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Evan Phillips and the hidden perfect game

Dodgers RHP has retired his last 29 batters faced

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Given that Evan Phillips pitched both Monday and Tuesday, it’s unlikely he will pitch for the Dodgers on Wednesday, given that they tend not to use their relievers three days in a row, something they’ve only done four times in 2022.

So it’s probably safe to put a bow on a ridiculously productive month of August for the right-hander, who has been the Dodgers’ best relief pitcher this season.

Phillips walked Juan Soto and allowed a single to Manny Machado to start the eighth inning on August 6 at Dodger Stadium, a last-gasp threat with Los Angeles leading by four runs. But Phillips, as he has all year, extinguished the flame with relative ease — Josh Bell popped out foul to third base, Brandon Drury flew out to left, and Jake Cronenworth struck out.

That was the last time anyone reached base against Phillips.

He’s retired 29 batters in a row, including three more in the eighth inning on Tuesday against the Mets in New York. When Tyler Naquin grounded out to second base on Tuesday, that gave Phillips 27 batters in a row, and the first hidden perfect game by a Dodgers pitcher since Kenley Jansen in 2013.

It’s obviously not the same as an actual perfect game, which MLB hasn’t seen since Felix Hernández in 2012, but 29 batters in a row is still an incredible run.

Eric Gagne in his heyday got to 19 batters in a row in 2003. Clayton Kershaw, as you might expect, had several long runs of outs. The best, as far as I could find, was 23 in a row earlier this season, after his perfect seven innings in Minnesota followed by the first two batters at home five days later. He also retired his first 21 batters faced on July 15 in Anaheim.

Kershaw also got to 19 batters in a row at least twice — the last batter of the start before his no-hitter in 2014, then the first 18 batters of the no-no; and again in 2015, when he retired the last 18 in a division clincher in San Francisco followed by the first batter of his next start out.

Retiring 27 batters in a row is very, very hard.

Getting to 29 in a row is even harder. Sandy Koufax surrounded his perfect game in 1965 by retiring his final batter the start before and his first batter in the start after. I do not know if any other Dodgers pitcher has retired more than 29 in a row before or since.

It also requires a little luck, or if you prefer, help from teammates. Like on August 19, when Phillips recorded a save against the Marlins, protecting a one-run lead. That lead nearly evaporated when Nick Fortes almost tied things up to start the inning, with a 394-foot drive to center. That ball had a .789 expected batting average, but Trayce Thompson made the actual BA zero with a tremendous leaping catch.

Rowdy Tellez on August 23 drove a ball that died at the center field wall, his .671 expected batting average instead falling harmlessly into Cody Bellinger’s glove.

But otherwise, it’s been pretty much smooth sailing for Phillips, who the Dodgers claimed off waivers from the Rays on August 16, 2021, after Phillips pitched sparingly in parts of four seasons with Atlanta, the Orioles, and Tampa Bay. Here are is numbers before and since joining the Dodgers.

Evan Phillips

Teams Years IP ERA FIP WHIP HR BB rate K rate
Teams Years IP ERA FIP WHIP HR BB rate K rate
Atl, Bal, TB 2018-21 57 7.26 5.38 1.789 9 14.3% 25.0%
Dodgers 2021-22 62 1.60 2.36 0.790 2 7.2% 28.5%
through August 30, 2022

Phillips this season ranks fourth in the majors in ERA (1.22) among pitchers with at least 50 innings, is 11th in FIP (2.20), and 12th in xERA (2.29). He’s among the best at limiting hard contact, among the top eight percent of MLB in lowest exit velocity and hard-hit rate.

Opposing batters are hitting .139/.201/.197. In August, they are hitting .056/.081/.056.

On the season, Phillips has inherited 18 runners, and stranded 15 of them. All three inherited runners that scored on his watch came on May 13 against the Phillies. Since then, all 13 runners on base when Phillips entered a game didn’t score.

Even before the long streak of outs, Phillips’ August began with more of his high-leverage excellence. With a one-run lead in the sixth inning in San Francisco on August 2, Phillips entered with runners on first and second, and immediately allowed a bunt single to Joey Bart. But thanks to two strikeouts and a foul popout, Phillips escaped the jam without incident.

The next day, up three runs in the seventh, Phillips was in another bases-loaded, nobody-out predicament, none of this of his own doing. But he again got out of it, thanks to a strikeout and double play.

Phillips’ next game was August 6 against the Padres, which started his streak of batters retired. Since then, he’s only pitched with someone on base in one game, mostly entering at the start of an inning. But on Friday in Miami, down a run, Phillips came in with runners on second and third with one out. A strikeout and a groundout kept them there, in a game the Dodgers would win in extra innings.

During August, Phillips has the highest leverage index among Dodgers relievers when entering a game (excluding Jake Reed’s save on Tuesday, his only major league outing this month), so he’s been pitching with high stakes.

That’s the recipe for a fantastic season, an incredible month (0.00 ERA in 11⅔ innings), and a streak of outs that is still going, 29 and counting.