Zack Wheeler blamed himself for the Phillies’ loss last week against the Giants at Citizens Bank Park.
He came to make amends on Monday.
Wheeler dominated the Cardinals over eight-plus innings during a 2-1 victory at Busch Stadium. He had a perfect game until he allowed a two-out single to Paul DeJong in the fifth, the only hit he allowed. He struck out nine, leaning on a four-seam fastball that touched 99.5 mph. He mixed a slider, sinker and curveball that had the Cardinals swinging and missing the entire night. He even made a heads-up defensive play in the sixth that was the play of the game until Odúbel Herrera ran down a ball at the wall in left-center field to end it.
Wheeler needed a game like this.
The Phillies need a win like this.
“When you have a couple subpar games, you want to get back out there and get on the right foot, and that was my goal today,” Wheeler said. “I wanted to get back out there and get a ‘W’ for us.”
Wheeler had a 5.40 ERA in his past three starts, including Tuesday’s start against the Giants. He carried a four-run lead into the fifth that night, but San Francisco scored four against him in the fifth and sixth on its way to a 10-7 comeback victory. But Wheeler dominated the Cardinals from the jump Monday. He struck out Tommy Edman looking on a 98.3 mph fastball to start the game. He struck out Dylan Carlson on a 98 mph fastball in the next at-bat.
He continued from there.
"If you just watch these great pitchers around the league -- Zack did it today, [Clayton] Kershaw, [Max] Scherzer, [Jacob] deGrom -- these guys, the superstars, they're 0-1, 0-2 on every batter,” Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright said. “There's no secret to how you get outs -- make it easier on yourself -- and that's what carries you deeper into the game, too.”
Wheeler struck out four Cardinals on his four-seam fastball, three on his slider, one on his curveball and one on his sinker.
"He's super talented,” Wainwright said. “He's got one of the best fastballs in baseball. To be able to go out there and throw as many as he did today to a bunch of guys who love hitting fastballs ... I know I'm just a pitcher, but if you can make me late on the fastball, you got a pretty good fastball, I can tell you that. There's plenty of breaking balls and that'll make me swing and miss, there's not a lot of fastballs that are going to make me swing and miss. He's got one of them. So he’s easily talented."
Wheeler is smart, too.
Wheeler walked Justin Williams to start the sixth. Wainwright tried to bunt, but he popped up the ball back to the mound. Wheeler had seen plays like this in the past where a heads-up defender lets the ball drop in front of him to turn an easy double play. He told himself to do the same thing if the situation ever presented itself. It finally did. He dropped the ball and turned the double play.
“It was probably literally like a glove length away from me and I was like, 'All right, drop it or don’t catch it,'” Wheeler said.
Rhys Hoskins called the play the turning point because nobody had momentum to that point. Hoskins then hit solo homers against Wainwright in the seventh and ninth innings to score the Phillies’ only runs. Hoskins has homered six times in his last six games. He leads baseball with eight home runs.
“Luckily, we’ve got Rhys,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler walked Matt Carpenter to start the ninth, which put Héctor Neris in the game. Things got interesting. A run scored. The tying run reached second. But Herrera ran 95 feet to catch Nolan Arenado’s fly ball to left-center field for the final out.
“Off the bat, I didn’t think it was gone,” Wheeler said. “It just kept on carrying a little bit, and you’re watching the outfielders and they keep going. It scared me a little bit, to be honest.”
It was the first time since Aug. 18, 2020, that two pitchers pitched eight or more innings in the same game.
“It was kind of cool to see an old-fashioned ballgame,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “These two towns are great baseball towns. They're old-fashioned towns, so it's kind of neat to watch.”