Red October is chugging along, and could soon become a Red November.
When the Philadelphia Phillies snuck in as the last wild-card team in the playoffs after beating the Houston Astros behind an Aaron Nola masterclass, nobody gave them a legitimate shot to make a deep playoff run.
Now, just a few weeks later, only four wins separate the Phillies from a National League Pennant and a World Series berth.
The city of Philadelphia was already sky high with the Eagles being undefeated, but now with the raucous and rapid rise of playoff baseball fever, the excitement has reached a fever pitch, and it couldn’t be more glorious.
The Phillies have not been anywhere near relevant for more than a decade, and now after barely squeaking into the playoffs, they reach the NLCS for the first time since 2010.
If you told someone that a few weeks ago after a devastating series sweep at the hands of the Chicago Cubs, they’d call you crazy and go back to watching that week’s Eagles highlights. The journey has been an absolute roller coaster, as the Phillies shocked the entire baseball world.
It all started on a Friday afternoon, with the Phillies beginning a 3 game Wild-Card series against a heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals team with all the storylines of one final magical run with some of their legendary core players. Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, and Adam Wainwright were all in the twilight of their legendary careers and riding a record-setting season from Pujols and an NL Central crown.
The Phillies looked vastly overmatched against the playoff-stalwart Cardinals for the majority of game one. The pitching duel between Zach Wheeler and Jose Quintana was great but, momentum immediately swung the Cardinals’ way after Juan Yepez hit the first pitch, and pinch-hit a two-run bomb to put the Cardinals ahead in the late innings of game one after Zach Wheeler was replaced by Jose Alvarado.
The Phillies down 0-2, looked dead to rights against cardinals pitching, and it looked like the Phillies were not going to be in the playoffs long. Then the Cardinals brought in their flame-throwing all-star closer Ryan Helsley, who was historically lights out. Then, with 1 out, the Phillies managed to load the bases with a single and two walks. The untouchable closer and the St. Louis crowd for the first time had doubts and felt nervous. Then Alec Bohm was clunked with a 100MPH heater to bring the Phillies within one. It felt like the impossible was happening.
Then the cardinals brought in Andrew Pallante to close it down against Jean Segura. With the bases loaded, Jean Segura proceeded to hit a pitch 2 inches off the dirt and 3 feet outside the strike zone past Tommy Edman for the lead. The Phillies proceeded to score six runs in the ninth and stole game one in St. Louis.
The St. Louis Cardinals were 93-0 with a two-run lead in the ninth inning in their storied playoff history. They are now 93-1.
Then in Game 2, the Phillies’ pitching destroyed the Cardinals hitters, with a legendary start from Aaron Nola, and crucial outings from Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado to keep the Cards at bay. The only run the Phillies scored was an absolute tank job by Bryce Harper off Miles Mikolas for his first Phillies playoff homer and a Kyle Schwarber sacrifice fly.
Zach Eflin saved the game in the ninth, and the Phillies celebrated their stunning upset of a Cardinals team that had all the momentum and the home-field advantage.
The Phillies’ key to victory was the clutch hitting and at-bats from Bryce Harper and Jean Segura, and the ridiculously great pitching performances from the starters and bullpen arms. MVP front-runners Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt were rendered completely useless. Alec Bohm not only outplayed Arenado on offense but most shockingly on defense.
After this series win, and subsequent locker room champagne celebration, the Phillies headed to Atlanta to face the reigning champion Braves, hot off a massive comeback to snatch the NL East crown from the Mets. The Phillies were given no chance to win this five-game NLDS series against a team that has looked unbeatable for the entire season. The Phillies were about to make their biggest statement as a franchise in over a decade.
The Phillies began this magical run following the firing of Joe Girardi and subsequent hiring of Rob Thomson. They were in the dumps, and the postseason seemed like a pipe dream. But with Thomson’s loose approach that contrasted to the serious tone of Girardi, the Phillies rallied under their new guy at the helm.
The team rallied together and formed a special bond with outstanding team chemistry that fueled the struggling players into becoming major contributors.
The skipper, nicknamed Topper, was rewarded for his historic run as the interim manager by extending him for two more years and making him the full time manager.
The beloved manager getting extended and fired up the clubhouse. The players were ecstatic to see their guy get his due. It was a well-timed move to bring more energy to the already stoked core of players.
Game 1 in Atlanta featured pitching matchups that heavily favored Atlanta. Max Fried had been a Cy Young candidate all year for the Braves, and Ranger Suarez had been extremely shaky as of late.
The Phillies came out firing on all cylinders against the Braves ace, with multiple two-out rallies that were highlighted off by Nick Castellanos cashing in his chances with three hits and three RBIs when the Phillies needed him most. Segura, Bohm, and Edmundo Sosa also had incredible games at the dish. The shocking offensive outburst chased Fried out in 3 ⅓ innings.
Meanwhile, Ranger Suarez was not making things easy, getting himself into multiple jams early, but somehow working magic to mitigate damage.
By the time both starters were gone, the Phillies were out to a 7-1 lead, but with a long bullpen game staring them down for the remaining 6 ⅔ innings following Ranger’s exit.
The Phillies’ weak bullpen depth was tested, especially without their elite bullpen arm David Robertson out for the series.
A 7-1 fifth-inning lead turned into a 7-3 lead and stayed that way until Zach Eflin came in for the bottom of the ninth. The Braves stormed back and a Matt Olson homer cut the lead to 7-6 with two outs remaining.
The fans got back into it, and Zach Eflin was on the ropes. Then William Contreras lined a ball to notorious horrible defender Nick Castellanos in right field, where he proceeded to make an incredible diving catch to prevent significant damage.
Then Eflin recorded the final out to steal Game 1 in Atlanta, giving Philly a home-field advantage. Nick Castellanos had his best game as a Phillie, almost single-handedly winning the game for the fighting with his three hits and three RBIs, and outstanding defense to save the game.
Game 2 flipped the script. It was a pure pitching duel. Zack Wheeler and Kyle Wright came out and looked untouchable for six innings.
However, the Braves managed a two-out rally against Wheeler in the sixth that was punctuated by a horrible play by Rhys Hoskins to stop a Matt Olson ground ball that gave Atlanta the one run they needed to win the game.
The Phillies’ offense looked uncompetitive and got shut down by Wright and the outstanding Atlanta defense and bullpen. The Phillies had their chance but never made the plays when they needed them. They lost 3-0 with the series now even heading back to Philly for the first playoff baseball game in the city since 2011.
When they got to Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies felt the energy and knew they were not going to Atlanta again and were on a mission to win the series at CBP. As Bryce Harper told Rhys Hoskins in the dugout during game 3, “We’re not losing.”
Bryce was very right.
With Aaron Nola on the mound with the backdrop of a raucous crowd starving for October baseball. He shoved. Nola weathered any doubt about his big game pitched and shut down an elite Braves lineup.
And the run-support was there for Nola in droves.
The Phillies got off a blazing hot start against rookie sensation Spencer Strider, who was coming off an oblique injury. It started with Bryson Stott doubling after an epic at-bat to score Brandon Marsh. The Braves then intentionally walked Kyle Schwarber to bring up the slumping Rhys Hoskins. Rhys Hoskins, one of the longest-tenured Phillies, finally had his moment.
He saw a first-pitch fastball right down the middle and boy did he get a hang of it. Rhys spiked his bat, threw his hands in the air, and floated around the bases. 4-0 Phillies.
JT Realmuto then singled, which chased Strider out of the game. Dylan Lee came in to face Bryce Harper, who blasted the first pitch to right field to put the Phillies up 6-0. Ballpark bedlam in Philly.
The crowd was all the way in on it and made life as uncomfortable as possible for the Braves. That 3rd inning offense would be the deciding moment that night, as the Phillies would ride Nola deep into the games and finish with the bullpen for a 9-1 win.
Those extra three Phillies runs came from a Harper RBI double and a 2-run single from Castellanos. The Phillies were one win away from the NLCS.
The next afternoon, the Phillies had Noah Syndergaard on the mound to face Charlie Morton, however, Noah was only slated to go three innings with the bullpen pitching for the rest of the game.
The Phillies had chances against Morton early but failed to capitalize in the beginning. Then Alec Bohm ripped a line drive off his elbow of Morton, which would very clearly affect his pitching. In the same inning Morton was hit, he gave up a majestic 3-run homer to Brandon Marsh. Philly could feel it.
Syndergaard gave up a homer to Orlando Arica but finished the third inning with his second strikeout of Ronald Acuña Jr.
We then learned that the Braves were forced to pull Charlie Morton after he couldn’t complete his warmups. Collin McHugh came in and his first batter was JT Realmuto.
Realmuto proceeded to drive a ball to the left-center field wall where it bounced far away from Micheal Harris and even further away from Ronald Acuña Jr who was not hustling to back up Harris. This let the speedy Realmuto fly around the bases for an inside-the-park home run to send the Philly faithful into a total frenzy. Matt Olson homered, later on, to cut the lead to 4-2.
It was a close game until the Phillies rallied against Raisel Iglesias to make it 7-2 Phillies. The supposedly shaky and untrustworthy bullpen didn’t walk a single batter, doing its job to limit the Braves’ offense to three solo home runs, and barely any baserunners. The day was capped off with a solo jack from Bryce Harper off Kenley Jansen to make it an 8-3 Phillies lead.
Seranthony Dominguez struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth to clinch the Phillies’ first NLCS birth since 2010.
Now the Phillies match with a Padres team that is very similar and evenly matched with them in the NLCS, and the Phillies will once again be underdogs in the series, as the Phillies look to prove the doubters wrong yet again. The series is looking to be very closely contested and will include more postseason games at CBP. Whatever happens, this season has been a rousing success, and we hope to talk about more Red November in the future.