PHILADELPHIA (AP) — As the losses mounted and the Phillies tumbled far out of first place, it was clear many players were pressing.
Philadelphia manager Gabe Kapler noticed something different about Jorge Alfaro on Tuesday, though, long before the rookie catcher delivered the biggest blow of the night.
Alfaro hit a go-ahead, three-run homer in the sixth inning and the Phillies rallied past the New York Mets 5-2 to improve their faint playoff hopes.
"It was quite evident from the very beginning that he was standing a little looser in the batter's box and swinging with a little less, I guess, ferociousness," Kapler said of Alfaro, who finished 2 for 3. "And the bat was whistling through the zone."
Philadelphia overcame an uneven outing from ace Aaron Nola and a home run by starter Steven Matz that made him the third Mets pitcher to go deep in consecutive appearances.
The Phillies' third win in 10 games moved them within 5½ games of NL East-leading Atlanta, which lost 8-1 at St. Louis. And the Phillies insist they still have a shot with 12 games left.
"We have a chance for sure," Nola said. "We have seven games (coming up) against the Braves."
Wilson Ramos and Justin Bour delivered pinch-hit RBI hits in a five-run sixth before Alfaro drilled a curveball from Drew Smith (1-1) to left-center for his 10th homer.
And with that, Matz's eventful performance was wasted by the Mets.
The left-hander had zero homers in his first 70 major league games before connecting last Thursday against Miami. He entered Tuesday hitting .093 (4 for 43) this season and .140 in his career, but lifted a curveball to left against Nola in the third that just cleared the wall and withstood a video review to put New York ahead 1-0.
What's gotten into Matz?
"I don't really know," he said, smiling. "I have no explanation for you."
The other Mets pitchers to homer in back-to-back outings were Hall of Famer Tom Seaver (1972) and Ron Darling (1989).
Matz worked around five walks and gave up two hits in five scoreless innings. He also snagged a line drive behind his legs to start a double play, before the bullpen faltered and the Mets' bats went silent.
"He's a great athlete. Strong kid and he kind of put it on display tonight," manager Mickey Callaway said. "He's just a good baseball player."
Pat Neshek (3-1) relieved Nola and got the final out of the sixth. Seranthony Dominguez, Tommy Hunter and Hector Neris each pitched a scoreless inning as the Phillies improved to 7-11 against the Mets this season.
Neris earned his 11th save.
Nola allowed two runs and six hits with nine strikeouts and two walks in 5 2/3 innings as his ERA climbed to 2.44. He's given up eight home runs in September after allowing seven over the first five months of the season.
Connecting against Nola, one of Mets ace Jacob deGrom's competitors for the NL Cy Young Award, was not lost on Matz.
"I told him, that was for you, friend," Matz said.
Mets: Jay Bruce started in right field, the fourth straight game he has not played first base. But Callaway said Bruce's troublesome back is fine and he'll return to first soon.
Phillies: Alfaro stayed in after Jacob Rhame drilled him on the arm with a fastball in the eighth, his first plate appearance after his home run. Alfaro was receiving treatment after the game and was unavailable to speak with reporters. . Ex-Mets INF Asdrubal Cabrera, who exited Monday's game early with a left calf strain, and 3B Maikel Franco (right shoulder) were out. Kapler put Scott Kingery at shortstop and J.P. Crawford at third.
The Mets were still mulling whether to shut down RHP Zack Wheeler, who has pitched nearly 100 more innings than last season. "The main things we want is him going into the offseason feeling good about the season and being totally healthy," Callaway said.
LHP Aaron Loup was activated off the disabled list, giving Philadelphia the September limit of 40 players. Kapler used 18 in the game.
Mets RHP Noah Syndergaard swiped the Phillie Phanatic's four-wheeler before the game and drove around the outfield as the mascot chased him on foot. . After dealing with real rats in the dugout in Boston last weekend, a long-tailed plastic rat was spotted in the Mets clubhouse before the game.
Syndergarrd (12-3, 3.26 ERA), who has won three straight starts and four consecutive decisions, goes for the Mets in the season series finale Wednesday night against RHP Zach Eflin (10-7, 4.26).