HOUSTON -- It seemed too perfect to see Aaron Nola be almost perfect Monday night at Minute Maid Park.
But then to see Zach Eflin finish it?
“It’s poetry,” Rhys Hoskins said. “Poetry.”
Nola is the Phillies’ longest-tenured player, making his debut in July 2015. Eflin is the second-longest tenured player, making his debut in June 2016. They have been through 90-loss seasons and late-season collapses. But Monday, they bookended the Phillies’ 3-0 victory over the Astros to send them to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
With the win, the Phillies eliminated the Brewers from postseason play, as Philadelphia now stands two games ahead of Milwaukee in the NL Wild Card standings. Even though both teams have two games remaining to play, the Phils own the tiebreaker after going 4-2 against the Brewers this season.
Nola pitched 6 2/3 innings in the most important start of his career. Eflin pitched a perfect ninth inning for the first save of his career.
Afterward, they smiled, popped champagne bottles and celebrated.
“It’s been a long time in the making,” Nola said.
“This is exactly what you dream of,” Eflin said. “This is what you want. But we’re just getting started. We want to do this four more times.”
The Phillies got to the ballpark on Monday with their magic number at one. They needed only one win or one Brewers loss to make the postseason.
The Brewers won, which meant the Phillies needed to win. It was better that way. The Phils did not want to back into anything. Philadelphia managing partner John Middleton and ownership had been spending money for years trying to get this team back to the postseason, but it fell short each of the past four Septembers. They tried everything. They tried the next big thing in Gabe Kapler. They tried the former World Series champion in Joe Girardi. They signed big-time free agents. They made big trades.
The Phillies were 22-29 on June 3, when president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski dismissed Girardi and replaced him with interim manager Rob Thomson.
Philadelphia started to win, despite injuries to players like Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, Zack Wheeler and Eflin.
“I think when we started out when I signed here in ‘19, I think I said it was going to take us a couple years,” Harper said. “We’re not where we need to be right now, of course. This is Step 1 to hopefully greater success and a greater opportunity to get where we need to be. But we’re going to enjoy this, we’re going to have fun. There’s nothing like popping bottles in October, and I’m excited to be part of this.”
Kyle Schwarber hit the first pitch of the game from Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. to left-center field to hand the Phillies a 1-0 lead. He also hit a leadoff homer in the first inning in Game 2 of Saturday’s doubleheader in Washington, calming the nerves of a team that just fell into a tie with Milwaukee for the third NL Wild Card spot.
Schwarber quickly established himself this year as a leader in the Phillies’ clubhouse. He is an experienced veteran and a trusted voice. He is somebody who settles struggling rookies and reassures an entire team that just because it had endured disappointment in the past doesn't mean it was destined for the same fate again.
“It’s very satisfying, because you know what -- it’s a long ... season,” Schwarber said. “It’s unbelievably long, and to see the things that we went through as a team, where you go through a manager change, you go through Harp being down, you go through Seggy being down, you go through Wheeler being down, you go through the naysayers saying we can’t catch the baseball, it makes it that much more satisfying to be where we’re at.
“And you know what? The September that we had, it wasn’t the September that we wanted it to be, but to be in the position we are and be able to celebrate at the end of the year, that’s what it’s all about.”
Nola struck out nine, mixing his sinker, curveball and four-seam fastball beautifully. He had a perfect game going with two outs in the seventh inning when he surrendered a single to right to Yordan Alvarez. David Hensley followed with another single.
Thomson summoned José Alvarado from the bullpen to face Kyle Tucker.
“Honest to God, I thought Nola was going to throw a perfect game, I really did,” Thomson said. “And when I went out to take him out, I thought he was going to chew my head off. He just had that look in his eye. But all night, he had that look in his eye like, 'I’m going to get this thing done.'”
Eflin got the ball.
“We’ll figure out what to do with it,” he said.
The drought is over. Finally.
“It’s the best,” Hoskins said. “I’m drenched in all sorts of beer and champagne. My eyes hurt. I can’t see straight, but it’s the best.”
Game 1 of the NLWCS is on Friday.
After that, who knows?
“We want to get it done for them,” Schwarber said of Phillies fans. “We’re not out here trying to screw things up. We’re out here trying to win. And now that we’re here, we’re going to try to bring this [celebration] back to Philadelphia and get these people in the seats and hear what this thing is all about. I want to see it. I want to hear it. I’ve seen videos. It looks unbelievable, and I want to see it with my own eyes, so it’s our job to get it back to them now.”