Zack Wheeler was outstanding as the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Miami Marlins 4-1 in game one of the National League Wild Card Series at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night. Wheeler pitched into the seventh inning while the offense got at least one hit from every player in the starting lineup and was able to scratch across four runs.
The Phillies drew first blood (it’s Red October, that line is practically a requirement) in the third inning when, with two outs, Alec Bohm doubled home Johan Rojas, who battled for a single off Marlins starting pitcher Jesus Luzardo, then advanced on a wild pitch. Rojas showed great instincts on the pitch, which didn’t get very far from Marlins’ catcher Nick Fortez, batter Kyle Schwarber held up the stop sign, but as soon as the ball bounced away from Fortez, Rojos took off for a second and was safe without a throw.
A wild pitch figured in one of the two runs the Phillies got in the fourth after J.T. Realmuto singled and, Nick Castellanos doubled, Bryson Stott singled to center. Realmuto scored easily, but Castellanos was nailed at the plate on a great throw by Jazz Chisholm Jr. Stott went to second on the play and then to third on Luzardo’s second wild pitch in as many innings (he uncorked seven in the regular season to tie for 12th in the National League). Cristian Pache, who was perhaps a bit of a surprise to start in left field over Brandon Marsh, singled up the middle, through a drawn-in infield, to knock in Stott.
Bullpen Closes It Out
After cruising through six innings, Wheeler, who had given up just two hits, both of which went off infielder’s gloves, ran into some trouble in the seventh inning. With one out, Josh Bell doubled to the wall in right, then with two outs, Jake Burger hit a ball to the right side of the infield that Bryce Harper went for but didn’t get. Burger then beat Stott’s throw and Wheeler to first. Bryan De La Cruz hit a ball hard down the third-base line, Bohm dove to field it but couldn’t throw out De La Cruz from his knees, and it was 3-1.
Jose Alvarado relieved Wheeler – who pitched six-and-two-thirds innings, allowed just one run on five hits with eight strikeouts and no walks – and struck out Yuli Gurriel to end the threat. With the crowd of 45,662 chanting his name, Alvarado started the eighth before yielding to Jeff Hoffman, who finished the frame.
In the bottom half, Harper led off with a single and blasted through third base coach Dusty Wathan’s stop sign to score on Castellanos’ double to the left field corner.
Bell, who had three of the Marlins’ seven hits, led the ninth off with a double, but Craig Kimbrel was able to retire the next three batters to finish the Fish.
Excitement in the Locker Room
“Just keeping the crowd in it,” Wheeler said when he was asked if the offense feeds off his pitching, “not letting them get on the board, not letting them get rallies going. If that happens the fans stay alive and help out our hitters. I know they feed off it. Somebody gets on and the crowd is going nuts, I know, I’ve pitched in some crazy atmospheres, it’s hard to concentrate out there a little bit, especially if you haven’t been in the situation. It’s hard to lock it in sometimes and that’s how we start good rallies.”
“He kept fouling off pitches,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said about Rojas’ at-bat in the third inning, “and finally gets a base hit but the other part of it is, he gets a great dirt ball read which puts him in scoring position. Johan, he’s such an electric player and he can impact the game in so many ways. His poise level, since he’s been up here, has just been unbelievable for a young kid that’s never been above double-A.”
“Wow!” exclaimed Schwarber when talking about Wheeler’s outing. “The performance was fantastic. The command was there which is a huge thing. It’s electric stuff, it’s always going to be electric stuff, when he’s able to paint corners, it’s not an easy at-bat, speaking from a guy who faced him and doesn’t like facing Zack. It’s a tough at-bat always. When he’s locating, it’s going to be really tough.”
“No,” Rojas chuckled when asked if he was nervous. Then thorough Phillies translator Diego Ettedgui, he continued, “Not really but it’s funny because it’s the first playoff game in my career. I never played a playoff game in the minor leagues. So, I said to myself, ‘step foot on the field and enjoy, have fun, do what you know how to do.’”
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).