June 05, 2023

Untouchable Zack Wheeler silences Padres as Phillies take Game 1 of NLCS

Bryce Harper homered again, Kyle Schwarber hit a jaw-dropping 488ft drive and Zack Wheeler was brilliant in throwing one-hit ball for seven innings to lead the Philadelphia Phillies over the San Diego Padres 2-0 Tuesday night to open the all-wild card NL Championship Series.

Wheeler and two relievers combined on a one-hitter for Philadelphia. The Phillies managed just three hits off Darvish and the San Diego bullpen – the combined four hits matched the fewest ever in a postseason game.

The Phillies will try to take a 2-0 lead when they send Aaron Nola to mound to oppose Blake Snell on Wednesday afternoon. Nola is set to pitch against his brother, Padres catcher Austin Nola.

“I thought Darvish was really good and we couldn’t get much going, but Harper, three straight games with a home run, and Schwarber’s game was just completely flush,” Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson said. “I mean, with the great pitching we had tonight, that’s all we needed.”

The Padres, who eliminated the 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, had only four baserunners, including a single by Wil Myers in the fifth. Still, they had a chance to win in the ninth against José Alvarado.

Jurickson Profar drew a one-out walk and Juan Soto reached when third baseman Alec Bohm made an errant throwing trying for a force. Manny Machado flied out and Alvarado struck out Josh Bell for the save, looking skyward and clapping after getting the final out.

Harper, trying to reach his first World Series, hit a high-arcing, opposite-field shot into the first row in left field with one out in the fourth. It was the fourth home run this postseason for Harper, who was playing in San Diego for the first time since his left thumb was broken when he was hit by a pitch by Blake Snell on 25 June, sidelining him for two months.

Harper homered in his third straight postseason game. The two-time NL MVP, who won the award last year, has hit nine home runs in 26 career postsaseason games.

Schwarber’s incredible shot on Darvish’s first pitch of the sixth had an exit velocity of 119.7mph – the hardest-hit ball in any postseason since Statcast began tracking in 2015 – and was the first to reach the right field upper deck at Petco Park, which opened in 2004. It was the farthest in his career and the farthest at Petco in the Statcast Era and gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead.

Schwarber, who led the NL with 46 home runs this season, raised his right arm as he rounded first base and Harper stood in the dugout with his mouth agape in amazement.

“I thought it got pretty small pretty fast,” Harper said. “I’ve never seen a ball go up in that section in Petco Park. Just very impressive.”

His teammates thought so, too.

“A lot of people just looked at me weird,” Schwarber said about the reaction he got in the dugout. “It was a cool moment, but I’m happy that we got the win overall.”

They were the latest impressive home runs for the Phillies, who are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011. The last won the World Series in 2008. They’ve hit eight homers in seven games this postseason.

Harper joined Gary Matthews (1983) as the only players in franchise history to homer in three straight postseason games in the same year. Harper hit one homer in the wild-card series win at St. Louis and two in going 8 for 16 as the Phillies eliminated the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.

Rhys Hoskins had an epic bat spike on a monster homer against the Braves, and JT Realmuto became the first catcher in postseason history to hit an inside-the-park home run.

The Phillies at times stunned Petco Park, where a sellout crowd of 44,826 was amped up for the Padres’ first NLCS appearance since 1998. It was 78F at first pitch at 5.04pm, a big change from Saturday night’s rainstorm during the Padres’ 5-3 clinching win in the NLDS.

But Wheeler had he Padres totally off balance, allowing only a one-out walk to Juan Soto in the first and then retiring 12 straight batters until Myers singled with one out in the fifth. Wheeler then retired his final eight batters. He struck out eight and walked one on 83 pitches.

“That’s probably as good a pitching performance we’ve seen all year, is my guess,” Padres manager Bob Melvin said. “Was ahead in the count. Was pretty good.”

Seranthony Dominguez pitched a perfect eighth.

Darvish took the loss, allowing two runs and three hits in seven innings while striking out seven and walking one.