PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Phillies didn’t clinch a playoff spot until the last series of the regular season.
It was the final playoff spot in the National League.
Then the sixth-seeded Phillies swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the wild-card round, and now they need just one victory to oust the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves in Game 4 of the NL Division Series on Saturday afternoon.
The host Phillies earned a 9-1 win Friday and are on the verge of their first trip to the NL Championship Series since 2010.
In a 1-for-18 slump entering Game 3, Rhys Hoskins snapped out of it with a three-run home run in a six-run third inning.
Hoskins slammed his bat down immediately after going deep.
“It’s just something that came out — raw,” Hoskins said. “God, it was fun.”
Bryce Harper hit a home run and a double and drove in three runs.
The sellout crowd was exuberant.
“I’ve never been this far in the playoffs,” said Nick Castellanos, who had two hits and two RBIs in Game 3. “I’m not going to take it for granted. Keep it up, Philadelphia.”
Harper had never won a playoff series before the wild-card round. One more victory and Harper will have his second series win.
After struggling down the stretch following a 52-game absence with a fractured left thumb, Harper appears to be finding his offensive rhythm.
And at just the right time.
“One game away — this is what it’s all about,” Harper said. “We have an opportunity to clinch at home.”
The Phillies will hand the ball to Noah Syndergaard (0-0, 0.00 postseason; 10-10, 3.94 ERA regular season). Syndergaard tossed one scoreless inning in relief in Game 2 in Atlanta and is 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA and 37 strikeouts in six career postseason appearances.
One year after a parade to celebrate a championship, the Braves must win just to send the series back to Atlanta for a decisive Game 5.
Austin Riley went 0-for-4 and had his average drop to .083 in the NLDS.
“This team is great,” Riley said. “We’ve been getting it done all year. It’s a matter of coming out and regrouping.”
Charlie Morton (2022 postseason debut; 9-6, 4.34 ERA regular season) is scheduled to start for the Braves. Morton is 4-0 with an 0.95 ERA in playoff elimination games.
“It’s the postseason. You’ve just got to be ready to take the ball when they call on you,” Morton said.
Morton gave up 18 hits and 10 runs in his final three regular-season starts. On Sept. 25 at Philadelphia, Morton allowed six hits and six runs in 4 2/3 innings.
However, his teammates have the utmost confidence in him.
“He’s just even-keeled. He’s the same person every day,” reliever A.J. Minter said of Morton. “Never lets the situation get too big. He comes in, has a smile on his face. Says hi to everyone when he walks in. But when he’s on the mound you can tell a switch flips. Super focused, confident. But it’s just — he never gets the situation too big.
“And you want a pitcher out there that doesn’t show emotion and just always locked in and even-keeled.”
No matter how well Morton pitches, the Braves need a spark from their offense.
“Back’s against the wall. We all know that,” said Travis d’Arnaud, who had two of Atlanta’s six hits in Game 3. “I think every baseball fan knows that. We’re going to be ready to go and give it all we’ve got.”
–By Andy Jasner, Field Level Media