Schwarber's 1st-pitch homer sets postseason leadoff mark

After slow start in first two rounds, slugger shows signs of power resurgence in Game 1 of NLCS

October 17th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- It took Phillies designated hitter Kyle Schwarber exactly one pitch in the National League Championship Series to snap his home run drought -- and to make some history in the process.

After struggling at the plate over the first two series this postseason, Schwarber teed off on a first-pitch fastball from D-backs starter Zac Gallen to lead off the Phillies' 5-3 win over Arizona in Game 1 of the NLCS on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park.

“You know, that's what he does at the start of the game, is he can put the other team on their heels a little bit and get the lead,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said.

In fact, Schwarber has now done that more than any player in postseason history.

Schwarber's latest drive also marked the fourth leadoff homer of his postseason career, moving him past Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins for the most in MLB history. Schwarber's first came for the Red Sox against the Rays in Game 3 of the 2021 American League Division Series, while the last three have come with the Phillies.

“Absolutely I like being able to lead off a game,” Schwarber said when asked about his role as an unconventional leadoff hitter. “It's a fun thing when you step into -- you're walking up to the plate, and next thing you know, 46,000 people are getting on their feet and ready to rock and roll.”

Schwarber not only sent the Philadelphia faithful into a frenzy, but he did so in style. His no-doubter left the bat with an exit velocity of 117.1 mph, making it the fourth-hardest-hit postseason home run by any player since Statcast began tracking in 2015. The hardest was Schwarber's 119.7 mph homer off the Padres' Yu Darvish in Game 1 of last year's NLCS at Petco Park.

“When you make a good swing, you don't really feel it,” Schwarber said. “I think, one, you don't feel anything; and two, you hear the crowd roar, and you see the trajectory, and I think that's a pretty good sign.”

For Schwarber, it was his first home run since Sept. 30. He went just 4-for-25 with only one extra-base hit (a double) in the NL Wild Card Series and NLDS. Similarly, he went 1-for-20 without a homer in the first two rounds of the 2022 postseason before breaking out for three in five games in the Phillies' NLCS victory over the Padres.

One pitch into the 2023 NLCS, and the Phillies are hoping for a similar breakout this time around.

“I never have any doubt with him,” Thomson said. “I have so much trust in him, and all of our guys really.”

To his credit, Schwarber’s demeanor and approach doesn’t seem to change much, even when he finds himself in a funk. After all, when you’re coming off a regular season in which you became the first player in AL/NL history to hit 40 homers with a sub-.200 average, you’re used to going through highs and lows.

“You couldn't tell if he was 0-for-4 or 4-for-4 at any spot or moment,” said teammate Bryce Harper, who added a first-pitch homer of his own two batters later. “We know he's going to break out. We know what type of player he is.”

For anyone who doesn’t, Schwarber showcased it on this same stage last postseason.

After his 1-for-20 start through the NLDS, Schwarber went 6-for-15 (.400) with three homers, six walks and a 1.571 OPS in the 2022 NLCS. He went on to hit three more home runs in the World Series.

And it all started with one monumental swing in Game 1 of the NLCS.

Could Monday’s first-inning laser have a similar effect for the rest of the 2023 postseason?

“It was a good swing,” Schwarber said, "and just looking to bundle it up and try to keep putting more good swings on baseballs.”