The Shohei Ohtani Show (formerly the Ohtani & Trout Traveling Baseball Revue, a.k.a. the Los Angeles Angels) rolled into Citizens Bank Park Monday night. And most of the pregame chatter centered on the exploits of the greatest two-way player in the game's history and laments that a torn UCL in his throwing elbow meant he would hit, but not pitch, in the series. Also regret that superstar Mike Trout, the pride of Millville NJ, wouldn’t appear against the Phillies because he’s back on the injured list.
Then the big clock in centerfield struck 6:43 p.m. and the first pitch was thrown and everything changed.
The Phillies mashed three more home runs, two by shortstop Trea Turner and one off the bat of Bryce Harper, to hijack the story line and give the Phillies a 6-4 win over the Halos in front of an announced crowd of 38,142.
The Phillies are now a season-high 15 games over .500 at 73-58 and have a comfortable lead in the National League wild card standings. Speaking of which. . .
“If you have to pick a World Series winner, I always kind of pick a wild card team,” Turner said. “Because you’ve got to play really well for the last month, two weeks, whatever it is, and then continue into the postseason.
“You see it year after year. It doesn’t always happen but it seems like year after year there’s a wild card team that goes really far into the postseason and is really dangerous. Wild card teams are scary. Not to say that anybody can’t win it, obviously. But to make it as a wild card team you’ve got to be playing really well at the end of the year. And we feel like we’re a dangerous team. We’ve been playing good and we’ve got to just keep doing what we’re doing.”
Turner may be onto something. When he won the World Series with the Nationals in 2019, Washington made the tournament as a wild card. The Phillies made it all the way to Game 5 of the Fall Classic despite being the last NL team to punch its admission ticket.
In all, since the wild card was instituted in 1995 there have been seven non-divisions winners (Marlins in 1997 and 2003, Angels in 2002, Red Sox in 2004, Cardinals in 2011, Giants in 2014 and Turner’s Nats) who went on to win it all. Seven other teams advanced to the World Series before losing.
And while there are still five weeks to go in the regular season, the Phillies have been legitimately hot for three months now. Since June 2 they’re 48-26, a .649 winning percentage.
One of the reasons for their recent success is that, after a slow start they’ve begun hitting home runs closer to the pace that many envisioned going into the season. With two games in August remaining, they’ve launched 51 bombs, smashing the previous franchise record.
Of course, pitching is key in the playoffs. And five batters into Monday night’s game, the Angels had the lead. Really, could anyone have been surprised? It was the seventh time in the Phillies last nine home games that their starting pitcher gave up at least one run in the top of the first.
This time it was Taijuan Walker, who opened the game by hitting first baseman Nolan Schanuel with a pitch and then allowed a sharp single up the middle to Ohtani. Walker came close to slipping out of trouble, but shortstop Luis Rengifo singled to score Schanuel.
That brought up the Phillies Alumni Association portion of the Angels order, former top prospects Mickey Moniak and Logan O’Hoppe, both traded to the Halos on August 2, 2022 in transactions that netted Brandon Marsh and righthander Noah Syndergaard.
Moniak bunted for a base hit to load the bases and O’Hoppe followed by ripping a wicked one-hopper – exit velocity 102.6 m.p.h. – to shortstop that Turner made a nifty play on and threw him out at first.
The Shei Hey Kid didn’t take over the game, as he’s capable of doing, but the Phillies also made sure he was accounted for each time he stepped into the lefthanded batter’s box.
In the fourth he came up with two outs and runners on second and third and was walked intentionally, but not before Walker threw three pitches outside the zone in a futile attempt to get him to chase. In the sixth, even though there were two outs and nobody on, manager Rob Thomson replaced the righthanded Walker with the lefthanded Matt Strahm, who got the strikeout.
With Gregory Soto on the mound in the eighth, again with the bases empty and two away, the lefty challenged a batter with 44 home runs already this season even though the Phillies led by just one run. Ohtani bit on a 99.1 mile an hour sinker up and in, and grounded out to the right side.
Walker, to borrow a phrase from former Phillies announcer Chris Wheeler, danced between raindrops throughout his 5 2/3 innings. He gave up eight hits. He walked two, one intentionally. He hit a batter. And still managed to give up just three runs while stranding nine runners, five of them in scoring position.
On the plus side, he pretty much held his velocity from his previous start on August 22 and that’s the first marker the Phillies look for these days.
Before that outing he had been given nine days of rest in hopes that his arm would bounce back and were pleased when his 4-seasm fastball averaged 93 and his sinker 91.7. Monday night his four-seamer averaged 92.2 and his sinker 92.3 according to Baseball Savant.
With so much time left in the regular season and all the booby traps that the playoffs contain, there are any number of teams that could hoist the big trophy this season. But the Phillies are certainly one of them.