for the second straight day, handled the seventh before he seemed to run out of steam. The righthander started the eighth with two strikeouts but then walked two batters. He threw 35 pitches before being pulled for Victor Arano, who walked his first batter to load the bases. The game was delayed twice an inning earlier when Brewers reliever Adrian Houser threw up behind the mound, but then the Phillies relievers seemed destined to cough up a lead. Arano settled in and struck out the next batter to end the inning.
It was hard to forget the importance of those extra runs when Hector Neris took the mound for his second consecutive ninth-inning appearance. And Sunday’s task proved a bit more challenging than the eight pitches he threw the day before: he started the ninth by allowing a homer, a single and a double, then retired the next two batters before allowing a three-run homer to Eric Thames. A five-run lead was down to just a single run. Jake Thompson followed Neris and needed one pitch to record the final out. The Phillies held on.
“It was definitely a little nerve-wracking,” said Thompson, who now has a one-pitch save and a three-inning, 19-run save (a 20-1 win over the Marlins in April).
Rhys Hoskins homered in the first inning and Nick Williams hit a two-run single in the sixth. The Phillies provided Aaron Nola with four runs of support, but it surprisingly was not enough.
Nola, who walked four and struck out four, was not his usual self as he lost a pair of two-run leads before being lifted with one out in the fifth. It was the just the second time in 15 starts this season that Nola allowed more than three runs and the first time since May 31, 2017 — 35 starts ago — that he failed to complete five innings. He’s allowed to have an off day and the Phillies’ offense bailed him out.
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler usually alerts players before they come to the ballpark if they are in or out of the lineup. But he did not finalize Sunday’s lineup until the morning as he wrestled Saturday night with a few decisions, including whether to play Franco. Franco learned he was playing when he saw the lineup posted in the Phillies clubhouse. He finally had his chance. And he did not let it pass.
“We’ve had a lot of guys change roles: Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams, Franco, Hector. And they’ve all just been incredible teammates throughout,” Kapler said. “In particular, Mikey has shown an incredible attitude recently. He’s come to the ballpark and prepared himself, even when he has not been in the lineup. He came to the ballpark, prepared, and worked great at-bats.”