PHILADELPHIA -- It's not every night that Phillies fans show up at the ballpark and just know they will see something special.
It was why they cheered when Zack Wheeler emerged from the Phillies’ dugout at 106 pitches to start the eighth inning in Friday night’s 4-3 walk-off victory over the Padres in 10 innings at Citizens Bank Park. It was why they booed when Phillies manager Joe Girardi emerged from the dugout to remove him at 114 pitches and two outs. It was why they stood and cheered as Wheeler left the mound following 7 2/3 scoreless innings against one of the best teams in baseball. It was why they booed Girardi even louder when he returned to the dugout.
“Obviously, with what [Jacob] deGrom is doing, what he’s doing, it doesn’t get talked about enough,” Brad Miller said about Wheeler. “deGrom has been amazing, historic. But what our guy is doing is Cy Young, MVP, it’s all of it.”
Phillies fans have trust issues, which is why they wanted to see Wheeler pitch as long as humanly possible.
They do not trust the bullpen.
It blew its eighth save in nine games for the first time in franchise history in the ninth inning. Left-hander José Alvarado, who replaced Héctor Neris as closer last week, walked two batters and allowed a double to Fernando Tatis Jr. to cut the lead to two. Ranger Suárez replaced Alvarado but allowed a double down the line to score two runs and tie the game.
It was the Phillies’ 22nd blown save this season. The franchise record is 25 in 2004.
The Rockies hold the MLB record with 34 in 2004.
But Miller’s walk-off double to the center-field warning track in the 10th won it. It was Miller’s first hit since June 8, snapping an 0-for-23 skid.
“You want to win it,” Wheeler said. “You go out there and pitch your butt off and it’s shaky sometimes. At the same time, those guys are my teammates and I love ‘em and I’ll always have their back no matter what. I know they have it in them.”
Wheeler was never going to pitch the ninth. But he could have finished the eighth.
“114,” Girardi said about Wheeler’s pitch count. “That’s the decision. We’ve got a long way to go. He’s thrown so many innings for us already, and there’s concern on my part because of that. I mean, what are we at, 80 games? He’s on pace for 228 [innings] now. It’s just concern. Concern about pushing him too far, if he gets in a long at-bat. What if he gets in a 10-pitch at-bat? We need him. There’s a long way to go.”
Wheeler leads baseball with 114 innings, 6 1/3 innings more than any other pitcher. He has a 2.05 ERA. Friday was his fifth start of seven or more scoreless innings this season, which leads baseball. He tied Roy Halladay (2010), Steve Carlton (1972) and Chris Short (1965) for the second-most starts of seven or more scoreless innings before the All-Star break in Phillies history. Cliff Lee had six in 2011.
Wheeler is all but certain to learn on Sunday that he made his first National League All-Star team.
“I felt strong, but Joe’s right,” Wheeler said. “I think I told him that. It’s long term. It’s not just about tonight. Obviously, of course I wanted to be out there, but it’s long term. I want to be doing this for the whole season and not just half of it.
“Yeah, I get the [fan] frustration. It has been kind of shaky, but I’ll take Joe’s back on this. As soon as we met in the dugout, I told him I appreciate you letting me go back out for the eighth even, but I totally understand. No hard feelings at all.”
Did Girardi hear the boos?
“Unless I have earplugs in,” he said. “It’s part of the job. You know, fortunately, I’ve been booed a lot before as a player and as a manager. It’s part of it. And I’ve said all along: Phillies fans just want us to do well. And you know what? I’m frustrated, too, just like they are when we don’t, so I’m OK with it.”