PHILADELPHIA – When Zack Wheeler left the Mets to sign a five-year contract with the Phillies before the 2020 season, then-Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen quipped he was happy Wheeler could parlay two good half-seasons over the last five years into an $118-million contract.
The Phillies are certainly happy the right-hander did as well.
Wheeler started Game 1 of a playoff series for the third time in the last two years on Tuesday night, pitching a 6 2/3 inning gem to defeat the Miami Marlins, 4-1, in Game 1 of the best-of-three wild card series.
In the three Game 1s – including the wild card round against the St. Louis Cardinals and NLCS versus San Diego last year – Wheeler has allowed one run in 20 innings. The Phillies can clinch the series Wednesday night.
Wheeler was on cruise control until the seventh when he found himself in two-out trouble.
Bryce Harper, who just started playing first base in late July, made an ill-advised attempt to dive for a soft-line drive off the bat of Jake Burger. Wheeler didn’t immediately break and second baseman Bryson Stott had no where to throw after making an easy play, putting runners on the corners instead of the inning being over.
Wheeler had a chance to make it all moot, but Bryan De La Cruz barely beat out an infield single to third, allowing Josh Bell (3-for-4, two doubles) to score with the Marlins’ first run. That was the end for Wheeler, who was frustrated despite leaving the mound to a standing ovation.
Jose Alvarado threw a wild pitch, putting the tying run in scoring position, but struck out pinch-hitter Yuli Gurriel to send the Phillies to the eighth with a 3-1 lead. Wheeler gave up five hits, one run, didn’t walk a batter and struck out eight.
Nick Castellanos’ RBI double in the eighth scored Haprer – who correctly ran through the stop sign of third-base coach Dusty Wathan – for a key insurance run. Craig Kimbrel finished the game off with his eighth postseason save.
The Phillies jumped on Marlins starter Jesus Lazardo in the first inning with a Kyle Schwarber single and Trea Turner double, but Schwarber didn’t try to score on a line drive to deep right by Alec Bohm and ended up stranded.
Bohm doubled home Johan Rojas with two outs in the third after the rookie led off the inning with a full-count single to cap a nine-pitch at-bat.
The Phillies really cracked Luzardo in the fourth, scoring twice and having a runner thrown out at the plate on a shaky base-running night. Bryson Stott knocked in J.T. Realmuto – with Castellanos thrown out on the back end – and Cristian Pache singled in a run to justify his inclusion in the lineup after manager Rob Thomson started him in left over Brandon Marsh and Weston Wilson.
Luzardo was done at the end of the fourth inning, having allowed nine hits and thrown 90 pitches – though was fortunate the Marlins were still in the game.
Despite some late-game nervousness, Wheeler – who has been a bargain at $118 million – and the bullpen made sure the Marlins never caught up.