Phillies: Zack Wheeler shines in Game 1 victory over Yankees

Zack Wheeler #45 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Zack Wheeler #45 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /
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J.A. Happ struggles in first ‘home’ game in Philadelphia since 2010

Happ’s first start of the season last Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles featured the Yankees getting out to an early 5-0 lead, before the veteran southpaw surrendered a two-run home run.

Déjà vu came into play for the 2008 World Series champion in his Wednesday evening outing against his former team. With the home-team Yankees leading 3-0 heading into the top of the third, Happ began the frame by walking McCutchen and inducing a flyout from Rhys Hoskins. He then got ahead Bryce Harper in the count, 0-2, but the Phillies slugger made sure Happ would not escape the at-bat unscathed — slugging his 221st career home run and second of 2020.

According to Ryan Spaeder, Harper’s two-run home run was his first home run with an 0-2 count since July 2, 2017; overall, it was just the fourth such home run of his career, joining Sept. 30, 2012, and Sept. 6, 2015. Harper was the only left-handed-hitting batter in the Phillies starting lineup.

The Phillies would tack on two more runs in the frame to pull ahead for the first time, 4-3. Realmuto and Scott Kingery walked, while Jean Segura singled, setting up a prime RBI opportunity for Phil Gosselin — who doubled down the left field line off Happ earlier in the game. “Goose” came through, but in part thanks to the struggling Happ, walking with the bases loaded to notch the game at three. The next batter, Roman Quinn, grounded into a fielder’s choice to shortstop (beating out a double play), scoring Segura from third base to put the Phillies on top by one run.

Gosselin’s walk was Happ’s sixth of the game; his career high is seven, however, set in an early May 2013 outing while with the Toronto Blue Jays. The last time Happ walked six in a game was in July 2018.

On the other end of the spectrum on Wednesday, the 14-year veteran became just the 220th pitcher in Major League Baseball history to record 1,500 career strikeouts; Happ recorded 159 strikeouts in parts of four seasons with the Phillies from 2007 to 2010.

In the top of the fifth, Realmuto tacked on a much-needed insurance run via his second home run of the season — a line-drive, 398-foot shot.

Scoring six more runs, the Phillies offense opened the flood gates in the sixth, which would be the eighth inning in a normal nine-inning game.

The frame featured a team season-best four hits (all singles) with runners in scoring position, after logging only five such hits total across their first four games. Hoskins, Realmuto, Kingery, and Didi Gregorius all picked up RBI singles. In between, Harper grounded into a fielder’s choice; on the same play, Jay Bruce and Andrew McCutchen both scored on an error by Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka. The offensive onslaught put the Phillies on top, 11-3. The Yankees cut their eight-run deficit in half in the seventh, but would not pull off the comeback.

Strong Phillies defense

A key factor in Wheeler’s complete game and the overall Phillies win was solid defense — excluding Segura’s fielding error in the first that allowed the Yankees to eventually load the bases with nobody out (before later scoring on a groundout RBI).

Thanks to the Phillies fielders behind him, Wheeler would induce three double plays to help him get through the entire game; overall he has induced seven double plays this season, counting the four opposite the Marlins in his late July team debut.

According to Spaeder, the last Phillies pitcher to induce at least three ground ball doubleplays in back-to-back outings was fellow right-handed starter Vicente Padilla (May 2002). Before that, Hugh Mulcahy in August 1939.

Harper injured?

Starting in the bottom of the sixth, Adam Haseley replaced Harper in right field with the Phillies up 11-3. The previous half-inning, Harper had an awkward swing and winced; a trainer visited him at first base after he reached, but he ended up staying on the base paths, before later scoring on Kingery’s RBI single to shallow right.

Harper is in the Game 2 lineup, so his removal was likely just out of precaution. Aaron Nola will start for the Phillies.