The Phillies stun the Cardinals with a wild ninth-inning rally to open the wild card race.
Jean Segura's career spanned 11 seasons and 1,328 games before reaching the postseason for the first time, the longest active streak in the majors. The Philadelphia Phillies' second baseman barely slept the night before his first playoff game. At 7 a.m., he awoke "with adrenaline in my body." As the day progressed, that edge remained.
Segura explained, "I was mentally focused on every play, every pitch." "I came prepared to play a game today, and to be able to be here — I just thank God that everything worked out for me."
With the Phillies trailing by a run in the top of the ninth, the bases loaded, and one out, and the St. Louis Cardinals scrambling to replace their injured closer, Segura snuck a grounder past a slightly drawn-in infield, plating two runs and propelling the Phillies to an improbable 6-3 win in the first game of their best-of-three wild-card series, putting them on the verge of advancing to the National League Division Series.
The Cardinals held a 2-0 lead heading into the final inning, thanks to a stellar performance from Jose Quintana and an electrifying pinch-hit homer by Juan Yepez, and had every reason to believe they were on their way to a Game 1 victory. They were at home, in front of a sold-out Busch Stadium crowd, and Ryan Helsley, their lights-out closer, was on the mound.
What happened next strained belief. When leading by multiple runs entering the ninth inning, the Cardinals were 93-0 in postseason history. Meanwhile, the Phillies were 0-54 in the same situation during the regular season.
They ended up scoring six times, the most in postseason history for a team trailing entering the ninth. None of their runs were hampered by hard contact. With the bases loaded, Alec Bohm was hit by a pitch, Brandon Marsh hit a chopper that bounced past Nolan Arenado's glove, Kyle Schwarber produced a sacrifice fly, and Bryce Stott brought in a run after Paul Goldschmidt made a diving play on his grounder but threw late to home.
Segura drove in the most runs, lunging toward a low slider away from Andre Pallante and hitting a four-hopper to the right side that snuck through a sprawling Tommy Edman, who was playing slightly in to account for Segura's speed. The Cardinals had a ground ball pitcher facing a ground ball hitter, and they got a grounder that could have resulted in a game-ending double play, but it was hit a little too far to the right.
"That's just how the inning went," Arenado explained. "Things weren't going our way."
And it all seemed to stem from Helsley's right middle finger, which he jammed while gathering himself on a fielding play in the season's final game. Helsley threw some pitches off the mound during Thursday's workout, and while his finger was slightly stiff, he told the Cardinals that he'd be ready to close out games in the postseason.
With one out and one on in the eighth, Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol turned to Helsley and watched him dispatch Marsh and Schwarber. However, Marmol stated that Helsley "started to lose a little bit of feel for his pitches" shortly after the ninth inning began.
Helsley, who had emerged as one of the game's most dominant closers this season, began to miss well outside the strike zone and ended up throwing only nine of his 23 pitches for strikes in the ninth. After J.T. Realmuto singled with one out, Bryce Harper and Nick Castellanos walked, the latter on pitches that were either way up and in or way low and outside. The Cardinals had Pallante and Jack Flaherty warming up in the bullpen by that point. Helsley's final batter was Bohm, who was hit on the left shoulder with a 101 mph fastball.
Helsley exited Busch Stadium after throwing a warm-up pitch well outside, then left to get imaging on his troublesome finger.
He could be out for the series. "All year, we've had guys step up," Marmol said. "If he falls, someone else must step up and do the job, so it's a part of it. I can assure you that no one will feel sorry for us."
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the top of the ninth inning on Friday was the only half-inning in baseball this season in which a team allowed at least six earned runs on three hits or fewer, with no extra-base hits allowed.
There have now been five postseason games in which a team that led by two or more runs after the eighth inning lost by two or more runs – three of which involved the Cardinals. It was the first time the Phillies scored six runs or more in a postseason inning.
They chose the ideal moment. "It was special," said Zack Wheeler, who pitched 613 scoreless innings against the Cardinals, striking out three batters before Jose Alvarado allowed Yepez's two-run homer.
The top of the ninth inning was "probably the most exciting inning I've ever been a part of," Realmuto said. "It didn't even require a big home run. The momentum was there for us, and several guys stepped up when it was needed."