PHILADELPHIA -- Matt Vierling lost his jersey, but he won the game.
He drilled maybe the biggest hit of his life just three feet in front of home plate with the bases loaded in the 10th inning of Wednesday night’s 4-3 walk-off victory over the Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park. Vierling hit the ball so hard that it took a tremendous bounce beyond the Blue Jays’ drawn-in, five-man infield and hopped into the outfield. Yairo Muñoz scored the winning run from third base to snap the Phillies’ five-game slide and cut their magic number to clinch the third NL Wild Card to 11 with 14 games to play.
“I made the swing, saw it go up and knew immediately,” Vierling said.
Vierling raised his arm as he ran to first base. He spiked his helmet in the outfield.
Teammates mobbed him.
Somewhere in the scrum, he lost his jersey.
“Three buttons fell off, everything is off,” Vierling said.
Buttons can be resewn, which is a small price to pay for a team that desperately needed to win Wednesday. Because while the Phillies always had the postseason math in their favor, they could not afford to let the final phase of this season get out of control. Those things can happen. Wednesday was the 58th anniversary of the Reds’ Chico Ruiz stealing home plate to spark the Phillies’ soul-crushing 10-game losing streak at the end of the 1964 season.
But Vierling saved the day, and maybe the season. He went 5-for-5, becoming the first Phillies player to have five hits in a game, including a walk-off hit, since Milt Thompson in 1987.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Vierling said. “Seeing everybody come out, how fired up they were, especially how things have been going. Hopefully we can carry that on.”
Phillies ace Zack Wheeler started for the first time since Aug. 20 because of tendinitis in his right elbow. He pitched four scoreless innings. He had his best velocity of the season. He threw Teoscar Hernández a 99 mph fastball in the second inning, which was his hardest pitch of the year. He threw nine pitches 98.5 mph or harder. He threw only four 98.5 mph or harder the entire season before Wednesday. His four-seam fastball averaged 97.9 mph, 2.0 mph better than his season average. His sinker averaged 97 mph, 1.6 mph better than his season average.
It is an encouraging sign because he will get two more regular-season starts before he potentially starts Game 1 of an NL Wild Card Series. So, in theory, he should only get stronger and sharper.
“My goal was to put zeros on the board, but go as deep as I possibly can,” he said. “Get us to a certain point and let the guys take over. These young guys did it again. Just to have that belief. That’s what good teams do. You never stop.”
Noah Syndergaard and José Alvarado kept the game scoreless entering the eighth, but a Bryson Stott error set up Seranthony Domínguez’s three-run home run to Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
“That could have been it, but these guys keep fighting,” Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson said. “I’m proud of them for that.”
Domínguez allowed eight runs in his first 48 appearances this season. He has allowed eight (seven earned) across his past two.
It is a concern.
“As time goes on, he’ll be fine,” Thomson said.
But the Phillies came back. J.T. Realmuto hit a solo homer to start the eighth to cut the lead to 3-1. Jean Segura reached second with two outs on a single and an error. Dalton Guthrie’s single to right scored Segura to make it 3-2. Vierling’s fourth hit of the night put runners at the corners.
Kyle Schwarber’s single to right scored Guthrie to tie the game.
Andrew Bellatti worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the 10th when he got Hernández to line out to second baseman Jean Segura, who dove to second base to double up former Phillies outfielder Bradley Zimmer.
In the bottom half of the frame, Segura got hit by a pitch and Guthrie walked to load the bases to set up Vierling. Vierling is a spokesman for CarShield. In a well-run commercial, he touts how he knows “a thing or two about game-winning hits.” He had not had a walk-off hit in the big leagues before Wednesday.
He might need a reshoot.
“The biggest thing is getting that win, definitely needed it, it gives us a little momentum,” Vierling said. “I think we really needed that one and we grinded all night.”