PHILADELPHIA – What a week.
Phillies ace Zack Wheeler and his wife Dominique welcomed their daughter Bambi into the world early Tuesday morning. Halfway across the country, Matt Vierling, who had been recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley, flew from Omaha, Neb. to Chicago and then drove 90 minutes north to Milwaukee. Later that night, he hit a game-winning home run against Brewers closer Josh Hader, who hadn’t made a save in 11 months.
It would have been fine if their weeks ended there, but Wheeler and four of a kind helped the Phillies beat Arizona 4-0 at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday. The Phils have won nine straight games for the first time since July 29-August. 6, 2011.
The Phils (30-29) have a winning record for the first time since going 3-2 on April 12.
“I was just hoping it would come back to me and I could continue it,” Wheeler said of the winning streak.
When it comes to Wheeler again, it means the Phillies will be looking to set a franchise record with 14 straight wins. They won a franchise-record 13 consecutive games in 1991, ’77 and 1895.
Wheeler threw six scoreless innings against the D-backs, batting eight and allowing two hits. He’s 5-0 with a 1.42 ERA in his last eight starts, batting 64 and going 11 in 50 2/3 innings. He would have started the seventh, but Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson exercised caution after Wheeler’s hectic week.
“Getting out of here and performing well today is the icing on the cake,” Wheeler said. “I felt good for the most part. A little rust but it was ok. Good enough.”
Four of a kind played second base for the first time in his life because the Phillies wanted shortstop Didi Gregorius to rest after he returned from the injured list last Sunday. The Phils thought quads had enough athletics to handle a position he never played even in little league.
But when things are going well, these types of moves just seem to work.
It worked. Four of a kind was flawless. He set up six ground balls, including one to end the game. He turned a force on second for first in the ninth. He also caught a popup. Remember that only recently at Triple-A, quadruples had started taking groundballs in second place. He did a few more this week in Milwaukee with the idea that he might play there on Saturday.
Quadruple didn’t even use his own glove. His infielder’s glove hasn’t broken in yet, so he used a Bryson Stott one.
“It will find you,” said Vierling about the whole action in the second. “I kind of expected it. I felt like when I’m out there, the ball will often be hit to me. Yes, I’m glad it worked. I felt pretty comfortable out there. Every time you contribute, you feel great and play better. That creates more self-confidence.”
But of course it wasn’t just Wheeler and Vierling. Teams don’t win nine straight games without a bunch of people contributing. On Saturday, it was Nick Castellanos’ two-out singles in the first to score Rhys Hoskins and Stott’s two-run homer in the second. It was Andrew Bellatti who replaced Jeurys Familia with loaded bases and two outs in the seventh. Bellatti got pinch-hitter Ketel Marte flying into midfield with a 1-2 slider.
Bellatti was an under-the-radar find for the Phillies. He has a 3.57 ERA in 20 appearances.
“It was a pretty intense situation,” Bellatti said. “I enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to it again.”
Castellanos hit an insurance run with a check swing double on the right field line in eighth place. It scored Bryce Harper from the start.
A few weeks ago, those things weren’t happening for the Phillies. The check swing would have gone wrong. Maybe Vierling would have had problems the second time around.
“It’s like that, isn’t it?” said Tomson. “When you’re running well, you get a few breaks. They get their defense to make some mistakes sometimes and you benefit from that. When you’re feeling bad, it’s just the opposite. Everything is going pretty well at the moment. We just have to keep going.”