PHILADELPHIA — The vibes are back? They never left.
Carried on by a sea of red and a wall of noise, the Philadelphia Phillies bested the Miami Marlins in Game 1 of their NL wild-card series Tuesday night. The qualities that catapulted the upstart Marlins into the October fray — sheer peskiness, left-handed pitching, late-game magic — were no match for a superior baseball team.
Predictably, Citizens Bank Park was rocking all night, from Rhys Hoskins‘ memorable ceremonial first pitch to 45,662 standing for the last out of a 4-1 victory. The later 8 p.m. local start gave the Phillies faithful an extra hour to build its buzz; the rowdiness played.
And besides a mini-rally in the seventh that pushed Philadelphia starter Zack Wheeler from the game — Miami scored its lone run here and brought the tying run into scoring position — the Marlins were little more than a play-thing in the grand reopening of the Phillies’ electrifying October machine.
Though he couldn’t quite finish that seventh inning, Wheeler was downright masterful. It was clear the Phillies ace was buzzed up from the jump; his average four-seam velocity was a full mph higher than his season average. The Phillies’ three-run lead felt substantially larger just because of how inevitable Wheeler looked all night long.
Wheeler has elevated himself into the upper echelon of pitchers over the past four seasons thanks to a high-spin four-seam fastball that he throws from a relatively low slot. He is at his absolute best when he’s (1) commanding that heat with precision to his glove side, (2) mixing in a heavy dose of sinkers to get outs early in counts, and (3) the slider has its trademark bite.
That’s the Wheeler the Marlins got.
Before the game, he was perched on the top step of the Phillies dugout, watching batting practice with a calm poured across his face. Not a care in the world, not a hitter on earth (besides, I guess, Josh Bell), able to match him.
Bell was the only Miami hitter able to unlock Wheeler’s devastating arsenal, ripping a first-inning groundout before collecting a pair of hits in his second and third at-bats. Bell’s seventh inning double was the catalyst for the premature nature of Wheeler’s evening. A few lightly-hit Marlin infield knocks sent Yuli Gurriel to the plate as the go-ahead run, but fireballing lefty José Alvarado got Gurriel swinging to end the frame.
What we’ll remember
The Rhys Hoskins first pitch.
Hoskins is Philadelphia’s longest-tenured position player and its only hitter to survive the lengthy, grueling rebuild that defined the late 2010s of Phillies baseball. He was a crucial member of last year’s run, but tore his ACL in spring training on a routine ground ball and hasn’t taken a single at-bat this season.
While he’s been around the team for the past few months, Hoskins isn’t expected to recover in time to play in these playoffs. He is a free agent at the end of the year, likely marking the end to his time in Philly.
As a surprise to the sold out crowd, Hoskins strolled out from the dugout to toss the ceremonial first pitch. Holding back tears, the well-liked veteran threw a strike to his teammate and friend Kyle Schwarber before pulling a rally towel out of his back pocket.
You don’t often see players on the payroll throwing out the first pitch at a playoff game, but these were special circumstances. Hoskins might not play an inning this month, but he’s still a crucial part of the team behind the scenes.
What surprised us?
The Phillies scraped a few runs across early, chasing Miami starter Jesús Luzardo after four, but never dealt the bone-rattling hammer blow they delivered so many times last October. No team but the Braves hit more home runs in the second half than Philly, and if the Phillies want to play deep into the month, they’ll need the long ball.
For the structural foundation of Citizens Bank Park, though, it’s probably a good thing the dinger never came.
On the Marlins side, it was a small surprise to see Luis Arráez in the starting lineup at second base. The MLB batting champion rolled his ankle in batting practice a few weeks ago and has played sparingly since. He knocked a pinch-hit single in one of Miami’s final regular-season games and hobbled his way down the first baseline before being replaced by a pinch runner.
Hours before Tuesday’s opener, Arráez addressed the media and confirmed that while he isn’t 100 percent, he was always going to play. And while the two-time All-Star wasn’t peak Barry Sanders out there, the ankle held up enough for him to play all nine innings at the keystone with a knock at the dish to boot.
The Phillies can wrap this thing up in a jiffy. They’ll send Aaron Nola to the mound Wednesday night with a chance to send the Marlins home for the winter. Miami will counter with Braxton Garrett, a 26-year-old lefty, who, like many of the Marlins, has never played in October.
The Fish are up against it. Red October has begun.
Jake Mintz, the louder half of @CespedesBBQ is a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He played college baseball, poorly at first, then very well, very briefly. Jake lives in New York City where he coaches Little League and rides his bike, sometimes at the same time. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Mintz.
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