WASHINGTON -- When the Phillies needed them most, the hottest bats in their lineup came through.
Not only did Sunday afternoon's three-run rally in the ninth inning propel Philly to an uplifting 4-3 win over the Washington, it also continued an encouraging stretch that has seen the middle-of-the-order hitters step up.
"A much-needed win, obviously," manager Pete Mackanin said afterward.
With the Nats up 3-1 to start the final inning, it was Aaron Altherr -- perhaps the Phillies' best hitter at the moment -- who sparked the offense with a leadoff solo home run to make it a one-run game. A few batters later, Cameron Rupp followed with the game-tying double before Ty Kelly delivered the go-ahead single.
"That was awesome," Tommy Joseph said. "Everybody put together good at-bats there in the ninth inning. Ty Kelly will go down as the hero, but there were a lot of other players in that inning that played key parts."
"That's how it's been all year against these guys," Altherr said. "We've never [felt] out of it, no matter what the score is, because we know their bullpen has been struggling a little bit. Just never give up, never quit and keep fighting."
Between Altherr and Joseph, Philly has found a duo that is hitting its stride. Over the past week, the two have combined for a .438 (14-for-32) batting average along with eight home runs and 15 RBIs. Altherr, in particular, has been hot; following the first game of Sunday's doubleheader, Altherr has now reached safely in 25 of his 46 plate appearances in May. Joseph, meanwhile, has hit home runs in three of his past four games.
"It's hard to win games when just one guy is swinging well," Altherr said. "The more guys we can get swinging it well, the more games we're gonna win."
If the first month-and-a-half of the season is any indication, the Phillies' offense has already shown improvement upon some of its shortcomings in 2016. Philly entered Sunday ranked fourth in the National League with a .329 on-base percentage, up from the 2016 mark of .301, which ranked 14th. And with runners in scoring position and two outs, the Phillies are tops in the NL with a .300 average.
While the hope for the Phillies is that the heart of the lineup will develop consistency sooner rather than later, the illustration of what Mackanin would like to see it become one day is across the diamond with the defending NL East champions.
"We need the middle of the lineup to be consistent and drive in runs," the skipper said. "Look at [Washington's] lineup, for example. "They've got [Daniel] Murphy, they've got [Anthony] Rendon, they've got [Ryan] Zimmerman, they've got [Bryce] Harper.
"Every time those guys come up, they put fear in you. ... That's where we need to get to."