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Big Fifth Inning Haunts Phillies, Who Fail To Take Control Of NLCS

The Padres delivered both long balls and a long inning against Aaron Nola and the Phillies on Wednesday, evening the NLCS at a game apiece. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today)

Big Fifth Inning Haunts Phillies, Who Fail To Take Control Of NLCS

The Phillies had been in this moment before. They lead 4-0 heading to the bottom of the second inning of Game 2 of the NLCS, and the world was at their fingertips. The Phillies’ offense has had some big innings this postseason, and their starting pitching has followed it up with a lot of zeroes. So, when they scored four runs in the top of the second, it was natural to dream. Of a win. Of a sweep. Anything and everything felt within reach.

Then, Brandon Drury and Josh Bell crushed homers on consecutive pitches, and suddenly, the game was back on. Before Wednesday, the Phillies had scored multiple runs in an inning this postseason eight times. In the following half inning, they allowed zero runs six times. The only two exceptions were the ninth inning of Game 1 of the Wild Card Series, when Zach Eflin allowed one run with a four-run cushion, and the third inning of Game 4 of the NLDS, when J.T. Realmuto responded to an Orlando Arcia solo shot by hitting an inside-the-park home run. When momentum has swung in a Phillies game this October, it generally hasn’t swayed back in the other direction.

But that changed in Game 2 against San Diego, who had their breakout inning three frames after cutting the Phillies’ lead in half. It looked a lot like some of the big ones the Phillies have engineered on their postseason run and throughout the season. A timely hit-and-run here, their superstar Juan Soto coming through there, and three two-out RBIs off Brad Hand, who Rob Thomson bet would retire lefty Jake Cronenworth to end the inning. It was a big gamble. The next two batters were Drury, who is now 4-9 lifetime against Hand, and Bell, whose OPS is almost 50 points higher against lefties. Hand had the Padres’ second baseman at two strikes, but plunked him with a slider. Drury and Bell both singled. The Phillies lost their bet.

It has been rare for the breaks to go against the Phillies lately. It is a welcome change from the last decade. But it also makes a loss like Wednesday’s feel much more deflating than it really is. With their Game 1 victory, the Phillies had already flipped home-field advantage to their side. It’s a best-of-five now, and the next three games are at Citizens Bank Park. By the time that stretch ends, one of these teams will either be flying back to San Diego with a 3-2 series lead or celebrating a trip to the World Series.

That doesn’t mean the Phillies didn’t miss the chance to do something special. If they had won Game 2, the series would have almost certainly been theirs. San Diego would’ve had to win all three in Philadelphia just to come back home with the series lead. Instead, it’s a little more interesting. The Phillies have made a habit out of doing that in recent years, and those types of things tend to die hard.

No surprise where J.T. Realmuto ranks on this list.

The bottom line is that every feeling is magnified in autumn, good or bad. There is really no such thing as a good loss or a moral victory in the postseason. Some losses certainly feel worse than others — after all, a 4-0 lead is a 4-0 lead. The Phillies were 27-2 when leading by at least four runs in the postseason before Wednesday. However, a 1-1 series is a 1-1 series, no matter how you get there. Yes, the Phillies missed a golden opportunity on Wednesday. But there is another one waiting for them on Friday, and that is the one that matters most.

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