Jack Wheeler added another line to his burgeoning postseason resume, dominating the Marlins over 6⅔ innings on Tuesday night to help the Phillies win 4-1 in Game 1 of their wild-card series.
Wheeler’s fastball was electric from the first pitch, starting at 98-99 and averaging 97, a mile above his season average.
The first batter of the game, National League batting champion Luis Ares, hit a ball to Christian Pacey in left field for a lineout. The next 19 batters failed to hit the ball out of the infield against Miami’s Wheeler, scattering three hits until the seventh, when a pair of see-through singles pushed across the Marlins’ lone run.
Wheeler was a big reason the Phillies won the first of five playoff series last year. He started three of them, leading the Bills to wins in Game 1 of the 2022 wild-card series in St. Louis, the NLCS and Game 1 of San Diego and Tuesday night in Miami.
He puts his team in position to advance to the NLDS with a win Wednesday night.
“For me, playing with him for the first year in 2020, he’s one of the first guys I’ve ever played with who can throw the baseball almost 100 — 98 to 100 consistently,” Game 2 starter Aaron Nola said of Wheeler. “You see guys who throw so hard these days, they don’t command it. He’s got four, five elite pitches that he can command.
“He’s very calm and very cool and doesn’t let anything get under his skin or get to him. If you watch him, you don’t know if things are going bad or going good the way he acts. That’s what makes him so good in my opinion. He can score 15 or Give up five runs, it doesn’t really matter to him, he knows what to do for the next start. And he has a quick memory so he forgets very quickly.”
Wheeler has a 2.58 ERA and 0.73 WHIP in seven postseason starts. He’s proven himself to be a big-game pitcher the past two years after never appearing in the playoffs in seven seasons with the Mets. He’s been a rock for the Phillies, missing only a handful of starts with an ERA over 3.00 in his four years.
Jose Alvarado relieved Wheeler with two outs in the seventh inning and left Yuli Kuriel swinging with two on. Alvarado got the first two outs of the eighth inning and Jeff Hoffman finished it off. Imagine hearing in May that Hoffman would be the right-handed starter tasked with ending the eighth inning of the Phillies’ first playoff game. Craig Kimbrel closed the door in the ninth.
All nine starting Phillies position players had hits, the last of which was a Bryce Harper single to start the eighth. He extended the lead to three by running around the bases on a one-out Nick Castellanos double.
The Phillies scored once in the third inning and twice in the fourth. They roped Marlins left-handed starter Jesus Luzardo in three of his four innings and forced him to throw 90 pitches.
Alec Bohm, who is hitting .347 with runners in scoring position this season, pointed to his dugout in celebration after third baseman Jake Burger missed the ball and doubled in the first run with two outs in the third.
After a nine-pitch at-bat, Johan Rojas scored on Bohm’s hit, his first of the postseason. The rookie center fielder exceeded all expectations, hitting .302 with a .342 OBP during the regular season and showing a surprising comfort level at the plate to go with elite defense.
The Phillies finished fourth with four straight hits by JT Realmuto, Castellanos, Bryson Stott and Pache. A double by Castellanos made it to second and third with no outs. Stott singled in Realmuto and Castellanos was thrown out at the plate, but Pacey responded by singling in Stott.
Two innings later, Pacey was removed for Brandon Marsh, who got a big reception. Part of the Phillies’ fan base was confused as to why Pacey got the starting nod after a season-ending slump. But manager Rob Thompson likes him against lefties (he hits .314) and likes Pacey’s at-bats against Luzardo this season as well. He will return to the lineup in left field Wednesday night.
Marsh will start Thursday’s Game 3 against right-hander Edward Cabrera, but the Phillies hope it’s a travel day for Atlanta. They can make that a reality Wednesday night in front of deafening, difference-making fans.