Good teams find ways to win when things don’t click, and for Velez, that thing, for now, is their attack. So, on Thursday night they beat the reigning world champion with their share.
Clinging to one lead—Matt Ferrling’s fly came in the bottom second—the Phillies shooters allowed six hits and only walked twice against the Braves, a team that ranks second in baseball in the U.S. at 0.760. Ranger Suárez gave the Phillies one of their best starts in weeks, Zach Eflin – revitalized from the injured 15 roster just 10 days ago – doing well in an area of great influence, and José Alvarado closing the door with four goals, allowing a one-stroke hit.
Facing the Braves at home in the midst of a post-season race, having swept the Phillies in Atlanta just four days ago, has always been a tough task. But the Velez showed boldness, and they did so at a time when they had little room for error.
When Alvarado hit Robbie Grossman in the final, he jumped, slapped his glove, and pumped his fist. It was a celebration fitting for a playoff, and after Wednesday and Thursday evenings, the matches weren’t too far away. The magic number for Phillies is 10.
On Wednesday night after Velez came from behind to win a must-win match in extra innings, interim manager Rob Thompson was asked if he thought it might spur some momentum.
“Well, they say the momentum is as good as your next player, and we have the goalkeeper (Suarez) going tomorrow, so I feel good about that,” he said.
Thompson was satisfied with good reason. After a string of rough starts in late August and early September, Suarez went to Atlanta last weekend and gave Velez six runs in one ball. This game was better. The left-handed bowler went six rounds and only allowed five hits, did not run, and walked twice. He threw 83 throws and 53 strike throws.
“I just focused on giving high-quality presentations, and that’s the main thing,” Suarez said through an interpreter. “Obviously it’s really difficult when you face the same squad in a row and we knew it would be like that, but I had a good plan with JT (Realmuto).”
Suarez’s biggest problem came at the top of the sixth game. He allowed Austin Riley double, and with two naysayers, both Matt Olson and Von Grissom walked to load the bases. But Michael Harris II was based on the first rule to finish the inning.
At the bottom of the fifth inning, as Dalton Guthrie faced Braves’ Max Fried start at a 3-2, home board referee Andy Fletcher called one of Fried’s 86-mph sliders a hit. The ball was outside the strike zone, and Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long started screaming at Fletcher from the bunker. In the end, Long was thrown (but in his defense, it was probably one of the worst ball calls of the season).
The Eflin Bullpen’s trial has been a success so far, so Thompson said before Thursday’s game that he would start using Eflin on the higher leverage rounds. This decision has paid off. The right bowler needed just six pitches to retire Marcel Ozuna, Grossman and Dansby Swanson in the top of the seventh.
From there, Evelyn hit William Contreras, hit Riley with a pitch, and hit Travis Darno. Riley hit-by-floor was another call from Fletcher which Phillies had opposed, but after Thompson challenged it, the call was upheld.
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In all, Evelyn threw 1 and 2/3 runs, not allowing hits, running, or walking three strokes—and only needed 15 throws to do so. At a time when the Phillies needed role-eaters, and trusted arms, Eflin’s emergence as a close-up was a welcome development.
“It was amazing,” Evelyn said. “I’ve been waiting for that moment. I’ve prepared myself to put on a show in any situation, and fortunately I’ve done it before as a rookie. I’ve finished matches before. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity and I’m glad it went well tonight. We won.”
The Phillies had a strong pitcher, but it was another rough night to attack. They only hit six hits and go 0-for-6 with the contestants in the scoring center—but so did the Braves. Velez also hit 12 attacks against Fried and the softeners that came from behind him.