J.T. Realmuto homers twice as Phillies inch toward Wild Card

Todd Zolecki


By Todd Zolecki
www.mlb.com

MIAMI — This September feels different.

Maybe it’s because the Phillies are playing the Marlins and actually beating the Marlins. It has not been that way forever. But the Phillies clinched their fifth consecutive series victory over Miami with Wednesday night’s 6-1 victory at loanDepot Park, giving them a 2 1/2-game lead over San Diego and a 4 1/2-game lead over Milwaukee in the Wild Card race with 20 games to play.

The Phillies had won only four series against Miami in the past three years combined.

“I just feel like this team is in a good place, the way we’re playing the game right now,” said J.T. Realmuto, who hit a go-ahead homer in the sixth and a three-run homer in the seventh. “Guys are jelling. It’s a lot of fun. I feel like we’re in a pretty good spot. [The Marlins] have been our kryptonite a few years in a row. It’s nice to play better against them than we had in the past. It’s just a credit to the type of guys we have in here. There’s a lot of guys stepping up that we didn’t necessarily have in the past. And those guys are carrying this team.”

Bryce Harper and Realmuto carried the Phillies offensively on Wednesday. Marlins right-hander Edward Cabrera had allowed just one hit through 5 1/3 scoreless innings when Harper smashed a 3-2 changeup over the left-center field fence for a game-tying solo home run. It was Harper’s 100th home run in his 436th career game with the Phillies.

Harper is the fourth-fastest player to hit 100 homers for the Phillies, following Ryan Howard (325 games), Jim Thome (384) and Chuck Klein (390).

“The whole team felt like we could take a breath at that point,” Realmuto said.

Cabrera throws his changeup and curveball a combined 53.7 percent of the time. But he threw Harper a combined 17 changeups and curveballs out of the 21 pitches he threw him on Wednesday.

Harper homered on the 10th changeup he saw from him.

“I’m just trying to take a good swing on a ball,” Harper said. “It’s been a struggle to get it going and be good and do good. Just getting back into it. Just trying to hit a pitch over the plate to get us going right now.”

Harper rejoined the Phillies on Aug. 26 after missing two months because of a broken left thumb. He batted .381 (8-for-21) with two doubles, four RBIs, five walks and three strikeouts in his first six games back. He batted .143 (3-for-21) with one double, three walks and 10 strikeouts in his next six. Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson did not play Harper in last Friday’s series opener against the Nationals.

Harper homered the next night.

So that’s two homers in the past four games.

“Kind of a reset day for me,” Harper said. “I really just need to start backing the baseball up and hit the ball to left-center and understand the process of, we need to go, we need to figure it out, but also it’s going to take me some time. You guys know I get frustrated with myself when I’m not playing well. Tomorrow is a new day. I’m excited to get back out there.”

Realmuto followed Harper and crushed a 0-1 slider for a monstrous solo homer to center to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead. His three-run homer to right in the seventh put the Phillies up 6-1.

There was other good news for the Phillies. First, X-rays on Rhys Hoskins’ bruised right hand were negative. Hoskins got hit by a pitch in the third inning and left the game in the fourth. The Phillies said Hoskins will not play Thursday, but he could be back soon after that. Second, Zach Eflin pitched a perfect eighth inning in his first appearance for the Phillies since June 25. His fastball averaged 93.7 mph, which is up from his season average as a starter at 92.6 mph.

Both Thomson and Realmuto said Eflin could be a “Swiss army knife” for the Phillies. He could be an opener, if needed. He could let it loose for an inning or two late in a game.

He could be pitching in big spots as the Phillies try to run down their first postseason berth since 2011.

“It would mean the world to me,” Eflin said. “I’ve been here parts of seven seasons. A couple years we were a game or two from making the playoffs. This is kind of a different story. We’re looking good and we’re playing good baseball.”

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