June 7, 2023

Amid playoff-clinching win, Phils drop two of three in Houston to end regular season


Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer

The magic number is zero.

Over the past 11 seasons, the Phillies have had plenty of series losses, but this one was the best of them all. Despite losing the final two games of the series with just seven combined hits in the two games, the Phillies had a huge 3-0 win in game one to clinch a Wild Card spot for the 2022 postseason.

The long ball sparked the Phillies’ offense in the playoff-clinching victory, but the Phils’ bats struggled in the last two games.

They were nothing short of a disappointment.

Now, the Phillies must flush these two losses and prepare for their first playoff matchup in more than a decade.

The Phillies’ 31 strikeouts between the two contests outweighed the seven hits the Phillies compiled, and the Astros took a no-hitter started by Justin Verlander into the ninth inning.

But in hindsight, it was all the gutsy wins at the beginning of the season that mattered most, as the Phillies topped the Brewers in the National League Wild Card by just one game. The Phillies ended with an 87-75 record, the most wins for a Phillies team since—you guessed it—2011.

Game summaries

Game one was a simple 3-0 win, but for the Phillies, it was way more than that. Clinching their first playoff berth since 2011, the Phillies were popping champagne bottles in the Astros’ away clubhouse following their historic victory.

Aaron Nola threw 6.2 perfect innings and was followed by Jose Alvarado and Zach Eflin. Alvarado finished the seventh and pitched a scoreless eighth inning, and Eflin shut down the Astros in the ninth to secure the win.

On the offensive side, Kyle Schwarber hit the first pitch of the night over the wall in left field to give the Phillies an early lead. In the eighth, he hit his second home run of the night—the back half of back-to-back home runs with Bryson Stott—to extend the Phillies’ lead to three.

Eflin’s quick inning was followed by emotional postgame interviews conducted by Pat and Tom McCarthy, a team photo on the field, and a clubhouse celebration with speeches and champagne.

“We’re going to enjoy this. We’re going to have fun. There’s nothing like popping bottles in October, and I’m excited to be a part of this,” Bryce Harper said after the game.

Following a long night on Monday, Rob Thomson opted to rest J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, and Jean Segura in their second-to-last game of the regular season.

And as you might expect after a celebration with copious adult beverages, the Phillies lost miserably—10-0.

Ranger Suarez got the start for the Phillies, but he was limited to just 67 pitches. And it’s a good thing he was.

Suarez allowed six runs in three innings, and his strike-to-ball ratio floated around one to one for most of his start. His fastball location was all over the place, and he left a few too many belt-high pitches on the inside part of the plate. Chris Devenski, Connor Brogdon, David Robertson, and Seranthony Dominguez struggled to back Suarez, and the offense could not get anything going against AL Cy-Young favorite Justin Verlander.

The Astros’ bullpen carried a no-no into the ninth, but Will Smith allowed a line-drive single to former-Astro Garrett Stubbs with three outs to go.

Some backward baseball was played in game 162! Bailey Falter started the game with a scoreless inning, and Michael Plassmeyer threw the next six innings. Falter is expected to serve as a relief pitcher in the Wild Card series, explaining his early exit. Plassmeyer allowed three runs in his six innings and was followed by Nick Nelson.

In the eighth, Brandon Marsh hit an RBI double to score the first Phillies run since the eighth inning on Monday, and Rhys Hoskins’ sacrifice fly lowered the deficit to one.

Unfortunately, the offense woke up too late in game three, so the Phillies dropped the finale in Houston, 3-2.

A historic victory

Phillies fans waited eleven years to remember the feeling of playoff baseball. On October 3, that feeling returned. The Phillies clinched their first postseason birth since 2011, and they did it in memorable fashion. Aaron Nola carried a perfect game into the seventh inning, and Zach Eflin—the second-longest tenured Phillie behind Nola—recorded his first-career save to seal the win.

“I know we’ve got a lot of work to do… but it feels tremendous to snap an eleven-year streak… It’s really a big moment,” Phillies’ general manager Sam Fuld said in an interview one day after his team’s historic win.

And a big moment it is. It had been 4,015 days since the Phillies had played a postseason game on Tuesday when Fuld was interviewed. Today, day 4,016, we are still two days away until the Phillies play the first Wild Card game in St. Louis on Friday.

“The players that we’ve got have done an unbelievable job overcoming lots of injuries, lots of obstacles… We’ve got more to go,” Phillies’ interim manager Rob Thomson told NBC Sports Philadelphia broadcaster Tom McCarthy during the team’s clubhouse celebration.

It has been a rough decade for the Phillies, who have gone through many managers, pitching coaches, and front offices. These last few years, all of which have ended in disappointment, have been especially tough for the players that have been with the Phillies through the rebuilding years.

“It’s sweet,” Aaron Nola, one of the many Phillies who fit in that category of familiar faces, said to Tom McCarthy. “I came up with these guys, and [we have] been through some hard years… Every year we’re getting better.”

But now, after being in a playoff spot and collapsing multiple times over the past four years, we know game 163 is a guarantee. And the Phillies players, coaches, and staff could not be more excited.

Stott, Schwarber heating up at right time

Is October the new June? Kyle Schwarber seems to think so.

Kyle Schwarber’s regular season came to a close in the bottom of the third inning on Wednesday, as he was pulled from the game for Brandon Marsh in the bottom of the fourth. Schwarber’s first season as a Phillie ended with an NL-leading 46 home runs and a solid .827 OPS.

In his last five games, Schwarber has eight hits, four of which are home runs, in 22 at-bats. He boasts a .944 OPS in his past 30 games and is known to have success in the postseason, hopefully indicating more success as October continues.

Schwarber has a .878 OPS and 57 total bases in 128 career plate appearances in the postseason, and he hit three home runs during the Red Sox’ playoff run in 2021.

Bryson Stott, who also ended the season on a high note, has nine hits in his last 21 at-bats. Stott’s rookie campaign ended with 10 home runs and a .653 OPS, but his .276 post-all-star-break-average reassured many Phillies fans that they have a lockdown middle infielder for years to come.

The Phillies and Cardinals will face off for a three-game Wild Card series beginning on Friday. The series will take place in St. Louis, and the first game of the series will be broadcasted nationally on ABC.

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