NLCS Game 4 was the night the Phillies became a World Series team

Distance is the characteristic that best defines the life of a major league hitter. You stand on the sidelines of a stadium full of ordinary people who are closer to the action than you, and yet you stand closer than anyone to having the fate of the entire building on your shoulders. That’s your job. You sit and wait, watch and hear and feel everything unfold a split second later than everyone else wearing your uniform. The swing of the bat, the trajectory of the ball, the roar of the crowd, the moment of realization that comes with various combinations of the three: they arrive like a wave. And then you hear the phone ring and you nod and you’re the last to know again. Now is your time.

On Saturday night, as the Game 4 madhouse roared around the rectangular patch of grass that had become his new home, Zach Eflin slowly realized that it would end up with him. He had spent most of the evening like any of the other 45,000-plus spectators who had packed into Citizens Bank Park. A show was going on on the other side of that center field fence, and he and the rest of the Phillies neighborhood were equally attentive and excited. They went into the night knowing that anyone who could walk would probably need to. Four batteries in the game, the elimination process has begun.

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“Everybody’s got to be ready,” Eflin said after pitching the final three outs of a 10-6 upset victory that put the Phillies one win away from the World Series. “Especially on a day like today. We know everyone must be waiting. We were fully prepared for whatever happened during the game.”

What happened was one of those October nights that you just wanted to end because it had to be made official. If this Phillies season ends the way it sometimes feels destined to, we may be looking back at Game 4 of the National League Championship Series as they complete their self-actualization. After a string of victories strung together on the backs of singular moments and electric starting pitching, the Phillies put together a collective performance that established once and for all their superiority as a team. Fresh off a Game 3 win that had depleted their last stretch starter and their two aces, they entered Game 4 knowing they would need a new formula. They had only one way to victory. And oh my god, they lit it up.

You will hear a lot about bats and deservedly so. Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, JT Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos — this was their night, exactly the kind of thing their bosses envisioned when they added the two finishing touches this offseason. Each had their individual moments in the Phillies’ first seven postseason wins, but this was a game where they had to put all those moments together. That’s exactly what they did and they did it from the moment they found themselves 4-0 down. The pivotal hit: a two-run home run in the bottom of the first that reignited a crowd that barely had time to digest the implications of the deficit.

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However, there were plenty of times when it could have been nothing. In these moments the second calvary brigade prospered. One by one, they entered from center field, the phone ringing, the manager waving, the gate opening, the music starting to play. For many of them, it would be their most significant opportunity to make an impact on a magical run they had spent watching from afar.

Two weeks ago, Connor Brogdon made his first postseason appearance and allowed four of the five batters he faced to reach base. From that point on, he was apparently marked for games already lost or already one. In Game 4, though, he was suddenly on the mound in the first inning, called upon to stop the bleeding and then preserve a deficit the Bats had cut from three to one. This time, he retired six out of seven. As he came off the mound, you got the feeling that something big had happened.

“Those were the most important outs of the game in my opinion,” catcher JT Realmuto said.

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Next up was Andrew Bellati, who struck out two of the three batters he faced in a perfect fourth. The only hiccup came in the fifth when Brad Hand allowed a two-run home run to Juan Soto. But after the Phillies came back with a four-run fifth, their fate fell into the hands of a trio of veterans who spent much of the series biding their time. Noah Syndergaard got the first four outs, David Robertson the next five.

“Next man up,” said Robertson, who struck out three in the seventh and eighth innings. “Whoever got the ball went out there and did his best and passed it to the next guy.”

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That he did, recording 25 of the final 27 outs of the game after Bailey Falter left the mound in the first inning. By the time the ninth inning arrived, Eflin was well aware of the task that would be his. Jose Alvarado and Seranthony Domínguez both threw 27+ pitches the night before. Eflin had thrown just 17. Other than starter Kyle Gibson, he was the only one left.

“Everybody was ready to go today,” Eflin said. “Even if you ask these guys, they were ready to go.”

Individuals can win games, but ultimately it takes a team to win a series. Maybe this was the night the Phillies officially became one.


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