By Sam Bush
Where would the Phillies be without Aaron Harang?
Really. The 37-year-old who was signed last winter to a one-year, $5 million contract, has been the brightest spot in the Phils’ season.
Harang (above) scattered five hits over eight scoreless innings and Ryan Howard hit his team-high seventh home run, leading the Phillies to a 4-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates Thursday afternoon.
Harang has a 0.61 ERA (2 earned runs, 29 1-3 innings) over his first four starts at home this season, the lowest of any qualified starter in the National League.
”I’m out there, I’m having fun,” Harang said. ”I know what I can do. I know my limitations. But I know how to control myself when I get in tough situations and try to stay positive.”
”We just tried to get to them early,” Howard said, ”and we were able to get ahead and let Aaron do his thing.”
Howard had three hits to snap an 0-for-9 skid as the Phillies won their second straight to match their longest winning streak of the season and salvage a split in the four-game series.
The Pirates avoided a shutout when Starling Marte doubled to deep center field off Ken Giles with one out in the ninth, scoring Josh Harrison.
Jonathan Papelbon, who became the Phillies’ career franchise saves leader Wednesday night, recorded the final two outs for his eighth save in eight chances this season. Marte scored on Pedro Alvarez’s groundout to first.
”We had a chance to win the series but were not able to do it,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. ”We didn’t handle the ball as well as we should have. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Harang (4-3) settled into a groove after escaping trouble in the first inning, when he needed 27 pitches and left two runners in scoring position.
The 37-year-old right-hander walked one while striking out six, and he was helped by the Phillies’ season-high three double plays.
”He just hits his spots,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. ”He makes the pitch that he wants to make and it seems like when he misfires a little bit, it’s not over the plate to get hit, so he stays away from trouble with that.”
Vance Worley (2-3) lasted just four innings in his second career start against the team that drafted him. He allowed three runs – one earned – and eight hits and a walk. Worley has not struck out a batter in his last two starts.
”I wasn’t around the zone, not locating well at all,” Worley said. ”It’s all about execution. Mechanically I was a little off, just a little out of sync.”
Pittsburgh’s trouble began from the start, when second baseman Neil Walker failed to catch a sharp groundball by Ben Revere, allowing the Phillies’ leadoff hitter to reach on a fielding error. Freddy Galvis and Howard both singled to right to load the bases with one out.
Worley then issued a bases-loaded walk to Cesar Hernandez and Grady Sizemore drove in another run with a single to center field for a 2-0 lead. But Odubel Herrera grounded into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
Pittsburgh had allowed just four first-inning runs in its previous 34 games combined, by far the fewest in the majors this season.
After a pitching change to begin the bottom of the fifth, Howard belted the first pitch from Radhames Liz into the seats in right field.