Steely Knebel turns back final comeback threat

2 years ago

LOS ANGELES — Corey Knebel was on the edge of disaster. Again.

A week after the Phillies’ bullpen let a six-run ninth-inning lead against the Mets get away, a meltdown in which Knebel played a central role, a similar scenario inexplicably was reoccurring at Dodger Stadium on Thursday night.

Los Angeles scored two in the sixth off starter Zack Wheeler and four in the eighth against reliever José Alvarado to tie the game. But even after answering with two runs in the top of the ninth, the Phillies closer found himself in a most precarious situation: bases loaded, none out.

Knebel though, secured the Phillies’ 9-7 victory by getting three flyouts — one by Austin Barnes to right field, one by Cody Bellinger to left and the last by Chris Taylor to center. Philadelphia took the first game of a four-game series against arguably the best team in the National League, but not without some more harrowing moments.

“We can’t let that happen again,” Bryce Harper said. “It’s not what good teams do. It’s not what teams that are fighting to win a championship or fighting to be the best team in the league — it’s not what those teams do.”

The bullpen roller-coaster overshadowed a balanced performance by the offense. Following up on a three-game series in Seattle in which they produced 17 runs, the Phillies continued their upward trend by scoring in five of the first six innings.

Harper set the tone with a home run to right field off left-hander Tyler Anderson in the first inning. Harper later legged out an RBI double in the fifth for his league-leading 19th extra-base hit. 

From there, the Phillies were off and running.

Jean Segura led off the second inning with a double that almost cleared the center-field wall. Nonetheless, it extended his hitting streak to 10 games, the longest active streak in the NL. He then stole third base and scored on Kyle Schwarber’s single through the left side of the infield. If that show of hustle wasn’t enough, Segura dashed home from third on Johan Camargo’s fourth-inning popout to second baseman Gavin Lux.

Camargo’s first at-bat was more impressive, when he took Anderson’s first pitch over the left-field stands for a two-run homer that completed Philadelphia’s three-spot in the second inning.

The Phils also had triples from two unlikely sources — catcher J.T. Realmuto and third baseman Alec Bohm. For Bohm, it was his first career three-base hit. 

All of this was a tremendous source of comfort to Wheeler, just as his return from the COVID-19 injured list eased the burden in the Phillies’ rotation. Both Wheeler and right-hander Zach Eflin were placed on the COVID-19 IL on Sunday. Eflin could return to the mound Tuesday. 

Wheeler showed progression with his velocity and command, both of which had been lacking early in the season after right shoulder soreness. His fastball velocity averaged 96.7 mph on Thursday and he yielded just one walk over 5 2/3 innings and 90 pitches. 

“I felt good about the outing,” Wheeler said. “Didn’t really have my legs underneath me. Kind of felt like Jell-O. The results were there, for the most part.”

Bellinger put an end to Wheeler’s 15 2/3-inning scoreless streak with a leadoff homer to right field in the bottom of the third, and Will Smith ended the right-handers night with a two-run double in the sixth, but Wheeler was in line for a win. Then the eighth inning happened.

Alvarado allowed five hits, four runs and one walk while recording only one out. Manager Joe Girardi called on Andrew Bellatti with the bases full and the Dodgers poised to break the tie. A superb defensive play by first baseman Rhys Hoskins on a safety squeeze bunt attempt resulted in a forceout at home, and Bellatti retired Freddie Freeman to keep the score knotted at 7.

“I felt like maybe [Alvarado] had the best chance to strike out the guys he was facing at that point,” Girardi said of his bullpen management. “And once they made the switch, then I went to Bellatti.”

The deciding ninth-inning runs both came with Harper at the plate. A bases-loaded wild pitch brought home Odúbel Herrera, and then Hoskins scored on a sacrifice fly. Philadelphia improved to 3-1 on the road trip and moved within two games of the .500 mark at 15-17.