PHILADELPHIA — A season ago, the Phillies dashed to the finish of the regular season, spent 19 days away from home and had to win their way back to Citizens Bank Park – through Chicago, Washington, Houston, St. Louis and Atlanta.
This year, the playoffs will commence at Citizens Bank Park after a week of rest and positioning the roster for what they hope is another long playoff run. The quest is to make the most of that advantage Tuesday when the Miami Marlins arrive for Game 1 of the best-of-3 series (8:08 p.m., ESPN).
“It was the most electric atmosphere I’ve ever been in, and it can be a problem for the opponent,” manager Rob Thomson recalled Monday of the last postseason. “It energizes our guys. This fanbase is just more passionate than anything I’ve ever been around, so it’s a huge benefit for us.”
“I expect it to be the same as last year, maybe a little bit more,” Game 1 starter Zack Wheeler said. “It was special, it was loud. You could literally feel it. Hopefully they bring that energy this year. We’re looking forward to playing right away in front of our crowd.”
Thomson cited those circumstances as the biggest change from last year. His team jumped from 87 wins to 90, from the sixth seed to fourth. It enters the postseason with a raft of new playoff experience.
That familiarity heightens expectations, but the team’s veteran core is familiar with that.
“I think this group is used to playing with expectations and that’s what comes with the territory when you play in Philly,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “That run we went on last year is absolutely going to bring a little more expectations, so that’s a little more pressure we’re going to have to play with. But I think this group with the confidence we have, it won’t be a problem playing with a little extra pressure.”
Marlins manager Skip Schumaker has no shortage of history with Philadelphia. The long-time St. Louis Cardinal supplied the only RBI of Game 5 of the 2011 National League Division Series, a 1-0 win for the eventual World Series champion and the death knell of the Phillies’ last golden age. Schumaker’s first-inning double that scored Rafael Furcal was the denouement of a 10-pitch at-bat against Roy Halladay, the lone breakthrough in an epic duel between the late Hall of Famer and Chris Carpenter.
Schumacher recalled all of the key details Monday – his rare start in center and in the two-hole, a pitch-by-pitch, near photographic memory of what he called “the biggest at-bat of my career” against Halladay.
“That game, the way it was played and the way it was pitched by Chris Carpenter and Doc, and the defense and Yadi (Molina) throwing guys out and Chase (Utley) throwing me out at third in the first inning, there was just so many unbelievable plays defensively,” Schumaker said. “The way it was pitched from Doc and Chris, I watch that game all the time, not because I hit the double but because it was so well played. It’s one that I’ll remember forever.”
Less fond but perhaps more pertinent are memories of Schumaker’s last postseason encounter with the Phillies, as the bench coach of the Cardinals who the Phillies steamrolled last year’s Wild Card series.
The Marlins secured their first postseason berth in a 162-game season since 2003. Their starting pitcher in Game 1, Jesus Luzardo, grew up in South Florida as a Marlins fan. He attended Game 3 of that World Series, in which the Marlins beat the Yankees, and idolized the likes of Juan Pierre and Josh Beckett.
“It’s indescribable for me and my family,” Luzardo said. “I grew up in South Florida. Being a Marlins fan my whole life, it’s something I can’t put into words. It hasn’t hit me yet, so hopefully down the road it does. I’m just enjoying the ride and hoping it lasts as long as possible.”
The Marlins won the regular season series, winning seven of 13 games. That included two of three in Philly in September. Both Luzardo and Game 2 starter Braxton Garrett, power lefties, have fared well against the Phillies this season.
The Marlins added power hitters Josh Bell and Jake Burger at the trade deadline, and the duo has combined for 20 homers. Though two starting pitchers, including reigning Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara, are out, the bullpen is stocked with talented lefties in A.J. Puk, Tanner Scott, Steven Okert and Andrew Nardi.
“They can play small ball, they can run, they can steal bases, and they’ve got some thump in the middle of the lineup,” Thomson said. “They can do a lot of different things. Their starting pitching is really good, their bullpen is excellent. They’ve got a really good club, and you’ve got to beat them. They’re not going to beat themselves, so you’ve got to go out there and play your best baseball.”
The Marlins’ journey in some ways resembles the Phillies’ last year. While the roster is less star-laden and the payroll is lighter, they’re coming to Philadelphia hoping to spring an upset similar to the one the Phillies pulled off in St. Louis.
“I think what you take away is, just get in, you have a shot,” Schumaker said. “And all we wanted was a chance. We have it. We have the ability to play in a postseason and we’re in the tournament now, and now we have a shot. That’s all you can ask for because you never know what happens in the postseason.”
NOTES >> With rosters not submitted until Tuesday, Thomson declined to offer any hints. He didn’t declare a starting left fielder, for instance, or if he would stick with 13 pitchers and 13 position players. He also didn’t designate a Game 3 starter: “Everybody’s on board for the first two games, then we’ll figure out Game 3.” … Schumaker pronounced Luis Arraez ready to go. The NL batting champ has had just one at-bat in the last week due to an ankle injury, but the Marlins skipper said, “it would have to be a lot for him not to be in the lineup tomorrow.”
Source: Berkshire mont