Phillies clinch playoff berth for first time since 2011 in win over Astros

HOUSTON — The Phillies are going somewhere they haven’t been since the heyday of Jimmy, Chase, Ryan, Cole, Chooch and Big Chuck.

After 10 long seasons without making the playoffs, 10 seasons that included a complete teardown, a rebuild, the end of a long selling streak, several huge free agent spends, six managers, three GMs, a managerial change in ownership, a dedication to analysis, the addition of a president of baseball operations, and far too many losses, the Phillies finally made it back to the playoffs.

They clinched a wildcard spot in the National League with a 3-0 victory over the Houston Astros in the heart of Texas on Monday night.

Aaron Nola pitched the game of his life. Kyle Schwarber hit the first pitch of the game over the wall to left center. He hit another homer, his 46th, in the top of the eighth, back to back with rookie Bryson Stott.

Jose Alvarado was spectacular out of the bullpen and when it was over, the Phillies players stormed down the field.

October baseball, a regular event from 2007 to 2011 and an outsider since, has returned to the Philadelphia sports marquee and the longest postseason drought in the Netherlands is over. The Phillies will play their first postseason game since Oct. 7, 2011, the night Roy Halladay left everything on the mound and Ryan Howard blew his Achilles tendon in a heartbreaking 1-0 loss. against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. Saint-Louis is a potential adversary. The Mets too. It will be a best-of-three series, all to play on the road because the Phillies will be the bottom seed. After 10 years of dark darkness, they are not going to complain about the place.

With their magic number down to one, the Phillies needed a win over the Astros or a loss at Milwaukee to advance to the playoffs.

On the scoreboard outside of town, the Brewers and Diamondbacks went back and forth for extra innings. The Brewers ended up winning.

But that didn’t matter.

The Phillies minded their own business.

They walked through the front door, with the oldest member of the team and a newcomer and an emotional leader showing them the way.

Nola made his Phillies debut in 2015. He entered Monday night’s game with 202 career starts, the second-highest active pitcher not to appear in a postseason game. In his 203rd career start, he pitched perfect baseball for 6 2/3 innings, striking out 20 in a row, before giving up a pair of singles and leaving the game at 88 pitches. He walked none and struck out nine.

Schwarber arrived at the Phillies in March on a four-year, $79 million deal and so far he’s been worth every penny. In a few months with the team, he became its emotional leader. He also became the home run leader, the league leader for that matter. He led a June revival for the team with 12 home runs and 27 RBIs. When the Phillies were desperate for a win Saturday night in Washington, Schwarber homered twice. As they were close to earning a playoff berth in Game 160 of the season on Monday night, he homered twice.

Alvarado’s contribution over the past few months has been huge and it was decisive again. Manager Rob Thomson asked him to protect a 1-0 lead with two men on base in the seventh and he retired left-handed hitter Kyle Tucker with a 101 mph lead. He stayed for the bottom of the eighth and got three more outs. In that inning, he pitched with a 3-0 lead thanks to back-to-back home runs by Stott and Schwarber against Jose Urquidy in the top of the inning. Zach Eflin, another longtime Phillie who never made the playoffs, had the last three outs and the first save of his career.

In the biggest win of the season, Thomson fired Nola at the right time and brought in the right guy from the bullpen. In his own way, Thomson was as eye-catching as Nola, Schwarber, Stott and Alvarado, both Monday night and overall.

The Phillies had seven games under .500 when Thomson replaced Joe Girardi in early June. The team quickly turned things around and qualified for the playoffs. Things have gotten a bit complicated over the past few weeks, but now everything is fine. The Phillies are 65-44 under Thomson, who still wears an interim tag, and 87-73 overall.

They are going to the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

Through the front door.

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