Confident Phils 'came in smiling' before series-tilting Game 5 win

Philly heads home one win away from second straight trip to World Series

October 22nd, 2023

PHOENIX -- Everybody wondered how the Phillies would respond.

They lost Games 3 and 4 of the National League Championship Series to Arizona in brutal fashion this week, but nothing hurt more than their late collapse in Game 4 on Friday night at Chase Field. The loss evened the series and seemingly shifted momentum to the D-backs. Rob Thomson answered questions about his leaky bullpen, while Phillies hitters searched for ways to snap out of their two-game funk in the desert.

Hours before the Phillies beat the D-backs, 6-1, in Game 5 on Saturday night, the players got together in the clubhouse and talked.

“If we told ourselves in Spring Training, ‘Hey, we’ve got to win two out of three to get to the World Series,’ we’d take that every time,” J.T. Realmuto said.

The Phillies had Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suárez lined up to pitch those next three games, too. Why wouldn’t they love their chances? So why not love the situation they were in Saturday night?

Others shared a similar message: Be confident. Win or lose, be confident. Don’t force things to happen. Let them happen. As Realmuto reviewed D-backs hitters with Wheeler before the game, Wheeler offered feedback and asked questions. Typically, he lets Realmuto run the show to the point that he wonders how much Wheeler is even listening. But Wheeler was engaged.

“Everyone looked forward to getting to the ballpark, I’ll tell you that,” Kyle Schwarber said. “Everyone was ready to go.”

And now the Phillies are one win away from their second consecutive NL pennant. Teams with a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series have won the series 79 of 112 times (71 percent). Game 6 is Monday night at Citizens Bank Park, while Game 7 (if necessary) will be there on Tuesday.

Game 5 started in an unexpected fashion, with Schwarber chopping a ball five feet in front of home plate and reaching on an infield single down the third-base line. He scored four batters later on a two-out single from Bryson Stott to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead.

Thomson pressed the issue. He called for a double steal with Bryce Harper at third base.

“We just wanted to put pressure on them,” he said.

It was gutsy. If it worked, the Phillies would have an early 2-0 lead against D-backs ace Zac Gallen. If it failed, Arizona could steal some momentum.

“It’s a risky play,” Realmuto said.

Stott broke for second on an 0-1 pitch to Realmuto, who gave Stott a hard time later because he took a fastball down the middle to give him the opportunity to run. D-backs catcher Gabriel Moreno threw to second. Harper sprinted home.

“[Third-base coach] Dusty [Wathan] told me to be aggressive,” Harper said.

Stott stopped about two-thirds of the way to second. D-backs second baseman Ketel Marte fired home.

A good throw might have nabbed Harper. But Marte’s throw went to Moreno’s left. The catcher moved across the third-base line to try to catch the ball. Harper had nowhere to go. He dropped his left shoulder, knocked over Moreno and scored.

Harper is the first Phillies player to steal home in postseason history.

It set a tone, especially with Wheeler on the mound. He was fantastic again, allowing one run on six hits and one walk in seven innings. Wheeler is 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA in four starts this postseason. He has a 2.48 ERA in 10 career postseason starts.

“I told him after the game, ‘You're one of the best pitchers I've ever played with, man,’” Harper said. “He's legit, man.”

Two runs would have been enough for Wheeler, as it turned out. But Schwarber smashed a 461-foot solo homer to right-center field in the sixth inning against Gallen to make it 3-0. Harper followed two batters later with a 444-foot solo shot to right-center to make it 4-0.

Realmuto’s two-run homer in the eighth capped the night’s scoring at 6-1.

A sizable group of Philly fans were in Phoenix this week to watch their team play. They finally had a chance to relax and enjoy themselves in Game 5 because Philadelphia answered two tough losses with a well-rounded victory.

The Phils hit. They pitched. And they played great defense.

“When you believe in yourself and a group cause that we have and a team that we have, it can be really hard to beat us,” Schwarber said. “And we all believe in ourselves, truly. We believe that we can go out there and play really good baseball against the best.”

“We came in smiling,” Brandon Marsh said. “Like, really confident that we were going to win.”

They were confident because they had Wheeler on the mound. They were confident because, even if something went wrong Saturday, they knew they would head home for Games 6 and 7 with Nola and Suárez on the mound.

They were in control.

“It was a normal Saturday,” Alec Bohm said. “Nobody was trying to be more focused. A big part of what we do is having fun, trusting each other and knowing that we’re going to get the job done.”

But they reminded themselves of these core beliefs before the game anyway. Sometimes it’s just good to hear it.