Phillies finish off Cardinals in extra innings after near collapse

Phillies finish off Cardinals in extra innings after near collapse originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

ST. LOUIS — It took one extra inning and one extra reliever, but the Phillies avoided what would have been a bad series-opening loss by scoring twice in the top of the 10th inning to beat the Cardinals, 5-3, on Monday night.

The Phils led from the fifth through ninth innings before Jeff Hoffman gave up a game-tying single with a man on third and the Cardinals down to their final out.

Manager Rob Thomson had used Jose Alvarado in the eighth inning with left-handed-hitting Victor Scott II, Brendan Donovan and Nolan Gorman due up. Alvarado worked his fifth consecutive scoreless, hitless inning but Hoffman quickly put two runners in scoring position in the ninth and couldn't finish the job.

The Phillies responded with an Alec Bohm RBI double and a Bryson Stott sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th and Gregory Soto closed out the win by striking out Nolan Arenado with runners on the corners.

The most impactful Phillie of the night might have been Johan Rojas. Maybe it's the Midwestern charm, maybe it was the man on the mound, maybe it was simply the law of averages, but Rojas had the sort of game he and the Phillies needed.

Rojas, who had perhaps his best series of 2023 at Busch Stadium, doubled down the left-field line in the third inning, singled in the Phillies' first run in the top of the fifth and singled again in the ninth. The double traveled 108 mph off his bat, the hardest-hit ball of his young career.

Rojas opened the night 1-for-22, hitting .045, and the one knock had been a dribbler to the left of the mound. The Phillies talked entering the season about being able to protect his bat if the first eight hitters in the lineup hit the way they're expected. That had been tested early, but Monday was a good sign.

"He seems fine, he seems fine," Thomson said prior to the game, "but I know that when you're a young guy in the big leagues and you've got the numbers he's got, it's going to weigh on you to a certain degree. But he seems fine."

Rojas' go-ahead hit off Miles Mikolas came after Brandon Marsh and Garrett Stubbs singled to begin the fifth. The Phillies had three straight hits out of the 7-8-9, which began the night 19-for-91 (.209).

Rojas also made a tremendous diving catch on a ball hit to shallow right-center field to rob Nolan Gorman in the first inning, a play many center fielders don't make.

Marsh added necessary insurance in the top of the ninth inning when he caught a down-and-in slider that didn't slide from Giovanny Gallegos and sent it into the right-field seats for his third home run.

Spencer Turnbull was in total control once again, following five innings of no unearned runs in his Phillies debut against the Reds by blanking the Cardinals for six innings Monday night. Turnbull has struck out 13 batters through 10 innings, generating noticeably ugly swings from opposing hitters while putting only six men on base in his two starts.

He struck out Paul Goldschmidt twice on pitches outside the zone, one a sweeper and one a four-seam fastball. He made Jordan Walker flail at two pitches that had a chance to go the backstop. He ended a long at-bat against Gorman with a changeup that dove below the zone to miss his bat.

"He's got the stuff to put guys away when he is ahead on pitches that aren't even near the zone," J.T. Realmuto said in March. "That just tells you how electric his stuff is that guys aren't seeing the ball. I think he's got the stuff to be really good, we've just got to get him in the zone early and get them to chase late."

Turnbull was in the zone early, throwing a first-pitch strike to 17 of the 22 batters he faced.

Stubbs, not Realmuto, has been Turnbull's catcher his first two starts and will be paired with him moving forward. Thomson likes the familiarity of Realmuto catching Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suarez. Stubbs was basically the personal catcher last summer to Cristopher Sanchez and it appears he'll fill that role for Turnbull.

Turnbull is 31 years old and looking to re-establish himself after a strange end to his time in Detroit. He made only seven starts with the Tigers last season, was optioned to the minor leagues twice and successfully disputed both options because of injury, eventually earning a full year of service time for 2023.

This is a more promising situation. The Phillies signed Turnbull to a one-year contract worth $2 million with up to $2 million more in incentives, and he's already providing the sort of rotation depth they'd hoped for.

"It's a frickin' blessing, man," he said shortly after joining the Phillies in mid-February. "I can't even begin to explain how grateful I am to have a new opportunity, a new situation here. It feels night and day different than last year."

Turnbull won't lose the opportunity any time soon as Taijuan Walker won't be back for about a month. Walker is set to begin a rehab assignment on Thursday with Triple A Lehigh Valley and is expected to make at least four starts. That should mean at least four more turns in the rotation for Turnbull, who's done nothing so far to dissuade the Phillies from moving forward with him.

At 5-5 on the season and 3-1 on their first road trip, the Phillies have a chance to make it a winning series and trip Saturday night when Zack Wheeler (0-1, 0.75 ERA) opposes debuting Cardinals starter Sonny Gray.