Phillies Moved to Within One Win of a Trip to NLCS

The Phillies moved to within one win of a trip to the National League Championship Series by winning their first home playoff game since 2011. Aaron Nola was outstanding, and the bats exploded for a 9-1 win over the defending world champion Atlanta Braves before 45,538 boisterous fans at Citizens Bank Park. The Phils take a two-games-to-one lead in the National League Division Series. Hoskins had the big blow – a three-run home run – that was part of a six-run third inning. Nola pitched into the seventh inning, allowing just one run (which was unearned) on five hits and two walks while striking out six batters.

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“I don’t think you can say enough,” “His stuff, his makeup, his toughness, his resiliency, just he’s done it all. I thought his stuff was really good tonight. I thought that his curveball, especially, was as good as I’ve seen it this year. He’s just pitched extremely well for us.”

“The hitters, what they did tonight,” said Nola, who, in three October starts encompassing 19 and a third innings, hasn’t allowed an earned run. “It’s a fun night, and it’s a great team win right there.”

Phillies manager Rob Thomson about Nola.

In the Begining

Ronald Acuna Jr. led off the first playoff game at Citizens Bank Park in 4,025 days by hitting Nola’s first pitch into left field for a single as the ball avoided the gloves of Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott. With one out, Nola walked Matt Olson after an eight-pitch at-bat. It would turn out to be half the number of pitches Nola would throw in the inning despite allowing two base runners as he would retire the next two hitters.

“Those guys are good at putting pressure upon pressure,” said Nola when asked about the first inning. “I was just trying to make good pitches right there, to let them keep the ball in the infield. [It] worked out well, got out of the inning.”

In the second inning, Nola was one pitch away from being immaculate. He struck out the three Braves hitters he faced on 10 pitches – only a first-pitch ball to the second hitter, Marcell Ozuna – prevented Nola from having an immaculate inning (three strikeouts on nine pitches). Had he done it, Nola would have been just the second known to have thrown one in MLB postseason history. Danny Jackson, a former Phillie, had one in game 5 of the 1985 World Series when he pitched for the Kansas City Royals.

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The Third Inning Barriage

For two innings, Braves starter Spencer Strider was nearly unhittable. He struck out three Phillies and got the others out on weak contact. That all changed in the third inning, Strider – who was pitching for the first time since September 18th when he went six innings and struck out 10 against the Phillies (he was out with a strained left oblique muscle for the rest of the regular season) – walked Brandon Marsh on four pitches.

Next, Jean Segura struck out after working the count full. Strider had Stott down one ball and two strikes when he bounced a throw to first, trying to pick off Marsh, the ball got past Matt Olson, and Marsh raced to third. Stott proceeded to spoil three pitches in a row before doubling to right. Despite Kyle Schwarber being o-for-the-postseason, the Braves intentionally walked the Phillies slugger (it was the right call – to set up the double play). Instead of getting out of the inning with a groundball, the Braves found themselves trailing 4-0 because Hoskins blasted Strider’s first pitch to left field, where Eddie Rosario didn’t bother even to turn around as it sailed into the seats.

Hoskins spiked the bat as he’d just crossed the goal line at Lincoln Financial Field.

“I didn’t know what I did until a couple of innings later,” he said. “Really, it’s just something that came out, just raw. But God, it was fun.”

A single by J.T. Realmuto ended the day for Strider, and Bryce Harper greeted relief pitcher Dylan Lee by crushing his first offering to the seats in right field.

Thomson, Hoskins, and Harper all felt that Stott’s eight-pitch at-bat on the heels of Segura, who saw eight pitches as well, was the key to the inning. The Phillies moved to within one win of a trip to the NLCS.

Harper’s Thoughts

“I think the at-bat that really got us going was Stotts’,” said the manager. “How he was grinding and grinding, fouling pitches off.”

“Huge,” said the Phillies’ first baseman.

“We’ve tried to have the best at-bats against him, knowing he might be on the pitch count, knowing he might not go as far as they might want him to or he might want to,” said Harper. “So being able to have that at-bat by Stott, that kind of erupted a little bit, and then Rhys comes up, hits the three-run shot, and it just snowballed from there.”

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The Braves would get to Nola in the sixth. Dansby Swanson led off with a double, then Olson walked. With one out, Travis d’Arnaud hit a ground ball to Stott, but Hoskins dropped Segura’s relay throw. The Phillies should have been out of the inning but instead, the next batter, Michael Harris II, made it 6-1 with a single to right.

Phillies Moved Within One Win

Schwarber got his first hit of the postseason in the seventh, and the single to right started a three-run inning. Hoskins followed with a walk, but he was forced by Realmuto. Harper doubled, which scored pinch runner Matt Vierling and put runners on second and third for Nick Castellanos, who knocked them home with a flare to right.

It put the jubilant crowd over the top.

“I mean, the crowd tonight was incredible,” said Harper. “Absolutely insane. Electric. Nothing that I could have ever dreamed about. It was chills again because that was unbelievably cool. I hope it’s like that for the next two weeks. I can’t stop thinking about it, gushing about it because that was amazing.”

The bullpen combined for nine outs and only allowed one hit. The Phillies can clinch their first NLCS appearance since 2011 on Saturday, with Noah Syndergaard getting the start. The Phillies moved to within one win of a trip to the NLCS.

Rock Hoffman
Rock Hoffman

Rock Hoffman has been covering sports in the Philadelphia region for over 30 years. He’s been the co-host of a radio show – SportsPage – on the Delaware Valley Radio Network (WRDV.org) in the time. He’s reported on games involving all the Philadelphia teams at the profession and collegiate levels. During his career he’s provided coverage for a Super Bowl, an All-Star Game, NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament games as well NFL, MLB and NHL playoff games. Additionally, he’s the College Football Editor for Football Stories Magazine (FootballStories.com).

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