Phillies come back late to beat Blue Jays on Matt Vierling's walk-off hit originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Wednesday night's Phillies game had two storylines.
The big one.
And the really big one.
The big one turned out well as Zack Wheeler came back from a month on the injured list and pitched four healthy, scoreless innings.
The really big one turned out even better.
After rallying for three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the game, the Phillies pushed across the winning run in the bottom of the 10th on rookie Matt Vierling's fifth hit of the night and beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-3, in front of a loud crowd of 29,363 at Citizens Bank Park.
The win, on the 58th anniversary of Chico Ruiz' infamous steal of home, had the feeling of a season-saver. It snapped a five-game losing streak and allowed the Phillies to maintain their 2½-game lead over Milwaukee for the final NL wild-card playoff spot.
There are 14 games remaining in the regular season.
"Huge win," Wheeler said. "These young guys did it again. It's fun to watch. That's what good teams do. Any time you're down, keep playing hard and have that belief."
The Phillies' offense struggled for much of the night. The team was 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position in the first seven innings. Bryce Harper left the bases loaded in the fifth and runners on the corners in the seventh.
Toronto broke a scoreless tie against Seranthony Dominguez in the top of the eighth. Whit Merrifield led off with a hit and Phillies shortstop Bryson Stott made an error. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. then clubbed a three-run homer on a 1-0 fastball that registered 99 mph on the gun.
Playing with some desperation, the Phillies tied the game in the bottom of the eighth. J.T. Realmuto led off with a homer, his 21st. Jean Segura singled with two outs. Rookie Dalton Guthrie drove him home with a single. Vierling kept the inning alive with a base hit and Kyle Schwarber tied the game with a single to right.
"We kept the message the same the whole night," Vierling said. "Keep grinding and stay positive. When we went down three, we got in the dugout and everyone was still positive. Our team is good at staying positive and looking at the bright side. At any point in time, with our lineup, we know we have a chance to tie the game."
David Roberston survived a leadoff walk in the ninth and Andrew Bellatti did his best Houdini imitation to wriggle his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 10th.
Vierling's game-winner was a hard-hit ground ball up the middle through a drawn-in infield.
Five hits and a walk-off game-winner. Vierling became the first Phillie to do that since Milt Thompson in 1987.
Vierling was mobbed by teammates after his first career walk-off hit. He'll need a new jersey for Thursday night's game against Atlanta. This one was torn off his back.
"It doesn't get much better than that," he said. "We grinded all night."
The Phils took the field knowing Milwaukee had beaten the Mets. A loss would have reduced the Phils' lead over Milwaukee to 1½ and set off panic among the fanbase.
"I know everyone is looking at it," Vierling said of the Brewers' score and the standings in general. "We're looking at it. But we don't talk about it. We just keep carrying on, keep grinding and keep playing. That's a testament to our leadership. All these games are like playoff games."
Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Jose Alvarado pitched scoreless ball for the first seven innings, keeping the Phils in the game while the offense did nothing.
Wheeler was a huge bright spot. He missed five starts recovering from inflammation in his right elbow/forearm and was kept on a short leash.
In his first start since August 20, he threw 58 pitches in his four innings. He struggled to command his slider and curveball, which was not completely unexpected given that they are "feel" pitches and can be adversely affected by time off. Wheeler's four-seam fastball was exceptional. He threw 31 of them and 16 registered at 98 mph or above. He topped out at 99 mph. His average velocity of 97.9 mph was up 2 mph from his season average, a sure sign of arm strength and health.
"I felt good, I felt strong, I felt healthy," Wheeler said. "The rest helped."
Wheeler will pitch twice more before the regular season ends. He could jump up by 15 pitches per outing, if all goes well, and be ready to carry a heavy load in the postseason opener -- if the Phillies get there.
Their magic number to outlast Milwaukee for a playoff berth is 11.
Now that they've snapped their five-game losing streak, the Phils need to keep winning. Next up is Atlanta for four games in Philadelphia. The Braves swept the Phils last weekend in Atlanta. Ranger Suarez pitches against Max Fried in Thursday night's opener.