PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Zack Wheeler spent a few days away from the Phillies this week because his wife was ready to welcome their second child. He was an antsy parent — and pitcher, too, checking the box scores to see if Philadelphia could stay perfect in his absence.
"I was just hoping that it would come back around to me and I could keep it going," Wheeler said.
Sure enough, Wheeler’s daughter was born Tuesday and four days later the staff ace led the Phillies to their longest winning streak in 11 years.
He struck out eight over six sharp innings, Bryson Stott hit a two-run homer and the Phillies won their ninth straight game, a 4-0 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday.
The Phillies have won nine straight for the first time July 29-Aug. 6, 2011, also the last season they reached the playoffs.
Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson improved to 8-0 since he took over for the fired Joe Girardi. He’s the first manager to win his first eight games since Joe Morgan did it for the Red Sox in 1988. He’s the first Phillies manager to start his career 8-0 since Pat Moran did the same in 1915.
Hey, the Phillies won the pennant in 1915.
A mere 107 years later, the Phillies (30-29) are happy for now they could climb over .500 for the first time since they were 3-2 on April 12.
"We’re shooting for five (games over) or more. And once we get there, then shoot for 10," Thomson said.
How about 10 straight wins first? The Phillies will try on Sunday for 10 straight wins for the first time since 1984.
With all these streaks in play, it’s no wonder the Phillie Phanatic stripped off his jersey and crashed the field in nothing more than his sneakers to the delight of the crowd.
Wheeler (5-3) won his first start since a brief stop on the paternity list following the birth of his first daughter, Bambi. Wheeler, the 2021 NL Cy Young Award runner-up, lost his first three starts of the season and has been sensational since the end of April. He was 4-0 with 1.61 ERA and 56 strikeouts over his last seven starts to help inch the Phillies toward wild-card contention.
Against Arizona, Wheeler tossed two-hit ball, walked none and lowered his ERA to 2.84 (5.79 through his first four starts) before yielding to the bullpen.
"Just all around good week," Wheeler said.
Andrew Bellatti relieved a roughed-up Jeurys Familla with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh and retired Ketel Marte on a flyball.
"That was a pretty intense situation to come in to," Bellatti said. "I enjoyed it. Look forward to those again."
Brad Hand and Christopher Sanchez each worked a scoreless inning of relief.
Much like they’ve done of late in their winning streak, the Phillies scored early and jumped on Madison Bumgarner (2-6) with three runs in the first two innings.
Nick Castellanos had a run-scoring single in the first. The lefty-swinging Stott, who won Sunday’s game with a three-run homer in the ninth, hit a two-out, two-strike, two-run homer off the lefty Bumgarner in the second inning.
Castellanos added a check-swing RBI double in the eighth.
The Phillies opened with two wins in a 13-game stretch against teams with losing records.
Bumgarner, oddly, was one more reminder of the Phillies’ run of five straight playoff seasons that included the 2008 World Series championship. He’s one of only six active pitchers to have pitched a postseason game at Citizens Bank Park.
More streaks like this one, and the Phillies could stick this season’s staff on that list.
WHAT’S ON SECOND
The Phillies played outfielder Matt Vierling at second base for the first time in his professional career. Didi Gregorius is being eased back from injury and Nick Maton is hurt, so Vierling got the nod. He had to borrow an infielder’s mitt from Stott.
He was flawless in six chances that included the final assist of the game.
"I had a feeling if I’m out there, the ball was going to get hit to me a lot," he said.
DESIGNATED FOR AN ASSIGNMENT
Bryce Harper has been sensational as the Phillies’ designated hitter since he suffered a small tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of his throwing elbow. He last played the field at Miami on April 16. The Phillies had said Harper should be cleared to return to right field by August. Thomson said he does not plan to keep Harper at DH.
"It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world but we certainly like his defense when he’s out in right field," Thomson said.
Arizona reinstated C Carson Kelly from the 10-day injured list (strained left oblique) and optioned OF Cooper Hummel to Triple-A Reno.
Phillies closer Corey Knebel felt tightness in his right shoulder warming up before the ninth inning and will be evaluated Sunday.
The Diamondbacks will use LHP Kyle Nelson as an opener against Phillies LHP Ranger Suarez (4-3, 4.42 ERA).