MIAMI — Jake Arrieta stood behind home plate Friday night when the runner rounded third and the relay throw began to come in from right field.
The game was about to be tied, Arrieta thought as he watched Cameron Maybin turn toward home. Marlins pinch-hitter Derek Dietrich had rocked a one-out double off the top of the right-field wall. Surely, it was enough to bring in Maybin from first.
But then Aaron Altherr, who had moved to right field earlier in the inning for a defensive switch, played it perfectly off the wall and fired to Scott Kingery in shallow right field. The shortstop fired a perfect throw home. Jorge Alfaro grabbed the throw and perfectly tagged out Maybin to keep the Phillies ahead.
Arrieta was wrong. The game would not be tied. It was the perfect play and it was the perfection the Phillies needed to preserve a 2-0 win. They clung to that one-run until tacking on another in the ninth. The Phils played with a razor-thin margin for error and that relay throw had to be perfect. It was. Manager Gabe Kapler called it one of the team's "most impressive all-around plays." And Arrieta had the perfect vantage point.
"To have that point of view from where I was and to see it unfold like that, that is a really cool place to be, to see that it's a fraction of a fraction of a second that accounts for the guy being out or safe," Arrieta said. "Everything has to go right. He has to play it off the wall well, make a nice throw to Kingery, who has to make a nice throw to Alfaro. Alfaro has to catch and tag in the same motion. So to be able to see that unfold that was is really cool."
Arrieta pitched seven shutout innings, induced weak contact, and recorded 10 of his 21 outs via groundballs. It seemed fitting that Arrieta was on the mound Friday as the pursuit of Manny Machado was pushed into another gear. It was Arrieta's arrival that personified the team's bold approach when they signed the righthander a month before the season. The next piece could be Machado.
The Phillies are still hot for the Orioles shortstop and a trade will take a bounty of prospects. The Yankees, Brewers, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks are among the other potential suitors. But a night like Friday illustrated why the Phillies are now going full-steam at Machado. They are in first place in the National League East and hold a 6 1/2-game lead over third-place Washington, the preseason pick to run away with the division. The Phillies are a season-best 13 games over .500 and the National League is looking more winnable by the day. The division is wide-open and the Phillies are in the thick of it. Now is the time to push for Machado.
The Phillies did little offensively on Friday. They had just five hits before Maikel Franco homered to left in the ninth inning. They struck out 12 times and had just four chances with runners in scoring position. The Phillies have rattled off wins this month without much consistent production from their lineup. Trevor Plouffe, a 32-year-old called earlier this week from triple A, batted cleanup. With the offense's production unsure, the Phillies have relied on their starting pitching, which continues to carry the team.
"We're trying to win this division. It's a next-man-up kind of thing," Arrieta said of the starting rotation. "Let's have a nice outing and use that as momentum moving forward and have the next guy carry the torch and pass to the next guy. That's how the best teams do it. They thrive off of their teammates' success. It's a competition within the group, the five of us, and we just want to keep it rolling. This is something that Buck Showalter told all of us when I was over there in Baltimore in 2009, 2010. You're only as good as your next-day starter."
The Phillies' lone hit with runners in scoring position was Altherr's second-inning double to left field that scored Kingery. Then four innings later, it was Altherr starting the defensive play that preserved that lead.