As mound conversations go, this one didn't last long. Probably because there wasn't much to say.
With two outs, runners on the corners and the Phillies clutching a one-run lead in the top of seventh inning Wednesday, Manny Machado — the Baltimore Orioles' most dangerous hitter by a wide margin — strode to the plate. But the Phillies had their ace on the mound, and although Aaron Nola had thrown 100 pitches, manager Gabe Kapler knew what the situation called for.
Take out Nola? More like sit tight and grab some popcorn.
"At that point, I knew we were going to let him have Machado," Kapler said. "It was his game. He'd earned that right. We went over some first-and-third [defensive] information, but the most important part of that message was, 'Noles, this is your batter.'"
Three pitches later, Machado was taking his position at shortstop, Nola was back in the dugout and "God Bless America" was being sung. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez made a running basket catch in front of charging rightfielder Nick Williams to retire Machado, and the Phillies still had the lead en route to a 4-1 Fourth of July victory, their fourth win in a row and sixth in seven games.
As they embark on an 11-game, four-city road trip that will take them into the all-star break, the Phillies are within 1 1/2 games of the division-leading Atlanta Braves, 6-2 losers to the Yankees in New York on Wednesday. Just as significantly, the Phils are 5 1/2 games ahead of the Washington Nationals, who dipped to one game below .500 after getting swept at home by the Boston Red Sox.
At 47-37, the Phillies are also 10 games above .500 for the first time since September 2011. Incidentally, that was the last season they reached the playoffs, a word that can officially be uttered in earnest by a team that was supposed to still be rebuilding.
"We never really doubted ourselves or thought what other people thought," Nola said. "We've got good additions to the team. We've got veteran guys that have been in the playoffs, that have been on winning teams, that have won championships. They know what it takes to win. I think we're following them."
Every five days, the Phillies follow Nola. Once again, he was outstanding, allowing one run on seven hits and two walks over seven innings. He became the NL's second 11-game winner, joining Chicago Cubs lefty Jon Lester. With two starts remaining before the All-Star Game, an event that will surely include him, Nola has a 2.41 ERA and 116 strikeouts, fifth-best in the league in both categories.
It's no wonder Kapler stuck with him when it mattered most.
"Once again, he got stronger as the game went on," Kapler said of Nola. "At the end there we knew he was the best option to go through the teeth of their lineup. We had planned that maybe we'd go elsewhere, but we got down to it and we knew that he was our best option. He always makes us feel especially confident."
If Nola boosted the Phillies' confidence, Nick Williams' two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh allowed them to exhale. With relief ace Seranthony Dominguez unavailable after throwing 28 pitches Tuesday night, Victor Arano recorded the final six outs for his first career save and extended the bullpen's scoreless streak to 15 consecutive innings.
For four innings, the Phillies were muted by Orioles rookie Yefry Ramirez. In only his second career start, the righthander held them hitless until Scott Kingery's one-out double in the fifth. But Williams and Kingery scored on an egregious error by Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who moved one step to his left and couldn't get his glove down on Jorge Alfaro's grounder.
The Phillies finished the nine-game homestand with a 6-3 record after dropping the first two games to the Yankees.