Wilson Ramos stood at second base on Wednesday night with his fists clenched as two more runs scored and his new teammates rushed to the top of the dugout step and his new mascot danced on the dugout and his new fans rocked his new ballpark.
This introduction — a wild 7-4 win over the Red Sox — was delayed by nearly two weeks as Ramos nursed a hamstring injury. But it was worth the wait. He drove in three runs with two doubles and a triple. He sure seemed like the bat the Phillies’ lineup desperately needs if they are to make a run at a division title. The night belonged to him.
Ramos then lifted his fists and slapped his helmet. His Philadelphia debut was not quite finished yet. His new fans — the ones who rumbled Citizens Bank Park after each of his three hits — had a new nickname to learn. This, he was signaling, was “The Buffalo.” And if Wednesday was any indication, Philadelphia might like him.
“Today is a special day, a special day for me,” Ramos said. “I’ll remember this day. I wanted to show everyone here what I can do and why I’m here. That’s what I can do.”
The Phillies won their 66th game, equaling the amount they won last year but reaching it in 43 fewer games. The 66th win was a needed one after the Phillies lost five of their previous seven and watched Atlanta add to its division lead. They hung with baseball’s best team for two nights and came away with a win.
Gabe Kapler chased the 66th win with aggression. He yanked Vince Velasquez in the third inning. He used Carlos Santana for a pinch-hit single to tie the game in the fourth inning. He pieced together the final 20 outs by using seven relievers. Ramos, in his debut, caught eight pitchers. And every move by Kapler seemed to work. It was a win the Phillies needed and Kapler treated it like a playoff game, which forced observers to imagine how aggressive Kapler could actually be in October if the Phillies reach the postseason.
“Our thought process was to try to win this game from the outset,” Kapler said.
The Phillies will try to tread carefully with Ramos as he comes back from hamstring injury, but it could be hard to resist pushing him after seeing the way he hit on Wednesday. Kapler said Ramos was “simply heroic.” The catcher will start one of the games of Thursday’s doubleheader before likely taking a day off on Friday. The Phillies will then see how the catcher responds. They might have gotten a good indication of his health when he legged out a leadoff triple in the sixth. Scott Kingery drove him in with a sacrifice fly to give the Phillies the lead.
“Everytime I go out there I’m not thinking anything,” Ramos said. “The game speed and the game situation made me do those things. I’m not thinking about the triple. I know I’m not a fast runner but the game motion made me go hard. Today, I was running as hard as I can to help my team. Hopefully it will stay like that for the rest of the season and help my team wins games.”
First baseman Justin Bour had two hits in his first start since coming over from Miami. But more important was his play to keep the game tied in the sixth by keeping a toe on the bag as he grabbed Cesar Hernandez’ throw to record the last out of the inning. Aaron Loup, who was acquired a few minutes after Ramos, kept the lead safe with an easy seventh inning. The new additions all played a part.
A Phillies win seemed out of reach when Velasquez recorded just seven outs before being lifted with the bases loaded in the third inning. The right-hander allowed three runs and threw more balls than strikes. Hector Neris inherited his runners and performed an unlikely escape to strand the bases loaded.
“One of the things we talked about since spring training is the save can come at any time during the game. It’s kind of ironic that Hector Neris saved this game for us,” Kapler said. “He came into a spot where the game was about to be out of hand. He got a pop out and a punch out. He threw some nasty splits. This is a guy who went down to Triple A for us. He had a pride-swallowing moment. He worked his tail off to get his stuff back. He came up and just executed beautifully for us tonight. We definitely don’t win that game without the contributions of Hector Neris.”
Kapler shared before the game about how difficult the Red Sox were and how he never saw a lineup like theirs, which features two of baseball’s top three hitters batting in the first four spots of the lineup. Velasquez, like Nick Pivetta a night earlier, would have a stiff test.
But Velasquez did not have to face Mookie Betts, who was granted a night off, and it was not J.D. Martinez who did him in. It was instead the opposing pitcher who ruined his night. Velasquez walked Nathan Eovaldi with one out in the third and trouble seems to always follow a walk to a pitcher. It sure did on Wednesday. Velasquez hit the next batter, allowed an infield single, and then Mitch Moreland roped a bases-clearing double.
Velasquez walked the next two batters he faced before Kapler walked to the mound. His night was finished and for a moment it felt like the Phillies’ night was done, too. But then the Buffalo emerged.