It’s a good thing the Phillies weren’t still in Denver on Monday night. If they had been, they would have suffered their worst loss of the young season and a terrible injustice would have been done to Zack Wheeler.
Instead, the Phils walked off the field at Busch Stadium with a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Wheeler pitched a gem and Rhys Hoskins clubbed a pair of home runs.
Hector Neris nearly gave everyone a heart attack in closing it out. The right-hander got the final two outs with the tying run at second base. Third baseman Alec Bohm overran a foul pop up by Paul Goldschmidt but was able to make an acrobatic catch for the second out. Odubel Herrera, playing in his first big-league game in 23 months, hauled in the final out at the wall in left-center, 388 feet from home plate, to end it.
Nolan Arenado hit that ball and when it came off the bat, it had the look and sound of a walk-off homer.
In fact, from his position at first base, Hoskins thought it was a homer off the bat.
“I did, yeah,” he said.
Wheeler was in the dugout when the ball exploded off of Arenado’s bat.
“You’re watching the outfielders and they keep going,” he said. “It scared me a little bit, to be honest.”
Manager Joe Girardi’s heart skipped a beat when Arenado made contact.
“Not one,” Girardi said. “Two.”
According to Statcast, the ball came off of Arenado’s bat at 100 mph. Had it come off the bat any harder, it might have sailed over the wall.
And had this game been played at Coors Field in Denver, Arenado’s former home park and the place the Phils lost two of three over the weekend, it definitely would have sailed out of the park.
Three nights earlier, Neris gave up a game-losing walk-off homer to Colorado’s Raimel Tapia. Neris hung a splitter to Tapia and you can’t do that at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, where the air is light and the balls fly like they have wings.
On the banks of the Mississippi, you can sometimes survive a hanging splitter, as Neris did.
“I was a little worried when it came off the bat,” Girardi said. “I was a little worried. It’s not where Hector wanted to throw the ball, but we got away with it.”
It would have been an injustice to Wheeler had the Phillies lost this game. It was his best performance in 16 starts with the Phillies.
The right-hander took a shutout into the ninth before walking the leadoff man and leaving the game at 114 pitches. He allowed just one hit, a single to Paul DeJong with two outs in the fifth, and walked three. Wheeler had a great fastball — it was up to 99 mph — and he kept it down in the zone. He struck out nine.
“A couple guys that did get on first base said, ‘Man, his stuff is just exploding out of his hand,'” Hoskins said.
Wheeler also made a heads-up defensive play to start an important double play in the sixth inning.
St. Louis right-hander Adam Wainwright was nearly as good as Wheeler. He went all nine innings, walked none, struck out eight and allowed a pair of solo homers to Hoskins, one in the seventh and one in the ninth. Hoskins leads the Phillies with eight homers. He has homered five times in the first four games of this road trip.
“Wainwright pitched a great game,” Wheeler said. “Luckily, we’ve got Rhys.”
Wheeler pitched with a little extra motivation after failing to lock down a 4-0 lead in what ended up a 10-7 loss to the Giants in his previous start.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I wanted to get back out there and get a W for us.”
The Phillies are 11-11 overall and 2-2 on this road trip.
Hoskins, one of the Phillies’ leaders and the team’s union rep, said he was not aware of any objections in the clubhouse about bringing Herrera back two seasons after he served an 85-game suspension for violating MLB’s policy against domestic violence.
“He just wants to play baseball, man,” Hoskins said. “And he thinks that he’s got an opportunity to help us win. And that’s what we’re going to try to do.
“He made a big play tonight. He had to go a long way to get that ball. It’s the last out of the game. So happy for him.”