The Philadelphia Phillies were 10 outs away from pulling off another shutout of the Atlanta Braves and taking a 2-0 National League Division Series lead when the wheels started to fall off Monday night, leading to a 5-4 loss and tied series.
Heading into Game 2, the Phillies were confident after snatching Game 1 against Atlanta's ace, sending their own ace to the mound this time around. And Zack Wheeler came out dealing, carrying a no-hitter through 5.2 innings.
He came out throwing heat, striking out the side in the bottom of the first inning:
Through his first two innings? Historic. He is the first pitcher in postseason history to record six strikeouts and no hits through the first two frames:
It took Atlanta until two outs in the third inning for the team to even put the ball in fair territory against the Phillies, and even then, it was an infield pop-up hit by right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr.
Then came the sixth inning. After the first two batters were retired, Acuña worked a walk on a full count. On the very next pitch, second baseman Ozzie Albies drilled a single to right field, breaking up the no-no.
That's when things went a little sideways for the visiting ballclub. The throw to the infield from right fielder Nick Castellanos got the better of shortstop Trea Turner, and Acuña raced around third, leading to the end of the no-hitter and the shutout all at once. Still, Wheeler was able to settle in and strike out third baseman Austin Riley on four pitches to end the inning.
After the Phillies weren't able to answer in the top-half of the seventh, manager Rob Thomson and pitching coach Caleb Cotham sent Wheeler back out in the bottom of the inning.
On the second pitch of the inning, first baseman Matt Olson got a single, but then Wheeler got Marcell Ozuna down swinging on only four pitches. That momentum didn't last, though, as catcher Travis d'Arnaud drilled the next pitch into the seats in left field, moving Atlanta to within one.
From that point on, Atlanta had all of the momentum, and Wheeler knew it:
As NBC Sports Philadelphia relayed, Wheeler added more: "It’s frustrating, but I kind of let them get the momentum. It’s my fault. I let them right back in the game. ... As well as I pitched, I let them get the momentum and that’s tough, especially in the playoffs. Momentum’s a big part of it. We saw that last year."
From there, the bullpen finally cracked, as Jeff Hoffman gave up the go-ahead two-run home run to Riley in the bottom of the eighth. And the Phillies ran themselves out of a chance in the bottom of the ninth.
Overall, Wheeler went 6.1 innings, giving up three runs (two earned) on three hits and one walk while striking out 10 on 92 pitches. Even though he clearly started to fade the last couple of innings, it's hard to place all of the blame at his feet, even if he wants to be a leader in the clubhouse and put that responsibility on his shoulders.
And as the right-hander noted, you have to look forward, and that means the series heads to Philadelphia:
All in all, you win as a team, and you lose as a team. And this was a team loss.
The Phillies offense left 11 runners on base and only hit 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position, failing to continue to add on against the team with the best offense in the league when presented with ample opportunities. In the field, Turner committed two errors after playing stellar defense in Game 1, the second of which led to a run. And Bryce Harper pushed his aggressiveness on the basepaths too far to run himself right into an unconventional double play, ending the game in deflating fashion for the away team.
If the series goes to Game 5, the Phillies will confidently send their ace back to the mound Saturday. Based on recent experience, if his name is called again in this series, there should be no doubt that he'd give the Phillies a great shot at clinching a spot in the National League Championship Series.