PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Pivetta, the unlikely winning pitcher, lurked in the middle of the mob. He drenched Andrew Knapp with a water cooler, hoisted the container above his own head, shook it triumphantly and tossed it aside to return to the scrum celebrating the hero of the Phillies' 4-3 win
PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Pivetta, the unlikely winning pitcher, lurked in the middle of the mob. He drenched Andrew Knapp with a water cooler, hoisted the container above his own head, shook it triumphantly and tossed it aside to return to the scrum celebrating the hero of the Phillies' 4-3 win over the Nationals on Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.
Moments earlier, the Phillies were one strike away from having to hand the ball to a position player in the 14th inning when Knapp pinch-hit for Pivetta.
"Right in that moment," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said, "I said to myself, 'I want this for the Phillies, but I want this for Andrew Knapp.'"
Knapp crushed the Phillies' first walk-off home run since April 29, 2016. It landed in right field's second deck, and it came 4 1/2 hours after the game started.
"I was loose pretty much from the time I stepped outside. When I'm not playing, my routine is to be ready to go in the third inning. I knew I was getting that pitcher's spot. Gabe told me. Whether it was that inning or in the 14th, I was ready to go.
The walk-off awarded a bullpen that used seven pitchers -- concluding with Pivetta, a starter -- to blank the Nationals over the game's final seven innings. Kapler said after the game that he would have used third baseman Jesmuel Valentin to pitch the 14th, because he didn't want to risk Pivetta's long-term health. Nats manager Dave Martinez also admitted he likely would have gone to first baseman Mark Reynolds if he needed another pitcher.
"No offense to Val," Jacob Arrieta said, "but I really don't want to see him pitch in that game."
Kapler's gamble in the bottom of the fifth got the Phillies to that point. Arrieta needed just 70 pitches to get through five innings. But the Phillies had one hit, and they had not reached third base. With a three-run deficit, two on and one out, they sensed a big inning and went for it, pinch-hitting Carlos Santana for Arrieta. It paid off, with the Phillies scoring three runs in the frame to tie the game.
The decision, though, meant a bullpen that had pitched at least seven innings each of the past two nights had another lengthy outing ahead. It delivered.
"For the bullpen to step up and keep throwing zeros up was awesome," Knapp said. "It was a great team effort."
Austin Davis struck out the side in the sixth and retired all four batters he faced. Pat Neshek, in his season debut, combined with Tommy Hunter for the seventh inning. Mark Leiter and Adam Morgan worked through the eighth. Jake Thompson, recalled from Triple-A on Sunday morning, handled the ninth, 10th and 11th. Victor Arano came off 41 pitches over the last two nights to throw the 12th.
And Pivetta -- who hasn't pitched in relief since 2015 with the Nats' Class A Advanced Potomac, but closed for Team Canada as a teenager -- endured through the 13th.
"He fought to get in that game today," Kapler said. "He asked every couple minutes if he could go down to the bullpen. We thought about that decision long and hard."
The win gave the Phillies a 5-2 record against the division-rival Nats in the past 10 days. Moreover, it made for a strong start to July, a month in which the Phillies have the opportunity to emerge as legitimate contenders for both a postseason spot and a meaningful Trade Deadline acquisition. Moving forward, the Phillies play teams with a losing record in 20 of their next 23 games, including every game before the All-Star break.
"It shows," Knapp said, "we're here to stay."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The other Jake returns and deals: The Phillies recalled Thompson before the game, marking this his fifth stint with the team this season. He walked into the clubhouse with his equipment bag around 11 a.m. A few hours later, he pitched three scoreless innings. He allowed just one hit and two walks, and he struck out two. Kapler called Sunday a tremendous boost for the often-maligned bullpen.
"Tremendous amount of confidence built today," Kapler said. "Tremendous amount of confidence built the last couple of days."
Neshek arrives: Davis struck out Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon and Bryce Harper in the sixth before getting Daniel Murphy to fly out to start the seventh. Neshek then entered the game in the seventh, marking his 2018 debut. Neshek, who spent the entire season on the DL because of shoulder and arm injuries, allowed a single to Reynolds before getting Pedro Severino to ground out. Hunter took over from there, walking Brian Goodwin before striking out Adam Eaton to end the inning.
"Austin Davis went through the teeth of their lineup and did so by attacking the zone and doing it with really good stuff," Kapler said. "Shak [Neshek] came out and looked great. Obviously, he gave up the single, but different pitch selection and that's out-out."
The Phillies' bullpen has pitched seven or more innings in three consecutive games for the first time since July 28-30, 1928. The Phillies used just two relievers in a July 28 doubleheader against the Cardinals, with Bob McGraw pitching 10 innings in relief in Game 1 and Claude Willoughby going 7 2/3 innings in Game 2. The Phillies then used four relievers to pitch 14 2/3 innings in a victory over the Cardinals on July 30.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Jorge Alfaro's 90.6-mph throw to catch Trea Turner stealing in the 12th was the third-fastest caught-stealing throw since Statcast™ started tracking in 2015. Alfaro owns each of the top three throws. He set the record with a 92.5-mph throw to nab Turner on Saturday night.
HE SAID IT
"I won't look at it like that. I think we're an out or two away from having a position player who I'm very confident can go out and throw strikes and maybe have some guys hit into outs and give us one more crack at it. But remember, earlier in the game, you're thinking about winning and winning now. You're using your bullets, because you have an opportunity to deliver a knockout blow. You don't know if the next inning is going to come, and so you have to go after it when you have an opportunity to." -- Kapler, on the good fortune of Knapp homering before Valentin would have come in to pitch
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Phillies won a replay challenge in the fifth inning when first-base umpire Kerwin Danley called Turner safe on an infield single. Replay showed, however, that Valentin's throw to first base beat Turner to the bag. The call was overturned, Turner was out and the inning was over.
The Phillies do not play Monday, but they resume action Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET when they open a two-game series against the Orioles at Citizens Bank Park. Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin (6-2, 3.02 ERA) faces Orioles right-hander Alex Cobb (2-9, 6.75 ERA) in the opener. Eflin had a terrific June, going 5-0 with a 1.76 ERA in five starts. Four of those wins followed losses, two stopped three-game losing streaks and one halted a four-game losing streak.
Joe Bloss is a reporter for MLB.com.