Two of the eight televisions in the Phillies clubhouse were tuned Wednesday afternoon to the Braves-Cardinals game, making the Phillies fully aware when they left for batting practice that the first-place Braves had won their matinee.
The Phillies took care of business, beating the Mets, 4-0, at Citizens Bank Park. But what happened hours earlier in Atlanta seemed to give the game even more significance.
The Phillies ended the day trailing the Braves by 5 1/2 games with just 11 games remaining and a four-game series beginning Thursday in Atlanta. The Braves' magic number is just six. The Phillies cannot afford to lose any ground in the race for a division title — no matter how unlikely their chances seem.
If Atlanta's afternoon win was not enough motivation, a message flashed on a digital screen outside the clubhouse.
"This is not over," the message said. "It's going to take hard work, heart, and pride. Together we can do this."
Home runs by Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera, a career-high nine strikeouts from Zach Eflin, and a cast of five relievers kept the Phillies within striking distance of Atlanta. They will play seven games against the Braves in the next 11 days.
"Hey, look. If we get caught looking at the whole weekend, we might miss what goes on tomorrow," Hoskins said after the win. "The most important game of the season is tomorrow, and I think that's the approach that we're going to take."
A playoff berth will take more than just hard work, heart, and pride. It will take what manager Gabe Kapler termed earlier this week as not good baseball, but great baseball. A stretch of great baseball would be enough to make the unlikely possible. The next four games in Atlanta will likely decide the season. A flop, and the final three won't matter. A Phillies' stand will extend their chances into the final week.
"What I think that we need our players and our staff and everyone under this roof to buy into, is what we can control is our work," Kapler said. "That is going to give us our best chance to stay in this as long as possible, with the potential of finding ourselves in the last couple games of the season vying for a National League East title. I just don't think it makes a whole lot of sense to look too far out."
Hoskins homered in the first inning with a rare, opposite-field shot for his 32nd dinger of the season. He doubled in the third to become the first player in exactly two years to have two extra-base hits against Noah Syndergaard. The Phillies worked up Syndergaard's pitch count, nicked him for three runs, and chased him after just four innings. Herrera provided the knockout punch with a two-run homer in the fourth. Kapler started Herrera despite knowing that he was 1 for 18 in his career against the Mets' starter.
The Phillies were able to beat a pitcher who had limited them just 11 days earlier.
"It was a good lesson," Kapler said of his time late Tuesday night studying Herrera's history with Syndergaard. "I went back and watched all of the at-bats of Syndergaard versus Odubel, and Odubel was really competitive in all of those at-bats dating all the way back to 2016. Despite the fact that he didn't have a strong track record against him, he was really competitive. And that's exactly how I thought he attacked his at-bats tonight."
The Phillies won consecutive series for the first time since July 25. It has been a long time since they played a stretch of great baseball. But that is what it will take to catch the Braves. Their response on Wednesday was a start.
The Phillies packed their equipment in the clubhouse after the game into red travel bags for the season's final road trip. A bus then whisked them to the airport for a flight to Atlanta, where they will see how long that stretch can continue.
"We're going to Atlanta ready to win," Eflin said. "We'll show up every single day prepared and ready to win. We've done that all season. Nothing is going to change. It doesn't matter what the standings are, we're showing up ready to win.