Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp tagged Dansby Swanson, showed the umpire the ball, popped up, ripped off his mask and helmet, and screamed. His body shook as he walked up the third-base line.
“Everything happened so fast,” Knapp said. “We really needed this win, and it was such a great play that my emotions got the best of me.”
The Phillies beat the Braves on Sunday night at Truist Park, 5-4. It was not easy, but the Phillies will take difficult victories following the week they just had.
The victory snapped a five-game losing streak. The Phillies held leads in each of those games, and their bullpen blew late leads in three of them. And just when it looked like the bullpen might blow another one, the Phillies made a textbook relay from the outfield to home plate to win it.
“It’s one of these wins that at the end of the season you look at and go, 'Man, that really turned our season around,'” Knapp said.
Phillies right-hander Brandon Workman joined the Phillies following a multiplayer trade Friday with the Red Sox. He blew his first save opportunity Saturday. On Sunday, he had runners on first and second with two outs in the ninth inning when Braves slugger Freddie Freeman laced a double into the gap in left-center field, scoring the runner from second. Center fielder Roman Quinn cut off the ball and threw to shortstop Didi Gregorius, who fired a strike to Knapp at home plate to nail Swanson.
Gregorius exchanged the ball from his glove to his hand in just 0.77 seconds, according to Statcast. His throw tracked at 88.1 mph, his second-hardest tracked throw this season. It carried Knapp across home plate. Swanson slid headfirst.
“Every runner coming around the base is pretty much anticipating sliding to the back of home plate to avoid a tag,” Knapp said. “That’s kind of what we train ourselves in Spring Training, to make sure we can cover that. It happened so fast that the throw took me in there. If he would have had maybe a step or two to react, maybe the play would have ended differently. But it was kind of bang-bang, and he was sliding.”
The Braves challenged the play. They thought Knapp blocked the plate, which was banned in a 2014 rule change to protect catchers from collisions.
“He was sitting there pretty good, but they're not calling that anymore,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “They need to take that off the book and just start blowing up catchers again.”
Phillies manager Joe Girardi saw things differently, of course.
“The ball took him into the runner, which he’s allowed to do,” he said.
“I felt like once we saw the replay, it was pretty obvious it was going to go our way,” Knapp said. “I set up before the throw, giving him a lane, and then the throw just took me in that line.”
Alec Bohm, Rhys Hoskins and Gregorius each homered for the Phillies to give them a 5-3 lead.
Zach Eflin allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings, which meant the bullpen needed to record 11 outs to hold a two-run lead.
Heath Hembree, who joined Workman in the Red Sox trade, pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in his Phillies debut. He replaced Eflin in the sixth, working out of a jam with runners on second and third and one out. He impressed, throwing just 18 pitches, with his fastball averaging 94.4 mph.
“I really didn’t know the situation that was going on here,” Hembree said. “But I heard some things when I got here, so I was just ready to slice them up and fill in wherever they needed me, and try to get outs the way I feel like I can.”
Tommy Hunter pitched a perfect eighth, showing good velocity on his fastball. Workman threw 26 pitches in Saturday’s loss, but Girardi wanted him back out there Sunday.
“We looked at the matchups,” Girardi said. “It worked. That’s the bottom line. It worked. Hopefully this is just a sign of things to come that we can get this all ironed out and we can move forward and have a really effective bullpen.”