Aaron Altherr stood five feet from the on-deck circle on Wednesday night and watched as Brandon Morrow fired his warm-up pitches. The crowd at Citizens Bank Park buzzed, anticipating more late-game heroics. The bases were loaded. And it was Altherr who the Dodgers elected to face.
Altherr had already homered in his third straight game. But the Dodgers intentionally walked Rhys Hoskins — it’s hard to blame them — to face Altherr with one out in the eighth. He ripped the second pitch Morrow threw — a 99 mph fastball — and lined it to right field, tipping off the outstretched glove of Yasiel Puig. The Phillies had their third straight win over baseball’s best team, 7-5. It was another moment in a month that seems to be full of them.
“I took it as part of the game but obviously you still want to prove them wrong,” Altherr said. “They think I’m the easier out so I just wanted to hit the ball hard somewhere and I was able to do that.”
“He had to do that. I probably would have done the same thing,”Pete Mackanin said of Dodgers manager Dave Roberts’ decision to walk Hoskins. “It’s a tough call to make and they got burnt.”
The Dodgers entered Wednesday with their magic number at three to clinch the National League West. The Phillies can sweep the Dodgers on Thursday and the Dodgers will still be spraying champagne sometime soon. L.A. may toast again in October. But these young Phillies with nothing to play for seemed to find themselves when they faced their stiffest test. They have won games started against Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, and Alex Wood, who allowed two runs Wednesday in six innings. Once winning baseball returns to South Philly, remember this series as one that propelled it.
“They’re one of the best in the league,” Altherr said. “To be able to win these first three games is pretty huge for us and our confidence.”
The eighth inning started with a walk by Cesar Hernandez and then appeared to fizzle when Freddy Galvis laid down a sacrifice bunt that rolled back to the pitcher. Luis Avilan fired to second but the throw zipped into center field. Hernandez raced to third and again looked to be out. But that throw also misfired. Galvis rolled to second and a rally was born.
Odubel Herrera then struck out, but he would have his redemption. He followed Altherr’s double with a terrific leaping catch against the wall for the final out in the ninth. Herrera chased down the deep fly ball toward the part of the wall that angles in left-center field, the farthest part of Citizens Bank Park. Herrera jumped, made the catch and crashed to the warning track. The game was over. Umpires reviewed the play but Herrera said he never had a doubt.
“From the moment it came off the bat I measured it, and I knew I could get it,” Herrera said. “I know I can jump.”
“He was a little bit down when he didn’t come through with the man in scoring position,” Mackanin said. “But what a way to contribute.”
The Phillies hung around Wednesday behind their non-usual suspects. Jake Thompson survived five innings. Tommy Joseph doubled in a run in the second and then hit a go-ahead homer in the seventh two batters after Altherr tied it at 4. It was only Joseph’s third start over the last 12 games. Kevin Siegrist pitched a scoreless inning of relief before the usually reliable Hoby Milner and Luis Garcia had letdown performances. Chase Utley scored a run and drove in a run but the Phillies rallied back both times. And then Altherr — who has blossomed this season as real piece of the future — delivered.
The stadium rocked. A sweep of baseball’s best team is near and the Phillies are ending the season with their most exciting stretch of the year. Winning baseball seems near.
“It has been fun,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “You have to admit it.”