Brad Miller might not have saved the Phillies’ season Thursday.
But he might have saved the trade deadline.
Miller became the first Phillie in franchise history to clout a come-from-behind, game-ending grand slam in extra innings and in doing so lifted the team to an 11-8 win over the Washington Nationals in the second game of a doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park.
Miller’s slam capped a furious comeback that saw the Phillies score seven runs in the last two innings to overcome an early 7-0 deficit — as well as four errors — and avoid being swept.
The Phils lost the opener, 3-1, as Max Scherzer, in likely his last start with the Nationals, outdueled Zack Wheeler.
Rookie Cristopher Sanchez, the Phillies’ not-ready-for-prime-time spot starter, lasted just five batters and was tagged for four runs in the first inning and the Nationals built their lead to 7-0 after 2½ innings.
As all of this was happening, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and his crew were upstairs trying to pull off a trade for the pitching help this team so badly needs. A sweep might have had them hanging up their phones and deciding to stand pat or maybe even sell off a piece or two.
After the dramatic win, the Phillies are 51-51 and 3½ games back in the NL East. It’s a bad division filled with flawed teams, but someone is going to win it. Dombrowski needs to get this team some pitching help. The trade deadline is 4 p.m. Friday.
Manager Joe Girardi was asked what his boss’ mindset would have been if the Phillies had been swept.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I don’t know.
“But I’ll go into games with these guys and feel pretty good about them because of the way they fight. That’s what you ask players to do, give you everything they’ve got, and they do that every day, so I’ll take my chances.
“These guys never give at-bats away, they keep fighting all the time and that’s what they did today.”
The Phils did show fight getting back into this one. Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen and Alec Bohm all homered in the middle innings to give the team hope.
The Nationals traded closer Brad Hand earlier in the day and in his absence, the bullpen could not slam the door on a three-run lead in the seventh.
Miller, who entered the game when Bryce Harper exited in the third inning with back stiffness, started the two-out rally with a hit. McCutchen kept it going with a walk and Bohm clipped a run off the lead with an RBI single. Ronald Torreyes then kept the inning alive by drawing a walk and J.T. Realmuto tied the game with a clutch two-run single against Tanner Rainey.
The Nats pushed across the ghost runner to take the lead in the top of the eighth — doubleheaders are seven innings — but the Phillies weren’t done. With one out, the Nats walked Jean Segura intentionally to put runners on first and second. That forced Girardi, out of bench players after an early double-switch and injuries to Harper and Hoskins, to use Aaron Nola as a pinch-hitter. Nola walked on a 3-2 pitch from Sam Clay to set up Miller for his dramatic game-winning grannie.
“Baseball just kind of kicks you in the balls all the time,” Miller said after his heroics. “A long day at the park. We need it. So, just to do that and to look over to the bench and see the guys going crazy, I think that’s my favorite part. Seeing my boys going crazy and running around the bases. Finding a way to win.”
He might have saved the trade deadline.
And that, depending on what Dombrowski can pull off, might save the season.
Asked about the trade deadline and the importance of the victory in relation to it, Miller recalled some advice he once received from a former Seattle teammate, Raul Ibanez.
“Raul has told me over the years: Our contract says ‘player,'” Miller said. “I love baseball. I love thinking about the moves and all that stuff. But at the end of the day, I always go back to that. It’s a great piece of advice for us because we do care but they’ll take care of it. They’ll do their thing. Our job is to win ballgames and to perform and to play regardless of who we have.
“The win was huge, for sure. I truly think we have the guys in there. We just have to tighten some (stuff) up and play a little better.”
No doubt about that. Four errors. Six walks. In a short game. That’s killer.
But even an ugly win counts in the NL East race of 2021.
“What a huge win for us to stay in this,” Harper said. “If we add the pieces that we need to or add the pieces that we can, then we will. If not, then we’re just going to keep doing our thing and hopefully have a great two months and win this division. I know we have the team to be able to do that.
“They always say 50 and 50 in the first 100 games and what you do with the other 62. We’re in a division that’s super tight.
“We have faith in (the front office). They know the players that we need. They understand our weaknesses and what we need to add. I’m looking forward to the next 24 hours and seeing what type of team we’re going to be after that.
“We’ll see what happens. And if we’re that same team, then we’re going to battle and we’re going to grind each day and we’re going to go out there and play to the best of our ability and we’re going to hopefully come out on top and win this division because we need to.”