PHILADELPHIA — Before the TV broadcast could even load the score, Kyle Schwarber had changed it.
One pitch. One swing. One run for the Phillies.
On the very first offering he saw from Diamondbacks hurler Zac Gallen, Philadelphia’s atypical leadoff hitter laced a no-doubt laser off the second deck facade in right field. For three days, the Phillies and their fans were forced into rest and relaxation by the realities of MLB’s postseason schedule. With a single swing, Schwarber pressed the resume button, sending Citizens Bank Park right back into pandemonium.
“Talk about a fun crowd,” Schwarber glowed afterward. “You round the bases, you are looking around, and you are seeing a frenzy. It can put an extra layer onto what an atmosphere is already.”
Two batters later, birthday boy Bryce Harper kept the shindig bopping, with another blitzkrieg first pitch solo shot to double Philly’s lead. Watch the contact point closely, and you can see Harper quite literally hit the rosin off the baseball. Call it another October highlight-reel moment for the 31-year-old slugger, who was playing an MLB game on his birthday for the very first time.
Two swings, three batters and five pitches into the contest, and the tone for this NLCS had been set. There would be no NLDS hangover. The Phillies, whether underdogs or favorites, are an October machine not to be trifled with. The Marlins learned that in the wild-card round, the Braves in their NLDS downfall. And now, the Cinderella Diamondbacks, try as they might, seem destined to end up as yet another footnote on Philadelphia’s march to playoff glory.
To their credit, the plucky D-backs would make Game 1 somewhat of a battle, pushing the tying run to the plate in the ninth, before falling by a score of 5-3. Despite Gallen’s horrific first inning — not to mention the second-inning tater he allowed to Nick Castellanos — the bespectacled right-hander kept his club within reach by finishing five frames without his best command.
Meanwhile, Zack Wheeler retired fifteen consecutive hitters after a Corbin Carroll bloop single started the night, but Arizona’s offense pushed a pair of runs across in the sixth on a Geraldo Perdomo homer after the Philly starter’s stuff slightly diminished.
The D-backs actually did a lot of things right on Monday night while the Phillies, who stranded seven runners, did a lot of things wrong. Wheeler’s final line was below his superb October standard. Both Craig Kimbrel and Seranthony Dominguez looked rickety out of the bullpen. No hitter in a red pinstripes uniform could land the knockout blow.
But even as the score narrowed, it still felt like the home team was up by a baker’s dozen. Maybe it was the raucous crowd, the looming threat of more Schwarber laser beams, or the confirmation bias of seeing so many recent Phillies playoff wins in this arena — whatever the case, the result was barely in question. And when Kimbrel induced a double play from Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to end the contest, the home crowd went berserk one last time.
Roll credits, shoot the fireworks, cue “Dancing on My Own” again.
Of course, the celebration began about three hours earlier with Schwarber’s incredible opening salvo, the first homer of the postseason for Philly’s designated hitter. In last year’s NLCS opener against the Padres, Schwarber eviscerated a Yu Darvish slider 119.7 mph, the hardest hit ball of his career. This year, Schwarber had to settle for 117.1 mph, his hardest hit ball of the season but only the fourth-hardest of his career.
Much has been made about Schwarber’s presence as a leadoff hitter — he finished with a .197 average in the regular season and more strikeouts than anyone else in the majors. Prior to his Monday blast, the postseason vet had been scuffling through these playoffs. But the Phillies weren’t worried.
“I never have any doubt with him,” manager Rob Thomson said.
“We know what type of player he is,” Harper added.
Moments like the one he conjured up Monday are a perfect reminder for why Schwarber continues to hit atop baseball’s most electrifying lineup. When putting the first pitch in play this season, he is now 10-for-13 with five home runs and three doubles. That regular lighting of a match — and the potential for fireworks — has his teammates locked in from the first pitch.
“It’s my favorite part of every home game, the first pitch they throw him,” Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto noted. “Because you can either see that he’s right on something or the pitcher is scared to throw it in the strike zone.”
Perhaps the Diamondbacks, whose defeat Monday was their first of the postseason, will bounce back in Game 2 and shock the world. A lot can happen in a seven-game series. But the Phillies offered an extremely convincing introduction to this year’s NLCS, the most lopsided 5-3 playoff game in baseball history.
And it all started with a first inning to remember.
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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