Segura, Suárez, Bullpen Snag Victory for Philadelphia

© Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA — Jean Segura experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat all in one inning, Rob Thomson managed as if there were no tomorrow, and Ranger Suárez excelled in the biggest start of his career as the Phillies beat the Padres, 4-2, to go up two games to one in the NLCS.

The Padres and Phillies are not only closely matched, but with their great top-end starting pitching and star power at the plate, they make excellent foils for one another. This was the third consecutive tense, close-fought game between the two. After the pitchers’ duel in Game 1 and Game 2’s tilt between Sir Gawain vs. the Green Knight, Game 3 was a contest of tantalizing opportunities. Each side opened the door to the other through some, um, creative defense, but in the end, the Phillies made more of their opportunities.

The recurring theme of this game was the ball on the ground. The night’s 69 plate appearances produced 51 balls in play; of those, 30 were grounders, 18 by the Padres. And even though both teams shifted heavily throughout the game, these grounders seemed to have a habit of going where the fielders weren’t. The Padres had four infield hits, two by Brandon Drury on balls with a launch angle of -20 degrees or worse. There were three groundball double plays, and there could have been a few more.

While the fate of the game was always figuratively just within or just out of reach, an unusually large percentage of Friday was spent with infielders literally reaching for the ball. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not. The first six batters of the game hardly indicated what was to come. Two of Suárez’s three strikeouts came in the first two plate appearances of the game, while Joe Musgrove started the bottom of the first by surrendering the only home run and the only two walks allowed by any pitcher on the night.

After Kyle Schwarber’s leadoff dinger sent the stadium into a generalized fit, Musgrove… okay, the polite way to say it is he “started missing glove side with his breaking ball,” but he looked like a frisbee golfer with the yips. He walked Rhys Hoskins:

And then J.T. Realmuto to bring up Bryce Harper:

With the reigning MVP up and Musgrove’s command nowhere in sight, the Padres could’ve fallen into an unrecoverable hole in the first inning. Instead, a mound visit — San Diego’s second in the first three batters of the game — fixed whatever ailed the big right-hander. Musgrove got back on top of his curveball, and got Harper to hit one into a double play before getting Nick Castellanos to ground out and retire the side on the next pitch.

The two starters kept things quiet until a rapid succession of sliding doors moments in the middle innings determined the course of the game — and perhaps the series.

Good as it was, Suárez’s stat line — five innings, two hits, no walks walks, two runs, three strikeouts — understates the extent to which he commanded the game. His major misstep was hitting Juan Soto to lead off the fourth inning; Soto would come around to score on a one-out fielder’s choice. The impact of that play, during which Segura took his eye off a toss from Bryson Stott as he looked to attempt an inning-ending double play, ended up not being so great. It’s far from certain that Segura would have been able to throw Jake Cronenworth out at first even if he’d caught the ball. And while the Padres could have broken the game open with two on and one out, Suárez collected himself to retire Wil Myers and Jurickson Profar without further incident.

In the bottom of the inning, the Phillies conjured victory from what was nearly just another in a string of lamentable missed opportunities for both teams. Musgrove faced five hitters in the inning and retired only one — Castellanos, who followed up Harper’s shift-beating single with a first-pitch double play ball. After back-to-back hits by Alec Bohm and Stott, Segura reached out to poke at a 1-2 slider that was both six inches low and six inches outside, and drove it to right for a two-run single:

He then promptly got picked off first base to end the fourth. But he’d prevented Castellanos’s double play from killing the inning, or perhaps the season. (At this point in the calendar, every double play in a close game is a potential season-killer.)

The Padres got back to within one the following inning after Trent Grisham reached on a two-base fielding error by Hoskins. But they couldn’t manage to score off the Phillies bullpen, and Bohm put up an insurance run with an RBI double in the seventh.

This was a weird game for a few players. Soto, for instance, dove for and whiffed on not one but two line drives to the gap. (And this in his first game after controversially being named a Gold Glove finalist.) In the ninth inning, Profar was ejected after an at-bat where he ended up on the wrong side of not one but two borderline calls. (You could go so far as to say he got well and truly hosed on the check swing that resulted in strike three and his ejection.) But nobody had an odder game than Segura, who lived more in the span of about six innings than most people live in a lifetime.

In addition to the costly error, the pickoff, and the game-winning hit, Segura made diving stops to rob Grisham of a single in the third and Ha-Seong Kim of a single in the seventh, then leaped to take another hit away from Cronenworth in the eighth. After waiting a decade for his first taste of postseason action, Segura is getting his money’s worth from the experience. He already delivered the game-winning hit in the Phillies’ ludicrous ninth-inning rally in Game 1 of the Wild Card Series, then went 6-for-13 with two walks in the NLDS against Atlanta. At the end of the game, the Fox broadcast threw up a graphic that declared Segura to be the first player in postseason history to get picked off, drive in a run, and commit an error in the same inning.

If Segura was not the protagonist of Game 3, it was surely Phillies manager Rob Thomson, who managed his bullpen quite conservatively on Wednesday. He was slow to get a reliever up during the pivotal five-run fifth inning as Aaron Nola started to struggle, and when he did get someone up, it was Brad Hand, not one of his top three relief pitchers. Once the lead was lost, the Phillies never came close to reclaiming it, but a would-be comeback would’ve been harder than it had to be.

The Thomson who managed Game 3 might as well have been a completely different guy. Even though Suárez was dealing, and even though he’d only thrown 68 pitches through five innings, Thomson went to his bullpen early, stretching his top three relievers — Zach Eflin, José Alvarado, and Seranthony Domínguez — over four innings to wrap up the win.

It was the right thing to do. As good as Suárez had been, he’s a finesse pitcher, who since the first inning had pitched to contact while backed by an infield defense that had let him down at every turn. And every additional look Padres hitters got at him increased their odds of breaking through. Moreover, after he’d retired Soto to end the fifth, Manny Machado and Drury were the first two hitters due up in the sixth, arguably the two hitters against whom Thomson would benefit most from bringing in a righty to face.

This being this game, the move almost backfired when Drury and Cronenworth strung together back-to-back one-out singles, but pinch hitter Josh Bell — the best hitter Melvin could’ve called on for what would turn out to be his best opportunity to score off the Phillies bullpen — bounced into an inning-ending double play. The groundball giveth, and the groundball taketh away.

The absolute best-case scenario for Thomson would’ve involved Avarado and Domínguez scything through the last nine outs like a string of dental floss through an uncooked pan of cinnamon rolls, but Alvarado allowed two hits and threw 27 pitches, while Domínguez needed 34 pitches to record the Phillies’ first six-out postseason save since Tug McGraw closed out Game 6 of the 1980 World Series. (Forty-two years ago to the day, in fact.)

That means Thomson’s gambit, though it won him Game 3, comes at a price. Eflin, usually a starter, has thrown on back-to-back days since moving to the bullpen. Thomson said after the game that Eflin will be available in Game 4, as will Alvarado; surprisingly, he didn’t even rule out bringing Domínguez back, though all this could be a bluff. The status of his top relievers is all the more crucial because Game 4 will be the dreaded Bullpen Game. Bailey Falter will start, go roughly once through the order, and then hand it off to… someone. Maybe Noah Syndergaard, maybe Andrew Bellatti or David Robertson, but probably not Alvarado and Domínguez.

That makes Saturday a do-or-die game for San Diego, even more so than it would be ordinarily. Not only does Mike Clevinger have the potential to give the Padres more length than Falter, Bob Melvin’s club kept things close without using Nick Martinez, Robert Suarez, or Josh Hader. Thomson sold out to win Game 3. The Padres now have to make him suffer the consequences of that decision.





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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Bruce Schwindtmember
1 month ago

The only excuse for pulling Suarez is he is supposed to start Tuesday on what will be three days rest so limiting pitches could help. Not sure what replay you watched, but Profar definitely swung, bat went past the front of plate

Last edited 1 month ago by Doppelganger
bosoxforlifemember
1 month ago
Reply to  Bruce Schwindt

The bat only went that far because he rotated his torso. He had control of the bat with his hands and never initiated a swinging motion. It was not a swing. Hitters know when they swing and it was clear that Profar was certain he had not swung.

Last edited 1 month ago by bosoxforlife
Blastings! Thrilledgemember
1 month ago
Reply to  Bruce Schwindt

The bat goes “past the front of plate” on HBPs and close-HBPS all the time and they’re never called “swings.” You could selectively grab screenshots all the time to show that they are, though, if you think that’s what “swing” means. The 3B umpire was either not paying attention or has a very particular interpretation of the rule.

Ivan_Grushenkomember
1 month ago

It’s not usually called in the situations you mention but it’s technically the rule. Bat goes in front of plate can be called a swing, and swinging on an HPB is a strike

Ivan_Grushenkomember
1 month ago
Reply to  Bruce Schwindt

They could use Syndergaard but maybe they want the option of using Suarez on 3 days rest