In the aftermath of Kirk Gibson’s unforgettable walkoff home run to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers over the Oakland A’s, Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully wrapped his call of the blast with this now famous statement: “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!”
That statement perfectly encapsulates the Philadelphia Phillies improbable, incredible run to the 2022 Fall Classic. The Phillies, who slipped into the final National League Wildcard postseason berth during the closing days of the regular season, have run though a trio of series as underdogs to capture the eighth NL pennant in franchise history.
First there was a 2-0 sweep of the NL Central Division champion Saint Louis Cardinals. Then a 3-1 series victory over the NL East Division champion Atlanta Braves. And on Sunday, the Phillies dumped their fellow Wildcard upstarts, the San Diego Padres, winning the National League Championship Series in five games.
Next up might be the toughest challenge yet, the American League champion Houston Astros. Let’s look back at the improbable postseason run by these Fightin’ Phils.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WILDCARD SERIES
By virtue of the new MLB postseason system, the Wildcard Phillies would have to face the NL Central champion Cardinals on the road for all games of a best-of-three NLWCS.
Things did not begin well. The Cards took a 2-0 lead into the top of the 9th inning of the series opener with the Phils only producing two hits to that point. And then, the magic began.
Three singles, two walks, a hit batter, a fielder’s choice RBI grounder, and a sacrifice fly allowed the Phillies to piece together a massive six-run inning. In the bottom of the frame, Zach Eflin struck out Yadier Molina as the tying run to end an improbable (there’s that word again) 6-3 victory.
The next night, Bryce Harper homered while Aaron Nola, Jose Alvarado, and Eflin were joined by Seranthony Dominguez in shutting out the Cardinals 2-0. For the second time that week there would be a postgame party, this time in the bowels of Busch Stadium.
NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES
A true “division” series would see the Phillies taking on the 101-win NL East champion Atlanta Braves. The best-of-five would begin with two in Atlanta. Jumping all over their hosts, the Phils built a 7-1 lead and hold on for a 7-6 win. Atlanta would take Game 2 behind strong pitching, evening the series at a game apiece.
The Phillies, who had ended the regular season with a 10-game road trip and then played their four postseason games on the road, would return to Citizens Bank Park for the first time in three weeks.
A raucous 45,538 ‘Red October’ rally towel-waving fans, including yours truly, helped buoy the Phillies to a 9-1 rout highlighted by a Rhys Hoskins bat-spike following a huge game-changing home run. One game away from the National League Championship Series, the Phillies finally put Atlanta away with an 8-3 victory.
This time the rowdy postgame party would take place at home, and it would be the Citizens Bank Park clubhouse staff who would have to clean up a happy mess. The team sang their adopted party song “Dancing on My Own (Tiesto Remix)” by Calum Scott as they doused one another and anyone else within spraying distance of the beer and champagne.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
The San Diego Padres had upset their own division rival Los Angeles Dodgers, also winning in four games, making the NLCS a Wildcard matchup. Still, the first two games would again come on the road.
At Petco Park, the Phillies postseason Game 1 dominance continued. Zack Wheeler tossed a one-hit gem over seven dominating innings, striking out eight and walking just one as the Phils took the opener 2-0. San Diego overcame a 4-0 deficit in the second game, powering up for a series-evening 8-5 victory.
With the series shifting back to Citizens Bank Park, the rowdy home crowds would once again help lift the home team to a 4-2 victory and a 2-1 lead in the series. Just as the Phils had done to them in Game 2, the Padres jumped to a 4-0 lead in Game 4. But just as happened in that earlier contest, it would not be enough as the Phils roared back for a 10-6 victory, moving them within a game of the World Series.
There were many big hits, huge moments, which had put the Phillies in this position. None would prove more unforgettable than what was to come in Game 5. A rain-marred affair turned disastrous for the Phils when Dominguez tossed three wild pitches, the last bringing home the go ahead run, giving San Diego a 3-2 lead in the 7th inning.
The Padres took that 3-2 lead into the bottom of the 8th inning, six outs away from returning home to their own fans in San Diego for Game 6. It would be J.T. Realmuto and Harper starting it off for the Phillies. As the two stars began to ascend the dugout steps, Harper from behind said to Realmuto “Let’s give them something to remember.”
Realmuto fell behind in the count 0-2 against Robert Suarez, then laced a clean single to left, putting the tying run on base. Up stepped Harper, with everyone in the ballpark expecting he would be facing shutdown San Diego closer Josh Hader.
Ken Rosenthal for The Athletic described the situation this way: “Melvin stuck with Suarez. He said Hader was not fully warmed up and that he wanted to use him for only four outs, a number the reliever had not exceeded since Sept. 2019. Suarez did not allow a home run to a left-handed hitter in 98 plate appearances during the regular season and postseason. And yet the right-left matchup seemed to all but set up the inevitable.”
The pair battled to a 2-2 count, Harper fouling off three straight pitches and then spitting on a tough 1-2 breaking ball to even the count. And then Suarez did the unthinkable. He left a sinking fastball out over the plate. Harper did not miss it.
“We all think in our backyards, it’s the World Series, right?” said Harper, who was later named NLCS MVP, per Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, 3-2 count, best pitcher on the mound in the World Series. You dream about it, but also you dream about that next step. So, I’m looking forward to that next one.”
Thanks to their $330 million Dollar Man – worth every penny if you ask Phillies fans today – that “next one” could come against the Astros in yet another David vs. Goliath matchup. Do you want to bet against these improbable, incredible, unforgettable Fightin’ Phils?
MORE OF MY 2022 BASEBALL PIECES
- 9.15.22 – Mariners, Phillies push to end long postseason droughts
- 8.27.22 – See you in September, Aaron Nola
- 8.13.22 – 1980 Philadelphia Phillies: memorable and beloved
- 7.19.22 – MLB 2022 All-Star Game preview
- 6.01.22 – MLB 2022: Leaders on Memorial Day
- 5.17.22 – An unforgettable 1979 slugfest at Wrigley Field
- 4.07.22 – MLB Opening Day 2022
- 3.17.22 – Saint Patrick’s Day baseball
- 2.26.22 – 20 greatest Black players in Phillies history
- 2.07.22 – Examining select Hall of Fame cases of Black players not yet enshrined
- 2.01.22 – Charlie Finley and the Swingin’ A’s
- 1.04.22 – Memo Luna and those baseball lost in 2021
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