Zack Wheeler dazzles, fuels Phillies to victory in NLCS opener

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Phillies Zack Wheeler
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler throws the ball to a Washington Nationals player during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

SAN DIEGO- One down, three to go. The Phillies took Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, 2-0, over the San Diego Padres.

Dominant pitching and timely hits were once again the recipe for success for the Phils, as the Phillies all-star players cleared the path for victory. Namely, Phillies ace Zack Wheeler stole the show with his shutdown performance tonight.

Wheelin’ and dealin’

Zack Wheeler gave up just one hit and one walk through seven innings. To say he was masterful would be an understatement.

“I had to get my nerves out of the way at first, but then I settled in,” Wheeler said. “I was just throwing strikes and trying to get ahead of guys. That’s all you can do.”

Against a potent Padres lineup, Wheeler continued his dominant stretch this postseason. He did a great job of keeping the Padres batters off balance. His eight strikeouts tonight bring his postseason total to 17 strikeouts across 19 1/3 innings.

Here is a snapshot of his last three postseason starts:

  • NLWCS Game 1: 6 1/3 IP, two hits, zero runs
  • NLDS Game 2: 6 IP, four hits, three runs
  • NLCS Game 1: 7 IP, one hit, zero runs

“He was just incredible for us tonight,” J.T Realmuto said of Wheeler. “He’s been doing this all season long.”

As the playoff pressure grows, Wheeler evolves to rise to the occasion. Each time he takes the mound for Philly, he puts them in a position to win, and tonight was no different.

Flex the muscle

Phillies big bats come up clutch

Offensively, both Phillies runs were scored by long home runs by their all-star sluggers Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber.

Harper hit a towering home run to draw first blood in the fourth inning. It was the third home run in as many games for the reigning MVP, who has been scorching hot this postseason.

A couple of innings later, Kyle Schwarber swung for the fences, launching one out of the park to give the Phillies a two-run lead that proved to be the difference.

Schwarber didn’t just homer, though, he absolutely crushed the baseball, sending it out of orbit and leaving Bryce Harper speechless in the process.

According to Statcast, the highlight-reel-worthy home run had an exit velocity of 120 MPH and traveled 488 feet.

“It felt good,” Schwarber told Ken Rosenthal following the home run. “We’re facing a good pitcher so just want to stay on him.”

For Schwarber, who had been struggling mightily to begin the postseason, this will hopefully provide some peace of mind at the plate. It’s never fun when you struggle, but when you can stay locked in during a slump and deliver in key moments as Schwarber did, it is a testament to the kind of player you are.

Bullpen contributions

After pulling Wheeler at just 83 pitches in the seventh inning, Seranthony Dominguez and Jose Alvarado were excellent in relief tonight.

Dominguez picked up Wheeler perfectly in the eighth, retiring the side on just nine pitches. The following inning, Alvarado danced out of danger to close out the ninth inning.

Looking ahead

Next up, the Phillies and Padres will face off again in Game 2 in San Diego. The first pitch is set for 4:35 PM EST. Aaron Nola will be the starter for the Phillies, opposed by the Padres’ Blake Snell.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez