PHOENIX — The Phillies had exactly the man they needed on the mound Saturday night, never looking back in Game 5 of the NLCS after scoring two runs for Zack Wheeler before his first pitch of the night.
As for Zac Gallen? He’s probably seen enough of Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper.
The Phillies won, 6-1, to salvage one of their three games in Arizona and return to Philly with a 3-2 lead in the Best-of-7 series. They’ll have two chances at home Monday and Tuesday (if necessary) to advance to their second straight World Series.
Schwarber and Harper accounted for 905 feet of solo home runs in the top of the sixth to double the Phillies’ lead. They each took Gallen deep in the first inning of Game 1 and did the same in the sixth inning of Game 5. Gallen struck out a career-low one batter. He’s a Cy Young candidate, but he hasn’t fooled the Phillies’ left-handed hitters.
The Schwarber-Harper duo was also responsible for the Phillies’ two first-inning runs, singling to put runners on the corners with one out. After an Alec Bohm foulout, Bryson Stott delivered a massive two-out RBI single.
The next batter was J.T. Realmuto, also batting with runners on the corners. With Realmuto down 0-2 in the count, the Phillies tested Arizona’s defense and Stott broke for second. Once D-backs catcher Gabriel Moreno made his throw, Stott froze and Harper took off from third, beating an errant throw to slide in safely for the Phillies’ first-ever postseason steal of home. He didn’t have much room to navigate around Moreno and his fist/forearm ended up making contact with Moreno’s face. Harper stuck around to check on the catcher, who was tended to by Arizona’s trainers for a few minutes.
Schwarber and Harper are now tied with Jayson Werth for the most home runs in Phillies playoff history with 11. Schwarber’s 20 career postseason homers are also the most ever by a left-handed hitter.
Realmuto joined the home run party with a two-run blast to left field in the eighth inning, breaking a string of 16 consecutive solo home runs hit by the Phillies. The two extra runs were huge in allowing the Phillies to use fewer relievers for matchup purposes in the final two innings.
Wheeler was not as sharp as he was in his prior three outings this postseason, allowing harder contact than usual but evading damage until Alek Thomas’ solo home run in the bottom of the seventh. Wheeler went seven, allowing just that run and striking out eight. He threw 99 pitches.
In 10 career playoff starts, Wheeler’s opponents have hit .164/.211/.256. That’s 232 batters with the equivalent of a pitcher’s slash line.
Wheeler’s length was pivotal for the Phillies after they used their bullpen to cover 8⅔ innings in the last two games. Manager Rob Thomson knew he needed to stay away from Craig Kimbrel and Orion Kerkering, reducing his right-handed choices. Jose Alvarado had also appeared in back-to-back games and was warming up at one point in the seventh but the Phils were able to stay away from him.
Only Jeff Hoffman, Seranthony Dominguez and Matt Strahm were used after Wheeler to close it out, with Strahm facing one batter. With a day off Sunday, the entire bullpen should be available for Game 6.
Every playoff game is a must-win, as Realmuto said Friday, and the Phils needed this one. Now, the D-backs will need to beat them twice at Citizens Bank Park, where the Phils are 6-0 this postseason and own the best home record in MLB playoff history at 28-11.