Phillies keep rallying late, stealing wins and showing it might be a skill

Phillies keep rallying late, stealing wins and showing it might be a skill originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The ability to steal wins, to continuously come back late in games doesn't seem like a characteristic that should easily translate from one year to the next, but the Phillies are putting it to the test.

They did it again Saturday night, roaring back from three separate one-run deficits to beat the Nationals, 4-3, in extras. Bryce Harper walked the Phillies off with a sacrifice fly an inning after Kody Clemens crushed a game-tying solo homer to right-center with the team down to its final two strikes.

It didn't matter that the Phillies had just two hits through six innings, or that when Nationals starter MacKenzie Gore exited in the seventh, the seven hardest-hit balls of the game all belonged to Washington.

There isn't much that seems to matter to this team.

"It doesn't matter any position that we're in, how far down we are, how much we're up or anything like that, we play 27 outs for a reason," Harper said. "And I think that's good for a whole season. Whenever you're in moments like this or have opportunities like this, it just builds your team to be that much better later in the year in the postseason because you've been in those moments, you've had those opportunities throughout the year and you kind of capitalize on it the farther you go as a team.

"Each team is different and I think we have a really good group in here."

Really good might be an understatement. The Phillies are 33-14. No National League team since the 1998 Braves has had a better record through a season's first 47 games.

The Phillies are unbeaten in 14 consecutive series. The only two they've lost were the first two.

Clemens hasn't been up for long this season but he's made a serious impact when called upon. In his first two starts, he went 4-for-8 with a double, triple, homer and seven RBI. On Monday in New York, he singled in the ninth inning off of Mets closer Edwin Diaz and scored the game-tying run.

He's going to be hard to remove from the roster if everyone is healthy when Trea Turner eventually returns from a hamstring strain.

"I think he does a phenomenal job even when he's not playing or starting the game of kinda locking in later in the game against tough pitchers," Harper said. "You saw it tonight. … He has big-league at-bats, more and more every day."

Clemens is still using Harper's bat, just as he did two weeks ago during a four-RBI night against the Blue Jays.

"I'll give him whatever he wants," Harper joked after Saturday's win.

The sound off Clemens' bat after his swing against Nats closer Kyle Finnegan told you it was going, but Clemens himself thought he hit it too low to get it out. Then he watched it land in the seats and looked back to an erupting dugout.

"Every other night, I feel like it's somebody else," he said. "It's amazing. I feel like we all show up here and we're expected to win the game even before it starts. It's an awesome atmosphere to be around. … It's all coming together."

A huge, sometimes overlooked factor in the Phillies' ability to snatch victory from defeat this season has been the frequent minimization of damage. Nick Senzel's leadoff double off Cristopher Sanchez in the top of the fourth was the Nationals' sixth hit of the game, 13 batters in. But Sanchez generated two early double plays, stranded a runner in scoring position with nobody out in the fourth and retired the final seven hitters he faced, four via strikeout.

A better opponent than the Nationals might have broken the game open, but in reality, there are far more teams in Washington's tier than any above it. There are five National League clubs over .500. Five. The Phillies will spend many more nights this season playing inferior teams than they will facing teams as deep or talented as they are.

"Sanchez was fantastic, touched 98 (mph) and held his command," manager Rob Thomson said. "Changeup was really good. The growth of this guy, mentally and emotionally, just fighting out of innings.

"Our starters are finding a way to kill the chaos and just get out of innings, get a groundball, get a double play. They have the ability to slow the game down."

Sanchez hit 98.3 on the radar gun and his fastball velocity was up about 1.5 mph over his season average, which will make any pitcher better but especially one who has a good changeup. He has a 3.31 ERA through nine starts and has allowed just one home run in 49 innings.

Asked about bending but not breaking Saturday night, Sanchez said he wants to emulate what he sees from Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola.

"Great pitchers do that and I try to mirror that from Wheels and Nola," he said. "Even if you get hit around sometimes, that doesn't stop you, and it doesn't stop them. I'm trying to see that in myself as well."

The music is usually still blasting in the Phillies' clubhouse 20-to-30 minutes after a game ends but the playlist ended earlier than usual Saturday. Maybe they're sick of hearing the same victory tunes every night.

"It's an amazing feeling," Sanchez said of coming to the ballpark every day. "This is incredible."

The Phillies go for their sixth sweep of the season Sunday afternoon behind Nola, who pitched a four-hit shutout Tuesday in New York.