PHILADELPHIA -- Doug Fister, owner of the National League's third-best ERA before Wednesday, threw Grady Sizemore a two-strike curveball. The pitch was higher than Sizemore's long red socks, and the 32-year-old survivor of seven surgeries in five years smashed it. A crowd that gathered Wednesday to celebrate a Little League team erupted.
This is what the best brand of 2014 Phillies baseball looks like. Sizemore's two-run, pinch-hit homer in the seventh powered an 8-4 win over Washington. The Phillies swept the first-place Nationals. They have won seven of their last nine, all against teams with real postseason aspirations.
It would be wise for red-clad fans to enjoy this boon while it lasts.
"We're playing good baseball," said Ryne Sandberg, the team's first-year manager and subject of recent player criticism. "We're playing hard. That's where the focus should be. Guys are playing good ball. And numerous guys are playing good ball. We're getting some good pitching, we're getting some good hitting, and we've beaten some teams on this homestand. That's a positive."
Washington was baseball's hottest team before a trip to Philadelphia. The Nationals are 11-17 at Citizens Bank Park since 2012, the season they ended the Phillies' reign atop the National League East. The Phillies are 11 games under .500 for the first time since Aug. 7.
Fister allowed five runs in a game for the first time since May 9, his season debut. His night ended one batter after Sizemore's blast, when Fister drilled Ben Revere on the right forearm with a 1-2 fastball. Revere writhed on the ground but remained in the game. Fister removed his hat and walked toward first base to apologize to Revere before he departed.
Revere's recent success has carved into Sizemore's playing time. Sizemore, signed to a minor-league contract, has a .307 batting average and .816 OPS in 120 plate appearances. It is a sample size too small for judgment, but one large enough to raise eyebrows.
The current outfield rotation, though, does not provide voluminous opportunity for Sizemore. The team is committed to significant time for Domonic Brown in an attempt to recapture some semblance of trade value. Revere is chasing a batting title. And right fielder Marlon Byrd tied a career high Wednesday with his 24th homer.
The lineup did not include Darin Ruf or Freddy Galvis, both of whom homered in Tuesday's win. They are two younger players with undecided futures. It would seem they would benefit from semi-regular action in the season's final month.
Ruf has not started in consecutive games since Aug. 11-12. He was 2-for-3 on Tuesday and has an .866 OPS in 65 plate appearances this season. Most of his action is limited to games against left-handed starters; New York will use three righties this weekend. The tentative Atlanta rotation for next week's three-game series has one lefty, Mike Minor, scheduled.
Ruf pinch-hit in the eighth, smacked a bloop single, and scored a run. Sandberg, when asked if he considered Ruf or Galvis for Wednesday's lineup, did not answer the question.
"Well you know what, it's good to see them contribute like that," Sandberg said. "So for them to have those at-bats and to be on the bench ready to go in late situations, that's something positive."
It is difficult to imagine Kyle Kendrick on next season's Phillies team. His ERA is 4.97. He allowed two more first-inning runs -- his 10.00 ERA in the first is the majors' highest -- and slogged through six innings.
Jim Bunning permitted 36 first-inning runs in 1970 for the franchise record. Kendrick is at 33 runs with five starts left this season.
For one night, a Phillies barrage masked Kendrick's woes. The Phillies, fueled by this hot streak, are on pace for 74 wins.
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