MLB wildcard: Corey Knebel hangs on as Phillies again beat Pirates in extras

PITTSBURGH — Corey Knebel had tried the tee shot before in his career, but it never worked.


“I think it might have worked once, but nobody was there to cover,” Knebel said late Saturday night in the Phillies clubhouse at PNC Park.

This time it worked. All the. Throwing with a one-run lead and no outs late in the 10th inning, Knebel lifted his left leg, turned to second base and blasted shortstop Didi Gregorius to get the rookie of the Pittsburgh Pirates Oneil Cruz.

The second base pick was one of the plays of the game and it helped the Phillies to a 2-1 win over the Pirates. It was the Phils’ second consecutive extra-inning victory against the Pirates. The Phils, winners of four straight games overall, will be looking to make it five in a row as they enter a four-game sweep against the Pirates on Sunday afternoon. Aaron Nola will pitch for the Phillies.

The victory was important for the Phils. It happened one night when St. Louis was beaten by Washington. The Phils (54-47) now lead the Cardinals by a full game for control of the third and final wildcard spot in the National League.

The Phils didn’t make many runs — they left the bases loaded in the first inning en route to a 0-for-9 performance with runners in scoring position — but that doesn’t mean they don’t. had none clutch performance in taking the victory by one point.

Lefty Ranger Suarez made his third consecutive outing since missing time with back spasms. He pitched six shutout innings, scatter three hits, walk one and strikeout eight.

“A typical Ranger,” said manager Rob Thomson. “Soft contact, throwing strikes, hitting the ball on right-handed hitters, using his off-speed stuff.”

Suarez hasn’t allowed a run in 16 innings in his last three starts. The Phils watched his innings as he returned from the injured list. His leash will be longer the next time he goes out.

Suarez’s teammate JT Realmuto continued to swing a hot bat. He scored a solo homer to the right in the top of the sixth to put the Phillies on the board. Realmuto is hitting .349 (23 for 66) with five homers in its last 19 games.

Jose Alvarado gave up a solo home run and the lead in the seventh, but Andrew Bellatti and Knebel threw a scoreless fly ball in the eighth and ninth to earn extra innings. Bellatti hit the side in the eighth and Knebel struck out two in the ninth.

The Phils took the lead in the top of the 10th when Gregorius started at second base and scored on an errant throw to third base by first baseman Michael Chavis.

With Seranthony Dominguez, Brad Hand and Connor Brogdon all unavailable for workload reasons, Thomson asked Knebel to go to the mound for a second inning of work. This was made possible because Knebel only threw 10 pitches in the ninth.

In the dugout before returning to the mound in the 10th, Realmuto and pitching coach Caleb Cotham reminded Knebel to keep Cruz close to second place.

Knebel did more than that. He turned off Cruz. A game-changing game. Suddenly there was one and no one on the base. Gregorius made brilliant defensive play for the second out before Knebel forced Cal Mitchell out to end the game.

“It was amazing,” Realmuto said of Knebel’s takeover of Cruz. “I haven’t seen it work too much.”

“I wanted to keep it close,” Knebel said. “I think it even caught me off guard.”

The Phillies starting pitcher has allowed just six runs in 25 innings during the current four-game winning streak.

The bullpen has been great for weeks. Since June 1, he has recorded a 3.46 ERA and the team is 33-18 over that span.

Knebel has had a rough start to the season, but he’s been outstanding for several weeks. He racked up 14 consecutive scoreless appearances.

Realmuto described Knebel’s stuff as “electric” on Saturday night. Indeed, the pitcher’s fastball averaged 97 mph, up 1.4 mph from his season average. His curve ball was strong. He threw 24 pitches and had five swings and misses.

“He had everything he needed,” Realmuto said. “Fastball command, his curveball was in the zone. His stuff was really good. I didn’t look at the numbers, but his fastball was heavy. He was electric.

“Earlier in the season he was struggling to get ahead but now he’s back in the strike zone, attacking guys early and getting swings and misses.”

Knebel could make a huge difference for this club over time if he continues to kick the ball around as he has in his last 14 outings.

“It’s baseball,” he said. “You go through warm spells. You go through cold spells. Just keep riding the wave.”

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