PHILADELPHIA — Nick Castellanos squeezed the final out into his glove and thrust his arms in the air.
That is how the Phillies’ party started Sunday evening at Citizens Bank Park. They beat the Padres, 4-3, in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park to clinch their first NL pennant since 2009.
Players poured out of the dugout and the bullpen, and they ran toward the middle of the infield, where left-hander Ranger Suárez had just recorded the final two outs two days after he started and pitched five innings in Game 3. They jumped up and down. They celebrated the continuation of this improbable journey toward a World Series championship.
Castellanos spotted Bryce Harper as he ran toward the pile. Harper had crushed a go-ahead two-run home run an inning earlier. Castellanos pulled the final out ball from his glove and handed it to Harper.
“Take it, bro,” Castellanos said. “This is your time.”
“Let’s give them something to remember,” Harper told Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long before the bottom of the eighth inning.
The Phillies had just surrendered a one-run lead in the seventh to put them on the brink of a return trip to San Diego. Nobody wanted to play Game 6 on Monday at Petco Park after a 2,370-mile flight.
J.T. Realmuto started the frame with a single to left against right-hander Robert Suarez. Then Harper walked to the plate.
Harper has said in the past how he feels nothing in big moments like the one he walked into after Realmuto’s hit. He has literally touched his chest to search for his heartbeat, but he can never seem to find it.
“We all think in our backyard it’s the World Series, right?” Harper said. “I think the opportunity is huge, but you’re grateful for that opportunity. I think if you go in with gratitude in the at-bat, it doesn’t matter what happens.”
Harper fouled off a first-pitch sinker. He took the second pitch for a ball. He then fouled off three straight pitches to fall behind 1-2.
Suarez then threw a changeup that tumbled out of the zone.
“Unbelievable take,” Padres catcher Austin Nola said. “Unbelievable take. That’s the pitch he swings at. The fact he patiented up and took — that’s Suarez’s best pitch. Hands down.”
Suarez then threw a 2-2 sinker toward the outer half of the plate. Harper barreled it, sending the ball into the left-center-field seats for a two-run home run to take the lead. In doing so, Harper became just the sixth player to hit a go-ahead homer in the postseason with his team trailing in the eighth inning or later in a potential clinch game.
“The superstar came,” manager Rob Thomson said. “And he played. And that’s why he’s the [NLCS] MVP. A lot of times you don’t see that. Sometimes the stars don’t hit. He hit.”
“We’ve always called him ‘The Showman,’” Zack Wheeler said. “Every time he comes up in a big spot, he gets a knock or something like that. He’s a showman. That’s the reason why you sign him, the city loves him. I mean, you can’t say enough about the guy. He just has the ‘thing’ in him. He has that in him where he steps up in big moments. He’s always been a dude.”
“The way that he was able to immerse himself in the moment and stay focused and calm was [expletive] incredible,” Castellanos said. “Please, use those exact words.”
Thomson thought the roof was going to come off the dugout when Harper homered. Wheeler was in the trainer’s room. He said the windows shook and the ceiling tiles started to crack.
“It’s pretty cool watching the windows shake,” Wheeler said.
Harper had been saying since the beginning of the postseason that the Phillies would not lose. They keep finding ways to win.
Rhys Hoskins hit a two-run homer in the third to give the Phillies the lead. Wheeler allowed two runs on three hits and struck out eight over six-plus innings. Seranthony Domínguez threw three wild pitches in rainy and cold conditions in the seventh when the Padres rallied to take the lead. David Robertson walked two with one out in the ninth to make things even more interesting.
Thomson has been pushing the right buttons ever since he replaced Joe Girardi on June 3. He pushed one more: replacing Robertson with Suárez.
“We’re sitting out in the bullpen, we see Ranger come out and, honestly man, he’s got the biggest [guts] I’ve ever seen,” Zach Eflin said. “He was the right man for the right spot.”
Suárez fielded a first-pitch bunt by Trent Grisham for the second out. He got Nola to fly out to right on his second pitch to end the game.
Castellanos found Harper moments later with the ball.
“It’s his time,” Castellanos said. “I know it. I think everybody knows it. And I want to make sure he enjoys it. And I thought, ‘It’s something that he can hold onto.’”
Everybody is holding onto this in Philly because nobody really expected it. The Phillies were 21-29 through 50 games. They are tied with the 2003 Marlins for the fourth-worst record through 50 games of any team to win a pennant. Only the 2005 Astros, 2019 Nationals and 1914 Braves were worse.
The Nationals, Braves and Marlins have all won the World Series this century. The Phillies want to join them and become the third NL East team to win the title in the past four seasons. They will play Game 1 of the Fall Classic on Friday night in either Houston or New York.
“You dream about it, but you also dream about that next step,” Harper said. “You dream about the next one. I’m looking forward to the next one. This is great. To be the last National League team standing right now, the Philadelphia Phillies, we’re here. We’re ready to go in that next round. We’ve got four more.”