PHILADELPHIA -- Beer and champagne covered Johan Rojas as he moved through the Phillies’ clubhouse late Tuesday night. He had ski goggles cocked to the side of his head as he held an iPhone to his ear.
Rojas had a friend on FaceTime. He wanted to share this experience with him.
A year ago, Rojas watched every pitch of the Phillies’ postseason run from his home in the Dominican Republic. He said he kept thinking to himself how badly he wanted to be part of it this year. On Tuesday night, Rojas delivered a walk-off single to center field to beat the Pirates, 3-2, in 10 innings at Citizens Bank Park to clinch the National League’s No. 1 Wild Card. The Phillies will host a best-of-three NL Wild Card Series next week at Citizens Bank Park.
“It’s honestly surreal,” Rojas said, who joined the team in July from Double-A Reading. “I didn’t think I was going to be here, but it’s really, really cool to be here.”
The Phillies are back in the postseason, so Tuesday night they blasted “Dancing On My Own” and all the other hits from Garrett Stubbs’ playlist, which became a thing in Philly last October.
“You play for the Phillies, that song’s going to be here,” Bryce Harper said.
The Phillies expected to be in this spot all along. Now they just want to finish the job. They were the last team to qualify for the postseason last year, then ran roughshod through the National League all the way to the World Series. They captivated the city but fell two victories short of a parade down Broad Street.
“I hope we can win this thing this year,” Zack Wheeler said.
The Phillies retooled in the offseason to improve their chances. They got Trea Turner, Taijuan Walker, Criag Kimbrel, Gregory Soto and Matt Strahm. But throughout the course of a 162-game season, unexpected gems must contribute. Jeff Hoffman came out of nowhere, joining the Phillies in May to become one of manager Rob Thomson’s most trusted relievers.
Hoffman pitched a scoreless 10th inning to give Rojas a chance to win it.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Hoffman said. “Every step of the way it’s been full of surprises. Right now, I’m trying to enjoy this. Tonight, when I lay my head down, I’ll probably think about it a little bit.”
A familiar face got the night started. Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola, the longest-tenured player in the organization, pitched 6 2/3 perfect innings in Houston early last October, when the Phillies clinched the last NL Wild Card to get to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Nola allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings on Tuesday.
“It’s pretty cool how it lines up like that,” he said.
It lined up for Rojas, too. Pirates closer David Bednar threw a 1-2 fastball at the top of the zone. Rojas chopped the ball up the middle, and pinch-runner Cristian Pache slid headfirst across home plate to end the game.
Rojas flung his helmet high into the air as he stood in shallow left field. He pumped his fists. He slapped his chest.
He waited for his teammates to mob him. They did.
“Just to have that memory, that’s going to be an experience and a feeling that he’s never going to lose,” Nick Castellanos said. “For him, in his career, to have a moment like that to fall back on, that’s a cornerstone for his career.”
Now the real fun starts. The Phillies are a team built to win a World Series. They believe they can.
“I think the biggest thing is that we have a lot of experience under our belt,” Kyle Schwarber said. “It's a team that's not going to quit. We've proven that this year. We saw it last year. It's just a team that's going to go out there and try to out-grit the other team. You know what? It could result in a loss, but we'll take our best out there every day and hopefully it ends up with a win.”
“We’re a really good team,” Harper said. “We’re a really good group of guys. We were last year as well. But this year, hope we get there and finish the job.”
The champagne and beer flowed Tuesday night. The music was loud. Players danced. It was fun, but it was different.
Different year, different players, different expectations.
“It feels just as good,” Castellanos said. “But we expected to do this as an organization. If we didn't do this, it's a monumental disaster. So, we passed high school. So now we get to go play.”