December 2, 2023

Phillies blow 4 run lead in Game 2 of NLDS


Phillies starter Zack Wheeler hands the ball to manager Rob Thomson as he exits the game in the seventh inning. Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer

The first 15 innings of the NLDS were going perfectly for manager Rob Thomson and the Phillies. Then, it all fell apart.

The Phillies blew a four-run lead, thanks to bad managing by Thomson, to fall in Game 2 to the Atlanta Braves, 5-4.

An incredible leaping catch by Michael Harris II in center-field, who then doubled up Bryce Harper at first base, ended the game. Harper over-ran second base, which ultimately ended up losing it with a baserunning blunder. It was just another case of Harper being over-aggressive on the base paths.

Zack Wheeler started for the Phils and threw a gem. Up until his final batter, 6.1 innings, Wheeler allowed two hits, one run, one walk, and struck out ten. He no-hit the Braves for 5 2/3 innings and did not allow a ball out of the infield until the fifth. Unfortunately, it was wasted.

This was until Travis d’Arnaud stepped up to the plate, who has a .571 slugging percentage against Wheeler, as he blasted one over the left field wall to make it a one-run game in the seventh inning.

Thomson had Jose Alvarado and Jeff Hoffman warming up. He should have known how good d’Arnaud hits against Wheeler. If he did, he would have taken Wheeler out of the game. If he does that, this article may be about how the Phillies can sweep the Braves at home on Wednesday.

Thomson decided to go with Alvarado, the hard-throwing left-hander, to face the bottom of the Braves order and record two out. Not Hoffman.

Alvarado shut the door, but it still backfired on Thomson, as Hoffman blew the game in the eighth.

Hoffman has been so good this season. He posted a 2.41 ERA in 54 appearances and became the go-to right-hander as he always worked his way out of those jams. That did not happen against the top of the Braves’ order. He hit Ronald Acuna Jr. in the elbow with the first pitch, got Ozzie Albies to ground out which moved Acuna to second, spiked a ball to move Acuna to third, then gave up the game-blowing home run to Austin Riley.

That was the dagger.

Thomson could have saved Alvarado for this situation against the top of the Braves’ lineup, to record three outs and set the Phils and Craig Kimbrel up in the ninth inning. However, Thomson went with Hoffman in the big situation, and it did not work out.

After such a well-managed game in Game 1, clicking all the right buttons, Thomson did not flip the correct switches as he did a poor job in Game 2.

However, while this hurts, the Phils did exactly what they wanted to do in Atlanta, get at least one game. They took Game 1, setting themselves up to clinch in Game 4 on Thursday at Citizens Bank Park if they can take Game 3 on Wednesday.

But, this one will sit sour in their mouths for the next 26 hours.

It seemed like the excellent starting pitching, well-done small ball, and clutch home runs would put the Phils in a commanding spot as the series moved to Philly. Rather, they will board the plane home Monday night with a split, an outcome that would have sounded lovely to begin the series but will not sit well given how close they were to maybe busting out the brooms.

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