Phillies vs. Padres: Phils lead NLCS thanks to Kyle Schwarber, Jean Segura, Alec Bohm

The Phillies spent $79 million to bring Kyle Schwarber to Philadelphia because they believed his power bat would play well in their lineup and his postseason experience would be a compass in a clubhouse that needed help finding its way to October.

With 45,279 towel-waving crazies rocking Citizens Bank Park, Schwarber stepped to the plate in the bottom of the first inning Friday night and drove a full-count cutter from Joe Musgrove into the right-field seats. Schwarber’s 11th career postseason home run gave the Phillies an early lead and set an emotional tone as they won Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, 4-2, over the San Diego Padres.

The Phillies are up two-games-to-one in the best-of-seven series with Game 4 on tap for Saturday night in South Philly.

While Schwarber got the Phillies going early, there were other stars. Jean Segura was a big one. He delivered a huge two-run single on a 1-2 slider from Musgrove in the bottom of the fourth inning to break a 1-1 tie and put the Phils up, 3-2.

Segura also made three outstanding defensive plays at second base, atoning for a fourth-inning error. One of the plays was a diving gem to end the top of the seventh with a man on base behind reliever Jose Alvarado.

Three of the Phillies’ four runs came with two outs. In addition to Segura’s hit in the fourth — a poke job to right field that was reminiscent of his clutch hit in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the NL wild-card series in St. Louis — the Phils got back-to-back doubles from Nick Castellanos and Alec Bohm with two outs in the sixth to go up, 4-2.

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Phillies starter Ranger Suarez pitched well but exited after five innings with a 3-2 lead. It easily could have been a 3-0 lead as poor defense (and a defensive shift gone bad) led to both of the runs he gave up. Suarez allowed just two hits, and one was against the shift, and threw only 68 pitches before manager Rob Thomson went to his bullpen.

At the time, Thomson’s decision to remove Suarez was a bit of a head-scratcher. There was some initial speculation that Suarez might have tweaked a hamstring, but on the television broadcast, Thomson said he removed Suarez because the lefty hadn’t pitched in nine days and the Padres’ lineup was about to see him for a third time. This isn’t Jack Morris’ game anymore.

With dangerous right-handed hitters Manny Machado and Brandon Drury due up, Thomson went to Zach Eflin for the sixth and the right-hander survived a pair of singles and pitched a scoreless inning to preserve the one-run lead. Eflin got some big-time help from the defense as Segura and Bryson Stott teamed to turn a clutch 4-6-3 double play on pinch-hitter Josh Bell to end the frame.

The double play sent an extra shot of electricity through the huge crowd, and in the bottom of the inning, the Phils added a run to their lead on back-to-back two-out doubles by Castellanos and Bohm. Those hits chased Musgrove from the game.

Thomson was a huge factor in the Phillies breaking a 10-year postseason drought. This was a club heading down a dead end when he took over for Joe Girardi on June 3. So many of Thomson’s moves have paid off over the last five months and his decision to go to the bullpen early in this one certainly turned out to be a winner.

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Nevertheless, Thomson’s decision to lift Suarez after five innings meant the bullpen had to pick up four innings, not ideal considering the Phillies will lean on that unit to get through Game 4 on Saturday night. Bailey Falter will start that game. The Phils would like to see him go through the Padres’ lineup one time — nine outs — before a string of relievers try to get the next 18 outs. The Phils used that strategy in the NLDS clincher against Atlanta and it worked brilliantly as six pitchers registered 15 strikeouts and no walks.

Eflin and Alvarado combined for six outs in Friday night’s win. Eflin threw 17 pitches and Alvarado threw 27. At this time of year, both should be available Saturday. Whether or not Seranthony Dominguez will be available remains to be seen. He threw 34 pitches in getting the game’s final six outs. But it was all worth it. He got the save, the Phillies got the win, and now they are two wins away from the World Series.

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