Instant observations: Phillies win first playoff series in 12 years

The Philadelphia Phillies… have won a playoff series. That’s a sentence I’ve never been able to type in my journalistic career! The Fightins may have gone 4,381 days between series wins, but who’s counting? The Phils went to St. Louis, leaned on their top-two starters and got some timely hitting on the way to a matchup with the Braves in the NLDS next week. 

What a time for sports in Philly. I don’t care if the moment is fleeting. Philly fans should soak it up.

Here are some running observations from the Phillies’ 2-0 series-clinching win over the Cardinals…

The good

• On the first pitch of the second inning, Bryce Harper did exactly what the Phillies are paying him $330 million to do: rip homers into the night in October. Harper, with a thundering crack of the bat, hit a ball 435 feet into the right field stands. For as offensively challenged as the Phillies were early in Game 1, Harper made damn sure that wasn’t going to happen in Game 2. 

That was the Phillies’ first postseason home run since Ben Francisco, in St. Louis of all places, in Game 3 of the 2011 NLDS. 

• Aaron Nola let up a lead off double in the bottom of the first inning to Lars Nootbaar. Panic! The righty, making his first ever postseason start, then proceeded struck out three-time MVP Albert Pujols and the maybe MVP Paul Goldschmidt to bring the Cardinals back down to earth. Getting All-Star Nolan Arenado to pop out to right after that quelled that anxiety from that early double and allowed Nola to settle in. A 1-2-3 second inning from Nola following that Bryce 💣 was perfect, keeping “The Best Fans in Baseball” silent on this brisk Midwestern night. 

• Alec Bohm went from “I f—–g hate this place,” making a string of defensive errors early in 2022 to putting up a Gold Glove-worthy performance at the hot corner in the postseason. Bohm owning up to his poor play and his infamous line changed the trajectory of his career. It’s not hyperbolic to say that! People, myself included, didn’t think he deserved an automatic starting job to begin this year. Now he’s flashing leather like it’s nothing:

“The Rise, Fall and Rise of Alec Bohm” is the most Philadelphian of stories. 

• Things felt like they were about to hit the fan in the sixth inning. After a major umpire error (see: “the ugly”) in the top of the inning cost the Phillies a chance to put up a crooked number on the board, the Cardinals had a pulse, trailing just 2-0 with plenty of baseball left to play. To the delight of everyone working in sports media, Pujols got his first hit of the series in the bottom frame and the vibes were less than ideal.

Nola responded, again, by striking out Goldschmidt once more and then ringing up Arenado to end the inning and ease the eternally tense Phillies fan base. Clutch. Nola finished with 6.2 shutout innings pitched, allowing just four hits and striking out six batters. I’d like to have seen Nola finish out that seventh inning. He earned that right. Alas, it worked itself out when Jose Alvarado got Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina to pop up in foul territory. 

• Seranthony Dominguez made his postseason debut in the middle of the eighth inning in a potential close out game. How did he do? He allowed a single to Pujols, but he struck out Goldy (what was wrong this guy this series) and then Arenado to shut it down in a manner that would make Jon Taffer proud. Nails

• That ninth inning? Rough! A win is a win though. You’ll only remember that final pop up. 

The bad

• Throw the worries aside for the evening. I was 16 the last time the Phillies won a playoff series. Ride the wave, Philadelphia! 

The ugly

• Cardinals starting pitcher Miles Mikolas, who couldn’t even last five full innings, sported an outrageous, painfully ironic mustache:

He is the “Lizard King” apparently:

Absolutely horrendous energy from this guy.

• The umpires were so bad this series. The league should be embarrassed. Fantom strike calls on Harper, Kyle Schwarber and more could’ve tilted things in the Cardinals’ favor. Harper’s decision to turn in a single into a double in the second inning looked nonsensical when he was initially ruled out. Nevertheless, he was actually safe on that play, getting his hand on the bag just in time, but The Ump Show wasn’t having any of that and let the play stand. Luckily for the Phillies, they overcame that disadvantage. 

• I’ll speak for the wider Delaware Valley when I say this: I’m glad I never have to hear about the Pujols retirement tour again. Get over yourselves. ESPN has absolutely STUNK with its baseball coverage this year between the Pujols retirement drag out (wouldn’t a guy as “classy” as Pujols is supposed to be just retire without the fanfare?) and Aaron Judge’s faux-home run record “race.” 

The Yankees are obviously the Cowboys of Major League Baseball, but the Cardinals are this weird mix of the Packers and Patriots. They have their “classy” schtick that feels akin to “The Patriot Way” and then they have this community vibe and the winning history of Green Bay. I’m sick of it. It’s been 11 years since the Phillies last played St. Louis in the postseason. I hope it’s another 111 years before they do so again. 

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