Phils ride Nick Castellanos' 2 HRs past Braves, into NLCS
Posted on: 13 Oct, 2023 at 05:22 AM
Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Castellanos likes being punched in the face, metaphorically speaking. He believes that's often when he and his teammates are at their best.
After squandering a lead and losing Game 2 of the National League Division Series, the question was whether the Philadelphia Phillies would throw their counterpunch.
"I feel like our play answered that question," Castellanos said.
Castellanos blasted two more home runs, rookie center fielder Johan Rojas preserved a tight lead on a running catch and the Phillies finished off the Atlanta Braves 3-1 on Thursday to win their National League Division Series in four games.
For the second straight year, Philadelphia upset its higher-seeded division rival in the best-of-five NLDS to advance to the best-of-seven NL Championship Series. The Phillies will host the Arizona Diamondbacks for Game 1 on Monday.
Castellanos -- who entered Wednesday with one career playoff homer in 26 games -- became the first player in major league history to produce back-to-back multi-homer games in the postseason. Trea Turner went 4-for-4 with the go-ahead solo homer for Philadelphia.
Ranger Suarez (1-0) went five innings and limited the Braves to one run on three hits. He struck out two without issuing a walk. Atlanta ace Spencer Strider (0-2) yielded all three Phillies home runs.
The Braves fell to the Phillies in the NLDS for the second straight October after winning the 2021 World Series. Atlanta was shown the door despite posting the best record in baseball at 104-58, its second straight 100-win season.
"I told (the players) how proud I was of them, and you can't underscore (enough) -- what happened this year was phenomenal, a phenomenal year for our club," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Didn't end the way we wanted it to, but it doesn't always do that in this game."
After the Braves' offense set a major league record for slugging percentage (.501) and tied the big-league record for homers (307) in the regular season, Atlanta managed to score eight runs in four playoff games. NL Most Valuable Player candidates Ronald Acuna Jr. and Matt Olson combined to go 6-for-30 with one extra-base hit and no RBIs in the series.
"They should go home tomorrow and sit in their easy chairs and whatever and feel good about everything they've accomplished these last 7 1/2 months," Snitker said. "But it's kind of -- I don't know. I can't explain it. I don't know what the remedy is. It's just baseball."
Austin Riley hit his second home run of the series for Atlanta's first hit and only run of the night. The fourth-inning shot curled toward the foul pole and just over the left field wall.
Castellanos answered in the bottom of the inning by launching a first-pitch slider into the left field seats.
Turner copied Castellanos one inning later, sending an identical Strider offering into left to put Philadelphia ahead for good.
In the sixth, Castellanos connected with a 100 mph fastball for the home run that wound up chasing Strider. The Braves' 20-game winner allowed three runs on seven hits and three walks with seven strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.
With two outs in the seventh, Atlanta loaded the bases on consecutive walks by Kevin Pillar, Orlando Arcia and Travis d'Arnaud, who pinch-hit for Michael Harris II. Acuna skied a pitch to deep center, but Rojas tracked it to the wall and caught it over his left shoulder to quell the threat.
Rojas was jubilant over his journey from starting the season at Double-A to starting in the NLDS.
"I'm not going to lie to you. I can't believe it," the 23-year-old said through a translator. "But my goal has always been to be in the big leagues, to win a World Series, so I'm very happy to be able to help this team win."
Philadelphia's Gregory Soto allowed runners to reach the corners with no outs in the ninth before Matt Strahm came on and earned his first career postseason save.
The Phillies avoided a Game 5 that would have been played in Atlanta on Saturday night, which would have required Zack Wheeler to take another turn on the mound.
"It really helps to get it done early because Wheeler doesn't pitch Game 5. And so he can go Game 1, and we just fall in line," Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson said. "So Wheeler, (Aaron) Nola, Ranger (for Games 1-3). I'm assuming that's the way we'll go."
Phillies star Bryce Harper finished with a single and two walks. He had an injury scare on the last out of the eighth, when Olson bumped into his right elbow when running out a grounder.
Trainers gave Harper the all clear, and Thomson said the team was not concerned going forward.
Castellanos, meanwhile, got to enjoy another historic night alongside his son, Liam, who lives in Florida but was able to come to Philadelphia for the series.
"Baseball is my job, and it takes me away from him more than I would like it to," Castellanos said. "I mean, he's been at the house when I've sucked. He's been at the house when I've done well. He's been at the house during so many different times of my career, throughout his life. So for him to be able to be next to me and witness all of it, I think, is good for his maturation in the future."
--Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media