November 02, 2022 5 min read
Last week we took a look at some of the greatest moments in Phillies postseason history, all which focused on hitting and defense. This week it’s all about pitching, as the Phillies bullpen is a surprising force behind the team's momentum. As of Wednesday, November 2, the Phillies bullpen has an ERA of 1.36 through five NLCS games (vs San Diego) and three World Series games (vs Houston). Even more impressive, through three World Series games, the Phillies bullpen has thrown 12 2/3rdscoreless innings against an Astros team that was supposed to have the edge in that department.
Coming into the 2022 postseason, ten of the 12 playoff teams had bullpens ranked in the top 11 in baseball this year. The only two playoff teams without top ranked bullpens were the Toronto Blue Jays, ranked 15th with a bullpen ERA of 3.87, and the Phillies, ranked 18th with a bullpen ERA of 3.97. The Blue Jays were knocked out in the Wild Card round without winning a game against Seattle. The Phillies… well, they’re poised to win the World Series this year... the most improbable of Champions, should that happen.
Back to the historical facts and a Phillies bullpen that dominated from start to finish in 2008. Philadelphia’s bullpen was tops in the National League during the '08 regular season, anchored by the most dominant closer in baseball that year, Brad Lidge. Lidge was a perfect 41-for-41 in save opportunities during the regular season, with an ERA of 1.95. He held hitters to a .198 batting average in 69.1 innings pitched. He carried his dominance right over into the postseason. In nine games Lidge racked up another seven saves, including the biggest one of his career, a strikeout on Tampa Bay’s Eric Hinske to win the World Series. Lidge, traded to the Phillies from the Houston Astros, recently told the Denver Post where his allegiance lies in this 2022 postseason:
“I’ll always root for the Astros, but in this particular World Series, I’ll be cheering for the Phillies,” Lidge said. “It’s tricky, but you can’t be a politician all of the time and I’ll flat-out say that I’m cheering for the Phillies.”
Smart move, Brad! Lidge’s final out conjured up memories of the only other time the Phillies won the World Series back in 1980. The Phillies clinching game against the Royals was in the hands of another beloved Phillies closer, Tug McGraw. There was some buildup to that moment. McGraw, traded from the Mets to the Phillies after the 1974 season, made the All-Star team in 1975 and helped the Phillies to back-to-back 101 win seasons in 1976 and ’77, but a Championship still alluded them. SI.com recently recalled what happened next:
“McGraw was coming off of a rough year in ‘79. He was looking to bounce back in a big way, and he did just that. He closed out 48 games, collected 20 saves, had a 0.921 WHIP and received enough votes for fifth place in Cy Young Award voting. His season ERA was 1.46, and he didn’t let in a single run in the entire month of July. The man was untouchable.
The Phillies of course won the division and made it to the historic NLCS against the Astros. McGraw pitched in all five games of that series and helped them move on to the World Series. McGraw played a huge role in the World Series as well, and with two outs in the 9th, he fanned Willie Wilson to clinch the Phillies' first ever World Series victory.”
When recalling the 1993 World Series, Phillies fans almost immediately sigh at the memory of Joe Carter's three run walk-off homer in the bottom of the 9th to clinch the series. It was a stab in the heart's of Phillies fans, especially after the dominant performance by Phillies ace Curt Schilling in game five. Trailing the series 3-1, Schilling was determined to redeem himself for a game one debacle. He did just that as he made quick work of the Blue Jays in just 2:53 min. The Washington Post offered this recap:
“Schilling became the first Phillies pitcher ever to craft a complete-game shutout during the postseason, stopping a Toronto offense that had amassed 37 runs in the first four games of the series. Schilling, the former Baltimore Oriole, threw a laborious 146 pitches and held the Blue Jays to five hits -- all singles -- in his first career postseason win.
Toronto was shut out only once during the regular season, by the Orioles' Fernando Valenzuela on June 30. Schilling issued three walks and had six strikeouts this evening and faced only 33 batters -- six above the minimum.”
Lefty ace Cliff Lee provided the Phillies their most memorable game of the 2009 World Series against the Yankees. The game one starting pitcher almost didn’t make it to the ballpark in time (that’s another story, one that’s worth a read, by the way). Lee did get there in the nick of time and wow did he turn in a doozy:
"Cliff Lee was given the ball in Game 1 and was told to deliver a victory. Lee came through on that promise.
A dominant outing completely left the Yankees’ lineup puzzled and out in the October cold. The final stat line from the game included 9 innings pitched, 1 run allowed, and 10 strikeouts in the complete-game shutout.
Aside from his memorable performance, there were some flashy defensive plays that are still talked about to this day. Cliff showed that the moment wasn’t too big for him and his calm demeanor shined on the mound."
After failing to repeat their Championship season in 2009, the decline continued for the Phillies in 2010… but not before Roy Halladay delivered a postseason no-hitter, just the second in the history of baseball. It was game one of the NLDS against the Cincinnati Reds. John Hirschbeck was the home plate umpire in that game and I recall former Phillies Scott Rolen telling me afterwards they knew they were in for a tough night with pitcher-friendly Hirschbeck calling balls and strikes. Wide strike zone or not, Halladay was masterful. He allowed just one baserunner when Jay Bruce worked a six-pitch walk in the fifth. It was a questionable ball, but that’s this Phillies fan’s opinion. Baseballhall.org recalls the moment:
“Not only had the Phillies just taken a 1-0 lead in the series, but Halladay had also etched his name in history in more ways than one while appearing in his first postseason game. The future Hall of Famer became just the second pitcher ever to throw a no-hitter in the postseason, following Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. The no-hitter also marked Halladay’s second no-no of the season – the right-hander had thrown a perfect game against the Marlins on May 29.”
Sidenote – I interviewed former Phillies manager Dallas Green after Halladay’s no hitter. During the interview he shared that he had also been at Don Larson’s perfect game back in 1956. He was a fan in the stands for that one. I think we’d be hard pressed to find anyone else who can say they were at both of those historical games.
In 2022, there has yet to be that one game by a pitcher that will go down in history. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler have had dominant moments, though. The 1-2 starters combined for 13 scoreless innings to get past the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card round. Nola threw 6 scoreless against the Braves in the NLDS, putting the Phillies up 2-1 in that series. Then Wheeler threw 7 shutout innings in the opening game of the NLCS against the Padres, also a Phillies win.
The Phillies may not have a lot of depth among their starters, but if the bullpen keeps doing what they’ve been doing this postseason, they don’t have to. As a collective group of arms, they’ve done exactly what they’ve needed to and now find themselves two wins away from another World Series Championship.
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