‘They can smell it' — Why Rob Thomson thinks Phillies have something special brewing


ST. LOUIS -- Rob Thomson was trying to navigate his way out of the champagne- and beer-soaked mosh pit that was the visiting clubhouse at Busch Stadium late Saturday night when he came face to face with a reporter hanging out by the door trying to stay dry.

"You feel like you got something special brewing here?" Thomson was asked.

"Yeah, I do," he said.


"Because these guys are playing so unselfish right now. They just want it. They can smell it. They want it."

A plume of champagne spray interrupted Thomson's thought, but he said enough.

A quick, two-game dispatch of the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League wild-card series has extended this Phillies season, extended their first trip to the postseason in 11 years, to the Division Series, where they will play the Atlanta Braves in a best-of-five event starting Tuesday night on the road.

Though the Phillies had a difficult time nailing down the playoff berth in September, they did it, and they did it with a few galvanizing wins during the final week of the regular season. Kyle Schwarber had a two-homer game in a must-win on the final Saturday night of the regular season in Washington and Aaron Nola pitched a masterpiece Monday night in Houston to clinch the postseason berth. Schwarber had another two-homer game in that one.

Though the Phillies did not do a lot offensively in the St. Louis series -- they were 9 for 57 (.158) as a team and four of their starters went hitless -- they got enough timely hits to win it because their pitching was spectacular, led by 13 shutout innings from Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola.

Road wins on enemy turf -- there were 48,515 in the stands Saturday night -- build confidence and this team has it. You can hear it in J.T. Realmuto's voice. The All-Star catcher, who is not prone to boasting, said, "I can promise you, nobody's excited to play the Phillies right now."

Especially with Wheeler and Nola at the top of the rotation. They might not be Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, but they're pretty damn good.

"We have a great 1-2 punch," champagne-soaked Bryce Harper said Saturday night.

"Get in and get hot, I've always heard that," Wheeler said. "We're going to face a tough team for sure. It's going to be a battle and I can't wait. It's early. We've just got to keep this momentum."

Ranger Suarez lines up to pitch Tuesday night's series opener with Wheeler on Wednesday and Nola in Philadelphia for Game 3 on Friday.

The Phillies went 8-11 this season against the 101-win Braves, winners of the NL East.

"We know them well, they know us well," Harper said. "It's baseball. It's a crazy game. Anything can happen. Anyone can get hot and keep it going."

Wheeler and Nola are hot. The bats need to get hot. It would be nice if Seranthony Dominguez got hot. Or stayed hot. He was brilliant coming out of the bullpen in high-leverage situations for the first 4½ months of the season. He went down with triceps tendinitis in late August, made it back in mid-September, but did not have the same command of his power repertoire. The walks piled up. It became difficult to trust him with the game on the line.

But Thomson trusted Dominguez with the game on the line Saturday night and Realmuto trusted him, as well. 

"There's no one else we want in this situation other than you," Realmuto told Dominguez during a mound visit with MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt at the plate and two men on base. "Trust your stuff."

Dominguez struck out Goldschmidt on a 3-2 sinking fastball then ended the threat by striking out Nolan Arenado. Those are two 100-plus RBI men. They know how to get runs home. But Dominguez showed everybody that he still knows how to get outs. He rewarded his manager's confidence and got two of the biggest outs in the 2-0 series-clinching win.

"It's baseball," Dominguez said. "It's like life. Sometimes you struggle, sometimes you're going to be good. You've got to keep working no matter what."

Rhys Hoskins went 0 for 9 in the two games and as much as that probably stung deep down inside, he was pure elation after Saturday night's win. He's a team-first guy who embodies the unselfishness Thomson spoke about. He was thrilled for Dominguez.

"I can't wait to go re-watch the at-bat against Goldschmidt," he said. "The guy is probably the MVP of the league and Seranthony was just nasty."

As Dominguez was clutching-up and striking out Goldschmidt and Arenado with the game on the line, Harper was in the dugout, reciting what has become his daily mantra.

We're not losing this game. We're not losing this game.

Apparently, it's all that comes out of his mouth before the game in the clubhouse and in the batting cage. He says it in the dugout throughout the game.

"It's just a message he puts out there -- we're not going to lose," Thomson said. "We're going to do whatever we can to win this game. I think it's a good message. I really do. And it showed with our unselfishness during the series, with our position players and our pitchers."

In Harper's view, the unselfishness starts at the top.

"We play together," he said. "We're super-close. We're a family in here. We pull together each day and our manager has our back and wants us to succeed. This organization puts everything we need in front of us to be able to succeed and we owe it to them and we owe it to the fans of Philadelphia. We're excited that we'll be playing back at home (for Game 3). I can't wait to get back and see the crowd in the stands. I get chills thinking about it."

But first, it's two in Atlanta.

"Keep grinding," Harper said.

Keep smelling it.

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