Castellanos defies logic, pulls off game-saving play for Phils

Right fielder's clutch decision, combined with Nola's 8-K gem, helps Philly win series

September 20th, 2023

ATLANTA – Sometimes the Devil wins.

He helped the Phillies beat the Braves in 10 innings, 6-5, on Wednesday afternoon at Truist Park, giving them a 2 1/2-game lead over Arizona for the No. 1 National League Wild Card spot with 10 games to play. Atlanta had the game-winning run on third base with one out in the ninth, when Orlando Arcia hit a fly ball down the right-field line. Phillies right fielder pursued it into foul territory, and everybody in the ballpark had the same thing in mind, whether they said it aloud like Phillies broadcaster John Kruk or simply thought it.

“We were all sort of murmuring, ‘Drop it, drop it, drop it,'” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said.

“I was thinking, 'Drop it,'” added second baseman Bryson Stott.

“I was screaming at the top of my lungs to drop it,” catcher Garrett Stubbs said.

The Angel sitting on Castellanos’ shoulder said the same thing.

Drop the ball, Nick.

But then the Devil spoke up.

“I thought I was going to drop it, then at the last minute, a voice popped in my head and said, ‘Catch it and throw him out,’” Castellanos said.

“That sounds like Nick,” Stott joked.

Castellanos, who homered twice earlier, caught the ball, spun and threw out pinch-runner Luke Williams at the plate to keep the Phillies’ chances alive.

Castellanos listened to the right guy this time.

“Well, usually he just pops up when I'm hitting, you know?” Castellanos said about the voice in his head. “Like, ‘Don't take this 2-0 pitch.’ Then he decided to show up right there in the ninth running after that ball.”

The Phillies had runners on second and third with two outs in the 10th, when A.J. Minter intentionally walked Alec Bohm so he could face Stott.

Stott laced a double to left to score two runs.

“One swing determines each game, it feels like,” Stott said. “We want it to be our swing.”

The Phillies won the final series of the year against Atlanta, unless they meet again in the NLDS. It would happen if the Phillies clinch one of the top two NL Wild Card berths, then win a best-of-three NL Wild Card Series.

Those chances improve if the Phillies see the version of they got on Wednesday.

Nola had his best outing in more than three weeks. He gave up two runs in six innings, allowing six hits and striking out eight.

His recipe for success Wednesday was simple: pound the strike zone and limit the damage.

“He controlled the chaos,” Thomson said.

Nola threw 68 of 94 pitches (72.3 percent) for strikes. It was his fifth-best strike rate of the season. In his previous nine starts, he threw only 65.4 percent of pitches for strikes, which is below his career average (66.8 percent). It is no surprise that Nola had a 5.66 ERA and he pitched six-plus innings only twice in those nine starts.

Nola retired the first nine batters he faced, striking out Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley swinging in the first, Eddie Rosario swinging in the second and Sean Murphy swinging in the third. He struck out Rosario and Murphy on changeups, an offering that looked better than it had in a while.

Nola got 18 swings and misses overall, tied for the third-most in any start this season. He had 22 combined in his last three.

“We've been trying to do that with everybody,” Stubbs said about attacking the zone more. “Everyone on our team can throw strikes. But sometimes we try to hit the zone maybe a little too much. Today we just saw how we can rely on how good our stuff is.”

Perhaps most important, when Nola found trouble in the fourth and fifth innings, he limited the Braves to only a run in each frame.

“It was the first time in a while I did that,” he said.

The Phillies lost the season series to the Braves, 8-5, but anybody who watched those games could see how close they were. It sets up for a potentially epic clash again in the NLDS, especially if Nola is on his game.

“Hopefully it's a step in the right direction,” Nola said. “These guys are always tough on me. They foul a lot of balls off. They spoil a lot of pitches. To get a win in this game, definitely big moving forward.”