Four clutch performances help Phillies prevail in Game 1 of NLCS


SAN DIEGO -- The Phillies' 2-0 win over the San Diego Padres in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series on Tuesday night came down to four clutch performances.

Let's relive them.

Wheels up

Zack Wheeler was spectacular in holding the Padres to one hit and one walk over seven shutout innings. He struck out eight.

It was his night. Well, another one of his nights. He finished the regular season by allowing just one run in 15 innings over his last three starts and has followed that with three gems in the postseason. And, yes, his Game 2 loss in Atlanta was a gem. He pitches six shutout innings in that one if Rhys Hoskins handles a routine ground ball with two outs in the sixth.

Oh, well, what does it matter now?

Early on Tuesday night, Wheeler could have gone either way. He walked a batter in the first inning and needed 24 pitches to get through the frame.

"After that first inning," catcher J.T. Realmuto said, "we were thinking it's going to be a dogfight to get him through six then all of a sudden he's flying through innings on five, six, seven pitches."

Wheeler came out at 83 pitches.

"I thought it was the right move," Realmuto said. "His fastball command and velocity were a little down the last couple of innings and they were finding the barrel a little more."

Wheeler beat the Padres on May 18. He pitched seven shutout innings, walked none and struck out nine that day.

San Diego manager Bob Melvin thought Wheeler was even better this time.

"He had a really good fastball early," Melvin said. "He started mixing up his slider a little bit and then started using his curveball next time around.

"That's probably as good a pitching performance as we've seen all year. Only walked one, struck out eight, was ahead in the count. He was pretty good."

Teammate Jose Alvarado had a different adjective.

"Excellente," he said. "Excellente. Wow."

Forty-five of Wheeler's 83 pitches were four-seam fastballs. The pitch averaged 97.2 mph.

"Big-game pitcher," Rhys Hoskins said. "It seemed like his curveball was an equalizer. Obviously, he has the great fastball, but he threw a bunch of good breaking balls in big spots and we saw some awkward swings. That's what happens when you have to respect the 97-98 (mph)."

"Zack mixes his stuff so well," Alec Bohm said. "Guys that throw 98, 99, 100 aren't usually guys that keep you off balance. The way he can 'pitch' with his velocity is what separates him."

The bomb

Kyle Schwarber might be the reason the Phillies are here. He's at least the reason the Phillies turned around their season. They were a dead team heading into June. Rob Thomson took over as skipper and had a great impact. But the 19-8 June that saved the Phillies' season doesn't happen if it's not for Schwarber, who had 12 homers and 27 RBIs that month.

Schwarber struggled out of the gate in this postseason but he's coming alive now. He had a hit and three walks in Games 3 and 4 of the NLDS against Atlanta, and he had a walk, a single and a homer in Tuesday night's Game 1 win in the NLCS.

Bryce Harper's solo homer in the fourth was huge. It got the Phillies on the board against Yu Darvish. But Schwarber's homer in the sixth -- coupled with the way Wheeler was owning the Padres' bats -- was the haymaker that quieted Petco Park and left the home team gasping. (For the record, Petco Park is not as loud as Citizens Bank Park. "We got 'em," Bohm said.)

Schwarber's homer, on a first-pitch hanging cutter from Darvish, looked like something you'd see at a driving range. It came off the bat at 119 mph -- the hardest-ball Schwarber has ever hit -- and jetted 488 feet into the second deck above right field. Petco Park is a big yard. It was designed to thwart Barry Bonds. It could not hold Schwarber.

"I would have taken it if it went into the first row," Schwarber said afterward. "I really don't care, a point is a point."

This one felt like more than a point, according to Hoskins.

"It was one of those that you don't really need to look at, you can just hear it," Hoskins said. "I've been coming here for five years and I don't think I've seen anyone sniff the second deck. And in a big spot. To score a run like that so emphatically late in the game -- it seemed like more than one run. Huge swing. You could feel the momentum come on our side."

Philly Rob

The thing you hear over and over about Thomson is he brought calm to an uptight clubhouse when he took over.

He has other strengths. He's skilled at building a player's confidence, much like Charlie Manuel was, but his ability to stay calm -- and impart that calmness on his club -- in the face of an F5 tornado stands out.

Seranthony Dominguez got the Phillies through the eighth. Now it was Alvarado's turn to protect the 2-0 lead. He got the first out then walked a batter. Bohm then made an error on a potential double-play ball that could have ended the game.

Blood pressures were rising in the Phillies' dugout, on the field and back home in the 215, the 610, the 609 and the 484. (Apologies if we left out your digits.)

Thomson was completely chill. He went to the mound as if he was looking to borrow a cup of sugar. He met with Alvarado, Realmuto and the infield. His voice was so calm that Bohm said he couldn't even hear him. Hoskins heard him.

"He just wanted to give us a minute to regroup," Hoskins said. "He basically told Alvy to trust 100. He told him he was doing great. 'You're going to throw a 100 mph sinker and get a ground ball and we're going to get out of here.'"

And the Phillies did get out of there. Another nice piece of leadership by Philly Rob.

The new Alvarado

First and second, one out, bottom of the ninth, two-run game, on enemy soil with the crowd going wild.

Back in April and May, Alvarado might have come unglued and the story of Game 1 of the NLCS might have been very different than the one the Phillies enjoyed Tuesday night.

But this is a new Alvarado. A trip to the minors and the addition of a mental skills coach to his daily routine turned his season around.

"His turnaround is one of the big reasons we're here," Realmuto said.

With the pressure mounting, Alvarado kept it together and retired two big hitters, Manny Machado and Josh Bell, to pick up Bohm and end the game.

"My confidence was really high," Alvarado said of getting those last two pressure-packed outs. "I knew I was executing pitches, doing what I was supposed to do. I'm not the Alvarado from the past that would panic on the mound or start thinking too much. Now I try to remain calm and try to keep my demeanor the same way."

He succeeded.

And so did the Phillies in Game 1 of the NLCS.

They are 6-1 this postseason. They have won the first game of all three series on the road.

Game 2 is Wednesday afternoon. Aaron Nola gets the ball.

"Game 1 is so important," Realmuto said. "Those guys are playing great baseball over there. They have a lot of great hitters and a lot of talent in that lineup. For Zack and our pitchers to come in here and shut the door in Game 1 is a big momentum builder and we feel confident with Nola in Game 2."

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