WASHINGTON – This is what a playoff race looks like behind the scenes in real time.
The Phillies had just rolled over the Washington Nationals 8-2 in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday night to win a half-game win over the Milwaukee Brewers in the fight for the final wildcard berth in the National League playoffs.
A time zone away, the Brewers led by one run in the ninth inning, but the visiting Miami Marlins were dangerous.
A shirtless Rhys Hoskins emerged from the coach’s room, cell phone in hand, riveted by the action from Milwaukee.
Bryan De La Cruz started for Miami with runners in second and third place. Devin Williams was on the mound for Milwaukee trying to defend a one-run lead.
The count was full. Hoskins wondered aloud what pitch Williams De La Cruz would throw. Williams threw a change and…
“Come on! Yes!” Hoskins screamed as he watched De La Cruz stroke a two-run single down left field for the tie and go-ahead runs.
Cheers could be heard from every corner of the Phillies clubhouse, from the shower, from the back of the coaching room.
“Go Feesh!” shouted someone with a Spanish accent.
The Marlins, who had tormented the Phillies so often in recent years, helped them on this occasion. Their 4-3 win over Milwaukee, coupled with the Phillies’ win on Saturday night, gave the Phillies a full game lead over the Brewers with four games to play.
The Phillies’ magic number to make the postseason for the first time since 2011 has dropped to three. The Marlins have helped the Phillies with late rallies against the Brewers on two of the last three nights.
Kyle Schwarber watched the Marlins rally in the training room. Moments later, he emerged with a smile on his face.
“Baseball is fun,” he said. “That’s why we all say you have to enjoy this. A lot of people aren’t in that position right now. A lot of people are making their plans for the off-season and we’re trying to make sure we don’t do that.”
What a baseball day for the Phillies. They played poorly in the opener, losing 14-3 to the worst team in baseball. The Phils played poor defense in the second inning of that game and it resulted in five runs. Overall, the loss put the Phils in a tie with Milwaukee.
Between games, Schwarber said the Phillies had regrouped.
“Of course we had to play better,” he said.
But Schwarber tried to spread a more reassuring message he’d learned as a young player with the Chicago Cubs: Postseason chases don’t always happen. Release the pressure. Enjoy it.
Then he came out for the second game and put his money where his mouth was. He hit the second pitch of the game over the right field wall. It was one of five home runs the Phillies hit against right-hander Tommy Romero, who was making his second big league start. Schwarber hit his league-leading 43rd and 44th places.
“I think it put us right back on track,” said Noah Syndergaard of Schwarber’s homer in the first inning.
“I was just trying to throw pitches and it was fun watching the offense really explode and the guys behind me making plays.”
Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh and Matt Vierling also scored for the Phillies.
Syndergaard threw 5⅔ innings of shutout in his first start in two weeks and clinched the win.
“Impressive,” said manager Rob Thomson.
“Massive,” Schwarber said of Syndergaard’s efforts.
The Phillies, 15-3 against Washington this season, dodged raindrops day and night to get into the doubleheader.
Zack Wheeler is expected to face Patrick Corbin in Sunday afternoon’s series finale, and the Phillies will need some cooperation weather-wise as it’s important for the game to get played. Rain is in the forecast and a postponement would move Wheeler’s turn to Monday in Houston, and that would prevent him from starting the postseason opener on Friday — should the Phils get there.
The Phillies scheduled Wheeler’s return from the injured list for mid-September so he would be ready to start the postseason opener. If he doesn’t serve on Sunday, he would line up to set up game two of the postseason. Aaron Nola is the scheduled starter Monday in Houston. If it rains in the Phils on Sunday, Nola would return on Tuesday. He could potentially skip that start and be used in the postseason opener if the Phils can secure a postseason berth on Monday.
There’s a lot to it. Conclusion: The Phils have to play on Sunday.
And of course they have to win.
And if the Marlins have another one up in Milwaukee, the Phils are sure to take it.