Kendrick makes sure Phillies stay on a roll

Posted: September 11, 2012

The eighth victim, Giancarlo Stanton, flailed at a change-up and peacefully dropped his bat. He stared into space while Kyle Kendrick hopped off the mound to a loud ovation at Citizens Bank Park in the latest chapter of his renaissance.

Five weeks ago, Kendrick was in the bullpen and the Phillies were mired in last place. The rise from irrelevancy continued Monday night with a 3-1 victory over the Miami Marlins to extend this winning streak to five.

With another victory Tuesday, the Phillies can reach .500 for the first time since June 4. Twenty-one games remain in a season with the slimmest of hopes. That they still linger is amazing.

"We definitely know where we're at," Kendrick said. "We have to win every night."

Before the game, Charlie Manuel estimated it could take as few as 85 wins to clinch the second wild-card berth. The Phillies remain a decided long shot because they must overcome three teams and need help. Nonetheless, their best baseball has arrived now rather than never.

"I'd say we need to win 14 or 15 [wins], but I like to go day by day," Manuel said. "I'd like to win all 21."

Kendrick was magnificent. He held the Marlins to no hits until the sixth inning. His eight strikeouts in seven innings were a career high. His ERA in his last six starts is 1.49 - the Phillies have won five of those games.

He is riding an improved change-up, which he used to record seven of the eight strikeouts. It's a pitch he learned upon his demotion in 2009, but never mastered until now. Before Kendrick's sustained success, pitching coach Rich Dubee implored Kendrick to throw his change-up with more frequency.

"His change-up is a finish pitch," Dubee said at the end of July. "He never had that before."

At the game's most crucial moment, Kendrick threw three straight sinkers to Stanton. The bases were loaded with two outs in the sixth. Stanton, one of the game's most tantalizing power threats, could push Miami ahead with one swing.

Kendrick had already fanned Stanton on an 83-m.p.h. change-up in the second inning. He threw it again, this time at 86 m.p.h., and Stanton was fooled.

"He gets ahead of the hitters and sells them on throwing it a little outside the strike zone," Manuel said. "It looks good, so the guy swings at it. It's pitching."

Kendrick, a veteran of 160 games in six seasons, has 12 career starts of six strikeouts or more. Eight of them have come in 2012. He is striking out 6.6 batters per nine innings this season - his career rate was 4.1 before 2012.

He flirted with a no-hitter until the sixth when Marlins catcher Rob Brantly lashed one up the middle. The home crowd rose in appreciation as Chase Utley walked the ball to Kendrick. The inning teetered toward chaos until Stanton failed.

With Jonathan Papelbon resting, Antonio Bastardo recorded his first save. The bullpen has pitched 112/3 straight scoreless innings.

Enough offense arrived with one Domonic Brown swing. He mashed a two-run homer off Miami lefty Wade LeBlanc in the fifth. Michael Martinez provided another run with his legs, scoring on a wild pitch later in the inning.

"I don't think anybody is really looking at the standings," Brown said. "We know where we're at and that's it."

Where they're at is on the verge of making things interesting - just not quite yet.

"We're in the hunt," Kendrick said. "That's fun. Hopefully we can make something happen."

So they played Harry Kalas singing "High Hopes" once again at Citizens Bank Park on a crisp night that signaled impending postseason baseball, and the departing fans wished for a miracle.


Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow @magelb on Twitter.

 

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