PHILADELPHIA — Maybe the Phillies finally found somebody to put an end to their ninth-inning meltdowns.
He deserves a second look after he pitched an effortless, drama-free ninth inning Saturday night in the Phillies’ 4-2 victory over the Padres at Citizens Bank Park. It put the Phillies in position to sweep a series against one of the best and hottest teams in baseball.
“Just like any other night,” Suárez said through the team’s interpreter. “I just went out there, got on the mound, and I knew that I had to just take care of what I usually do, which is take care of my command and throw the ball in the strike zone.”
It was the first save of Suárez’s career. It looked like his 200th.
“He’s got such a slow heartbeat,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “I’ve brought him in some pretty tough situations this year with runners on, and he’s done a really good job. But Ranger is not a guy that’s going to reach for extra. That’s the thing. He’s going to just make pitches, and that’s what he did again tonight.”
Suárez chuckled when told about Girardi’s “slow heartbeat” comment.
“It’s not really that I have a slow heartbeat,” he said. “It’s that I honestly trust in myself. I have plenty of confidence in all my pitches, my talent and what I can do to help this team.”
Suárez is 4-2 with a 0.85 ERA in 19 appearances this season. He typically pitches multiple innings because he is a former starter. Those types of relievers are valuable. But the Phillies cannot be picky about their bullpen roles right now. They need a closer. They have 22 blown saves in 80 games, already just three shy of the franchise-record 25 set in 2004.
Not all of them have come in the ninth inning, of course. But many have.
The Phillies opened the season with Héctor Neris at closer. He lost his job last week to José Alvarado, who retired only one of the four batters he faced Friday when handed a three-run lead in the ninth inning.
Girardi said Alvarado was available to pitch Saturday, but he chose Suárez when the ninth inning came and the Phillies needed to face Fernando Tatis Jr., Jake Cronenworth and Manny Machado.
“Tatis is a guy that you have to be able to make pitches in locations, or he’s going to kill you,” Girardi said. “You’ve got Cronenworth, who’s left-handed. You’ve got Machado, who’s another guy you’ve got to make pitches to. I just thought it fit best to bring Ranger in.”
Suárez threw 13 pitches. Nine were strikes.
He got Tatis to fly out to center on a 2-2 changeup. He struck out Cronenworth looking on a 0-2 sinker. He got Machado to pop out in foul territory on a 2-2 changeup to end the game.
“That’s what Ranger does, man,” Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin said. “He comes into the game, and he doesn’t give a crap who’s up or what team he’s facing. He just goes right after guys. He pitches inside, and he has three plus-pitches that he can throw in any count. Ranger is one of those guys that you love watching pitch because it’s natural, it’s passionate and he gets the job done.”
Added Bryce Harper: “Every time Ranger goes out there, I think we have all the faith that he’s going to get the job done and get the inning over as quickly as possible.”
Harper and Rhys Hoskins each hit solo homers against right-hander Yu Darvish in the second inning to tie the game. The Phillies scored two more runs against Darvish in the sixth. The Phillies have wondered for a long time what life might be like with a healthy lineup. They played with that lineup this weekend. They are 2-0.
But the Phillies need more than a healthy lineup. They need their version of 2008 Brad Lidge, too.
It is why Girardi was asked if Suárez, the former starter turned long man turned multi-inning bullpen weapon, could somehow move forward as the Phillies’ next closer?
“Of course,” Girardi said. “I’ve considered everything. And Ranger sometimes is hard because we like him in all the different roles that he can do. But we will continue to discuss this. I like what I saw.”
Said Suárez: “I would be down for that role. But ultimately for me, it’s helping the team win in any situation. It doesn’t really matter what inning it is.”