PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Rob Thomson gripped a bottle of bubbly in the exhilarating moments after the Philadelphia Phillies clinched a second straight postseason berth and called Bryce Harper, Bryson Stott & crew “the most resilient team I’ve ever been around.”
The second-year manager then pointed his bottle toward catcher J.T. Realmuto and asked, “How many more playoff wins ... ”
Realmuto cut him off and shouted “we’ve got 13 more wins left!” before he showered Thomson in alcohol.
The countdowns after each clinch started last season — from the Wild Card Series through the National League Championship Series — but stalled in the World Series. The Phillies won 11 postseason games, two shy of the ultimate goal and their first World Series title since 2008.
A year later, the Phillies are back and determined to finish the job, their confidence boosted by the so-close effort in a loss to Houston in the World Series and a lineup and pitching staff they believe are deeper than the ones from last fall.
Led by Kyle Schwarber's 47 homers, six players hit at least 20. Their top three starters combined to win 40 games.
Everyone in Philly is on board. Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid wore a “Red October” stocking cap at the team's media day Monday and the Phillies drew more than 3 million fans for the first time in a decade.
“I think our position players are rested, but I think they're still sharp,” Thomson said at Monday's workout. “We're in a good spot.”
The Marlins are in Philly for a best-of-three Wild Card Series hoping to spoil the mood.
The Phillies will send Zack Wheeler (13-6, 3.61 ERA) to the mound Tuesday night in Game 1 and Aaron Nola (12-9, 4.46) in Game 2. The Marlins have Jesús Luzardo (10-9, 3.63 ERA) on the bump for the opener and Braxton Garrett (9-7, 3.66) in Game 2.
Miami's payroll is puny compared to lavish spenders from New York to San Diego that are sitting out this postseason. But the Marlins' drive is as strong as their ability to eek out the close ones. Miami finished a remarkable 33-13 in one-run games, the best winning percentage (.718) in the National League since 1980.
Because of that, the Marlins are in the playoffs for only the fourth time in their 31-year history.
Miami went 7-6 against the Phillies this season and 4-2 at Citizens Bank Park, numbers that prove the Marlins could steal a series in October. The Phillies know it can be done — they won two games in St. Louis in last year's Wild Card round.
“I think this group is used to playing with expectations,” Realmuto said. “That comes with the territory when you play here in Philly. That run we went on last year is absolutely going to bring a little more expectation, so that's a little more pressure we're going to have to play with. With the confidence we have, it won't be a problem playing with a little extra pressure.”
Luis Arraez became the first Marlins player to hit for the cycle when he went 4 for 5 with a homer, two runs scored and two RBIs in April at Philadelphia.
The hits kept on coming.
Arraez took the NL batting title at .354, a year after winning the AL crown at .316 for Minnesota. He did not start any of Miami’s last seven regular-season games because of a sprained left ankle. But he was expected to play in Game 1.
“I'd think it'd have to be a lot for him not to be in the lineup,” manager Skip Schumaker said.
Luzardo was raised in South Florida and grew up rooting for Marlins stars such as Juan Pierre and Miguel Cabrera. Luzardo was 6 years old when he attended Game 3 of the 2003 World Series, a 6-1 New York Yankees win. The Marlins still won the Series — the franchise's last championship — and Luzardo never stopped rooting for them, even in the lean seasons that followed.
The left-hander was thrilled he was traded to the Marlins ahead of the 2021 season. And the 26-year-old still can't believe he's starting Game 1 for Miami.
“Getting in this position is something I can't put into words,” he said. “It really hasn't hit me yet, so hopefully down the road it does. So far, I'm just enjoying the ride and trying to make it last as long as possible.”
Luzardo is 3-0 with a 3.26 ERA and 37 strikeouts in five career appearances against the Phillies. He went 2-0 against them this season and allowed five runs in 12 1/3 innings over two starts.
Luzardo has postseason experience after making two starts with Oakland in 2020. But he said he'll have to keep his emotions in check when he takes the mound for his hometown team — one counting on him to go deep in the postseason.
“I feel like we've all played in big games before,” he said. “It's just really a matter of taking your personal feelings and personal thoughts out of the game. You just want to focus on the game in front of you.”
Should the Marlins need a tip or two on how to win a postseason game in Philadelphia in front of one of the loudest, rowdiest atmospheres in baseball, they can just ask their manager.
Schumaker played on the St. Louis Cardinals when Chris Carpenter tossed a 1-0 shutout in a decisive Game 5 against Roy Halladay and the 102-win Phillies in their 2011 NL Division Series.
Rafael Furcal led off the game with a triple against Halladay and scored on Schumaker’s double. Schumaker fell into an 0-2 hole before fouling off five two-strike pitches. He finally doubled on the 10th pitch of the at-bat.
“He had so many good weapons that you're fighting for your life,” he said. “I just got lucky and he hung a curveball.”
Schumaker, who made a rare start in center field in Game 5, called it the at-bat of his career and the “best game I've ever been a part of.” That includes all the World Series games played when St. Louis won it all in 2006 and 2011.
“I watch that game all the time, not because I hit the double, because it was so well-played,” he said. “It was one that I'll remember forever.”
But the lessons learned in that series are ones Schumaker believes can be transferred to the Marlins even 12 years later.
“I think what you take away is just get in, you have a shot,” he said. “All we wanted was a chance. We have it. We have the ability to play in the postseason. We're in the tournament now and we have a shot. That's all you can ask for.”
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB