Pache delivers after earning Game 1 nod over Marsh

October 4th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- With the way his season started, it would have been hard to envision Brandon Marsh being left out of the Phillies' starting lineup for a postseason game.

After focusing much of his offseason on improving against left-handers in a bid to become an everyday center fielder -- "I wanted the guys to be able to rely on me for 162, not just 120," Marsh said in April -- he was arguably the club's best hitter in the season's opening month.

Left-handers, right-handers -- Marsh was hitting them all.

Yet, with Marsh struggling against southpaws for much of the past five months, manager Rob Thomson turned to the right-handed-hitting  on Tuesday to start in left field against Marlins lefty Jesús Luzardo in Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series.

“It was very exciting to hear the news,” Pache said via translator Diego Ettedgui of finding out he was starting. “It’s an unbelievable team, so to be part of that lineup for the first game of a postseason is really special.”

Pache responded by coming through with one of the game's biggest hits in the Phillies' 4-1 victory at Citizens Bank Park. Marsh responded by leading the celebration from the top step of the dugout.

“We all want to be out there, because we all put in a bunch of work to get to this point, but we’ve got to throw the pride and selfish traits out the window,” Marsh said. “We had 162 [games] to put up whatever [stats] we put on the scoreboard. That’s plenty of time.”

While it's not easy to leave a player like Marsh out of the lineup, it's hard to argue with the reasoning.

Marsh went 8-for-23 (.348) with a 1.183 OPS and six extra-base hits in 25 plate appearances vs. lefties in March and April. But he hit .192 with a .572 OPS and only three extra-base hits in 85 plate appearances against southpaws since the start of May.

Albeit in a limited sample size, Pache -- acquired off waivers from the A's on the eve of Opening Day -- has thrived against left-handers this season. He hit .314 (16-for-51) with two homers and a .924 OPS against southpaws during the regular season. He had a .449 OPS in 38 plate appearances vs. righties.

In his first plate appearance against Luzardo on Tuesday, however, Pache swung and missed at three straight sliders. That included an 0-1 pitch in the dirt.

But with Bryson Stott on third and only one out in the fourth, Pache stepped in against Luzardo and took a called strike. He then laid off a pair of pitches out of the zone, including an 0-1 slider in the dirt that was similar to what he chased in his first at-bat.

Pache then saw his first fastball of the night. He sent the 95.7 mph offering back through the middle for an RBI single, sending his teammates into a frenzy, led by a screaming Marsh leaning over the dugout railing and waving his hat above his head.

“It was really exciting,” Pache said. “You feed off the energy that the people in the dugout give you. Everyone in the dugout has to be on your toes and be ready to cheer for your teammates and support them all the way.”

“It’s one big family, man,” Marsh agreed. “It’s a special, special group.”

Similar to Pache, it also would have been hard to imagine Johan Rojas coming through with a clutch postseason knock when the season started.

But at just 23 years old, Rojas started in center field against the Marlins in Game 1, becoming the youngest Phillies hitter to start a postseason game since Milt Stock in the 1915 World Series.

Unfazed by the big stage, Rojas capped a nine-pitch at-bat with a 104.7 mph single to lead off the third in his first career postseason plate appearance. Rojas then went to second base on a heads-up play when a wild pitch trickled just far enough away from Marlins catcher Nick Fortes, before scoring two batters later on Alec Bohm's two-out double.

"You're either going to be ready for the moment or not," said Bryce Harper, who added an insurance run in the eighth when he blew through third-base coach Dusty Wathan's stop sign on Nick Castellanos' RBI double. "Just go out there and play their game. That's it. Nothing else. Nothing less. Nothing more."

With the Marlins set to start Braxton Garrett -- another left-hander -- in Game 2 on Wednesday night, the Phillies will likely roll out the same starting lineup.

“It’s probably going to be the same thing tomorrow,” Marsh said. “And I’ll be top step, throwing my hat around.”