Zack Wheeler struck out eight in a sensational effort, José Alvarado preserved the lead with a pivotal strikeout and the Philadelphia Phillies opened a resolute postseason push with a 4-1 win over the Miami Marlins in the opener of their NL Wild Card Series on Tuesday night.
Nick Castellanos provided the game’s signature moment, directing his ring finger toward a joyous Phillies dugout after a key double and sending a message the defending NL champions crave the cherished piece of jewelry they were denied by Houston last season.
Castellanos added an RBI double in the eighth inning to score Bryce Harper — who knocked off his helmet as he steamrolled past a stop sign — and the Phillies moved within a victory of an NL Division Series matchup against Atlanta.
Craig Kimbrel worked a scoreless ninth for the save.
Phillies fans held signs that read “Un-phinished Business” and they were downright delirious when injured slugger Rhys Hoskins fought back tears and threw the ceremonial first pitch.
The Phillies won 11 postseason games last season, two shy of the ultimate goal and their first World Series title since 2008. The theme of unfinished business — as it is for so many World Series losers — was a key element that permeated throughout the clubhouse this season.
“We’ve got to get back after it this year, and it’s a different team,” manager Rob Thomson said ahead of the game. “I believe it’s a better team, to be honest with you.”
Here they are again, this time with star shortstop Trea Turner, playing big games in October — and with Wheeler in top form.
Wheeler, on the short list of great free-agent signings in team history, was dealing from the start. He threw nine fastballs in the 97-99 mph range in the first inning, the hardest a pitcher who struck out 212 batters has thrown all season.
The veteran right-hander never backed down as 45,662 fans at Citizens Bank Park roared on every K.
Wheeler’s slider, nasty. His sinker, filthy.
Wheeler is simply grateful for another postseason shot a year after he was lifted with a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning of Game 6 in the World Series against Houston. Yordan Alvarez hit a three-run homer off Alvarado later in the inning and the Astros soon clinched the World Series.
That was last season. Alvarado struck out Yuli Gurriel with two runners aboard to end a Marlins threat in the seventh. The left-hander retired two batters in the eighth, and Jeff Hoffman got the third out of the inning.
Wheeler threw only 46 pitches through four innings in this one — while Marlins starter Jesús Luzardo labored through 90 over the same span.
The 26-year-old Luzardo was raised in South Florida and grew up rooting for Marlins stars such as Juan Pierre and Miguel Cabrera.
Luzardo was 6 years old when he attended Game 3 of the 2003 World Series, won by the Marlins, and was thrilled when he was traded to Miami ahead of the 2021 season.
His first postseason start for his childhood team hardly went as planned.
Led by Kyle Schwarber’s 47 homers, the Phillies had six players in the Game 1 lineup with at least 20. But they didn’t need the Schwarbombs and Alec Booms to get the job done, as every starter had at least one hit.
Johan Rojas, the No. 9 hitter, hammered away at Luzardo with a nine-pitch at-bat for a single that opened the third. He moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Alec Bohm’s RBI double to left.
Bryson Stott rattled Luzardo in the fourth with an RBI single to make it 2-0 and Cristian Pache gave the Phillies a 3-0 lead on a single that scored Castellanos.
Flip that finger, Nick. The Phillies have their first one.