‘It was a real man hitting that ball’ – Pache describes the best moment of his career which originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
MIAMI – Cristian Pache knew he had it right away, even though the moment moved in slow motion for Phillies fans watching at home.
Two out, ninth inning, after a run to the team with the best one-run record in all of baseball, Pache crushed an 0-1 sweeper over the center field wall for a game-winning two-run homer off Marlins closer AJ Puk, a podium that was set by a single by JT Realmuto and a double by Alec Bohm.
Thus, the Phillies turned a game they trailed from the second through eighth innings into a bracing, 4-3 opening victory over a Miami team leading the National League wild card race.
“I knew I hit him well. It was a real man who hit that ball,” a jovial Pache said after the game through interpreter Diego Ettedgui.
Marlins centerfielder Dane Myers drifted back some 20 feet to attempt to rob a home run, but Pache was already celebrating as he approached first base, pointing to a frantic Phillies dugout.
“It’s funny because in Tampa I told the guys if I hit the ball out of the park in Miami, I’d jump and have fun,” said Pache. “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 quickly become a fan favorite. Big hits will. Now his personality is starting to show. Some of his teammates, including Brandon Marsh, for whom Pache pinch-hit in the ninth inning, hysterically listened to him describe his big blast to a group of reporters at the clubhouse.
“One of my favorite moments in my career,” he said. “Everyone was super happy, everyone was screaming and screaming. Everyone has been super supportive of me from day one. It’s really good to be on a team where as soon as you enter the clubhouse everyone is nice. Even if I’m not in the lineup, I know I’ll get a chance to play in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning. It’s been great.”
The Phillies purchased 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 at the center of Oakland’s return from Atlanta in the Matt Olson trade.
“It was a great pick up from our front office,” said manager Rob Thomson. “It really was. He’s a great defender and now he’s starting to swing the bat.”
Pache was a top contender with the Braves, but didn’t hit enough to hold on, then struggled in his lone season with the A’s. He arrived in Philadelphia with a .156 batting average in 332 at bats.
He went hitless in his first week as Phillie, but has since had a knack for taking big punches, big extra-base punches. Since April 8, Pache is 14-for-37 (.378) with six doubles, two home runs and seven RBI’s.
“Pache, he’s been good when he got the chance,” said Zack Wheeler, who allowed three runs in six innings. “He was the best prospect at one point and for good reason. Maybe he just didn’t click with certain teams or whatever, but he still has it in him. I always believe that for any great prospect I always have the feel like they always have it in them, it’s just a matter of clicking everything with the right team or the right situation. He fits in here really well, has a lot of fun. Take advantage of the moments and times he’s been given in that.”
Another former top prospect, Jeff Hoffman, secured 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 to the Rockies a year later and to the Reds five seasons later. 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 into the clubhouse after Pache went deep.
“Me and Hoff were in here. It happened, we ran over, shook hands, hugged,” Wheeler said. “I think it’s been three in a row now where I spit the hook. So, all credit to these guys battling it out. With the lineup we’ve got, we just can’t stop trying. Credits to those guys to go on. “
The Phillies’ bullpen is on fire with 25⅓ consecutive scoreless innings. It’s the most consistent aspect of their team since opening day. Kimbrel, Jose Alvarado, Gregory Soto, Seranthony Dominguez when healthy, the versatile Matt Strahm, a rising 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 that,” Hoffman said. “We’ve got some serious thunder out 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 this first half strong.”
The win was the Phillies’ 13th straight on the road, tying their franchise record. They are 23-7 as of June 3 and 48-39 overall, on pace for between 89 and 90 wins. They are 1½ games behind the Marlins for the top wild card spot. No more than three games separate the Marlins, Dodgers, Phillies, Giants and Brewers in action on Saturday.
The Phils can sweep Miami ahead. It’s hard to let anything pass them by now. They are 21-20 against teams currently in playoff position, and as Trea Turner said Thursday night, they feel like they can handle anyone.
“It’s a good atmosphere,” Wheeler said. “Just ride it. Ride as long as possible in the break and hopefully we can continue that afterwards.”
Ranger Suarez and Aaron Nola enter the final two games before the All-Star break, facing a pair of left-handers in Braxton Garrett and Jesus Luzardo.