Silver Slugger or Gold Glove? Nick Castellanos does it all in Game 1


ATLANTA -- Nick Castellanos didn't have the season the Phillies expected when they signed him to a five-year, $100 million contract back in March.

But the season isn't over. And if Castellanos wants to play the way he did Tuesday, the Phillies will surely take it -- and they might continue playing for a while.

Castellanos was one of the stars in the Phillies' 7-6 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Truist Park.

He shined at the plate and in right field.

"Yes," was Rhys Hoskins' answer when asked if Castellanos deserved a Silver Slugger or Gold Glove award for his contributions to the win.

Castellanos had two singles, a double, three RBIs and a run scored in his first three at-bats of the day as the Phils built a 7-1 lead against the defending World Series champions. Not bad for a guy whose .694 OPS ranked 107th out of 130 qualifying major-leaguers during the regular season.

As if that wasn't enough, he made what might have been a game-saving catch in right field for the second out in the bottom of the ninth inning. Not bad for a guy who, according to Fangraphs, ranked last among qualifying right fielders with a defensive runs saved score of minus-9.

The Phillies took a 7-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth. Zach Eflin, with only a month of bullpen experience under his belt, came on to close it out. He ran into immediate trouble in the form of a pair of singles by Ronald Acuña Jr. and Dansby Swanson. The Home of the Braves, sold out and rocking, was in full tomahawk-chop mode. Eflin briefly quieted the crowd by striking out Austin Riley, but the place came alive again when Matt Olson clubbed a three-run homer to dead center to make it a one-run game.

Tension mounted in the Phillies' dugout and on the mound. Then Castellanos made the play of the game. He got a good break on a sinking liner off the bat of William Contreras and made a sliding catch for the second out.

With the ball in his glove, Castellanos ended up on his back. He looked to the sky.

Later, he was asked what he was thinking.

"Thank God I caught that ball," he said.

After the catch, Eflin settled down and got Travis d'Arnaud to ground out to end the game.

"The only thing on my mind was, 'Please catch it,'" a relieved Eflin said after the game. "I didn't really think much of the three-run homer because I knew we still had the good lead. Casty made an awesome play in right field that really got the momentum back for us so I could really go right after d'Arnaud and challenge him.

"Casty was incredible. We couldn't have done it without those guys today. The seven-spot gave us a comfortable lead to go out and attack guys. Hats off to them. They played their asses off today."

The Phillies' bats produced just nine hits in two games in St. Louis. The Phillies won that NL wild-card series on the strength of pitching and defense. The bats came alive in this one. The Phils got their ninth hit, matching their St. Louis total, in the fourth inning.

After getting 13 scoreless innings from Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola in the two games in St. Louis, the Phils received a so-so start from Ranger Suarez in Game 1 against the Braves. Suarez lasted just 3⅓ innings and walked five but he was resilient and did an excellent job limiting damage with runners on base. Twice he made huge pitches to get out of bases-loaded jams in the first three innings. 

The pitching shined brightest out of the bullpen. Well, at least in pockets of it. Manager Rob Thomson had to reach deep into his relief corps. Connor Brogdon and Eflin combined to give up five runs -- one of the hits Eflin gave up was an infield hit -- but Andrew Bellatti, Brad Hand, Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado picked up 13 crucial outs. Dominguez got through the sixth and seventh on 18 pitches and Alvarado got through the eighth on 11 pitches.

Dominguez struggled after coming back from a triceps injury in September, but he has dazzled, striking out five in 2⅔ innings over two postseason outings. With David Robertson down and Eflin teetering on Tuesday, Dominguez could be more important than ever starting in Game 2 on Wednesday. 

"Incredible," Thomson said of Dominguez' work. "His last outing in St. Louis was huge for his confidence, and these two innings today were magnificent. Him and Alvarado did a great job. So did Bellatti and Hand."

Bryce Harper missed two months with a broken left thumb and struggled to regain his stroke so he could empathize with what Dominguez went through coming off the IL in September.

"I think it takes time to get back to where you need to be after (an injury)," Harper said. "Now it's clicking for him. That's huge for us. It's huge for our whole bullpen. He's been throwing the crap out of the ball. Alvy has been throwing the crap out of it.

"If we can have our starting pitching do what they do and our bullpen do their job, we're going to win baseball games."

That starting pitching begins with Wheeler and Nola. Wheeler goes in Game 2 on Wednesday (against right-hander Kyle Wright) and Nola in Game 3 on Friday.

Being a game up in a best-of-five series with your two best pitchers ready to go isn't a bad place to be.

"Anytime you have Wheeler and Nola going, I think you feel good," Thomson said. "But you also have to understand, respect what (the Braves) have over there. Because they've got some pretty good pitching, too. We just have to keep playing one game at a time, one pitch at a time 

"We've just got to worry about tomorrow. But I always feel good when those two guys are pitching, I can tell you that."

And it doesn't hurt that Castellanos is getting hits -- and taking them away.

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