The Mummers had nothing on this parade.
Beginning in the fourth inning Wednesday night and running straight through the ninth, seven Phillies relievers made the march to the mound. Two of them came and went in the span of two batters. Out in the bullpen, jokes were flying — "And then there were five … and then there were four!" Tommy Hunter cracked — but manager Gabe Kapler kept emerging from the dugout and motioning to right-center field like some kind of crazed orchestra conductor.
It was "Bullpen by Gabe," in all its glory. And somehow, it worked out.
Go figure. After three gut-wrenching losses in less than two weeks pushed the Phillies to the outer edge of the National League playoff picture, they finally won a game that got wild and crazy in the late innings. They clipped the Washington Nationals, 8-6, on a go-ahead RBI single by newly acquired Jose Bautista in the seventh inning to narrowly avoid a three-game sweep at home and shave their NL East deficit back to 3 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves, who lost to the Tampa Bay Rays.
"Incredible job by our bullpen tonight," said starter Jake Arrieta, lifted after giving up four runs in a 27-pitch third inning before another smallish announced crowd of 22,525 at Citizens Bank Park. "It was huge. That's a win we needed. We really did. Everybody contributed except me tonight."
By the time it was over and Hunter had recorded the clutchest of six-out saves, lefty Adam Morgan was the only reliever left in the Phillies' bullpen. You might say Kapler operated with the urgency of a manager in a do-or-die game, but then, how would you know?
"I think he's been managing like this since April," Hunter said.
Indeed, Kapler doesn't believe in reserving a closer for the final few outs of a game. He prefers instead to use his best relievers in the highest-leverage situations, regardless of the inning. It's a philosophy he admits he rethinks often and debates both within his mind and with traditionalist naysayers.
"He's got a way that he's doing things and it works," Hunter said. "It's been working often, actually."
It worked in the sixth inning when Kapler turned to Hector Neris to escape a one-out jam. It worked again in the seventh when Seranthony Dominguez, the rookie phenom who has struggled these past few weeks, kept the game tied. Once Bautista gave the Phillies a 7-6 lead, it was Pat Neshek's turn. But the veteran sidearmer gave up a leadoff single and got hooked right away.
There's that sense of urgency. But Kapler insisted he wouldn't have been so quick with the pitching changes if the Phillies didn't have a day off Thursday and reliever reinforcements on the way Saturday when rosters can be expanded beyond 25 players. In September, this type of bullpen management figures to be common.
So, when lefty Luis Avilan walked pinch-hitting Bryce Harper, Kapler didn't mind playing one of the last two cards he had. He went to Hunter to hold the lead, and sure enough, the righthander got Mark Reynolds to fly out and Adam Eaton to ground into a double play before tossing a scoreless ninth.
Just like it was scripted, right?
"The pitching performance were somewhat heroic," Kapler said.
There were other heroes, too. Start with Carlos Santana. After blowing a three-run lead in a crushing loss Tuesday night, the Phillies had to rally from three runs down. And Santana made that possible by crushing his third career grand slam (first since 2015) to straightaway center field in the fifth inning, a shot that enabled him to once again live up to a nickname — "The Real Slamtana" — that has inspired a T-shirt that his teammates often wear around the clubhouse.
Bautista, making his first start for the Phillies after being acquired Tuesday in a waiver trade with the New York Mets, reached base in all four of his plate appearances. After being hit by a pitch and walking twice, he delivered the tie-breaking single against Nationals reliever Jimmy Cordero.
Touted rookie centerfielder Roman Quinn, starting again in place of Odubel Herrera, tripled and scored in the eighth inning to give Hunter an extra run with which to work. And fellow rookie Scott Kingery played a stellar shortstop, turning an unassisted double play to end the eighth inning and smothering Trea Turner's smash to open the ninth.
Then there was Kapler, whose unconventional bullpen methods worked like a charm this time.