HOUSTON — Dave Dombrowski watched the Phillies celebrate on the field Monday night from a suite behind the visitors’ dugout at Minute Maid Park.
He enjoyed the looks on the faces of veteran players who never played in the playoffs, including Aaron Nola, Jean Segura, Zack Wheeler, JT Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins and Zach Eflin. He said it reminded him of Christmas mornings with his family and watching his children open presents.
“It’s so much fun watching other people celebrate,” Dombrowski said ahead of the Phillies’ 3-2 loss in Wednesday’s regular season finale to the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Nobody popped bottles of champagne to celebrate the Phillies’ first trip to the playoffs since 2011 until interim manager Rob Thomson emerged from his office, grabbed a bottle and said a few words in the clubhouse . The players demanded that he speak. Thomson replaced Joe Girardi on June 3 with the Phils sitting at 22-29, despite a franchise-record payroll. Dombrowski believed the Phillies needed a new voice at the clubhouse. He thought Thomson could supply it.
The Phillies went 65-46 (.586) under Thomson to close the season, which was the fourth-best record in the National League.
“He was outstanding,” Dombrowski said. “You’re hopeful that we can get back into this business, but there were no specific expectations by any means. We expected him to do his job well, but he exceeded those expectations. He’s been fantastic He’s led a season turnaround for us We were seven games under .500 We’re 20 games over since he’s been managed Great communication with players, staff members – I really appreciate the work he’s done. did for us.
So when will it be time to make a decision on Thomson’s future? The Angels announced Wednesday that interim manager Phil Nevin will return next season. They went 46-59 after Nevin replaced Joe Maddon.
“I mean, it’s on my mind, but we really didn’t prioritize that,” Dombrowski said. “We have just finished the season.
Maybe the Phillies wait until after the playoffs to make an announcement. But Thomson has history on its side. From 1960 to 2021, 15 of 16 (93.8%) mid-season managerial backups who led their team to the playoffs returned the following year.
Thomson and Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider could be 16th and 17th on this list.
Major League Baseball hiring policies generally require teams to conduct extensive searches that include minority applicants. But the league offers exceptions based on job performance. Based on Thomson engineering a turnaround and guiding the Phillies to the playoffs, they won’t need to go through that process.
“He’s our leader at the top,” Bryce Harper said of Thomson. “He’s done a great job making sure we all stay balanced every day. [and] that when you continue on a winning streak or on a losing streak, you continue. You flush the toilet the day before and you realize that you have more and more every day.
“Just the quiet confidence he has, that was instilled in us just to go play,” Hoskins said. “I think that’s really what we did under him.”
Young players are comfortable around Thomson and veterans love his steady hand.
He is genuine. He communicates. He cares.
Thomson never seems to panic.
“I’ve often said that management is a learned skill,” Dombrowski said. “Having a tough loss and then going out and having to face the media five minutes into a game is really a learned skill. I know I’m emotional after our first loss, then 15-20 minutes later I’m fine. Somehow he was able to capture this learned skill very well. I think it’s good for a team.
Thomson has been good for the Phillies. He’ll lead them in Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series on Friday afternoon in St. Louis. It will be 11 years to the day since the Phils played their last postseason game, Game 5 of the NL Division Series, against the Cardinals on October 7, 2011.
Whether or not the Phillies beat the Cardinals, Thomson has earned the right to return in 2023.
“He’s a big reason why we’re here right now,” Harper said.
Deep down, Thomson probably appreciates those words. Publicly, the accolades and attention make him uncomfortable.
“I think that’s a big compliment, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with what he said,” Thomson said. “It’s a group effort of everyone – from our coaching staff, our athletic staff, the coaching staff, player development, the front office. We’ve had a lot of good moves at the Trade Deadline to bring people in, and at the start of the year we just weren’t playing well. We weren’t playing to our capacity. But I always felt like we were going to make it. We did. I happened to arrive at the right time.