PHILADELPHIA – Finally, after 4,388 days, having nothing but memories watching old highlight reels the past 12 years, this year’s edition of the Philadelphia Phillies got to experience that feeling for themselves.
The Phillies, for the first since Oct. 17, 2010, won their first National League championship game in their own home ballpark, winning 4-2 over the San Diego Padres, and taking a 2 games to 1 lead in this best-of-seven series.
Really, the Phillies will tell you, it has felt just about that long since they last slept in their own bed.
The Phillies, who have been on the road for 21 of their last 26 nights, treated their zealous sellout crowd of 45,279 to one of their typical victories.
Plenty of power. Lots of bad defense. Timely hits. Big plays. High drama. And holding on for dear life in the ninth inning.
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And, oh, man, did it ever feel good for these road warriors, who are now two victories away from their first World Series since 2009.
“Twenty straight days on the road and just home for what felt like a blink and right back on the road,’’ Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins said, “we have to spend time with each other. But that’s a good thing.
“But there’s nothing like playing at home.’’
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If the crowd wasn’t pumped up enough before the game, it took just one swing of the bat by slugger Kyle Schwarber to set them into delirium.
Schwarber, who hit more home runs than any player in baseball but AL record-setting Aaron Judge’s 62 homers this year, smacked Joe Musgrove’s 91-mph cutter into the right-field seats. It was Schwarber’s eighth leadoff home run of the season, after hitting 46 during the regular season.
Schwarber has fit in like Rocky Balboa since his free-agent arrival this year with his blue-collar work ethic, perseverance, and no-nonsense approach to the game. He plays to win, and anything less is unacceptable.
There’s a reason why his teams have been in the postseason in seven of the past eight years. Five years and a World Series title with the Chicago Cubs, last year with the Boston Red Sox and now with the Phillies. He even reached the College World Series with Indiana University.
“I don’t think that’s an accident,’’ Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto says. “He’s done it in a lot of different places, and when that usually happens, that tends to not be an accident. Some guys just have that knack. They know what it takes to win. They know how to bring guys together, which I think has probably been some of the most important stuff he’s done in a Phillies uniform.”
Schwarber’s homer stood up until the top of the fourth when the Phillies defense showed its ugly warts. Brandon Drury hit what appeared to be a routine double play towards second base, only for the Phillies to be in a shift, and second baseman Jean Segura could only helplessly watch it trickle into right field.
Phillies starter Ranger Suarez seemed to escape the jam with another routine double-play grounder to shortstop Bryson Stott. He flipped the ball quickly to Segura for the first out, only for Segura to drop it. Everyone was safe after the umpire’s review, with Juan Soto scoring the tying run.
Segura redeemed himself with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, dropping a two-out single into shallow center-field off the end of his bat, scoring Alec Bohm and Stott. He slammed his bat down in jubilation, watching the runs cross the plate, and then promptly got picked off.
The Phillies defense crumbled again in the fifth when Trent Grisham hit a routine bouncer to Hoskins at first base, only for it to deflect off his glove for a two-base error. He scored two batters later on Ha-Seong Kim’s groundout, cutting the Phillies’ lead to 3-2.
Suarez, making his first start in 10 days, certainly set the tone for the game. He gave up just two hits without a walk in his five-inning stint as the Phillies’ No. 3 starter before turning the game over to reliever Zach Eflin. The Padres threatened immediately against Eflin. They had runners on first and third with one out, only for Eflin to induce an inning-ending double play, turned by Segura.
“Just Mr. Cool out there, right?’’ Hoskins said of Suarez. “Cool, calm, and collected. Doesn’t seem like the moment gets to him very much.”
Musgrove managed to keep the Phillies in check until the sixth, when the Phillies lined back-to-back doubles off him, ending his night.
The Phillies went 6-for-13 and drove in three runs with two outs, with their bullpen closing the door by pitching four shutout innings, including Seranthony Dominguez’s two-inning save.
Meanwhile, the miseries of Padres All-Star right fielder Juan Soto continue. He turned two singles into doubles by not cutting them off.
He hardly looks like the same guy who produced a .927 OPS with five homers and three doubles for the Washington Nationals in their 2019 World Series title championship run with his passive plate appearances.
“The expectation level for him is off the charts, which is hard to live up to,’’ Padres manager Bob Melvin said before the game. “And you know he’s probably two at-bats away from going on a tear.”
The Padres patiently await as time is running out.
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale