Phillies' magic number at 3 thanks to split, Marlins' late-night magic


WASHINGTON -- This is what a playoff race looks like behind the scenes in real time.

The Phillies had just rolled over the Washington Nationals, 8-2, in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday night to go up a half-game on the Milwaukee Brewers in the battle for the final National League wild-card playoff berth.

A time zone away, the Brewers were leading by a run in the top of the ninth inning, but the visiting Miami Marlins were threatening.

A shirtless Rhys Hoskins emerged from the trainer's room, cell phone in hand, riveted to the action from Milwaukee.

Bryan De La Cruz was at the plate for Miami with runners on second and third. Devin Williams was on the mound for Milwaukee, trying to protect a one-run lead.

The count went full. Hoskins wondered aloud what pitch Williams would throw De La Cruz. Williams threw a changeup and ...

"Come on! Yeah!" Hoskins shouted as he watched De La Cruz stroke a two-run single to left field to score the tying and go-ahead runs.

Shouts of joy were heard from all reaches of the Phillies' clubhouse, from inside the shower, from back in the trainer's room.

"Go Feesh!" someone with a Spanish accent shouted.

The Marlins, who had tormented the Phillies so many times in recent years, helped them on this occasion. Their 4-3 win over Milwaukee, coupled with the Phillies' win Saturday night, left the Phillies with a full game lead over the Brewers with four to play.

The Phillies' magic number for making the postseason for the first time since 2011 is down to three. The Marlins have helped the Phillies with late rallies against the Brewers two of the last three nights.

Kyle Schwarber watched the Marlins' rally in the trainer's room. Moments later, he emerged with a smile on his face.

"Baseball is fun," he said. "That's why we all say you have to enjoy this. A lot of people aren't in this position right now. A lot of people are making their offseason plans right now and we're trying to make sure we're not doing that."

What a day of baseball it was for the Phillies. They played poorly in the opener and lost 13-4 to the worst team in baseball. The Phils played poor defense in the second inning of that game and it led to five runs. In the big picture, the loss dropped the Phils into a tie with Milwaukee.

In between games, Schwarber said the Phillies regrouped. 

"Obviously, we needed to play better," he said.

But Schwarber tried to spread a more calming message, one he learned as a young player with the Chicago Cubs: Postseason chases don't happen all the time. Ditch the pressure. Enjoy it.

Then he came out for the second game and put his money where his mouth was. He hit the second pitch of the game over the right-field wall. It was one of five homers the Phillies hit against right-hander Tommy Romero, who was making just his second big-league start. Schwarber hit his league-leading 43rd and 44th.

"I think it got us right back on track," Noah Syndergaard said of Schwarber's first-inning homer.

"I just tried to execute pitches and it was fun watching the offense really explode and the guys make plays behind me."

Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh and Matt Vierling also homered for the Phillies. 

Syndergaard, in his first start in two weeks, pitched 5⅔ shutout innings and got the win. 

"Impressive," manager Rob Thomson said.

"Massive," Schwarber said of Syndergaard's effort.

The Phillies, 15-3 against Washington this season, dodged rain drops all day and night to get in the doubleheader.

Zack Wheeler is scheduled to face Patrick Corbin in the series finale on Sunday afternoon and the Phillies will need some cooperation from the weather because it's vital that the game be played. Rain is in the forecast and a postponement would push Wheeler's turn back to Monday in Houston and that would prevent him from starting the postseason opener on Friday -- should the Phils get there.

The Phillies timed Wheeler's return from the injured list in mid-September so he'd align to start the postseason opener. If he doesn't pitch Sunday, he would line up to pitch the second game of the postseason. Aaron Nola is Monday's scheduled starter in Houston. If the Phils are rained out Sunday, Nola would move back to Tuesday. He could potentially skip that start and be used in the postseason opener if the Phils can wrap up a postseason berth on Monday.

There's a lot to this. The bottom line: The Phils need to play Sunday. 

And, of course, they need to win.

And if the Marlins have one more in them up in Milwaukee, the Phils will surely take it. 

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