By Scott Lauber
The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA — Nights like this used to be common for Drew Smyly.
Pitch into the seventh inning? No problem. He did it in nearly one-third of his starts from 2014 to 2016. Don’t give up any runs? Sure thing. He held an opponent scoreless nine times in that span. It’s the reason Smyly was the centerpiece of the package that the Tampa Bay Rays received in a trade-deadline deal for David Price five years ago. And it explains why the lefty was tapped to pitch for Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
But then came the elbow injury, and Tommy John surgery, and two seasons without pitching in a big league game, and that unsightly 8.42 earned-run average in 13 games for the Texas Rangers this season, and … and … and …
Imagine, then, how it must have felt for Smyly to walk off the field at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night after completing seven innings and blanking the San Francisco Giants. And as much as Smyly needed that, the Phillies needed it even more. They hadn’t gotten at least seven innings in a game from a starter other than Aaron Nola since Zach Eflin gave them eight on June 12.
On the eve of the trade deadline, with starting pitching remaining the Phillies’ biggest weakness, a starting pitcher led them to a 4-2 victory in the opener of a three-game series that could have wild-card implications. Let that sink in for a moment. It doesn’t happen often.
When Smyly allowed one run in six innings in Pittsburgh on July 21, it was chalked up even by Phillies officials as one promising start. Now Smyly has offered a companion performance. He allowed four hits and one walk, struck out five batters, and went seven innings for the first time since Aug. 15, 2016.
And he provided a reason to believe he might finally be coming around to being the pitcher he used to be before the injury.
For the second consecutive start, Smyly threw his cutter in to right-handed batters. He threw 37 curveballs and got nine swings and misses. He didn’t allow a runner to reach second base and was always in command.
When he finally yielded to newly minted setup man Nick Pivetta in the eighth inning, the Phillies held a four-run lead. Pivetta gave up solo home runs to Brandon Belt and Stephen Vogt to make things interesting, but closer Hector Neris pitched a scoreless ninth inning and the Phillies improved to 2 1/2 games better than the Giants (54-53), tied for the second spot in a bunched-up wild-card race.
The Phillies did all their scoring in the fourth and fifth innings against Giants starter Tyler Beede.
J.T. Realmuto and Cesar Hernandez opened the fourth with back-to-back singles. Realmuto scored from third on a groundout by Maikel Franco, then Hernandez trotted home on Adam Haseley’s double that split the gap in right-center and rolled to the wall.
Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins teamed up for the fifth-inning runs. Harper worked a one-out walk, and Hoskins crushed a two-run home run to left field, giving Smyly a 4-0 lead.