When the Philadelphia Phillies inked Aaron Harang to a one-year, $5 million deal over the winter, it hardly registered as a blip on the offseason radar.
However, in his first start Harang displayed why the Phillies showed interest in his services.
Harang pitched into the seventh inning, allowed just two hits, walked one and struck out eight as the Phillies held on to beat the Boston Red Sox, 4-2, for their first win of the season on a miserable night Wednesday at Citizens Bank Ballpark.
Jeff Francoeur, whose offseason signing – to a minor-league deal – was even less heralded than Harang’s, delivered the difference-making blow with a three-run homer in the sixth inning.
Still, this night belonged to Harang, who is pitching for his eighth different team in his 14th year in the league. Signed as someone who can eat innings after going 12-12 with a 3.57 ERA in 204 1/3 innings last year with the Braves, Harang was elevated from probable No. 3 starter to No. 2 after Cliff Lee went on the 60-day disabled list.
And he hardly disappointed in his debut. Harang helped ease the pain of Monday’s ugly 8-0 loss on opening day an excellent outing.
So did Francoeur, who is fortunate to just be on a major league roster. Limited to 10 games last year with the Padres and only 81 with the Royals and Giants in 2013 due to injuries, he was unsure whether or not he’d even make the roster as of Sunday’s deadline.
Yet, he too displayed why the Phillies showed interest in his services.
Hitting in the seven-hole, Francoeur launched Rick Porcello’s high fastball into the seats in left to give the Phils a 3-0 lead and ended a 15-inning scoreless streak. It was also his first homer since June 16, 2013.
Then, the game got interesting.
The Red Sox threatened in the top of the seventh. Harang, who had given up just one hit through the first six innings, issued a lead-off walk to Dustin Pedroia and Pedro Sandoval followed with a single.
Up came Hanley Ramirez, who entered the game 10-for-31 with five homers lifetime against Harang. However, Harang got Ramirez to fly out to center.
After throwing 105 pitches, including 70 for strikes, Harang’s night was finished and Sandberg handed the game over to the bullpen.
Jeanmar Gomez worked out of the jam – with a little help from Pedroia. With two aboard and a 3-2 count, Gomez got Frank Mike Napoli to line out to short – after he fouled off two straight pitches – and Pedroia was caught off second base for a double play and the end of the inning.
The Phils padded their lead in the bottom of the seventh as Ben Revere reached on an infield throwing error and went all the way to third. Chase Utley knocked him in with a sacrifice fly to right.
The top of the eighth got off to an ominous start and was another high-wire affair.
An error by Darin Ruf, who had ironically moved from left field to first base for defensive purposes, and a walk by flame-throwing set-up man Ken Giles put two on with no one out. Xander Bogaerts made the Phils pay with an RBI single.
David Ortiz pinch-hit for the pitcher and struck out on a pair of nasty sliders for the first out. However, Giles walked the next two batters, including Sandoval with the bases loaded, to plate another run.
Giles, who left spring training with a tight back, looked healthy. His issue wasn’t his back but his control. Although he hit 96 mph on the gun, Giles struggled locating pitches and walked three batters.
Sandberg turned to Jonathan Papelbon to get the final four outs. He escaped anymore damage in the eighth by getting Ramirez to fly out to the track and took care of business in the ninth to secure the Phillies’ first win of the year.
NOTES: Papelbon did not have a four-out save all last season. … The Phillies announced before the game that reliever Mario Hollands is done for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. … Odubel Herrera was held out of the starting lineup because of fouling a ball of his foot on Monday but was a defensive replacement in center in the eighth inning. … The Phillies’ David Buchanan will face Justin Masterson on Thursday in the rubber-match of the series.