Suarez, Harper, Vierling lead surging Phillies to a big win in front of bigger crowd

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Suarez, Harper, Vierling lead surging Phillies to a big win in front of bigger crowd originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Sunday is Fan Appreciation Day at Citizens Bank Park.

Saturday was Ranger Suarez and Bryce Harper Appreciation Day.

A crowd of 28,135 -- the largest at the ballpark since August 15 -- showered both players with a hefty dose of gratitude during the Phillies’ 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the penultimate home game of the season.

Suarez, who had never pitched more than seven innings in a pro career that began in 2012, tossed a four-hit shutout. He walked none, struck out seven and kept the ball from the final out.

“I’ll have it in my house,” the likable 26-year-old Venezuelan said through Diego Ettedgui, the team’s Spanish-language translator. “It’s a good souvenir, a good memory to have. It was a really, really cool experience today on the mound.”

Harper clubbed his 34th homer and was serenaded with chants of “MVP! ... MVP! ... MVP!”

“It’s fun to watch superstars play like superstars,” manager Joe Girardi said afterward.

The victory was the Phillies’ fifth in a row. They remain 1 1/2 game behind the first-place Atlanta Braves in the National League East.

The two teams begin a three-game showdown Tuesday night in Atlanta.

The win also ensured the Phillies of at least a .500 season. They are 81-74 with seven games to play. The Phils have not had a winning season since 2011, which is also the last time they made the playoffs.

With a week to go in the regular season, both pursuits are within reach.

The Phils control their own destiny.

“You have to feel that way,” Girardi said. “And that’s all you can ask for. You want to be able to control your own destiny and not rely on other people.

“We have a big game (Sunday). Finish off the homestand, day off Monday, then go to Atlanta.”

Suarez and Harper have both had monster performances in the second half of the season to help keep the Phillies alive.

Suarez had made 11 starts since moving into the rotation in early August. His ERA in those starts is 1.69. Overall, he has pitched 99 innings this season and allowed just 16 earned runs for a 1.45 ERA.

He needed just 97 pitches to complete his impressive shutout of the Pirates on Saturday.

“He was in command the whole game,” Girardi said. “He threw quality strikes right from the beginning.

“There’s not much that wasn’t impressive.”

Fans are taking notice of the Phillies' surge. Before Saturday, the largest crowd on this homestand was 21,440.

"I noticed it right away," Girardi said. "More people. I noticed the energy. Very noticeable. Love it."

The crowd stood and cheered Suarez as he recorded the final out. The left-hander gave a tired bullpen a much-needed rest ahead of a bullpen game Sunday.

“It was important for me to help them out,” Suarez said.

“We needed that really, really bad,” Girardi said of Suarez’ going the distance. “There were a lot of guys who were unavailable today. If we didn’t get some heavy length, you were probably going to see some inexperienced kids come in today. Ranger gave us just what we needed.”

So did Harper.

His third-inning homer -- which came two batters Matt Vierling’s first-big league homer -- was his 46th extra-base hit since the All-Star break and that’s the most in franchise history. Chase Utley (2005) and Ryan Howard (2006) both had 45.

Harper is hitting .313 (third in the NL) with 82 RBIs and a majors-best 1.056 OPS.

“I can’t say enough about what he’s done for us,” Girardi said. “Even when they pitch around him, he’s on base three times a night. A lot of times you say, ‘Wow.' Nothing he does really surprises me because he’s that talented.”