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Sánchez delivers bounce back outing to seal series win over Dodgers

Starting pitcher Cristopher Sánchez delivered six strong innings in the Phillies' 4-3 victory Wednesday night over Los Angeles.

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At first, the question seemed a little obvious. “How confident are you in the pitching matchup?" manager Rob Thomson was asked Wednesday, about three hours before Phillies lefthander Cristopher Sánchez would take the mound against the Dodgers.

Now, anybody who has been around Thomson understands that he’d sooner wear cargo shorts, a Grateful Dead T-shirt and flip-flops on a team flight instead of his usual natty coat-tie-chapeau ensemble than publicly betray even the slightest lack of trust in any of his players.

Besides, Sánchez has been a revelation this season. And all the extenuating circumstances had been offered. He was building off his first complete game. He’d been bothered by a strep throat. And, of course, the harsh reality that even really good pitchers have really bad games or simply hit the doldrums at some point during the season.

On second thought, though, it would have been interesting to hear the manager’s real thoughts had he been overcome by a temporary fit of transparency. Because as good as the lanky 27-year-old has been, he was coming off by far his worst outing of the season. He was tagged for seven earned runs in four innings against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on the Fourth of July.  

To put it another way, he allowed as many runs while getting lit up like a firecracker as he had been in his previous seven starts. Combined. In a total of 44.1 innings. If Thomson was being totally honest, he would probably have conceded that his standard confidence would have been tempered by a large dash of caution and a heaping spoonful of curiosity. And that his fingers were firmly crossed.

Sánchez did everything the Phillies could have hoped he’d do. On another hot night in front of another sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park, he held the first-place Dodgers to two runs over six innings.

That was good enough for the home team to win, 4-3. They’re the first team in baseball this year to go from zero to 60 (wins) and they did it in just 92 games. In franchise history, only the 1976 team, which started 60-28, reached that milestone faster.

They’ve also guaranteed themselves a series win taking the first two games and extended their lead over Los Angeles in the NL postseason ranking to 5 ½ games, which could be important when homefield advantage is determined at the end of the year.

They did all that because reliever Matt Strahm came in with the game on the line in the seventh and blew way perennial MVP candidate Shohei Ohtani. They did it because they took yes for an answer when a pair of Dodgers defensive lapses opened the door for them to score two decisive runs in the fifth.  

And they won because Sánchez shrugged off his week-old clunker and improved his record to 7-4. His earned run average is 2.96.

“I like to turn the page. New beginnings,” he said through translator Diego D’Aniello. “It was the same plan as always. I don’t care who the opponent is. I just go out and execute the plan we set up between the pitching coach and the catchers.”

Sánchez confirmed that he didn’t feel well in Chicago. “It was pretty bad,” he said. “I had a fever. My body hurt. I had a sore throat. But I decided myself that I wanted to pitch.”

This is all a matter of more than just casual interest for a Phillies team that boasts the best record in baseball, in large part because its rotation has a best-in-baseball 3.19 earned run average.

Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola and known quantities. The fifth spot has become a bit of a revolving door, with Tyler Phillips set to become the fourth arm to occupy that slot when he starts against the Athletics on Saturday, but that becomes irrelevant once the postseason arrives.

Sánchez and Ranger Suárez are the starters who have taken big steps forward this year. Their success, or lack of it, in the second half will go a long way toward determining whether the Phils rotation remains at the top or sinks toward the middle of the pack.

Suárez has a 2.58 ERA for the season despite going 0-2, 7.47 in his last three turns. So while he works on turning himself around, it was that much more critical for Sánchez to demonstrate that he wasn’t slipping into a slump of his own.

“He was fantastic,” Thomson said. “He was throwing strikes. First pitch strikes. His changeup was really, really good. He calmed the game when it got hot. He did a really good job.”

And that, we can assume, was the whole truth and nothing but.

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