The Phillies have marched within two wins of the World Series — and there’s nothing routine about the way they’ve done it

PHILADELPHIA — There are brothers competing against each other in the National League Championship Series. You’ve probably heard about this. The Nola parents have become well-deserved media darlings as their sons, Austin of the San Diego Padres and Aaron of the Philadelphia Phillies, have progressed deeper into the postseason through a couple of upset series to find themselves here: a pitcher and catcher on the last two NL teams standing. It’s cute.

In the seventh inning of Game 3 of the NLCS, the infamous Phillies fans considered this familial connection and saw an opportunity to stunt on the opposition, jeering at Austin Nola, “Aaron’s better” over and over until he struck out.

They’re not wrong, per say — I hope existing in perpetual contrast to your more successful, younger brother doesn’t sour the experience of being a major league baseball player in the postseason — but the Padres did just even the series at a game apiece by scoring six off Aaron Nola on Wednesday in San Diego.

The point is, that hardly matters to a fan base that’s a little feral by nature and rabid from waiting. Eleven years without postseason baseball in Philly has given way to a team that frustrates as often as it delights, a team that has made it here, to the precipice of a pennant, playing only two games at home in practically a month. They ended the season with a 10-game road trip, snuck into a newly expanded postseason and haven’t had home-field advantage since. They knocked off the NL Central-winning Cardinals in a couple of games in St. Louis, clinched the division series at home against the reigning Braves after splitting the first two in Atlanta, and finally returned home to Citizens Bank Park this weekend with the NLCS knotted up at a game apiece after playing two on the west coast.

So, yeah, given a chance to gloat a little about their guys, Phillies fans took it.

And besides, they could tell themselves it worked.

That brought up Ha-Seong Kim, the Padres shortstop, who promptly smacked a sinker that sent veteran second baseman Jean Segura diving to stop as it bounced into shallow right field. You couldn’t call it a routine play, and even if you could, routine is exactly the kind of play the Phillies botch all the time. This time, however, Segura snagged the bouncing ball, leapt to his feet, and fired to first to get the final out of the inning.

By that point, he had committed an error (one of two for the team on the night), successfully smothered another sharply hit ground ball to turn two, hit a ball just inches above the dirt to drive in the go-ahead runs, and been picked off first base. Now this? As the game went to commercial, the broadcast marveled that Segura’s “rollercoaster night continues. He’s at the top of the mountain right now.”

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 21:   Jean Segura #2 of the Philadelphia Phillies high-fives teammates after winning Game 3 of the NLCS between the San Diego Padres and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Friday, October 21, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 21: Jean Segura #2 of the Philadelphia Phillies high-fives teammates after winning Game 3 of the NLCS between the San Diego Padres and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Friday, October 21, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

After a rollercoaster season, the Phillies are approaching the top of the mountain. At the end of May, they were 21-29 before they started June with nine straight wins. They were under .500 for the final month of the season, but managed to finish the season just one game up on the Milwaukee Brewers for the final wild-card spot.

And now, with their 4-2 victory over the Padres on Friday night, they’re just two wins away from their first World Series appearance since 2009. Two just happens to be exactly how many more games they have at home this weekend, where they have yet to lose in the postseason.

“I'm not surprised, just because of the atmosphere,” first baseman Rhys Hoskins said postgame about a stat he’d heard describing the Phillies’ historical playoff success in home games. “I think it's 100% a factor, probably felt that tonight.”

As amped as the 45,279 fans were before the game even got under way, a leadoff home run from NL home run leader Kyle Schwarber — the first Padres pitcher Joe Musgrove has given up in four games — sent the place into pandemonium. To say the Phillies never fully surrendered the lead from there makes it sound like the game was easy — or at least simple — when it was nothing of the sort.

If you’re bored by the all-too-2022 lack of action punctuated by game-changing homers (and game-not-changing not-quite-homers) in the American League championship series, you’ll love the messiness that made Friday night in South Philly so thrilling. The Phillies and Padres combined to put the ball in play 51 times across 69 plate appearances — that’s 51 opportunities for small-ball scoring, or stellar defense, or costly bobbles.

The Padres had their fair share of each, but I bet their fans don’t hold their breath every time a ball approaches one of their fielders. Will they prove they belong on this stage alongside the other would-be champions, or will they justify the season-long gags about how their power-centric lineup falters when the moment calls for precision?

The Phillies, apparently, contain multitudes, managing to do both in the span of a single game. That’s probably why they spend so much time emphasizing the importance of moving on from mistakes.

“We’ve talked about it; whenever something doesn't go our way, we can get frustrated about it, but it ends right there,” said Schwarber, who is playing in his seventh postseason with his third different team. “I feel like we've been doing a really good job of that throughout this past season.”

The Phillies are hardly scrappy — they have the fourth-highest payroll with only the New York and Los Angeles teams spending more than them this season — but they play like it. Maybe it seeps into the clubhouse from the proudly blue-collar and even more proudly belligerent about their sports city. Or maybe it’s because winning is fun and waiting can make you just happy to be here, or it can make you hungry for more.

When the playoffs started, the Phillies had the top two players with the most regular-season games played without a postseason appearance: J.T. Realmuto at 1,005 and Segura at 1,328.

No matter what, they’ve shed that distinction already, they’ve overperformed in the postseason and lived down whatever mistakes they made in the summer. Last year, the 87-win team wouldn’t even play beyond 162. So maybe it’s a chip on their shoulder, or maybe it’s just the chance they needed.

“I wait 11 years for the opportunity, I'm not going to go back,” Segura said. “I'm going to do the best I can to continue to grind it, to continue to help the ball club, and bring something positive every single day. I just waited too many years for the opportunity, and I don't want to let it go by.”