‘We finally made it' — Phillies players celebrate clincher, thirst for more


HOUSTON -- Around the Phillies, it was simply known as The Drought, 10 years of no playoffs. It hung like a weight around the organization's neck and got heavier and heavier the last few seasons as ownership wrote big check after big check for top free agents, only to see other teams play in October.

So when the Phillies got there with a 3-0 win in Houston on Monday night, it was cathartic. There were hugs, there were tributes and there was champagne.

"Wow," Rhys Hoskins said between swigs. "What a long time coming. Too long. But this is the best.

"And all that (crap) about Aaron Nola in September. I think that can go away now."

Hoskins took another swig, grabbed Kyle Schwarber and hugged him.

"Does this guy know how to have a big game, or what?" he said.

Hoskins made a couple of good points. Nola had a couple of poor Septembers in recent seasons and that hurt the Phillies' playoff chances and the drought grew. Though Nola was pitching on the third day of October on Monday, it was still the final month of the season. He didn't just look that old narrative in the eye and stare it down, he punched it in the face and blackened its eye by retiring the first 20 batters he faced, nine by strikeout.

And Schwarber, well, he drove in two of the Phillies' runs with a pair of homers in the biggest win of the season.

"Forty-six!" Hoskins exclaimed.

Nola had everyone thinking he was going to pitch a perfect game for a while.

"I thought so," Schwarber said. "I was like, 'Man, this is going to be unbelievable.' That would have been a great one for everyone to hold on to."

It still was.

"Honest to God, I thought he was going to throw a perfect game, I really did," manager Rob Thomson said. "And when I went out to take him out (with two outs in the seventh), I thought he was going to chew my head off. He just had that look in his eye. But all night he had that look in his eye, like I'm going to get this thing done. And his stuff was great. And he just mowed them down. 

"I think we can stop all that September talk now."

Schwarber continued to marvel at Nola's effort.

"I've only seen him as an opponent and being his teammate this year," Schwarber said. "If I could label him and say how important he is as a pitcher and a teammate and just to an organization, it would be this game. You rely on him. You need him. And he goes out and does that."

Nola was typically soft-spoken and humble after the biggest win of his life.

Perfect game?

"I just wanted to get a win, man, honestly," he said in the din of the Phillies' victorious clubhouse. "That's the most important thing. It would be great to pitch one, but I mean, look at this. Can't get better than this right here. A win's a win. That's all that matters."

A moment later, Nola clenched his fists by his side, looked at his celebrating teammates and said, "We finally made it."

Schwarber has been a huge difference maker for this team all season. His big June -- 12 homers and 27 RBIs -- helped turn a dead team into a contender. He hit two huge homers in a crucial win Saturday night and two more in the clincher Monday, the first one on the first pitch of the game. How's that for saying, 'Get on my back, boys'?

"You've got to love playing in games like this," Schwarber said. "This is what it's about. This is why you play the game, to get into position to be in something that the whole league is not going to be in. That's why you play. And you play to get to that ultimate goal, which is the World Series and we took care of that first step tonight."

Schwarber went on to speak about all the challenges the team faced this year.

"This is very satisfying because you know what -- it's a long-ass season," he said. "It's unbelievably long and to see the things that we went through as a team, where you go through a manager change, you go through (Bryce Harper) being down, you go through (Jean Segura) being down, you go through (Zack) Wheeler being down, you go through the naysayers saying we can't catch the baseball, it makes it that much more satisfying to be where we're at. And you know what -- the September that we had, it wasn't the September that we wanted it to be, but to be in the position we are and be able to celebrate at the end of the year, that's what it's all about."

Harper spoke about that managerial change, the one where Thomson took over for Joe Girardi with the team seven games under .500 in June.

"Rob Thomson does a great job for us," Harper said. "He's our leader at the top. He's done a great job making sure that we all stay even-keeled each day. That when you go on a winning streak or losing streak you just keep going, you flush the day before and you understand that you have more and more each day. I think he's a big reason why we're here right now."

That quote sounds like a letter of recommendation. Thomson is, after all, still the interim manager. The interim manager is 21 games over .500 and headed to the postseason.

The Phillies don't yet know who they will play in the first round of the playoffs. They could be in St. Louis on Friday night or New York. They will play the best-of-three series on the road. Their goal is to get back home for a playoff game.

The Drought is over.

"We knew it was there, we knew it coming into the season," Schwarber said. "Our fans wanted us to be here and they let us know that. 

"We want to get it done for them. We're not out here trying to screw things up. We're out here trying to win. And now that we're here, we're going to try to bring this back to Philadelphia and get these people in the seats and hear what this thing is all about. I want to see it. I want to hear it. I've seen videos. It looks unbelievable and I want to see it with my own eyes so it's our job to get it back to them now."

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