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Phillies show London what they've got with explosive inning to beat Mets

Phillies show London what they've got with explosive inning to beat Mets originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

LONDON — As soon as the sun went down, the bats broke out.

The Phillies went down quietly in their first three innings at London Stadium Saturday afternoon, appearing to be affected by the glare in center field. Five of the first 15 hitters of the game struck out looking with several appearing to not see the ball.

Then the glare subsided and the Phillies' offense exploded, torching left-hander Sean Manaea for six runs in the fourth inning of a 7-2 win.

Bryce Harper started the party with a solo blast to right field, one batter after J.T. Realmuto smoked a 109 mph lineout to center.

Bryson Stott drew a two-out walk — a long plate appearance that facilitated the rest of the rally — and was singled in by Edmundo Sosa.

Then came the biggest moment of the inning, the biggest moment of the game and the biggest moment Whit Merrifield has had as a Phillie. Manaea threw a middle-in, 86 mph changeup and Merrifield crushed it to left for a three-run homer.

Harper celebrated his bomb with a soccer-like knee slide just outside the Phillies' dugout. Merrifield reacted to his by looking up at the heavens as he crossed home plate as if to say, "Finally."

It has been a rough few months for Merrifield, who entered hitting .171 in 117 plate appearances. He'd been the one player on the roster from Opening Day who hadn't really clicked or had an important, game-changing moment.

This should buy Merrifield some more goodwill from the many fans on social media who've been ready to cut bait two months into his one-year, $8 million contract.

More importantly, it helped a road-weary Phillies team take the series opener, their first-ever game outside of North America.

As a mic'd up Harper mentioned in the third inning, the Phils are in the midst of traveling 18 different time zones in 17 days. When they land in Boston Sunday night, they'll have flown approximately 11,845 miles in less than three weeks. Saturday's win made them 8-5 during that grueling stretch and 45-19 on the season. Their lead on the Braves is up to 8½ games.

The dimensions at London Stadium certainly played a role in the game. Nick Castellanos, who homered in the eighth inning, said before batting practice that it's the bounciest turf he's ever played on. That was apparent on Sosa's RBI single in the fourth. He blooped it to right field and Starling Marte seemed to decide early that he'd rather play it on a bounce than risk letting it bounce over his head. He played it correctly but the ball still jumped about 15 feet after hitting the turf.

Ranger Suarez made his first start since being struck on the left hand by a 106 mph line drive last weekend. He did not have command in the first inning, putting three men on base and allowing an RBI single to Marte.

The opening frame could have been substantially worse, though. Home-plate umpire Mike Muchlinski called a pitch far off the plate a strike to steal a walk from Brandon Nimmo, who went on to fly out. And on Marte's double, any player on either side other than J.D. Martinez would have scored from first. The 36-year-old DH was held at third.

Suarez settled in after the rocky first inning and picked up a huge swinging strikeout of Nimmo with no outs and two men in scoring position in the bottom of the fifth. "How many weapons can a guy have?" Fox announcer and 200-game winner Adam Wainwright asked as Suarez wiggled out of the threat.

The minimization of damage continues to be a major factor in the Phillies' success. Orion Kerkering relieved Suarez with two on and two out in the sixth and struck Francisco Lindor out looking in an at-bat that included a 100 mph fastball. It was the second time he's hit triple-digits in the majors and he did so again in the seventh against Nimmo.

Kerkering continues to gain confidence in his heater after throwing almost exclusively sliders late last season, and he's a better pitcher because of it. He retired all four hitters he faced with three strikeouts and owns a 1.19 ERA.

The Phillies will be the "home team" Sunday afternoon to close out the two-game series. It will be Taijuan Walker against lefty Jose Quintana as the Phils look to leave London with a sweep.