ATLANTA — A bold decision by Nick Castellanos, a home run by Bryson Stott and a 10th-inning home run by Matt Stram against the top of the best lineup in baseball led to a 6-5 victory for the Phillies on Wednesday, one of their victories. Best of the season.
The Phils held a two-run lead entering the bottom of the eighth but were blasted by Jeff Hoffman and Gregory Soto. Craig Kimbrel took ninth in a tie and quickly found himself with little breathing room. The Braves had the tie on third base with one out after pinch runner Luke Williams swiped a two-run bag.
At that point Orlando Arcia lofted the ball to deep right field in foul territory. Castellanos chased him down, got under him, and probably every Phillies fan watching at home was screaming, “Drop him!” Castellanos took the ball and fired a perfect strike to pin Williams at the plate and send the game into extra innings. He could have let the ball drop harmlessly, and if Williams scores, Castellanos’ decision is all anyone will talk about from the game. But it worked for the Phils.
“I don’t know, I thought I was going to drop him, and at the last minute, a voice popped up in my head and said grab him and throw him out,” Castellanos said. “Usually he pops up when I hit, like, ‘Don’t take that ball 2-0.’ And then he decides to pop up there in the ninth inning after that ball.”
Catcher Garrett Stubbs said he was screaming at the top of his lungs for Castellanos to drop him. Head coach Rob Thompson said that when the ball went up in the air, he was also hoping Castellanos would drop it.
“He made a great play, I don’t want to take anything away from it, but it’s not really a sure shot from that distance,” Thompson said. “But he made a great play. Thank God he did.”
Trea Turner grounded into a double play in the 10th and it looked like the Phillies were headed for another scoreless inning in extras, as they failed to produce a run on three of their final seven attempts with an automatic runner at second base. Bryce Harper then worked a walk, Alec Bohm was intentionally walked to load the bases and Stott hit the game-winning two-run double down the third base line.
The Phillies won the Series to end their road trip on a high note. They went 4-2 in St. Louis and Atlanta after losing five of seven games to the Marlins and Braves at home last week.
“It was huge,” Thompson said of the series finale. “Craig did a great job getting out of the ninth inning and then we just kept fighting.”
The Braves won the season series by a score of 8-5, but three of the Phillies’ losses were in extra innings and another was a game they let slip away in the bottom of the eighth. They have played Atlanta closely and are not intimidated by a lineup that has posted historically strong numbers in 2023.
“You know how to confront someone,” Stott said. “One type of swing defines every game, it seems like that. We want it to be our swing.”
At 83-69, the Phils lead the Diamondbacks in first place by three games — four because they hold the tiebreaker — with 10 games left to play. They begin a seven-game homestand on Thursday with four against the Mets and three against the Pirates before finishing the season at Citi Field.
Their magic number is 7 above the D-backs, Cubs and Marlins, leaving the Phils with a good chance to clinch the No. 4 seed — which comes with home-field advantage in the Wild Card Round — in front of their home fans at Citizens Bank Park over the next week.
They were four of the series’ drama-free finale. Hoffman entered two in the bottom of the eighth and struck out Ronald Acuña Jr. to start the inning before allowing an Ozzie Albies double and an RBI single to Austin Riley after starting the count 0-2. Thompson went to left fielder Soto to face Matt Olson, who grounded out, but Marcell Ozuna followed with a game-tying double off the top of the wall in right field.
Hoffman has been nearly untouchable over the past five weeks. Entering Wednesday’s series finale, he had allowed one run in his previous 16⅔ innings with 23 strikeouts, four walks and an opponent batting average of .091.
“It’s just familiarity and the fact that we’ve been there before,” Castellanos said of all the changes the Phillies have faced this season. “All those things don’t hurt. You don’t want to have smooth sailing and win every game 10-0, and the first time you face adversity is in postseason baseball.”
The Phillies built a four-run lead through four innings thanks to a two-out RBI single in the first inning from Bohm and two home runs from Castellanos, Nos. 26 and 27. The first was a 432-footer to center, and the second was an opposite-field shot to right-center.
Castellanos has 99 RBI, two shy of his career high set in 2017 with Detroit. He has five home runs in his last eight games and is hitting .311 with seven extra base hits and 14 RBI in 12 games since he was moved to the bottom third of the order. This will likely raise questions about bringing him back into the lineup, but why mess with what works?
Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber are tied for the team lead with 99 RBI while Boehm has 92. Bohm has been a force with runners in scoring position this season and, in fact, throughout his four-year big league career. He’s hitting .354 in those spots in 2023 (10th in MLB) and .318 lifetime.
Aaron Nola started for the Phillies and had a solid bounce-back performance after pitching fewer than five innings in three straight starts, matching the longest stretch of his career. He responded with six innings of double-run ball, striking out eight with 18 swinging strikeouts in 94 pitches. Last time out, he recorded a season-worst five swinging strikes on 97 pitches.
The Nola era began with three straight 1-2-3 rounds, and while he had trouble in the fourth round, he was able to limit the damage. This frame began with back-to-back singles from Acuña and Albies over the order, and Olson drove in a run with a single. Things could have been worse if it weren’t for Nola hitting Riley swinging on a curveball down the zone and Eddie Rosario looking on a two-seater that came back from the inside corner.
Nola is 12-9 with a 4.57 ERA through 31 starts. He is 13 innings shy of reaching 200 for the fourth time in the last five non-COVID-shortened seasons but probably won’t get there as he prepares to start Game 162, which will likely be meaningless for the Phillies.
“Classic NOLA,” Castellanos said of Wednesday’s outing. “Competing, throwing shots, gives us a chance to win.”
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