The Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Cleveland Indians on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park in the opener of a weekend series.
It was 2016, not their 2007-11 heyday. But for one night at least, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz turned back the clock. The Big Piece and Chooch gave fans a thrill and some new memories, pacing the Phillies to a 4-3 walkoff victory over the Cleveland Indians.
In the opener of a three-game weekend series in South Philly, the two old stars began a 5th inning comeback against Tribe ace Corey Kluber. Then with the game knotted at 3-3, Howard sent everyone home happy with a line drive solo walkoff home run in the bottom of the 11th inning, just like the old days.
Getting to that 11th inning was a bit of a chore. Kluber started out as tough as was expected. One of baseball’s top starting pitchers, the Indians right-hander faced the minimum through four innings. Howard had the only Phils’ hit to lead off the 2nd, but was wiped out on a doubleplay.
The Tribe hitters staked Kluber to a 3-0 lead, scoring three times in the top of the 5th inning off Adam Morgan, who was making his first big league start of the season for the Phillies.
After Morgan had retired the first two batters in that 5th, it was Kluber himself who got things going, doubling down the left field line. Rajai Davis followed with a single to center, scoring Kluber with the game’s first run. When talented Indians’ 2nd baseman Jason Kipnis drove a two-strike, two-run homer out to right center, it was a 3-0 game.
Morgan wasn’t bad in his first start since being called up from AAA to replace Charlie Morton in the Phils rotation. He went five innings, allowing five hits and walking one batter, and struck out seven while throwing 97 pitches. His mental letdown after allowing the Kluber double is something that he should mature out of as he moves forward.
Down 3-0 to Kluber, and with the lowest-scoring offense in the league, things looked a bit bleak for the Phillies. Howard and Ruiz quickly turned it around, leading off the Phillies half of the 5th with back-to-back doubles to cut the Tribe lead down to 3-1.
Cesar Hernandez then reached on an error, with Ruiz going to 3rd base. David Lough then delivered a run-scoring single, with Hernandez rolling around to 3rd base as Chooch scored to make it a 3-2 game. Darin Ruf then rolled into a doubleplay, but Hernandez dashed home with the tying run on the play.
After that, it became a battle of the bullpens, and the Phils’ group was simply better. Andrew Bailey started with two strong shutout frames in which he struck out four batters. Elvis Araujo allowed a hit and a walk in the 8th, but Hector Neris came in to squash that Tribe opportunity and then stayed on for a perfect 9th inning. David Hernandez then finished up with two shutout innings over which he struck out four batters.
Meanwhile, the Phillies kept taking shots at the Indians bullpen. But they left two men on base in the 9th inning, then left the bases loaded with one out in the 10th without scoring the winner.
With the possibility looming that they were giving the Indians one too many second chances, the Phillies came to bat in the bottom of the 11th. Howard led off, stepping in against Cleveland closer Cody Allen, who had come on to record two outs and get the Tribe out of that 10th inning jam.
The Big Piece and the closer battled hard, and Allen tried to sneak a low fastball past Howard on the inside part of the plate. The Phillies’ 1st baseman buggy-whipped the pitch on a no-doubter ride out over the right field wall for his 5th home run of the season, the 362nd of his storied career, and his 6th career walkoff homer.
With the win, the Phillies have moved three games over the .500 mark for the first time since September 21st, 2012. Back then, the club was just beginning its downward spiral from the old contending days. Three difficult seasons would follow. But now these Phillies are clearly on the upswing. It might not happen in 2016, but from the minors through the big club, the future is beginning to look much, much brighter.