After an absolutely dominant pitching performance from Zack Wheeler gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead in the NLCS, they looked to be in great shape to take a commanding 2-0 lead on Wednesday afternoon. Terrible defense from the Padres gifted the Phils a 4-0 lead. Unfortunately, as this team is no stranger to doing, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
The Phillies got to Padres starter Blake Snell in the second inning of game two, not with sharp line drives or long fly balls, but with soft flares that barely made it out of the infield. With two on and no one out Alec Bohm lofted a bloop single into right field to get the Phillies on the board. After a Jean Segura strikeout, Matt Vierling skied one out to right field deep enough for a sacrifice fly. However, Juan Soto lost the ball in the sun and it turned into an RBI double. An Edmundo Sosa single made it 3-0 Phils, and a botched double play ball to Brandon Drury gave the Phillies a 4-0 advantage.
The second inning looked to be more Phillies magic, as they scored four runs despite barely hitting the ball hard. Aaron Nola ran into trouble in the bottom of the frame when he surrendered back-to-back home runs to Drury and Josh Bell, but even so the Phils still led 4-2. Then the wheels came off.
Nola went completely off the rails in the fifth inning. A one out single from his brother Austin scored Ha-Seong Kim, while a double from Soto scored Austin Nola to tie the game. Aaron Nola then struck out Manny Machado for the second out, and Manager Rob Thomson called upon Brad Hand to staunch the bleeding.
Hand beaned Jake Cronenworth to load the bases, and then gave up a two-run single to Drury. 6-4 Friars. A Josh Bell single made it a 7-4 game and Andrew Bellatti was brought in. After walking Kim he struck out Trent Grisham to put an end to our misery. All told, the Padres batted around and scored five runs in the inning. Despite having almost half the game left to play, everyone knew this one was over.
Not too much happened after that. Machado made it 8-4 with a solo shot in the seventh, and Rhys Hoskins got that run back with a solo homer of his own in the eighth. The score held 8-5 as the Padres evened the series up.
Wednesday’s game was a throwback to an era we all were hoping was over. This wasn’t just a normal “wasn’t their day” kind of loss. This was a classic, old school, soul crushing Phillies loss that we’ve seen so many times before. Like the 7-1 come-from-behind Mets win earlier this year. It may not have been quite as spectacular of a failure as that one, but it sure matters a heck of a lot more.
You want to know how awful the Phillies’ pitching was in this game? The only pitchers who didn’t allow runs were Bellatti (who could barely find the strike zone), Connor Brogdon (who has been completely unreliable for over a month), and Kyle Gibson. KYLE GIBSON. Kyle Gibson threw the last 1.1 innings of the game and held the Padres scoreless. The same Kyle Gibson who had an ERA over 9.00 in September. The same Kyle Gibson who fans were clamoring to be left off of the playoff roster. That man had the best day out of any Phillie who took the mound. Pathetic.
I don’t want to blast Aaron Nola. He has been truly excellent this postseason. His starts against both the Cardinals and Braves were crucial in the Phillies advancing this far. But, he was terrible on Wednesday. It happens. He’s an ace, but even aces have bad days. Unfortunately, Nola’s bad day happened to come when a trip to the World Series was on the line.
It’s not only disappointing and regrettable that the phones lost today, but it could be season-altering, too. Instead of heading back to Philadelphia with a rock solid 2-0 lead and a chance to win on their home field, they return with a two-game split in San Diego, and a much more tenuous position. They’ll roll out Ranger Suárez on Friday night against the red-hot Joe Musgrove. Hopefully the Phils can pull a rabbit out of their hat for that one. Then it’s likely another bullpen game.
Zack Wheeler will be able to take charge once more in game five, but what will the series look like at that point? Will the Phillies be close to, if not ready to advance? Or will they be staring down the barrel of elimination, wishing they hadn’t let an easy win slip through their gasp? Only time will tell.