No pressure: Kelly comes up clutch vs. ace

June 16th, 2017

PHILADELPHIA -- The evasive spark the Phillies have been in search of may have come from the unlikeliest of places in Thursday night's emotional 1-0 win against one of the baseball's most ascendant pitchers.

The hero? Ty Kelly. The pitcher? Red Sox ace Chris Sale.

In a scoreless pitching showdown that featured the best outing by a Phillies starter this season and a 10-strikeout gem from Sale, Kelly capitalized on what Sale called his "worst pitch of the game at the wrong time," driving home with a game-winning pinch-hit RBI double in the eighth inning on a middle-middle slider.

"I would take that result against anybody, but it feels good against him," Kelly said of whether the moment is magnified in his mind because of the pitcher it came against.

Maybe it'll be heightened even more in his friends' minds.

"I don't know, maybe more of my friends will text me tonight," said Kelly, who was batting just .207 prior to his clutch hit.

Kelly appeared willing to move Knapp over to second by showing bunt on Sale's first pitch, but Kelly pulled the bat back when an 86-mph changeup darted toward his feet. After working the count to 2-1, Kelly's double sailed into the left-field corner.

Sale was stunning, suffocating the Phillies' offense to the tune of two hits and 10 strikeouts through the first seven innings. But Knapp singled to leadoff the eighth and Kelly was called upon to face Boston's prized offseason acquisition.

It wasn't the first time Kelly was called upon pinch-hit late in the game against one of the game's premier starters.

With one out in the bottom of the eighth in the 2016 National League Wild Card Game when Kelly played for the Mets, he slapped a pinch-hit single off the Giants' .

"I'm pretty relaxed going into those kind of at-bats and don't feel a ton of pressure," Kelly said. "Those are the at-bats that as a player you want. It's way harder to hit down 10 or up 10 against somebody, because there's nothing riding on the at-bat."

Kelly had never faced Sale or his devastating slider before and was looking for a fastball away to spray past or over the second baseman.

"The good part about looking the other way is that when they leave a breaking ball over the plate, you're going to be on time with it," Kelly said.

"It was an amazing at-bat to come off the bench and do that," Knapp said. "That's the kind of guy he is. He's always ready to play, he's got such an easy approach at the plate and knows what he's doing. That was huge."

The ball rattled around the corner in left as Knapp motored around the bases and saw Phillies third-base coach Juan Samuel waving him around.

"We're facing Chris Sale. How many runs are you going to get?" Samuel asked after the game. "So you try to take as many chances as you can."

As for what a hard-fought win over a pitcher of Sale's caliber could mean, both Knapp and Kelly spoke in unison.

"We were battling so much that game and we've been going through some stuff, I think this is going to propel us forward a little bit," Knapp said. "That's an emotional win because we've been struggling so bad."

Kelly thought back to the two extra-inning losses in Boston to begin the home-and-home series and how close the Phillies were to taking one or both of those games.

"To finally come out on top tonight is reassuring for us that we're on the right path and we're very close to being a successful team," he said.