SAN DIEGO — “Jaw-dropping” and “bliss” seem like the most reasonable descriptions of a Game 1 victory in the National League Championship Series, and there’s no doubt they were for Philadelphia.
But the Phillies didn’t use those words to describe the joy of securing a 2-0 victory. They used them to describe Kyle Schwarber’s swing in their elegant opener against San Diego here on Tuesday night.
It was the start of the sixth inning, Zach Wheeler was managing, and they led 1-0. Padres starter Yu Darvish had an 87-mile-per-hour fastball that was consistent in the zone and in the middle of the plate. And Schwarber tore into a condemned, dilapidated house like a vengeful ball.
It’s a signature moment, a viral moment and a stamped masterpiece all at once. Since Petco Park opened in 2004, baseballs have landed on the second deck in right field, 488 feet away.
It was an absolutely massive blast that caused significant awe in the Phillies’ dugout. Bryce Harper was filmed on television with his mouth wide open, his jaw dropped so far it risked scraping the dugout floor.
“Oh man, when he first hit it, I was shocked at how loud it was,” catcher JD Realmudo said. “Then to see how far it flew. That might be the hardest ball I’ve ever seen.
First baseman Rhys Hoskins, who smashed a three-run homer against Atlanta’s Spencer Strider in Game 3 of the NL Division Series, said it was “bliss” to hit such a big home run.
“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 former teammates in Detroit, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, hit some moon shots, but nothing more than Schwarber’s blast. It was a smash, and when he walked two batters later, Realmudo asked San Diego catcher Austin Nola, “Have you ever seen that?” Nola, Realmuto’s teammate at Class AA Jacksonville in 2014 and Class AAA New Orleans in 2015, said none of the Padres had ever seen a home run fly into the upper deck in right field at Petco Park.
“That ball was until I saw it hit,” Nola said.
As his cheering Phillies teammates welcomed him back to the dugout, Schwarber, who carried a 20-hit postseason ledger with him into this NLCS, worked to keep his cool. But it wasn’t easy.
“A lot of people looked at me differently,” he said angrily. “But yeah, it was cool. Cool moment.”
Schwarber allowed that it was probably the hardest ball he had ever hit “the way it went out.” He also hoped it would help him get back on track for the rest of the postseason.
“It’s good to be able to contribute there and start feeling a little bit better,” he said.
In fact, more contributors are pleasing for the red-hot Phillies, who are 6-1 so far this postseason and, impressively, 4-1 on the road. Although outfielder Brandon Marsh joked that Schwarber’s shot “should have counted as two,” the Phillies know how much both the majestic home run and the terrific Tuesday night were worth. That means, quite simply, a good win in the NLCS, in which they need to find three more to advance to their first World Series since 2009.
They have followed the tried and true script and done well so far. Pitching and thunder have carried the Phillies so far in the postseason, and they seem happy to ride that map deep into the month.
Wheeler went 11 for 27 with seven shutout innings against the Padres with four homers, three doubles and seven RBI in the team’s first NLCS appearance since 1998. : Wheeler entered the game with a scoreless streak of 18⅔ innings against the Padres, and a 2.06 ERA in seven regular-season career starts.
Although the Padres struggled with Wheeler in a 24-pitch first inning, he cruised through the next two, needing just 13 total pitches to get six outs.
“After that first innings, we thought, ‘Oh, man, getting him for a six is going to be a dogfight. We had to really hold on,” Realmudo said. “And then all of a sudden he’s flying five-, six-, seven-pitch innings.”
Padres manager Bob Melvin called it “as good a pitching performance as we’ve seen all year.”
The Padres didn’t find the hitting column until Will Myers hit a single up the middle in the fifth, and Myers was the second base runner allowed by Wheeler after Juan Soto’s first-inning walk. He was also the last. Wheeler threw seven one-hit innings, struck out eight and controlled traffic as if all roads were closed. Neither Padre set foot on second base until the ninth inning, and that was only because of a throwing error by third baseman Alec Bohm on a grounder by Juan Soto that came after a Jurickson Proffer walk.
Harper gave Wheeler all the breathing room he needed by hitting a 1-and-0 fastball the opposite way over the left-field fence in the fourth inning. It seemed like a pivotal moment for Harper because he was last in the Petco Park batter’s box before Tuesday, June 25, when Padres starter Blake Snell drilled him with a pitch and broke his thumb. Harper was sidelined for two months.
“Any time you get hit or break a bone, you’re not going to come back this year or you have doubts about what’s going to happen, how the team is going to perform,” Harper said before Game 1. .
The Phillies clearly responded during the season and they’re clicking now. Wheeler and Aaron Nola combined for 52 percent (32 of 62) of Philadelphia’s regular season innings. And Nola will start Game 2 on Wednesday afternoon. The novelty there is that he will face his brother, San Diego catcher Austin Nola — just as he did in a regular-season game — which will surely put their parents in an emotional and awkward position.
Another Game 2 twist is Snell starting for the Padres and facing Harper. The Phillies’ slugger, in pain and anger, yelled at Snell after breaking his thumb in June, but the two patched things up shortly after. Harper knew Snell wasn’t throwing at him, but was trying to work inside.
“I’m going to pitch him the same way,” Snell said Tuesday. “I had no intention of hitting him. Not yet. That’s pitching. How am I going to pitch? If I hit him, I’m sorry. I didn’t try. You are a good hitter. I have to throw the ball in. I have to throw it away, mix it up. I will continue to swing as I pitch. Nothing has changed. “
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