Supporting cast nudges Phils closer to first

September 18th, 2021

There has been so much talk lately about ’s other-worldly production since the All-Star break, and how he not only thrust himself into contention for the National League Most Valuable Player Award, but how he almost single-handedly has kept the Phillies in postseason contention.

But Harper got help in Friday night’s 4-3 victory over the Mets at Citi Field.

“That’s the formula, right?” said. “Because you want to win consistently. You don’t want to just have to rely on one guy. Luckily, we’ve got a pretty good one. But if you want to win three, four, five games in a row, win series all the time, it’s got to come from everybody. And tonight there was a lot of good stuff.”

The victory moved the Phillies (75-72) within two games of the Braves (76-69) in the National League East with 15 games to play, as Atlanta lost to Gabe Kapler’s Giants in 11 innings in San Francisco. The Phillies remain 2 1/2 behind St. Louis (77-69) for the second NL Wild Card. Former Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez, whom the team released last weekend, made his Padres debut on Friday against the Cardinals, but he allowed four runs in four innings.

Phillies ace , who remains a top contender for the NL Cy Young Award, allowed one run in five-plus innings. It was not his best start of the season, but Wheeler limited the Mets as he improved to 3-0 with a 1.02 ERA in three starts this month. José Alvarado replaced Wheeler with runners on first and second in the sixth. He got a big double play and a strikeout to end the inning.

Miller, who has been playing a lot of first base since Rhys Hoskins’ season ended last month, hit a mammoth solo home run to center field in the fifth to give the Phillies the lead. Freddy Galvis and Matt Vierling provided sacrifice flies to score runs. Didi Gregorius made a fantastic defensive play in the seventh, and then provided a huge run with a two-out double in the eighth.

Ian Kennedy, who has been struggling recently, picked up a four-out save.

“We’re in the trenches,” Miller said about the clubhouse vibe after winning three in a row. “We know to this point that maybe this season hasn’t been perfect or easy, but we know we’re in it. And we have this opportunity and I think we all know that this team can do some really cool stuff when our backs are against the wall. So I think there’s a sense of urgency with us too. I think we’ve got guys that are playing hard, playing focused.”

Wheeler entered the game 13-9 with a 2.86 ERA in 29 starts. He led the Majors in innings (195 1/3) and batters faced (778) and was tied for the lead in complete games (three), shutouts (two) and WAR (6.8), according to Baseball Reference. He was second in FanGraphs WAR (6.5) to Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes (7.1). It will be interesting to see how Wheeler and Burnes finish their seasons and how voters compare their numbers, along with other Cy Young candidates like Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer, Kevin Gausman and Brandon Woodruff.

Wheeler left the game with 200 1/3 innings, which is a career high.

“That’s the goal -- throw 200,” Wheeler said. “That means you’re pitching deep into games and that’s realistically what you want: Go six, seven, eight innings every time. That’s just being consistent, throwing strikes. When you look back at it that way, it feels like it paid off.”

Wheeler is scheduled to make three more starts, including one in Atlanta in the Phillies’ penultimate series and one in Miami on the final day of the season.

Maybe Game 162 will mean something to the Phillies. Or maybe they will have clinched a postseason berth by then and they can rest Wheeler and prepare him to pitch in Game 1 of the NL Division Series or the NL Wild Card Game.

To get there, they will need more nights like Friday. They will need everybody to contribute.

“I’ve noticed since being here that we lose some, win a bunch in a row, lose some,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully we just catch it at the right time and on the right slope and we’re going on an upward trend.”