Phillies' bullpen picks up Falter and 25 huge outs as the strategies keep working


When Rob Thomson was forced out of the dugout to remove Bailey Falter after just two-thirds of an inning Saturday night, it looked like one of the Phillies' postseason plans had finally failed.

The Padres scored four times in the opening frame to chase Falter after he recorded the first two outs. It put the Phils as far behind as they've been in any game this postseason.

The Phillies knew Game 4 was going to be a challenge. They knew they were going to need their bullpen for as many as 20 outs because Falter hadn't pitched in 18 days. They also knew they were without Jose Alvarado and Seranthony Dominguez, their top two relievers this month. Alvarado had appeared in seven of the previous nine games and threw 27 pitches Friday in his wildest outing of the playoffs. Dominguez threw 34 pitches in a two-inning save.

But even without Falter going one full turn through San Diego's lineup, even with Alvarado and Dominguez down, the Phillies' bullpen picked up the final 25 outs of the game. 

Connor Brogdon, Andrew Bellatti, Brad Hand, Noah Syndergaard, David Robertson and Zach Eflin combined to pitch 8⅓ innings. They allowed just two runs -- both charged to Hand -- and put only six men on base. 

"It was a lot of fun, wasn't it?" Robertson said after recording the final two outs of the seventh inning and all three in the eighth of the Phillies' 10-6 win.

"We're in the bullpen for a reason and that's to pick up the starter. Bailey had a short outing but Connor came in, filled up the zone, got outs and kept us in the ballgame.

"It was what we had to do today. We knew it was going to be one of those games where a lot of guys were going to get used. It was just next man up every time. Whoever went out there did their best and passed the baton to the next guy. You try to keep the game as close as you can and give your lineup a chance to get the lead."

Brogdon was a major key. He ended a tense top of the first and then pitched 1-2-3 innings in the second and third to stabilize things after the Phillies had scored three early to make it a one-run game. If Brogdon falters (no pun intended), it's a completely different game.

The quietly reliable Bellatti followed with a 1-2-3 fourth with two K's. Bellatti has a 3.24 ERA with 13.0 strikeouts per nine innings as a Phillie, including the playoffs.

After Hand stumbled in the fifth and was taken deep by Juan Soto, Syndergaard got the Phillies through the sixth inning and part of the seventh before Robertson and Eflin finished the job. Both looked sharp, giving the Phils four legitimate late-inning options moving forward.

The Phillies are now 4-0 in the playoffs in the games not started by Zack Wheeler or Aaron Nola. They've won both of Ranger Suarez' starts, Game 4 of the NLDS started by Syndergaard and Game 4 of the NLCS started by Falter.

Who would have guessed the Phillies would be in this position, one win away from the World Series? And who would have guessed the bullpen, a unit that has been maligned for years and was shaky at times in 2022 even after considerable turnover, would be so instrumental?

"It's awesome," Alvarado said. "I'm very happy. Everybody is on the same level, everybody is together and that's the result."

Thomson's pitching plans for Games 5 and 6 will be much more traditional. Wheeler will start Sunday at Citizens Bank Park opposite Yu Darvish as the Phillies look to send the Padres home for the year. Nola is lined up to start Game 6, if necessary.

And those top two relievers who have 100 mph fastballs with movement? They'll be ready to go as well.

"It's great," said Kyle Schwarber, who homered, singled, walked and has reached base in 15 of his last 26 plate appearances. "We put ourselves in a great position but nothing's easy in this game. The job is not complete."

Not quite yet, but the Phillies are as close as a team can be to the World Series without actually being there. They need just one more win and have the right guy on the mound Sunday with their next-best option lined up for Monday in San Diego -- if there even is a Monday in San Diego.

"I think we have three starters that are really, really good, and I think we have a great bullpen," Bryce Harper said. "I believe our team is built for October."

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