By Sam Bush
If you to know what the biggest difference between last season’s Phillies who stayed in the race until the last week but failed to make the playoffs and this season’s crew which is tied for the wild card, it’s this:
Kyle Schwarber hit his National League-leading 32nd homer and Zack Wheeler pitched seven strong innings as the Phillies built a large lead and then held on for an 8-7 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Schwarber’s three-run shot to right-center field off Zach Thompson in the sixth inning gave the Phillies a 7-0 lead. In the seventh, rookie Cal Mitchell ended Wheeler’s shutout bid with a two-run homer.
The Pirates scored five times in the ninth inning. Tyler Heineman doubled in two runs and Kevin Newman followed with a two-run triple off Jeurys Familia.
Seranthony Dominguez replaced Familia and gave up Oneil Cruz’s RBI groundout that got the Pirates within a run. Dominguez then retired Ke’Bryan Hayes to end the game and earn his sixth save in seven chances.
“You’re up (7-0), you don’t think you’re going to need your closer, but sometimes that happens,” Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson said. “I thought we played very well. We swung the bats well, everyone had a hit, and we played really good defense.”
Nick Castellanos had three of the Phillies’ 15 hits. Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, Alec Bohm and Matt Vierling added two each for Philadelphia, which won for the third time in four games.
The run-scoring outburst came a night after the Phillies wrapped up a homestand with a 7-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves. Prior to Wednesday, Philadelphia had scored three runs or less in 11 of 14 games.
“It’s nice to see us swing the bats like that,” Wheeler said. “It’s always nice to have the big lead like that so you can settle in.”
Wheeler (9-5) allowed two runs on three hits while striking out eight and walking three. He has pitched into the seventh inning in five of his last six starts and is 3-0 in his last four outings.
“I thought it was good,” Wheeler said of his outing, “but I also feel like I’m a tick off and I need to work on that.”
The Phillies jumped on Thompson for three runs in the first inning. Rookie Darick Hall hit a two-run double that was misplayed by right fielder Bligh Madris, and then scored on a single by Castellanos.
Thompson (3-8) was tagged for seven runs and 11 hits in 5 2/3 innings. He also gave up seven runs in his previous start against Miami after allowing two earned runs or less in 10 of 11 starts.
Bohm’s RBI single in the second made it 4-0. The third baseman is hitting .443 in July and was moved up to the No. 3 spot in the batting order Thursday for the first time since his rookie season in 2020.
“I’m definitely more relaxed,” Bohm said. “It’s just kind of the baseball season. You’re going to have good stretches and you’re going to have bad stretches. Right now, I’m having my good stretch. I’m just trying to keep sticking to what I’m doing. You’re only as good as the pitches you swing at.”
Didi Gregorius singled in a run in the seventh inning as the Phillies increased their lead to 8-2
Mitchell had three hits and Kevin Newman added two as Pittsburgh lost for the ninth time in 11 games.
“There’s always going to be tough games played or early we go down big,” Mitchell said. “Fighting out of that at the end definitely provides some confidence and some reassurance to the clubhouse that we can come back from tough games.”