PHILADELPHIA — It was one other loss in one other lost season, with more struggles ahead. J.T. Realmuto, the stalwart catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, gazed to the outfield during a pitching change. A reliever sprinted in from the bullpen, and Realmuto sighed. He closed his eyes, clenched his jaw, shook his head — the body language of exasperated resignation. Every Phillies fan could relate.
Realmuto meant nothing by it, he insisted, but when a moment becomes a GIF, it’s too late for context. The attention roll, because it was known, got here to symbolize the persistent follies of the Phillies’ bullpen.
That was in 2019, and for many of the following three seasons, the late innings only got worse for the Phillies. Yet this October, when it matters most, the Phillies are locking down leads as they march through the National League playoffs.
What within the name of Tug McGraw is happening here?
“That’s the difference on this season and seasons past for me: we’ve got guys that we are able to depend on back there,” Realmuto said on Friday, after the Phillies’ 4-2 victory over the San Diego Padres in Game 3 of the N.L. Championship Series. “After we get a lead early in the sport, we’ve got plenty of confidence in the fellows we are able to hand the ball to.”
The Phillies hold a two-games-to-one advantage within the N.L.C.S. for the primary time since 2009, the last yr they won the pennant. Seranthony Domínguez collected the ultimate six outs on Friday for the Phillies’ first two-inning postseason save since McGraw clinched the 1980 World Series.
“I didn’t know that; thanks for telling me,” Domínguez said after Game 3. “I’m here simply to pitch and to do my job. I’m out of the sport once they say you’re out. After I’m still in the sport, I’m going to attempt to get people out.”
There are not any more scheduled off-days on this series, and relievers may wear down because the work piles up. However the Phillies’ Rob Thomson managed aggressively on Friday, using starter Ranger Suárez for five innings and his bullpen for 4.
“As we get deeper into the five days, we’re going to must watch out,” Thomson conceded, but he saw a likelihood for a victory on Friday and seized it along with his best relievers.
The Phillies are 5-0 when Domínguez pitches, 5-0 when Zach Eflin pitches and 7-0 when José Alvarado pitches. All three worked in Game 3 and Thomson has deployed each for a save this postseason.
“I’ve all the time form of thought that if guys can handle the moment within the seventh, eighth, ninth — especially the ninth — that you need to give you the option to maneuver a man or guys into that inning based on where you might be within the lineup,” Thomson said earlier within the N.L.C.S. “So now we all know that Alvarado can handle it, Domínguez can handle it, Eflin can handle it.”
Thomson also cited the right-hander Andrew Bellatti, and he used the veteran David Robertson for six saves down the stretch. Robertson was warming up within the ninth inning on Friday in case Domínguez got drained, but that didn’t occur: after a leadoff single, Domínguez retired the side.
Jurickson Profar was the primary out, fanning when he tried to ascertain his swing on a four-seam fastball that fooled him when it veered sharply inside because it crossed the plate. (“He fooled me, too,” Realmuto said. “I wasn’t expecting it to chop that much at 99 miles an hour.”) Profar cursed an umpire, kicked his helmet and earned an ejection.
After Trent Grisham popped out, Austin Nola whiffed on a slider to finish it. Domínguez used every little thing he had in Game 3, and the Padres couldn’t solve him.
“He’s just so different from every other pitcher,” Realmuto said. “He’s got 4 plus-pitches that he throws for strikes — he’s got the four-seam, two-seam, slider and changeup, and he can throw them any time. It keeps the hitters never feeling good on the plate, because they never know what’s coming and it’s all really good.”
The suitable-handed Domínguez has faced 22 batters this postseason and retired 20, with 13 strikeouts and no walks. He and Alvarado, a lefty, have held hitters to a combined .125 average this postseason (6 for 48) with fastballs that average about 99 miles an hour.
“I don’t know the way guys throw it so hard, seriously,” said Robertson, 37, who remembers when this was unusual. “I rear back and throw and I don’t even want to have a look at the board.”
Domínguez, 27, signed with the Phillies from the Dominican Republic on Oct. 6, 2011; someday later, the Phillies lost a division series to St. Louis to start their 10-season playoff absence. After a promising debut in 2018, Domínguez soon missed two and a half years with elbow problems that eventually required Tommy John surgery.
The Phillies never found a approach to replace him, and their bullpen misadventures sank their hopes in 2020, once they ranked last within the majors in bullpen E.R.A., and again last season, once they ranked twenty fifth. Whoever they tried — Brandon Workman, Ian Kennedy, Archie Bradley and so forth — they mostly just needed Domínguez.
“All of us saw the work that Seranthony was putting in throughout those two years and the way diligent he was in the method,” Realmuto said. “It’s hard to know that he was going to return back and be this good — because he’s been incredible for us — but we’re not surprised in any respect by the best way he’s pitching simply because we saw how he worked.”
Alvarado, 27, struggled along with his weight and control over 4 seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, who signed him from Venezuela in 2012. He pitched for the Rays within the 2020 American League Championship Series, but was dropped from the World Series roster and traded to the Phillies that December.
“I do not forget that moment when Tampa took me off the roster,” Alvarado said Friday night. “It’s past. I’m on a latest team. I’m so comfortable to remain here. I feel great because I put in every little thing for my team, for this city, because I pitch loads.”
Alvarado has pitched in the entire Phillies’ victories this postseason and none of their losses. This seemed highly unlikely in May, when he was sent to the minors for 2 weeks with a 7.62 E.R.A. But he returned with a sharper mental outlook, higher mechanics, more trust in his cutter and a latest perspective.
“I’m a special Alvarado,” he said. “I do know the sport’s challenging. For those who got a nasty day today, tomorrow’s a latest day.”
The Phillies haven’t had many bad days this October. With two more good ones, they’ll reach the World Series.