After 'tough' DP ends Game 2, Phils rue missed chances

October 11th, 2023

ATLANTA -- Go. Go. Go.

smashed a fastball in the ninth inning Monday night in Game 2 of the National League Division Series at Truist Park. The ball sailed deep toward the right-center-field fence. Maybe it could clear the wall to give the Phillies their latest, greatest comeback victory. Maybe it could hit off the wall and allow to reach third base or score the tying run.

The voice in Castellanos’ head kept telling the ball to go. But center fielder Michael Harris II caught the ball as he slammed into the wall. Harper was already one-third of the way to third base. He stopped, then slipped as he tried to reverse course and return to first. Harris’ throw missed the cutoff man, but Braves third baseman Austin Riley picked up the ball in the infield and made a slick throw to first baseman Matt Olson to double up Harper and end the game.

And thus, the Phillies lost Game 2, 5-4, in frustrating fashion.

“Tough way to end it,” Harper said.

Before the NLDS started, if somebody had asked the Phillies if they would be happy to split the first two games of this series in Atlanta, they would have said yes. The Braves won 104 games this season. They might have the greatest offense in baseball history.

The Phillies split the first two games of last year’s NLDS, then won the next two games at Citizens Bank Park to advance to the NL Championship Series. In the history of the Division Series with the 2-2-1 format, in a series that is tied, the team heading home for Games 3 and 4 has won the series 28 of 42 times (67 percent).

But the Phillies know they let this one slip away. They should have gone home with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series, but they gave the Braves life.

How Philadelphia rebounds from this loss will determine its postseason fate.

“I mean, we thrive after we get punched in the face, man,” Castellanos said. “You know? So that’s all it is. It stings, but we’ll take it and make it motivate us moving forward.”

“You're definitely going to think about it,” J.T. Realmuto said. “Tough losses, probably until you fall asleep you're going to think about it. Then, wake up tomorrow and give my kids a hug, and it'll be over. Just get to tomorrow and we'll be fine.”

The Phillies carried a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning, although it could have been more. They left 10 runners on base in the first six innings and left 11 runners on base overall, going 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

The Phils had opportunities to bury Atlanta. They did not.

“You get a lead against a team like that, you have [to] put them away,” Realmuto said. “We just weren't able to do it today. We had plenty of opportunities with guys in scoring position to extend our lead. It just felt like every inning that we didn't do that, it gave them a little more chance and a little more momentum. We gave a run away there in the [sixth]. We just didn't get it done. You have to do that stuff right early in the game to win against good teams like that.”

Trea Turner could not catch a throw from Castellanos in the sixth, which allowed the Braves to score their first run. Zack Wheeler was fantastic early and allowed no hits through 5 2/3 innings. He struck out 10 overall, tying a franchise record for most strikeouts in a postseason game. However, Wheeler’s day began unraveling when he allowed a leadoff single to Olson in the seventh. Two batters later, he hung a first-pitch sweeper to Travis d’Arnaud, who hit a two-run homer to cut the Phillies’ lead to 4-3.

“It’s frustrating,” Wheeler said. “I kind of let them get the momentum going. That’s my fault. I let them right back in the game.”

The Phillies used six relievers to help them win Game 1, 3-0. Right-hander Jeff Hoffman was one of them, establishing himself over the past few months as one of manager Rob Thomson’s most trusted relievers.

On Monday night, Hoffman replaced José Alvarado with one out in the eighth. He hit Ronald Acuña Jr. with a first-pitch fastball to put the tying run on base. Two batters later with two outs, Riley crushed a go-ahead two-run homer on a 3-2 slider.

“Slider felt good in that situation,” Hoffman said. “Good hitters hit.”

Harper’s walk to start the ninth gave the Phillies hope. With one out, he remained on first as the tying run after Realmuto flew out to center. Then Castellanos hit the deep drive to right-center field that turned into the game-ending double play.

“Usually you don't pass the base,” Thomson said about Harper. “You stay in front of it, make sure it's not caught. But he thought the ball was clearly over his head. Didn't think he was going to catch it. And Harris made a heck of a play. Unbelievable.”

“He made a hell of a catch,” Castellanos said.

Harper might have had a shot to return safely to first base if he hadn’t slipped, or if Riley hadn’t made such an incredible throw after alertly backing up second base. But both things happened, making this the first postseason game in baseball history to end on a double play involving an outfielder and the first 8-5-3 double play in a playoff game.

“I probably shouldn’t have gone over second base,” Harper said. “But I made a decision and I’ll live with that.”