Rob Thomson, baseball lifer, waited for decades to get a shot at managing a big-league club. It finally came with the Phillies in June, two months before his 59th birthday. He presided over eight straight wins out of the gate, quickly turning around a stumbling club, and went 65-46 overall to lead the team to its first postseason berth in 11 years.
Sometimes it just feels like this is Thomson's time.
Everything he touches seems to turn into a winning lottery ticket.
It happened again in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series on Friday night.
Thomson's starting pitcher, Ranger Suarez, cruised through five innings on 68 pitches.
He had a one-run lead.
And then he was gone.
Where have you gone, Jack Morris? A sport turns its lonely eyes to you.
"He wasn't declining," Thomson said of Suarez after the game. "He wasn't tired. He wasn't hurt."
In Thomson's mind, this was a game the Phillies had to have. Home field. Huge crowd. Swing game. The Phillies had to have it.
So even though Suarez would have had a one-hit shutout going through five innings if he wasn't betrayed by his defense and a base hit that rolled through an infield shift, he was out of the game after five innings.
Zach Eflin came on, survived a couple of hits in the sixth and preserved the lead. Then Jose Alvarado and Seranthony Dominguez combined on the last nine outs to lock down a 4-2 win and a two-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series.
With the exception of simply getting this team to the postseason, breaking the burdensome 10-year drought, this might have been Thomson's finest moment as Phillies skipper.
Because if the bullpen blew the lead in the middle innings, he would have become raw meat for the second-guessers, his decision to remove Suarez would have been derided as over-managing, and he might be looking at a one-game deficit in the series instead of a one-game lead going into a less-than-ideal pitching situation in Saturday's Game 4. That game had been pegged as a bullpen game to begin with.
Thomson didn't worry about any of this. He went for the kill with his three highest-leverage bullpen arms.
And he got it.
"Yeah," Thomson said, confirming the idea.
The sight of right-handed hitting Manny Machado getting ready to lead off the sixth confirmed in Thomson's mind that it was the time to take out the lefty Suarez and go to the right-hander Eflin.
But this was the plan anyway, Thomson revealed.
"We talked about it before the game," he said. "If we were trailing, Ranger would have stayed in the game to save the bullpen. But if we had the lead, we were going to do it."
A manager and a coaching staff can plot all the strategy they want and have good reasons for doing what they do, but the player must execute to make the strategy look good. In addition to Eflin, Alvarado and Dominguez, Jean Segura and Bryson Stott executed in the middle infield. They turned a huge double play to get Eflin out of the sixth after he'd allowed a pair of hits. And Segura made another great play to get Alvarado out of the seventh and leave a man on base.
Ironically, the Phillies did not play completely good defense, especially behind Suarez. Segura made an error earlier in the game that led to a run and Rhys Hoskins also made one that led to a run. But when defense mattered most, it was there, particularly with Segura.
Bailey Falter will start Saturday's Game 4. He has pitched one inning in the last three weeks. The Phils would love to get three innings out of him, but who knows? Rust could be an issue with the left-hander. Either way, it figures to be an all-hands-on deck game, with a deep dive into a bullpen that saw its three top arms stressed on Friday night. Eflin threw 17 pitches. Alvarado threw 27. Thomson believes both will be available Saturday.
Dominguez threw 34 pitches in his longest outing of the season in getting the last six outs. He is a Tommy John surgery survivor. You can pretty much bet he will be down on Saturday night.
It's a small price to pay. In a short series, all that matters is that day's game.
Rob Thomson didn't actually say those words, but his actions spoke them for him. He had a plan. His players executed it. Another winning lottery ticket with maybe a bigger one to come. The Phillies are two wins away from the World Series.