Underdog Phillies slay Braves, advance to NLCS

PHILADELPHIA Phillies outfielder Brandon Marsh against
the Arizona Diamondbacks

BRANDON Marsh hit a three-run homer in the second inning Saturday afternoon for the host Philadelphia Phillies, who never looked back in Game 4 of a National League Division Series as they eliminated the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves, 8-3.

The Phillies, who finished 14 games behind the 101-win, division-champion Braves in the NL East and have the worst record of any playoff team, will play either the San Diego Padres or Los Angeles Dodgers in next week’s NL Championship Series. The Padres lead the Dodgers two games to one heading into their game in San Diego later Saturday.

It will be the first trip to the NLCS for the Phillies since 2010.

The Braves, who won the World Series last season after entering the playoffs with the worst record of any participant, became the 22nd straight World Series winner to fall short of a repeat. The New York Yankees, who won three straight titles from 1998 through 2000, are the most recent back-to-back champion.

Braves starter Charlie Morton wriggled out of a first-and-third, none-out jam in the first before the Phillies jumped ahead in the second. Alec Bohm led off with a single off Morton’s elbow and went to third on Jean Segura’s one-out single, after which Marsh, the ninth-place hitter, homered to right.

The Braves cut the gap in half on Orlando Arcia’s one-out homer off Noah Syndergaard in the third, but catcher J.T. Realmuto led off the bottom half with an inside-the-park homer against Collin McHugh after Morton could not continue after trying to warm up.

Realmuto’s long fly to the left-center-field wall eluded center fielder Michael Harris II and the ball caromed into right-center. Harris chased the ball down as right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. spectated. Realmuto raced around the bases for the first inside-the-park homer by a catcher in MLB postseason history. It was also the first Phillies inside-the-park homer ever in the postseason.

Matt Olson homered against Andrew Bellatti with one out in the fourth, but the Braves got the tying run to the plate just once before the Phillies added three insurance runs in the sixth via back-to-back-to-back RBI singles by Rhys Hoskins, Realmuto and Bryce Harper.

Travis d’Arnaud homered for the Braves in the seventh, but Harper hit an opposite-field shot in the bottom half to make it 8-3.

Seranthony Dominguez, the Phillies’ sixth pitcher, struck out the side in a 1-2-3 ninth whiffing d’Arnaud to end the game and set off an enthusiastic celebration at the pitchers mound.

The victory was awarded to Brad Hand (1-0), who tossed a scoreless fifth. Syndergaard surrendered only the hit by Arcia while striking out three over three innings.

Morton, who left after his warmup tosses in the third, gave up the three runs on four hits and one walk while striking out three over two innings. — Reuters