Maikel Franco knew Thursday night's ninth inning was complete as his fly ball soared to left field and seemed to arch as high as the large Phillies logo that sits atop the scoreboard.
There were two outs, and the game was tied. The inning was finished, but perhaps the game, too. Franco stood between home plate and first base for what felt like an eternity, as he watched the Marlins' left fielder back up to the wall while the ball began to drop. Franco, believing the ball needed some extra push, began to beg.
"Get out, get out, get out," Franco hollered.
Finally, it did get out. The fly ball fell into the first rows of the left-field seats, the inning was over, and the game — a 5-2 win — was, too. Franco kept his bat in his hand as he pleaded for those few extra feet. When his wish was granted, he launched his bat into the air so emphatically that he knocked his helmet loose.
With the walk-off victory, the Phillies stayed in first place and won for the first time this season when trailing after eight innings. They lost the previous 38 times. They have won two in a row after dropping four straight games. They have a chance this weekend to clean up against the Marlins. That is how first-place teams are expected to treat bottom-feeders.
Rhys Hoskins called Franco's homer the "biggest hit of the season." The Phillies didn't have a runner in scoring position until the ninth inning. Six batters later, they won.
"There was kind of a moment of silence there," Hoskins said of Franco's blast. "It felt like the whole stadium was quiet and holding its breath. It sounded like he hit it well. It looked like he thought he hit it well. We held our breath, but thank God it went over."
The homer allowed the Phillies to benefit from Nick Pivetta's strong outing. He pitched six innings and held the Marlins to two runs, on Justin Bour's homer in the fourth. He struck out seven and walked none. It was Pivetta's best start since June. It came against a weak lineup, but it provided a glimmer of hope that Pivetta can contribute down the stretch.
Major League Baseball released its playoff schedule on Thursday, and the National League Divisional Series begins on Oct. 4. The Phillies know who will pitch their first two playoff games if they can reach October. A starter for the third game is the question. That's why nights like Thursday's are so important. Not only do the Phillies need to reach the playoffs — they have to figure out what they will do when they get there.
"I'm just trying to go as much as I can," Pivetta said. "I've had some hiccups. I'm just trying to do the best I can."
The Braves completed their win over the Mets as the Phillies began the bottom of the ninth with a one-run deficit. A loss would have knocked the Phils out of first place for the first time since July 6. Gabe Kapler was aware.
"Of course," he said. "Anybody who says they're not watching what's happening in the league around us, I just don't find that to be genuine."
But it would have been hard then to imagine a win. Hoskins, who homered in the sixth, was leading off the inning, but the Phillies would need more than Hoskins to win. He started the ninth with a walk and was lifted for pinch-runner Scott Kingery, who scored the tying run on a bases-loaded groundout by Nick Williams.
The Marlins had a base open, but they elected to pitch to Franco. Closer Kyle Barraclough, who struggled all inning to find the strike zone — including a pitch behind Williams' back — grooved a slider, and Franco jumped on it.
The Phillies rushed out of the dugout once the ball finally landed, mobbing each runner who scored before pounding Franco.
It felt a bit more enthusiastic than the usual walk-off celebration. Perhaps because the games, for the first time in a while, carry meaning in August. The Phillies had a win to enjoy. It just required a little pleading.