The Phillies powered through tough conditions Saturday and pulled out a third consecutive tight win over the Mets at Citizens Bank Park.
On a blustery day not at all ideal for baseball, the Phillies earned a 7-5 victory.
Their magic number to clinch the National League’s top wild card spot is now three. The Diamondbacks’ scheduled game Saturday in New York against the Yankees was postponed until Monday.
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To clinch a playoff spot, the Phils’ magic number is two. The Cubs, who currently sit in the NL’s third wild card slot, beat the Rockies on Saturday afternoon.
Trea Turner’s 22nd error of the year put the Phillies into an early 2-0 deficit. After DJ Stewart and Ronny Mauricio reached base to begin the second inning, Zack Wheeler induced what appeared to be a double play ball. Turner booted it and both Mets runners came around to score.
Bryce Harper immediately got one back with a 451-foot blast, notching an emphatic 20th homer on the season.
“This is all a bonus for me,” said Harper, who made an exceptionally fast return from offseason Tommy John surgery. “I’m happy with where I’m at now.”
The Phillies then capitalized on some poor defense by the Mets in the strong, swirling wind and persistent drizzle. Francisco Lindor committed an error on a J.T. Realmuto ground ball and Jeff McNeil bungled a dying Nick Castellanos liner. McNeil slid, the ball skidded past him, and Castellanos sprinted to third base with a game-tying hit.
Though the Phillies stranded Castellanos, they took a 3-2 lead in the third inning when Alec Bohm lifted a Jose Quintana fastball just over McNeil’s head on the left-field warning track.
The Phillies gave Wheeler three useful insurance runs in the fifth inning.
Johan Rojas led off with a chopper to Brett Baty. Rojas’ speed hurried the Mets’ third baseman and his throw pulled Pete Alonso off first base. With one out, Kyle Schwarber poked a double to left-center. The Mets brought their infield in, but Turner’s grounder to shortstop still scored Rojas when Lindor’s throw home landed in the dirt. A two-out Harper rip that Alonso couldn’t snag on the backhand short hop stretched the Phillies’ advantage to 6-2.
Wheeler worked effectively through the unpleasant elements until the seventh inning. Rojas misplayed a liner with two men on and one out, initially coming in a couple of steps before circling around to chase the ball to the wall. Brandon Nimmo wound up with a two-run triple and scored on a Lindor sacrifice fly.
Phillies manager Rob Thomson used the miscue as a teaching moment for the rookie Rojas, who's been sensational overall defensively.
“It’s tough," Thomson said. “A line drive right at the center fielder is tough with depth perception. He kind of came in on it. He should’ve stayed right where he was at and let the ball tell him where to go. And we talked to him about it. That is a very difficult play.”
In his seven innings, Wheeler allowed eight hits and three earned runs. He struck out six batters and walked one. The Mets had 14 whiffs on Wheeler's four-seam fastball and none on his other pitches, per Baseball Savant.
His velocity was down a tad. Wheeler's average four-seamer velocity was 94.2 mph, which is 1.7 mph below his season average.
The bottom line is he's now 3-0 in September and 13-6 on the year.
“Just grinding,” he said. “That’s really all it was.”
Realmuto added a two-out RBI hit in the seventh inning. Gregory Soto handled the eighth and Jose Alvarado recorded a 1-2-3 save.
“The moment doesn’t affect him," Thomson said of Alvarado. “He has been getting some save opportunities just because of the fact that that pocket has come up, and maybe (Craig) Kimbrel’s pocket has come up in the eighth inning. … His stuff is back; the cutter is back. His strike-throwing ability is back.
“So we have a lot of confidence in him right now. We’ve just got to make sure that what’s gone on with his arm this year doesn’t come back.”
Thomson said pregame that he plans to flip Wheeler and Taijuan Walker in the rotation for their final starts of the regular season. That would line Wheeler up to start Game 1 of the NL wild card series.
Thomson's lineup included Rodolfo Castro for the first time in September. Castro played second base instead of Bryson Stott, who Thomson thought has “looked tired” and needed a day off. Castro went 1 for 3, picking up an infield single in the sixth inning for his first hit since Aug. 19.
Weather permitting, the Phillies will go for a four-game sweep Sunday. Cristopher Sanchez is set to start against Jose Butto.
The team announced late Saturday night that Sunday's start time has been moved from 1:05 p.m. to 6:05 p.m "in hopes of avoiding an extended rain delay or postponement."