Phillies Game Story

Big Jeff Hoffman makes game-saving tag, Pache's prep pays off in walk-off win

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Jeff Hoffman is built as much like a linebacker as he is a pitcher and it mattered on Monday night.

With two outs and runners on the corners in the top of the ninth inning of a tie game, Hoffman threw a bouncing slider to Elehuris Montero that eluded J.T. Realmuto's mitt for a wild pitch.

The Rockies were down three players on their bench — Brendan Rodgers and Jake Cave were sick, Kris Bryant has a bad back — so the pinch-runner at third base was starting pitcher Kyle Freeland. Realmuto quickly recovered the wild pitch and flipped to Hoffman, who slid into home plate at the same time as Freeland for a game-saving tag. Freeland beat Hoffman to the plate but his foot popped up during his slide and replay did not show enough to overturn the umpires' ruling on the field of an out.

"I wish baseball was more of a contact sport," Hoffman said postgame.

"That was a crazy play for two pitchers to be involved in. I already talked to Kyle, he's all right, so that's good to know. Just honestly, get there in time because I knew J.T. was going to have a chance to flip it to me and he threw it in a perfect spot for me. Just slapped the tag on him as quick as I could. We both got there at the same time. It was crazy."

"Option quarterback, all-state," manager Rob Thomson joked, referring to Realmuto's high school days.

The Phillies' mostly invisible offense was unable to come through in the bottom of the ninth after the Hoffman play but finally did in the 10th, with Whit Merrifield sacrificing the auto-runner over to third base and Cristian Pache delivering the walk-off single in a 2-1 win.

Pache was only in the game because he pinch-ran for Kyle Schwarber after the leadoff man opened the bottom of the eighth with a walk. Pache connected on a first-pitch sinker from Rockies reliever Jake Bird and smoked it through the hole between first and second base, then celebrated with his teammates.

"It's extremely exciting for me because I'm not playing much, but I try to remain ready in the cage so I can seize the opportunity whenever it is given to me," Pache said through team interpreter Diego D'Aniello.

"I was in the cage hitting and we set the machine to throw the sinker in a situation that we could try and see it and be aggressive during the at-bat, and luckily, we got exactly that and put the barrel towards the ball."

It made a winning pitcher out of Seranthony Dominguez, who retired all three batters he faced in the 10th with the go-ahead run in scoring position.

The 9-8 Phillies have been carried by pitching through their first six series. They've scored more than five runs once, the night Bryce Harper hit three homers, and have been held to three runs or fewer eight times.

Through 17 games, the Phillies have just 30 extra-base hits, the fewest in all of Major League Baseball. Through this many games last season, they had 63.

Thomson continues to say the team is built to slug and that he knows it will, citing reasons like the back of their baseball cards and the law of averages. It's hard to believe the lineup will remain this quiet, but you do have to wonder if certain aspects of it have gotten stale. Right now, there isn't a defining trait or characteristic to this offense — not power, plate selection or bat-to-ball skills.

On the other side of the coin, the Phillies are over .500 despite the invisibility of the offense thus far. In previous years, with lesser pitching staffs, this team might be closer to 6-11 than 9-8.

"Throughout the year you've got to win all sorts of games," said Bryson Stott, who singled twice, walked and stole a base. "You've got to win blowouts, you've got to win close games, so I think it's big."

Aaron Nola, finally pitching without rain, wind, frigid temperatures or all of the above, turned in his best start of the early season, dominating the Rockies to the tune of one run over 7⅓ innings with nine strikeouts and only one walk, to the second-to-last batter he faced.

Nola's curveball was fantastic and when he's commanding it like he did Monday, it can be as overpowering as an upper-90s fastball. All 12 swinging strikes he generated came on the hook.

Nola's first start was at home on March 30, a day later than expected because of a rainout, and it began with a 27-minute delay.

His second start came six nights later in Washington, D.C. and the temperature was down to 42 degrees by the middle innings.

His third start was the most miserable of them all, a two-hour slog on a rain-soaked afternoon last Wednesday in St. Louis. The rain was so steady that Nola had to adjust his delivery, shortening the stride with his front leg to avoid slipping and losing command. The result was a fastball that averaged just 89.5 mph, down nearly three mph from the Braves game.

"I hope it's like 75 and sunny (for Nola's next start)," Realmuto said that afternoon, nearly speaking it into existence.

From the first inning Monday night, you could tell Nola had better, crisper stuff. His fastball sat 92-93, directly in line with his career norms. He maintained that velocity into the eighth inning and struck out five of the final six hitters he faced.

The Phillies' pitching staff has a 3.68 ERA on the season, third-best in the majors. The starters have a 2.95 ERA, and in the bullpen, Jose Alvarado, Hoffman, Gregory Soto, Matt Strahm and Yunior Marte are all off to promising starts.

"I think over the course of the season, there's going to be a lot of guys picking each other up," Hoffman said. "Right now, you could say that the pitchers are doing that for the offense, and we could look up a month from now and the hitters can be carrying the pitchers. Marathon season. We kind of just roll with the waves. At the end of the day, hopefully we take care of each other well enough to win a lot of ballgames.

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