SAN DIEGO — “Jaw-dropping” and “bliss” would seem to be pretty fair descriptors of a Game 1 win in the National League Championship Series, and no doubt they are for Philadelphia.
But the Phillies weren’t using those words to describe the joy of safely delivering a 2-0 victory. They were using them to describe one Kyle Schwarber swing in their tidy opener against San Diego here on Tuesday night.
It was the start of the sixth inning, Zack Wheeler was dealing and they led, 1-0. Padres starter Yu Darvish fired an 87-mile-an-hour cut fastball that stayed up in the zone and over the middle of the plate. And Schwarber tore into it like a wrecking ball into a condemned, dilapidated house.
It was a signature moment, a viral moment and a time-stamped masterpiece all at once. The baseball landed in the second deck in right field, 488 feet away, the longest home run here since Petco Park opened in 2004.
It was an absolutely mammoth blast that elicited noticeable awe in the Phillies’ dugout. Bryce Harper was pictured on television with his mouth agape, his jaw seemingly dropped so low it risked scraping the dugout floor.
“Oh man, when he first hit it, I was shocked at how loud it was,” catcher JT Realmuto said. “Then to see how far it flew. That was probably the hardest hit ball I’ve ever seen in person.”
First baseman Rhys Hoskins, who smashed a three-run homer against Atlanta’s Spencer Strider in Game 3 of an NL division series, said that hitting a big home run like that is “bliss.”
“It’s like poetry in motion,” outfielder Nick Castellanos said. “It’s something that can’t really be explained. It’s like a feeling.”
Castellanos noted that his ex-teammates in Detroit, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, hit some moon shots but nothing farther than Schwarber’s blast. It was such a smash that, when he stepped in to hit two batters later, Realmuto asked San Diego catcher Austin Nola whether he had ever seen such a thing. Nola, a teammate of Realmuto’s in 2014 at Class AA Jacksonville and in 2015 at Class AAA New Orleans, said none of the Padres had ever seen a home run fly into the upper deck in Petco Park’s right field.
“That ball was as far as I’ve ever seen hit,” Nola said.
As his excited Phillies teammates welcomed him back to the dugout, Schwarber, who had dragged a 1 for 20 postseason ledger with him into this NLCS, worked to keep his cool. But it wasn’t easy.
“A lot of people just looked at me weird,” he said wryly. “But yeah, it was cool. Cool time.”
Schwarber allowed that it was probably the hardest ball he’s ever hit “by the way it went out.” He also expressed hope that maybe it will help get back on track for the rest of the postseason.
“It’s good to be able to help contribute there and start feeling a little better,” he said.
Indeed, the more contributors, the merrier for a red-hot Phillies team that is 6-1 so far this postseason and, impressively, 4-1 on the road. Although outfielder Brandon Marsh joked that Schwarber’s shot traveled so far that “it should have counted for two,” the Phillies know exactly what both the majestic home run and the terrific Tuesday night are worth. And that is, quite simply, one nice victory in an NLCS in which they need to find three more to advance to their first World Series since 2009.
They’ve done well so far by following their tried and true script. Pitching and thunder have carried the Phillies through the postseason so far, and they appear happy to ride that blueprint deep into the month.
Harper, their hottest beat this postseason, now is 11 for 27 with four homers, three doubles and seven RBI Wheeler fired seven shutout innings against the Padres in that team’s first NLCS appearance since 1998. It was more of the same, regular season or postseason : Wheeler came into the game with a scoreless streak of 18⅔ innings against the Padres and, over seven regular season career starts, a 2.06 ERA
Though the Padres battled Wheeler through a 24-pitch first inning, he sailed through the next two, needing only 13 pitches total to obtain the six outs.
“After that first inning, we were thinking, ‘Aw, man, it’s going to be a dogfight to get him through six. We’ve really got to bear down’,” Realmuto said. “Then all of a sudden he’s flying through innings having five-, six-, seven-pitch innings.”
Padres Manager Bob Melvin called it “as good a pitching performance as we’ve seen all year.”
Not until Wil Myers stroked a single up the middle with one out in the fifth did the Padres find the hit column, and Myers was only the second base runner allowed by Wheeler after Juan Soto’s first-inning walk. He also was the last. Wheeler threw seven one-hit innings, striking out eight and limiting traffic as if all roads were closed. No Padre even set foot on second base until the ninth inning, and that was only because of third baseman Alec Bohm’s throwing error on a grounder by Juan Soto that came after a Jurickson Profar walk.
Harper gave Wheeler all the breathing room he needed in the fourth inning by pounding a 1-and-0 fastball the opposite way over the left-field fence. It seemed like a key moment for Harper because the last time before Tuesday he was in the Petco Park batter’s box, on June 25, Padres starter Blake Snell drilled him with a pitch and broke his thumb. Harper was sidelined for two months.
“I think anytime you get hit or break a bone or anything like that, those doubts creep into your mind of you might not come back this year or what’s going to happen, how the team is going to react,” Harper said before Game 1 .
The Phillies clearly reacted well over the course of the season, and they’re clicking now. Wheeler and Aaron Nola have combined to cover 52 percent (32 of 62) of Philadelphia’s postseason innings. And it is Nola who will start Game 2 on Wednesday afternoon. The novelty there will be that he will face his brother, San Diego catcher Austin Nola — just as he did in a regular-season game — which surely will put their parents in an emotional and awkward position.
Another Game 2 twist will be Snell starting for the Padres and facing Harper. The Phillies’ slugger, both in pain and anger, screamed at Snell after the pitch that broke his thumb in June but the two spoke shortly afterward to smooth things over. Harper knew Snell was not throwing at him but, rather, attempting to work inside.
“I’m going to pitch him the same way,” Snell said Tuesday. “I never had any intention to hit him. Still don’t. It’s pitching. I’m going to pitch how I pitch. If I hit him, I’m sorry. I’m not trying. You’re a really good hitter. I’ve got to throw the ball in. I’ve got to throw it away, mix it up. I’m going to continue to pitch like I pitch. Nothing is changing.”