CINCINNATI – The neon lights danced across the ceiling of the visiting clubhouse Thursday night at Great American Ballpark and the music bounced off the walls as the Phillies placed the finishing touches on a 9-4 win over the Reds.
The Phillies, Gabe Kapler said in the season’s early going, know how to celebrate a win. It was fun – perhaps a bit charming – in April when the youngest team in baseball brought their party equipment on the road so they could turn even visiting clubhouses into night clubs.
They put together a good run after a rough first week. The team, everyone not invited to those parties seemed to believe, would fade during the summer.
But Thursday night’s win – which featured the Phillies tying a franchise-record with seven homers – was the start of the final weekend series in July. It was another day closer to August, when the playoff race will feel a bit hotter. And the lights were still shining.
The Phillies were not just enjoying a win. They were leaving the ballpark with a 2 1/2 game lead in the division, their largest-margin in seven years. Yes, they do know how to celebrate. But more importantly, the Phillies are proving they know how to win.
“Ultimately, I think we’re just having a ton of fun,” said Nick Williams, who was one of three Phillies to hit two homers. “It feels like we’re kids at recess right now. It’s been a good run.”
Williams homered in the third and the ninth. Rhys Hoskins homered in the first and sixth and Maikel Franco homered in the fifth and the seventh. The Phillies finished with 18 hits, 10 of which were for extra bases. Carlos Santana also homered as the Phillies hit seven homers for the first time since September 8, 1998.
The Phillies scored enough to give Ranger Suarez, who allowed four runs in five innings a win in his debut. Five relievers combined for four scoreless innings. Jorge Alfaro had three hits, including a double. Scott Kingery doubled with his two hits. Hoskins has six homers in his last six games as he looks like the type of hitter the Phillies can lean on in the season’s final two months.
The Phillies have won five of their seven games since the all-star break and their lineup begins to show that it can produce.
“I’ve talked about the talent of our team, the true talent, and not getting caught up in these two week stretches,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “So whenever our offense is struggling for a couple of weeks, or our bullpen is struggling for a couple of weeks, we try to remember the true talent of our club and the true talent of our club is what is showing right now. Like I said, the ability to look over pitches, longer at bats, driving the baseball into the gaps, over the fence and out of the ballpark and then a bullpen that has been nothing short of extraordinary. So it’s the talent we were depending on.”
The trade deadline is Tuesday and the Phillies are one of the lone National League playoff contenders to not yet make a move. There is still time, but perhaps the best course of action for the front office would to be to resist a major deal. The Phillies need an extra arm for their bullpen and a proven hitter for the bench. Any other upgrade would not quite be an upgrade.
Williams had four hits on Thursday and raised his season OPS to .800. He’s being more selective at the plate as he trained himself to stop chasing pitches he could not hit. The approach made him a better hitter, which in turn made him a better power-hitter. He deserves to play everyday.
Franco is batting .344 with an 1.055 OPS since June 23. Thursday was his second two-homer game in three days. He could be turning a corner just in time for a stretch run. He worked in spring training with hitting coach John Mallee to keep the ball in the air more. The adjustment took time as Franco said he is finally seeing the results.
“Whatever I do right now, just keep doing it,” Franco said. “I know in baseball you’re not going to be really hot for three months or the whole year. But when you’re up and down, don’t think about it, don’t try to lose your focus. Try to be consistent every single day.”
Early on Thursday afternoon, hours before the Phillies’ home run barrage and much earlier than the lights flashed in the clubhouse, Kapler met in his office with one of his players. The player, who Kapler did not name, told the manager how confident the team was after winning a series against the Dodgers before packing their light equipment and flying to Cincinnati. He wanted Kapler to know how much that series meant to the young team. The clubhouse is brimming with confidence. And the lights were blinding on Thursday night.
“That clubhouse is especially confident,” Kapler said. “They believe. The field staff has continued to believe and I think the city of Philadelphia is definitely beginning to believe as well.”
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