PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Phillies, stealing a page out of a Rocky Balboa screenplay, played rope-a-dope Saturday night, lulling the San Diego Padres to sleep and then came back with a furious flurry that left the Padres dazed.
The Phillies, in stunning fashion, dropped the Padres, winning 10-6, and are now just one victory away from advancing to the World Series.
The Phillies lead the National League Championships Series, three games to one, and it suddenly is no longer a question of who will win the series, but when Philadelphia will do it.
Certainly, all the momentum, the mojo, and history rest on the Phillies’ broad shoulders.
Teams who take a 3-1 lead in best-of-seven postseason series have won 77 out of 91 times. That’s 85% of the time, just about a death sentence in postseason play.
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If those odds weren’t enough for the Phillies, they have their hottest pitcher going Sunday (2:37 p.m., FS1) in Game 5: Zack Wheeler.
Wheeler gave up just one hit in seven shutout innings in the Phillies’ 2-0 victory in Game 1. He is undefeated with a 1.40 ERA in three starts this postseason, surrendering just seven hits with 17 strikeouts in 19 ⅓ innings.
After making those three starts on the road, Wheeler be pitching in front of a passionate fanbase at Citizens Bank Park that is ready to throw a party for the ages.
“I’m very excited to pitch here in front of these fans,’’ Wheeler said. “They’re happy. They’re hungry, man. And they’re excited.
“They’ve been waiting for playoff baseball. It’s an awesome sports town, and it’s a lot of fun to play in front of.’’
And, yes, he’s well aware that he could be the one standing on the mound when the Phillies clinch their ticket to the World Series.
“Yeah, I have thought about it a little bit,’’ Wheeler said, “and that would be pretty cool.’’
Well, you can be assured the place will be rocking in anticipation, still giddy after watching one of the most explosive performance in Phillies history, with four home runs, three doubles and a postseason franchise record of 25 total bases.
The top four hitters of the Phillies lineup –Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto – combined to go 9-for-17 with four homers, eight RBI and 10 runs.
Hoskins was the hero with two homers and four RBI, tying a franchise record. Harper tied a franchise record with 10 extra-base hits this postseason. And Schwarber hit his third homer of the postseason.
It was that kind of night.
The Phillies, the same team that nearly blew a playoff berth down the stretch – losing 10 of 13 games before becoming the sixth and final seed to make the postseason – now are playing their best baseball of the season at just the right time.
“I always felt that the most pressure on our club was just getting in the playoffs,’’ Phillies manager Rob Thomson said, “and once we got in, I thought that we’d be fine.’’
Well, they’ve been a whole lot better than fine in October, winning eight of 10 games this postseason.
“I see everybody being so much calmer now than they were in September and coming down to the end,’’ Thompson said, “because of all this talk of the September swoon. I think it was kind of eating at them a little bit.
“But now, I just see a really relaxed, calm, poised club.’’
The Phillies were only 2-21 in postseason games when trailing by at least four runs in their history. Well, make it 3-21.
The bizarro game featured the worst starting pitching performance in postseason history, with Phillies starter Bailey Falter and Padres starter Mike Clevinger.
The duo lasted all of two-thirds of an inning, surrendering six hits, seven earned runs, and two walks. Their ERA: 94.50.
The previous worst postseason pitching performance was in Game 4 of the 1932 World Series when New York Yankees Johnny Allen lasted just two-thirds of an inning and Chicago Cubs starter Guy Bush went one-third of an inning.
Now, the Phillies, who have been on the road all but five days since Sept. 26, could be sleeping in their own beds for an entire week with Game 1 of the World Series scheduled to start Friday, most likely in Houston.
“I think we definitely have become closer,’’ Wheeler said. “We’re already a pretty close group. We do a lot of stuff off the field hanging-out-wise, so I think that helps.
“We’re feeling good.”
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