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No active player waited longer to make their postseason debut than Jean Segura (right). No one came up bigger in the Phillies’ Game 1 Wild Card Series victory than him, either. (Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer)

Wait Worth It For Key Phillies In Game 1 Comeback Victory

No active player waited longer to make their postseason debut than Jean Segura (right). No one came up bigger in the Phillies’ Game 1 Wild Card Series victory than him, either. (Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer)

Wait Worth It For Key Phillies In Game 1 Comeback Victory

This was the type of moment the Phillies couldn’t afford to find themselves in. One out, nobody on, down two in the ninth inning. The fast offensive start the Phillies needed was nowhere to be found. In fact, any offensive start was nowhere to be found at that point. Zack Wheeler had been great. But José Alvarado finally broke after months of dominance in one of the biggest spots of his career because of course he did. Now, St. Louis’s dominant late-game weapons were poised to take over. Giovanny Gallegos had already done his job. And Ryan Helsley was two outs away from finishing his — and Game 1. Things were not going according to plan.

The Phillies waited a very long time to return to the postseason. That is true on both a franchise level and within the clubhouse itself. Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto were No. 1 and 2 on the list of most games played by active players without postseason experience until today. Wheeler was No. 3 on the list of most starts made without one in the postseason. Aaron Nola is No. 2 for about 24 more hours.

The wait to return to the postseason is worth it basically no matter what happens. But that isn’t the mentality in the Phillies clubhouse. “13 more wins, and then we’re World Champions,” Rob Thomson stated after the Phillies clinched. “This is the goal to do this, but this is step one as well. And we all know that. I hope we get back (to Citizens Bank Park) and get there and play in front of (our fans)” Bryce Harper said just a few moments later.

On Friday, the Phillies took a massive step toward their next step. And it was the players that waited the longest, the ones who can relate to the anxiousness and hope building throughout the city over the last few days, that delivered the most. Wheeler threw a masterful 6.1 innings of shutout baseball, establishing his fastball and allowing just one runner to reach scoring position. Realmuto called almost all of the right numbers behind the plate and started the rally with a single to left-center. After Helsley lost his command, which unfortunately seems to be related to the injury he suffered in St. Louis’s next-to-last regular season game, Segura provided the big lift, squirting a two-run single under a diving, drawn-in Tommy Edman to give the Phillies a lead they would not lose. He jumped for joy as the go-ahead run turned for home.

Anyone predicting the Phillies to win this series probably figured they would do so brashly. They would outslug the Cardinals while overcoming some little mistakes, which are magnified at this time of year. Yet it was the Phillies who found a way to best St. Louis in the little things. Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos worked big at-bats in the ninth to amplify the pressure. Pinch runner Edmundo Sosa went first to third on Segura’s go-ahead hit, then scored the eventual game-winning run on a groundball to first. Alec Bohm made a couple of huge plays at third while Nolan Arenado was unable to flag down a Brandon Marsh grounder that could’ve ended the ninth with St. Louis down just two.

The Phillies won Game 1 of their Wild Card Series, their first postseason win since Oct. 4, 2011, by defying the odds once again. The Cardinals were 93-0 in franchise history when leading by multiple runs in the ninth before Friday. No team trailing in the ninth inning of a postseason game had scored six times in the ninth before the Phillies did. And then they finished it with a pitcher with one career save and bringing the tying run to the plate because of course they did. The first Phillies postseason win in 4,021 days couldn’t have come in any other way.

It has always been in the Phillies’ best interest the last few stretch runs to avoid chaos much more than they did. But as underdogs in a short series, it is probably best to embrace it. The Phillies have put themselves in as close to optimal positioning as possible to advance. Alvarado only threw 12 pitches and the comeback means his confidence probably isn’t as shaken as it would’ve been if Juan Yepez’s pinch-hit home run held up as the game-winner. David Robertson delivered a locked-in 15-pitch eighth. Eflin’s ninth inning was a bit longer (22 pitches) but not overly taxing. And in Game 2, they’re turning the ball over to Nola, who has proved he can handle big moments.

A veteran team like the Cardinals likely won’t be as demoralized as some other teams would be. In 2020, St. Louis took a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three Wild Card Series against the Padres only to drop Games 2 and 3. In 2019, they trailed the Braves 2-1 in the best-of-five NLDS and came back to win. A lot of the pieces from those teams are still here. They know there is a lot of baseball left to be played in this series.

But somehow, the Phillies will enter Game 2 with offensive confidence despite only tallying five hits in Game 1, just one of which went for extra bases. Maybe staying in St. Louis actually works in their favor, today’s win creating nervousness in Busch Stadium tomorrow as Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, and (potentially, on multiple levels), Adam Wainwright suit up for the final time.

“Perhaps (there’s) some untapped October magic in Philly after all.”

The Phillies waited so long not just to return to baseball’s biggest moments, but to deliver in them. So if there’s anyone who should feel the importance of putting the Cardinals away tomorrow night, it should be them. St. Louis may have set the stage themselves for the Phillies’ Game 1 comeback. But Philadelphia still had to kick the door down. Now, they have the chance to walk through the opening — and the straightforward road to Citizens Bank Park it leads down.

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