March 23, 2023

In special moment for veteran second baseman, Phils take early advantage in Wild Card series

Jeff Curry/USA TODAY

Considering how this season has gone for the Phillies, it was inevitable that the they win their first postseason game since 2011 in nothing but pure madness. It was sloppy, slow, and very up-and-down, but the Phillies are one win closer to their ultimate goal—winning a World Series.

“I’ve been waiting so many years for the opportunity… It was such a great game,” Jean Segura said while reflecting on his big hit in game one of the National League Wild Card series. “[It’s] just like when you give a kid a toy and they’re jumping around.”

I’m sure he wasn’t the only one who jumped in excitement as he poked a go-ahead single into left field during the eighth inning on Friday.

Segura hit seventh and played second base in the first postseason game of his long, 11-year major-league career. It was an emotional day for Segura, who has wanted to play in October since he debuted in 2012.

“That’s why you become a big-leaguer,” Segura told the media.

Zack Wheeler was given the ball to make his first career start in the playoffs, and he looked like nothing less than a seasoned veteran on the mound. Wheeler dazzled for 6.1 scoreless innings, keeping a then-lifeless Phillies offense in the game.

“It felt good. I didn’t really know I was that far into my pitch count… [My] command wasn’t the best, but everything else was spinning pretty well, and [I] filled up the zone,” Zack Wheeler said in the clubhouse after his start.

Cardinals’ game-one starter Jose Quintana also found success, as he threw 5.1 scoreless innings in his first playoff start as a Cardinal.

While the Phillies’ offense was underwhelming, Quintana’s been one of the best starters in baseball since being traded from Pittsburgh to St. Louis. His 2.01 ERA in 62.2 innings in a Cardinals uniform earned him the game-one start, and he did not disappoint.

The 33-year-old left-hander had been dealing all afternoon, but Cardinals’ manager Oliver Marmol had other plans. With the Phillies coming up for the third time, Marmol brought in Jordan Hicks—who is fresh off the injured list as of Wednesday—with one out in the sixth.

This time, Marmol’s bullpen management worked.

Wheeler, just a short while after Quintana’s departure, was pulled in the seventh inning after forcing MVP candidate Nolan Arenado to fly out to centerfield. He gave way to hard-throwing lefty Jose Alvarado, and it didn’t take long after Wheeler’s exit for the Cardinals to grab a lead.

After walking Dylan Carlson with two outs, Juan Yepez blasted a two-run, pinch-hit home run down the left-field line. This was the first time a Cardinal hit a go-ahead pinch-hit home run in the playoffs, and at that point in the game, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It was a good pitch to hit, and I was able to hit it out of the ballpark. [It] was exciting,” Yepez said in the Cards’ clubhouse.

With all the momentum shifted towards the Cardinals, St. Louis’s bullpen continued mowing down the Phillies’ lineup.

In the ninth, Cardinals’ reliever, Ryan Helsley hit Alec Bohm with the bases loaded, lowering the deficit to one.

From there, the rally was underway.

“I thought we played well. We just didn’t hit early… These guys are so resilient,” Phillies’ interim manager Rob Thomson said when addressing the media postgame. “They just hung in there, ‘Wheels’ did a great job… We just kept fighting.”

Helsley struggled to command his fastball in his second inning of work and was pulled from the game after the hit-by-pitch. It was eventually confirmed that he lost feeling in the finger that he jammed early in the week.

Andre Pallante took over with one away, and that’s where everything went awry for the Redbirds. Jean Segura hit a weak groundball past the outstretched Tommy Edman, and defensive miscues in the Cardinals’ infield let the Phillies continue tacking on runs.

“I was thinking double play, so I wanted to go get it, but it was probably the wrong play… I probably tried to do a little too much there,” perennial Gold Glover Nolan Arenado said when asked about the ball that snuck under his glove in the ninth inning.

Luckily, the Phillies used his mistake to their advantage.

The Phillies added one more off Pallante with a sacrifice fly, topping one of the best innings in Philadelphia Phillies history.

As you might imagine, the Phillies’ six-run ninth inning had lots of feats and firsts:

  • The Phillies are the first team in postseason history to score at least six runs in the ninth inning and later when entering the inning without a run.
  • The Phillies are just the second team in postseason history to score six runs in the ninth inning.
  • Today marked the first time in Cardinals history that they blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning during the playoffs.

The bottom of the Cardinals’ lineup strung a few hits together against Zach Eflin, but he struck out veteran catcher Yadier Molina to end the ballgame. The 6-3 Phillies victory puts the Cardinals in a win-or-go-home situation for tomorrow’s game two.

“It was good to get that first one out of the way, good to get those nerves out of the way,” Wheeler said. “We fought, and I feel like we’ve been doing that all year. It’s a great group of guys. I couldn’t be happier right now.”

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