MIAMI — Cristian Pache knew he had it immediately, even if the moment moved in slow motion for Phillies fans watching at home.
Two outs, ninth inning, down a run to the team with the best one-run record in all of baseball, Pache crushed an 0-1 sweeper over the wall in center field for a game-winning two-run homer off Marlins closer A.J. Puk, a stage that was set by a J.T. Realmuto single and Alec Bohm double.
Just like that, the Phillies turned a game they trailed from the second through eighth innings into an invigorating, 4-3 series-opening win over a Miami team that leads the National League wild-card race.
“I knew that I hit it well. It was a real man that hit that ball,” a jovial Pache said postgame through interpreter Diego Ettedgui.
Marlins center fielder Dane Myers drifted back some 20 feet to make an attempt to rob a home run, but Pache had already begun celebrating as he approached first base, pointing to a delirious Phillies dugout.
“It’s funny because back in Tampa, I told the boys that when I hit the ball out of the park in Miami that I was going to jump and have fun,” Pache said. “And then in my first at-bat, I actually hit it out of the park.
“I just wanted to jump because it looks sexy.”
Pache has fast become a fan favorite. Big hits will do that. Now, his personality is beginning to show. Some of his teammates, including Brandon Marsh, who Pache pinch-hit for in the ninth inning, were hysterical listening to him describe his big blast to a group of reporters in the clubhouse.
“One of my favorite moments of my career,” he said. “Everyone was super happy, everyone was yelling and screaming. Everyone has been super supportive of me from the first day. It’s really good to be on a team where as soon as you get into the clubhouse, everyone is nice. Even when I’m not in the lineup, I know I’m going to have an opportunity to play in the game, seventh, eighth or ninth inning. It’s been great.”
The Phillies acquired Pache from the Athletics in exchange for minor-league pitcher Billy Sullivan the day before the regular season began. Just a year earlier, he was the centerpiece of Oakland’s return from Atlanta in the Matt Olson trade.
“It was a great pickup by our front office,” manager Rob Thomson said. “It really was. He’s a great defender and now he’s starting to swing the bat.”
Pache was a top prospect with the Braves but didn’t hit enough to stick, then struggled in his lone season with the A’s. He arrived in Philadelphia with a .156 career batting average in 332 plate appearances.
He went hitless in his first week as a Phillie but has had a knack for picking up big knocks, big extra-base knocks, ever since. Since April 8, Pache is 14-for-37 (.378) with six doubles, two home runs and seven RBI.
“Pache, he’s been good when he’s had the chance,” said Zack Wheeler, who allowed three runs over six innings. “He was the top prospect at one point and he was that for a reason. Maybe he just didn’t click with certain teams or whatever, but he’s still got it in him. I always believe that for any kind of big prospect, I feel like they’ve always got it in them, it’s just a matter of everything clicking with the right team or right situation. He’s fitting in really well here, having a lot of fun. Taking advantage of the moments and times that he has gotten in there.”
Another former top prospect, Jeff Hoffman, enabled the win with two scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth before Craig Kimbrel closed out his 14th save. Hoffman was the ninth overall pick in the 2014 draft by the Blue Jays. He was traded a year later to the Rockies, then was dealt five seasons later to the Reds. After two years in Cincinnati, he signed with the Twins in February, was released in March and landed with the Phillies three days later.
In 19 appearances, Hoffman has a 2.53 ERA. He and Wheeler were pumped back in the clubhouse after Pache went deep.
“Me and Hoff were in here. It happened, we ran to each other, slapped hands, hugged,” Wheeler said. “I think it’s been three in a row now where I spit the hook. So, credit to these guys battling it out. With the lineup that we have, we just can’t stop trying. Credit to those guys for keeping at it.”
The Phillies’ bullpen is on fire with 25⅓ consecutive scoreless innings. It’s been the most consistent aspect of their team since opening day. Kimbrel, Jose Alvarado, Gregory Soto, Seranthony Dominguez when he’s healthy, the versatile Matt Strahm, an emerging Yunior Marte, Hoffman, Andrew Vasquez with a 1.70 ERA — the Phils are deep in quality relievers.
“I haven’t been in (a bullpen) like this,” Hoffman said. “We have some serious thunder down there. Up and down our bullpen, pick your poison. It’s really fun to be a part of something like that and I’m looking forward to finishing off this first half strong.”
The win was the Phillies’ 13th in a row on the road, matching their franchise record. They are 23-7 since June 3 and 48-39 overall, on pace for between 89 and 90 wins. They trail the Marlins by 1½ games for the top wild-card spot. No more than three games will separate the Marlins, Dodgers, Phillies, Giants and Brewers going into Saturday’s action.
The Phils can move ahead of Miami with a sweep. It’s tough to put anything past them right now. They’re 21-20 against teams currently in playoff position, and as Trea Turner said Thursday night, they feel like they can hang with anyone.
“It’s a good vibe,” Wheeler said. “Just riding it. Riding it as long as we can into the break and hopefully, we can continue that afterward.”
Ranger Suarez and Aaron Nola will start the final two games before the All-Star break, opposite a pair of lefties in Braxton Garrett and Jesus Luzardo.