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It doesn’t matter how down things may look. The Phillies know they have what it takes, and they expect to show it every single night. Despite falling behind 4-0 in the first inning of Game 4, they did so in the brightest fashion yet. (Lori M. Nichols | NJ Advance Media for

Phillies Move To Cusp Of World Series, Stun Everyone — Except Themselves

It doesn’t matter how down things may look. The Phillies know they have what it takes and expect to show it every night. Despite falling behind 4-0 in the first inning of Game 4, they did so in the brightest fashion yet. (Lori M. Nichols | NJ Advance Media for

Phillies Move To Cusp Of World Series, Stun Everyone — Except Themselves

In some ways, Game 4 of the 2022 NLCS resembled where the Phillies began this season nearly seven months ago. They had a clear-cut formula, one not without flaws but with a clear path to success. The Phillies do not have a clear-cut fourth starter, because even the most well-put-together version of this team has to have some flaws. So, Rob Thomson and his staff mapped out a solution. Bailey Falter would face about eleven hitters, allowing him to face fellow lefty Juan Soto twice without needing to do the same to San Diego’s elite right-handed sluggers behind him. Thomson had enough faith in his middle relievers to form a bridge to a backend probably without Seranthony Domínguez, but still solid enough to lock down a close game. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but a solid, logical one, with a decent chance of success.

It fell apart in the first inning. After Falter retired the first two hitters, including Soto, the Padres went homer-single-walk-double to end the southpaw’s night. Ha-Seong Kim singled off the team’s first reliever, Connor Brogdon, to make it 4-0. It was a textbook start for San Diego. Take the raucous home crowd out of it early. Make the bullpen work more than they preferred to. Give some run support to allow your struggling starter to settle down and throw strikes. It was as strong of a knockout punch as you could possibly muster in the opening frame. Their plan was going perfectly.

Two batters into the bottom of the first, it was clear the Phillies didn’t care about San Diego’s plan. They had their own, saw it implode before their faces, and hatched a new one before the Padres could get comfortable and Citizens Bank Park could start to quiet. They were going to slug like they had never slugged before. It looked a lot like what the team had mapped out at the start of the year. Make mistakes in the field and blow some leads but drive in enough runs to overcome it.

In a way, that’s what the Phillies did in a 10-6 win in Game 4 of the NLCS, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Padres raised the bar with their hot start, then raised it again after the Phillies rallied to tie with a two-run blast by Soto off a different lefty (Brad Hand) in the fifth. The Phillies answered in every facet. The bullpen of the Philadelphia Phillies carried them through a postseason game for the second time this year, and it is difficult to pick out what part of that sentence would’ve sounded the most ridiculous a year ago. The defense did its job and a little bit more. Thomson continued to pull the right strings.

It is all coming together almost too seamlessly to believe. Almost. The Phillies spent big in the offseason to bring in Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos with the hope of giving the Phillies one of the deadliest 1-5 punches in baseball. Injuries and a myriad of other factors have kept that from being reality for so long. On Saturday, the top five Philadelphia hitters went 9-18 with four home runs and drove in eight of the ten runs the Phillies tallied in electric fashion. Rhys Hoskins gave the team a lift with a two-run home run to answer a big Padres push — twice. Bryce Harper cracked a pair of run-scoring doubles, including the one that gave the Phillies the lead for good. J.T. Realmuto handled seven different pitchers and added the cherry on top with his first out-of-the-park postseason long ball.

None of this is normal. None of this should feel normal. The Phillies made the postseason as the sixth-best team in the National League. Before this year, barring a ridiculously weak division, that would not have been possible. That hardly mattered to a team hungry if not desperate for something to celebrate after an arduous wait. Fair enough. But here they are, waking up this morning with a chance to win the eighth National League pennant in their 140-year history.

No one outside of the team saw a run like this coming. But the Phillies themselves saw a different path. At virtually no point during the regular season was everybody healthy and comfortable. It took a while for Schwarber and Castellanos to get used to their new surroundings. Jean Segura and Harper broke their finger. Zach Eflin went down to yet another knee injury. When Schwarber started to hit and Segura and Harper returned, Zack Wheeler went on the IL. As Eflin neared his return, Castellanos suffered an oblique injury. They didn’t really put everything together until the final ten games of the regular season.

However, the incredible events of the last three weeks haven’t been a fluke. After an embarrassing 2020 season, the Phillies brought in Dave Dombrowski to turn things around. The Phillies only won one more contest in 2021 than in their previous 162-game campaign (2019). But there were some promising signs. Younger players like Ranger Suárez, Brogdon, Luke Williams, Matt Vierling, Nick Maton, and others stepped in and held their own. Maybe even a little bit more. Dombrowski made shrewd moves to acquire José Alvarado and Brad Miller. The Phillies formed a cohesive idea of what they thought their bullpen should look like and signed players who fit that mold.

Ultimately, they didn’t choose enough of the right personnel to achieve their goals. But that doesn’t mean their strategy wasn’t sound. Not all of the smart choices they made carried over into this season. Some of them did. The youth emerging in 2021 led to more young players getting chances in 2022. Bryson Stott, Alec Bohm, Brandon Marsh, and others have answered the bell. Dombrowski made some more shrewd moves to acquire Andrew Bellatti and Garrett Stubbs. Acquisitions that don’t make headlines but helps teams power through a 162-game grind. They signed some more big-name relievers that didn’t work, but this time, the Phillies found some that did to take their roles. The Phillies didn’t just have a quality player at every starting position, but players behind them capable of delivering quality performances in short bursts when needed.

The Phillies knew their offense would have to be the headliner to win Game 4 before Falter even threw a pitch. But instead of letting the pressure overwhelm them, they rose to the moment. To succeed, many figured the 2022 Phillies would have to defy some of the basic conventions of baseball. Right now, they are — just not really the ones they were expected to. Only five members of the Phillies’ roster had appeared in an LCS before this series. So, they figured out what they had to do to thrive in the biggest moments of their lives. On the fly. With no real way to figure out what this stage would feel like other than stories and YouTube videos.

Right now, the Phillies are telling their own story. There is countless content celebrating their rise. But the Phillies are clearly smart enough to know that there is still work to be done. Even with Wheeler on the mound for the first potential clinching start of his career, the Padres will almost certainly wind up for a massive counterpunch. Somehow, everything about this chaotic franchise feels so locked in. The feeling only strengthened with every mighty swing they registered on Saturday night.

The Phillies haven’t just unlocked the treasure chest containing the joy of the past; that joy has leaped into the present for everyone to see. One more victory and the feeling intensifies to a level that felt impractical three weeks ago. It would feel impossible for so many teams to achieve because of how absurd it is. For the 2022 Phillies, it would feel impossible for this to happen any other way.

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