Maikel Franco's hat became so loose Tuesday night that the third baseman's red brim nearly covered his eyes as steadied himself after making a terrific diving stop.
But there was a throw to make — one that could save a 3-2 win over the Orioles — and there was no time to adjust. Franco, blinded by the brim, fired a perfect throw from his knees to first base. Carlos Santana held on to make the catch and end the eighth inning with the bases loaded. It was a game-saving play. Too bad Franco could not see it.
"I don't know I made that play. I just don't know," Franco said. "I just knew I had it and tried to make a good throw and I really did."
The catch-and-throw secured another win for Zach Eflin, who turned in seven strong innings to become the first Phillies pitcher since Cliff Lee in 2011 to win six-straight starts. The Phillies have won five of their last six and Tuesday's win began a stretch of 16 straight games against teams with a losing record. They seem to be getting hot at the right time.
Eflin struck out six, walked none, and allowed five hits. He was lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh inning, partially because manager Gabe Kapler was concerned with a blister that formed on Eflin's middle finger. The pitcher is not worried. He pitched with blisters in every start last season but had learned to let his finger nails grow longer.
"I think I cut my fingernail too short today and that's what I get," Eflin said.
Both of his runs were driven in by Mark Trumbo, who homered in the second and singled in the fourth. Eflin tamed the rest of the O's, including Manny Machado, who he froze in the first inning with a 96.9 mph four-seam fastball. It was the hardest pitch Eflin threw all night. His terrific June carried into July as Eflin now has a 1.91 ERA over his last six starts.
Eflin has 63 strikeouts this season and a 2.97 ERA through 11 starts. He finished 2017 with a 6.16 ERA and just 35 strikeouts in 11 starts. In 2016, he made 11 starts and had a 5.54 ERA and 31 strikeouts. The new Eflin — one equipped with healthy, strong knees and a powerful fastball — is striking out nearly double the amount of batters, drastically limiting his home runs, and still being frugal with walks. Eflin's success, which stems from a newfound ability to miss bats, has been one of the team's best successes of the first half.
"Confidence is the greatest thing and I have a lot of confidence right now," Eflin said. "I don't think I've ever felt this way before."
Rhys Hoskins hit a two-run double in the third, which gave him 101 career RBIs. He is the fastest Phillies player to reach 100 RBIs. Hoskins reached the milestone in 124 games, besting Chuck Klein's mark of 143 games set in 1929. Hoskins joined Milwaukee's Ryan Braun as the only major leaguers since 1951 to reach 100 RBIs in their first 124 games. He has 14 extra-base hits and 25 RBIs in 22 games since returning from the disabled list.
Andrew Knapp hit an RBI triple to take a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning and extended his hitting streak to six games. Knapp, who started for the fifth time in 11 games, has seen an uptick in playing time after finding some success at the plate.
The Orioles loaded the bases in the eighth after Tommy Hunter and Seranthony Dominguez ran into trouble. Hunter retired two of his three batters before Gabe Kapler called on Dominguez. The rookie threw two wild pitches and walked two batters to load the bases.
Pitching coach Rick Kranitz went out for a mound visit and infield coach Jose Flores shifted most of his fielders to the right side as slugger Chris Davis stepped to the plate. The Phillies left one defender on the left side. It was Franco. And when Davis hit a sharp grounder, Franco was just where he needed to be.