SAN DIEGO — Maybe winning the National League East isn’t the only way for the Phillies to reach the playoffs.
After coming into the series opener against the Padres on Friday night four games back of the Braves for the division lead, the Phillies held their ground in the standings while also making up ground in the race for the second NL Wild Card spot.
With help from NL MVP candidate Bryce Harper’s loud two-run homer and some key holds from the bullpen, Philadelphia finds itself four games back of San Diego and Cincinnati for that second Wild Card spot, courtesy a 4-3 win at Petco Park.
Although the Phillies have an alternate path to the postseason, their focus remains on the division title.
“Obviously, we’re chasing the Braves and we haven’t played well the last week, so for us, it’s really important,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said of the victory Friday. “We’re focused on our division. I think that’s what you focus on right now, and the Braves continue to win and we got to match them. … We’ve lost three series in a row. You get the first game tonight, it’s really important.”
After J.T. Realmuto doubled home Jean Segura in the third inning for the game’s first run, Harper launched his 23rd home run of the season, 430 feet into the right-field seats. Harper’s two-run homer was just the second a left-handed batter has hit off of Padres lefty Blake Snell this season.
The Phillies also received an insurance run from Andrew McCutchen in the eighth inning, when his double brought home Segura, who drew his third walk of the night.
“You need your stars to play like stars, and that’s exactly what they did tonight,” Girardi said.
Following Moore’s exit, Neris threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Neris’ key moment came in the sixth inning, when he induced an inning-ending groundout against Tommy Pham to leave the bases loaded and preserve a one-run lead.
Behind Neris, Bradley pitched another 1 2/3 innings and struck out four but struggled with his command in the eighth inning, as he loaded up the bases with two outs and walked two batters before being replaced by Kennedy.
Kennedy, acquired on July 30 in a trade with the Rangers, hit Fernando Tatis Jr. in the head with a fastball to force in a run, but the closer followed that by striking out Manny Machado swinging on a 94 mph fastball to limit the damage to one run.
“You know, you can bring him into some easier situations, I guess,” Girardi said. “But that’s about as tough as it gets. And [Kennedy] did a great job, too. All these guys [did] because they had baserunners [on] and they had to make some pitches at some important times to keep them from scoring, and that’s exactly what they did.”
Kennedy returned for the bottom of the ninth and completed a four-out save, his 20th save of the season.
Kennedy said the win was big in keeping the Phillies in the playoff hunt after they came off a 2-7 stretch. The Padres, meanwhile, have lost eight of nine.
“We all felt it,” Kennedy said. “Both teams are struggling, and we’re all trying to compete for the playoffs and someone’s got to win. It might as well be us.
“It was a big win. All of our bullpen stepped up. [Moore] pitched well, [Héctor] pitched well. … Archie stepped up. We all got big outs at the right time, and, hopefully, we do it for a couple of times this series.”