3 Wrigley HRs! Miller rewards skipper's savvy

Lefty-heavy lineup pays off big; 1B sees parents 'going crazy' in stands

July 9th, 2021

CHICAGO -- When Phillies manager Joe Girardi submitted the lineup card for Thursday’s series finale against the Cubs, some of his regulars -- namely Andrew McCutchen and Rhys Hoskins -- weren't there.

In Hoskins’ place was , a player Girardi had only penciled into the starting lineup one other time since June 23. Hitting in the No. 2 slot on Thursday, Miller may not have been the bat Phillies fans thought they’d see in the lineup as Philadelphia tried to win just its second road series of the season.

Miller wasn’t the bat Chicago was probably most concerned with, either -- especially with Bryce Harper batting a spot behind him -- but he proceeded to break out for a three-homer, five-RBI night as he led the Phillies to an 8-0 victory at Wrigley Field.

“It was incredible. It was awesome,” said Phillies starter , who earned his fourth victory of the year. “Just in general, just to have a three-homer game, especially at Wrigley Field, that's special.

“And none of them were cheap shots. He absolutely crushed all three of them.”

After grounding out to Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo in the first inning, Miller would hardly give the opposition a chance to get him out again.

In the third inning on a 2-0 count, Miller drove the ball deep to the left-center-field bleachers. In the fifth, he dumped an 0-2 slider over the right-field wall. And in the seventh, he only needed to see a single pitch before he cranked one off the right-field scoreboard to complete the trifecta.

Miller couldn’t pick up his fourth homer leading off the ninth, instead popping out to second base. That was unfortunate for him, since it meant he wouldn’t be able to add the fourth of Philadelphia’s “homer hats” to the three he’d already stacked on his head.

“I'm always going up there to hit a home run,” Miller said. “I mean, seriously. I think I need to take that mindset in there, right? Like do damage, get a pitch that I can drive. I'm looking to impact the baseball.”

That third one was a little more special for Miller, too. Not only did it seal his first career three-homer game -- and the first for a Phillies batter since Jayson Werth on May 16, 2008 -- but when he looked up into the Wrigley Field stands, he could see his parents “going crazy up there.”

“[That] was pretty sweet,” Miller said. “I'm lucky.”

To the outside eye, Miller’s performance might have seemed like a bit of a fortunate play by Girardi. Beyond some smaller reasons, though, what it really came down to was Girardi wanting to stack left-handed bats against Chicago starter Adbert Alzolay.

Girardi called Alzolay’s splits versus left-handed and right-handed batters “about as drastic as you see,” and the numbers backed that up: coming into Thursday, Alzolay had allowed righties to slash .183/.240/.289 in 2021. Against lefties, those numbers skyrocketed to .248/.324/.608. So, Girardi went with a lefty-heavy lineup, and it worked to perfection.

In Alzolay’s five innings of work, Philadelphia lefties went 5-for-12 with three extra-base hits. That .417 average could’ve been even higher, too. Harper went hitless in his three at-bats against Alzolay, grounding out to Rizzo in the first and lining out in the third and fifth. However, each of those three balls had exit velocities over 103.0 mph, and they all had expected batting averages above .600.

All three instead went for outs, of course, but it’s just another example of how the lefty-laden lineup produced the results Girardi envisioned.

“Every decision that we make as a team and as a coaching staff is thought out, but there's always a human element that you have to understand that, sometimes, things aren't just going to work out,” Girardi said. “The other team's paid to beat you, right? If the other team was paid to lose, it would always work out, so every move a manager made would always work.

"But you learn to make the best decisions with the information you have at the time.”