As Friday night’s game wore on and the Phillies’ bullpen continued to hang zeroes on the scoreboard, another dramatic win seemed almost inevitable. Better yet, with the Phillies figuring ways to get runners on base, the odds were that they could push one of them across.
And for the third night in a row, they did.
The Phillies opened the series against Arizona with a 4-3 victory Friday night at Citizens Bank Park, scoring their third straight walk-off win and the fourth one since Sunday. Making the streak of walk-offs even more rare is the fact that the Phillies got the one against the Diamondbacks with a walk from Chase Utley on a 3-2 curve from lefty reliever Eury de la Rosa (see Instant Replay).
Three straight walk-offs, four in a week and one on a walk-off walk?
“Any time you have a walk-off, it creates confidence and excitement, and right now it’s carrying over to the next day,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “It feels good and we’ll continue to build on it."
It’s almost routine the way the Phillies have found ways to win games since Sandberg took over. With five wins in the manager’s first eight games, the Phillies are showing a little more focus and consistency. During a 4-19 stretch right after the All-Star break, the only consistency the Phillies showed was for making outs.
But that was then. In a short time, Sandberg has the Phillies buying into his team-first concept that centers on pregame preparation and togetherness.
“That’s what he’s been preaching since he’s taken over here,” said Utley, who got his first walk-off since August 2007. “I think guys are buying into it. We’re all supportive of each other and doing the best we can.”
With Sandberg at the helm, rookies like Darin Ruf and Cody Asche have thrived and catcher Carlos Ruiz has found his batting stroke after a slow start to the season. Additionally, the young corps of bullpen arms also have stood up in some pressure situations. Pitchers like Justin De Fratus, Jake Diekman, Cesar Jimenez, Zach Miner and B.J. Rosenberg have been tossed into pressure situations for the first time and have come out on the other side with good experiences.
Friday night, it was Rosenberg who threw a perfect inning in the eighth. Rosenberg tossed a scoreless eighth in Thursday night’s walk-off against the Rockies, too. In fact, the relievers have not allowed an earned run in 27 of their last 31 individual appearances and sport a 1.91 ERA in the last 10 games, a span of 33 innings.
“I think we build off each other,” said Rosenberg, who returned to the majors this month with a curveball he dusted off and hadn’t used since his college days. “We take it easy and we’re all pretty good friends down there. I think each time Ryno puts us out there he’s definitely showing some faith in us to get the job done and it’s working out so far.”
Because many of the young relievers played for Sandberg in the minors the last two seasons, there is a trust and familiarity. The pitchers are comfortable with Sandberg and they know what to expect from him and vice versa. When Sandberg puts Diekman or Rosenberg into pressure situations, they get it. The manager and the players have been through it before.
“If they don’t look at that as a vote of confidence from me, then they are missing the boat,” Sandberg said about his young relievers. “I think they look at it as an opportunity and so far, so good with that.”
So far, so good all around. Because the bullpen has been able to post scoreless innings, Sandberg said the onus is placed on the offense. One side feeds off the other and when the hitters know all they have to do is scratch out a couple of runs to win a game, the task becomes easier.
“They have been putting up zeroes in seven through nine and the games have been somewhat tight and once again that allows the offense to do something,” Sandberg explained. “Also, with the way they are putting zeroes up, the defense is coming off the field and is all about talking about manufacturing a run or two. It puts it on the offense and sets a good tone.”
Once again, Ruf got the Phillies on the board with a solo homer in the second inning, exemplifying how August is the hitting month for the rookie slugger. Ruf hit his major league-leading eighth homer of August, which comes a year after his record-breaking 20 homers in August for Double A Reading.
Though Dom Brown lost a fly ball in the twilight, which caused a three-run fourth inning to be charged to starter Cole Hamels, the lefty was able to hold down Arizona through seven innings. That was enough time for Carlos Ruiz to deliver a two-run, bases-loaded double to tie it. Ruiz went 2 for 4, boosting his August batting average to .373 (22 for 59) with five doubles, two homers and 17 RBIs in 19 games.
With the score tied after six innings, the Phillies were building toward another walk-off. Given that the team has scored 10 of its last 21 runs in the eighth and ninth innings, the odds were on the Phillies’ side.
And this time the Phillies got the job done with one out. Asche started the inning with a single, moved to third on a hit-and-run single from Jimmy Rollins and waited after Michael Young was intentionally walked. After Kevin Frandsen struck out, D’backs manager Kirk Gibson went with the lefty to face Utley. Six pitches later, Utley had his first walk-off in six years.
“It’s been that long? It doesn’t feel that long,” Utley said. “It feels like I’m always on-deck when it happens.”
The series continues on Saturday night when rookie Ethan Martin (2-2, 5.23) faces right-hander Randall Delgado (4-4, 3.82).