Just two days ago, Phillies manager Joe Girardi explained that he was starting Didi Gregorius against a left-handed pitcher because “if we’re going to do anything, Didi’s got to hit.”
Gregorius has not hit much at all this season, especially against same-handed pitching, entering Friday night batting .148 with a .520 OPS against lefties.
But with two outs in the seventh inning of a game the Phillies trailed by a run, Gregorius’ three-run home run off of Pirates lefty Chasen Shreve sent the Phillies to an 8-6 win. It rescued the Phils after they tied the MLB record the prior half-inning with their 34th blown save of the season.
The win made the Phillies 80-74 with eight games left. The first-place Atlanta Braves are scheduled for two games in San Diego on Friday and lost the first one. The Phillies are one game back pending the result of Atlanta’s second game at Petco Park.
Back to Gregorius, it was his second straight night with a home run. He hit his longest homer in at least seven seasons on Thursday, a 438-footer.
Gregorius has not had a productive year offensively or defensively but has a chance to finish strong and potentially help the Phillies end a nine-season playoff drought.
“I have not been producing the whole year,” he said. “These last couple of games are really important. I’m trying to be a big part of the offense. We have eight games left. Whatever happened at the beginning, I can’t worry about that, just focus on now.”
The Phils won the game without a couple of key relievers. Jose Alvarado had pitched in three straight games, Archie Bradley had pitched in three of four, Ian Kennedy pitched three innings and threw 62 pitches Tuesday and Wednesday, and Girardi likely did not want to use Hector Neris for two full innings for the second time in four days. Instead, Girardi brought Cam Bedrosian in to begin the seventh inning. The Pirates took a lead on Wilmer Difo’s two-run homer off of Bedrosian and Girardi then went to Neris, who threw 41 pitches to pick up the next five outs.
Neris finished the top of the eighth by snagging a comebacker with the bases loaded and emphatically pounded his glove in triumph.
“He’s a guy that’s just really tough. He’s a tough kid, durable,” Girardi said. “He’s a warrior to me. You think about where he was like three and a half months ago and how he’s bounced back and how important he’s been. I have the utmost respect for Hector.”
Girardi actually went out to remove Neris for Bailey Falter with two outs in the eighth inning but Neris convinced his skipper to let him finish it.
“He put his hand up so I said all right,” Girardi said. “I looked him in the eye and he said I got this. I said OK, this is your last guy. And he got him.”
The final three outs went to Kennedy.
Ronald Torreyes, who has started 43 games at shortstop this season because of Gregorius’ injuries and ineffectiveness, had another huge hit. He came off the bench for a go-ahead RBI single in the sixth inning, a night after his three-run homer in the sixth put the Phillies ahead. Torreyes has hit .321 in 91 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.
“You look at his career numbers with runners in scoring position, I mean, there’s not going to be a lot of home runs, you understand that,” Girardi said. “But he’s hit his whole career. It just tells you why I love him so much. He’s always prepared. He’s ready to hit, go to third, short, second, wherever I put him.”
Earlier in the night, Bryce Harper drove in a run with his career-high 40th double and Brad Miller hit his 20th home run.
Odubel Herrera, who had three hits on Thursday, crushed a ball off the wall in his second at-bat. As he does, he admired it and was held to a single. He is not the only player or the only Phillie who does so, but it happens far too often and almost always costs him an extra base.
Herrera was removed from the game just an inning later with left ankle soreness.
Kyle Gibson started for the Phillies and gave up four runs in six innings. All four came in the fourth inning after Gibson hit his first career homer in the third.
He settled in after the fourth to retire the final six hitters he faced. Gibson has a 4.87 ERA in 11 games with the Phillies, exactly two full runs higher than his 2.87 mark in 19 pre-trade deadline starts with the Rangers.
The Phillies have two more this weekend with the Pirates before moving on to the all-important series in Atlanta. Ranger Suarez (6-5, 1.60) starts Saturday with a bullpen game Sunday (ugh).