A guy playing in his 60th game above Double A got it started. A guy who did not get a single postseason hit on a four-seamer last year drove in a run on one. And a guy cut this spring by one of the worst teams in history drove in another.
Unfortunately for the Marlins, those are the Phillies’ No. 7, 8 and 9 hitters, and that’s who won Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series, 4–1. Philadelphia’s stars played well, especially ace Zack Wheeler, who tossed 6⅔ innings of one-run ball, and shortstop Trea Turner, who went 2-for-3 with a walk and two stolen bases. But every team, including Miami, has stars. Most teams do not boast the bottom-of-the-order firepower that the Phillies demonstrated Tuesday.
“Everyone's here for a reason,” said Turner. “And we all can contribute.”
It was speedy 23-year-old center fielder Johan Rojas, batting ninth, who started the scoring against Marlins lefty Jesús Luzardo. DH Kyle Schwarber had singled and Turner had doubled to lead off the game, but the Phillies could not bring them in, and they went down in order in the second. Rojas is on the roster mostly because he can catch just about anything. He had never played in a playoff game at any level, so he told himself today to try to enjoy the moment. Leading off the bottom of the third, Rojas took or fouled off eight pitches before shooting the ninth one to left field. In the dugout, catcher J.T. Realmuto, playing in his 10th major league season, gaped. He turned to No. 3 starter Taijuan Walker, who is in his 11th, and said, “You don’t see that very often out of a rookie in his first postseason at-bat.”
Meanwhile, Rojas darted to second on a wild pitch, then scored on a double by third baseman Alec Bohm for the game’s first run.
Afterward, manager Rob Thomson said, “[Rojas is] such an electric player, and he can impact the game in so many ways. His poise level, since he's been up here, has just been unbelievable for a young kid like he is that [had] never been above Double A.”
An inning later, with runners on second and third, second baseman and No. 7 hitter Bryson Stott strode to the plate. Last October, pitchers threw Stott 132 four-seam fastballs. He did not turn a single one into a base hit. “I think I probably swung and missed at half of them,” he said. So he spent the winter working on that pitch, doing top-hand drills and using a high-velocity pitching machine. On Tuesday, after missing with two sliders, Luzardo threw him a 96-mph four-seamer at the belt. Stott lashed it into center field to drive in the Phillies’ second run.
Alec Bohm is CLUTCH. pic.twitter.com/03H5kpMZlL— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) October 4, 2023
“I think that’s just a credit to how good our team is from top to bottom,” said Castellanos. “It’s a credit to everybody in a Philadelphia Phillies jersey.”
Next up was left fielder Cristian Pache, batting ninth. Two years ago, he was one of the centerpieces of the trade that sent Matt Olson from the A’s to Atlanta. But Pache hit .166 last season, and Oakland acquired Esteury Ruiz this winter. Six months ago, the team designated Pache for assignment. The Phillies picked him up for a minor league reliever. In the second inning, you could see why the A’s were so willing to let Pache go. He had looked for an inside pitch and whiffed by a couple of feet at three inside sliders, including one in the dirt. But in the fourth, he told himself to look for a fastball middle-away instead. He laid off two more tricky inside sliders, plus an outside changeup, and then he got that fastball over the middle. He lined it to center to score Stott.
Is Pache having more fun in Philadelphia than he would have been in Oakland?
He smiled. “Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I just have to thank God for the opportunity.”
He won’t have to wait even 24 hours for his next one. If the Phillies win on Wednesday, they advance to the National League Division Series, where they will play Atlanta, whom they knocked off last year on their way to the World Series. This team is deeper than the team that took the Astros to seven games, they believe. They added Turner in the offseason, and the young players have another year of experience. And because the strongest hitters are so good, the weaker ones feel less pressure—which allows them to play better. The Phillies’ success starts at the top. But it continues all the way to the bottom.