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Phillies leave Tampa with a sweep and feel like they can hang with any team

Phillies leave Tampa with a sweep and feel like they can hang with any team originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Phillies feel like they can hang with any team, and lately, they have.

Despite going hitless every inning from the sixth through the 10th in a tie game Thursday night, clutch pitching and just enough offense carried the Phils to a 3-1 win in 11 innings, capping off an improbable three-game sweep on the road against the best team in the American League.

The Phils won all three games at Tropicana Field, becoming the first team in 2023 to sweep the Rays, home or road. Aaron Nola pitched a gem in the July 4 series opener, the offense pounded out eight runs on 17 hits in Game 2, and five different Phillies pitchers dominated to close out the sweep.

The Phils have won 12 straight road games and 12 straight interleague games, the first team ever to do so. This is their second-longest road winning streak in franchise history, behind only a 13-gamer in 1976.

“I think it just goes to show you our relentlessness,” said Garrett Stubbs, who caught all 11 innings. “We win a series against a really good team and we could’ve gone away today happy with that. But we battled today in extra innings just to make sure we get that sweep.”

Kyle Schwarber and Trea Turner came through in the 11th with back-to-back RBI singles. The Phillies are 47-39, on pace for 89 wins. They’d be in the playoffs as the third wild-card team if the season ended today, which it doesn’t.

The Phillies have hung with some of MLB’s best teams. They swept the Rays in Tampa. They won two of three in Houston. They took three of four in Arizona. They split four games in Atlanta. They won a series at home over the Dodgers. They swept the Blue Jays.

“It feels good, it feels like we can play with anybody,” Turner said. “We’re playing really well. This team is really good. Not really surprised by any of it because it’s kind of what we envisioned at the beginning of the year, it just took a little while to get going for all of us. It seems like when the starting pitcher gets in trouble, the bullpen steps up, or vice versa. Our pitching in general has been unbelievable for a while now and today was a perfect example of that.”

Christopher Sanchez was outstanding, allowing one run over six innings to the Rays’ vaunted offense. The bullpen was even better. Yunior Marte, Jose Alvarado, Craig Kimbrel and Matt Strahm held Tampa Bay hitless over the final five innings.

After pitching well in three June starts out of the No. 5 spot in the Phillies’ rotation, Sanchez turned in his best game as a major-leaguer. The only run the Rays scored came on a solo home run by Isaac Paredes in the bottom of the fifth. Sanchez kept the Rays off balance and off base all night, giving up just four hits without a walk.

Sanchez has pitched 21 innings over his last four starts, allowed five earned runs and put only 19 men on base, good for a 2.14 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. He’s walked two batters in 21 innings over that span, exceptional control for a lefty who walked 99 batters in 181 innings in his Triple A career.

“He looks tough,” Turner said of Sanchez. “Throwing strikes and getting a lot of weird swings, which is always a good sign. The offspeed is working great. I looked up and he had like 58 pitches in the sixth inning.”

Do the Phillies still need a fifth starter? Doesn’t look like it right now. Teams always need starting pitching depth so they could still explore a trade over the next three weeks, but it’s no longer the glaring need of April and May. Getting five innings and three runs out of a fifth starter represents a successful outing in the modern game and Sanchez has been exceeding that level of production. He faced 21 batters in Tampa and only three balls left the infield.

“He was incredible, filled up the strike zone,” manager Rob Thomson said. “The changeup was excellent, all his secondary pitches were really good. He just kept them off balance all night, it was really impressive.”

Marte pitched a 1-2-3 seventh and Kimbrel pitched a 1-2-3 ninth. In between, Alvarado worked out of a jam in the eighth. He struck out the first two batters, walked the next two and matched wits with Wander Franco in an 11-pitch at-bat that concluded with an inning-ending flyout to right field. Franco spiked his helmet in frustration.

“We have a really good staff,” Stubbs said. “Obviously, Sanchy came out and started it and I think everyone just followed Sanchy with his strong six.”

Darick Hall homered off Jake Diekman in the top of the fifth to put the Phillies on the board, his first home run of the season and first of his big-league career against a left-hander. The Rays answered back with Paredes’ solo shot in the bottom half and neither team scored again until the top of the 11th.

The Phillies are off to Miami for their final series before the All-Star break. They trail the Marlins by 2½ games for the top wild-card spot, which means another sweep would put them atop the race. But first things first Friday night.

Zack Wheeler (7-4, 4.03) faces Sandy Alcantara (3-7, 4.93) in the series opener.

Lefties Ranger Suarez (2-3, 3.67) and Braxton Garrett (4-2, 3.61) duel in Game 2.

Aaron Nola (8-5, 4.30) opposes Jesus Luzardo (7-5, 3.32) in the last game of the first half.