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Mudville: December 5, 2022 9:45 pm PDT
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WINNING BASEBALL

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Ring the bell, Rob Thomson and Dave Dombrowski.

The Phillies were 22-29 when Thomson took over for Joe Girardi and made it all about baseball first – and now the Phils are headed to their first NLCS since 2010.

The Phillies will play the Padres who shocked the world, knocking off the 111-win Dodgers, 5-3 on the strength of a five-run seventh inning Saturday night at Petco Park. The Padres strung together hit after hit to get the job done, a rally built on base hits, not home run swings.

How do you think Mets fans are feeling today seeing this turn of events? And how about Yankee fans? More on that later.

Not only did the Mets blow the NL East the final weekend, they got knocked out in the wild card round by the Padres after winning 101 games in the regular season and now the Phillies will be in the NLCS after finishing behind the Braves and Mets with only 87 wins.

Give the Phillies credit, they play as a team under Thomson, doing the little things right which turns into big innings and now the two 101-win teams in the NL East are sitting it out and the Phillies have a shot to be back in the World Series for the first time since 2009 when they lost to the Yankees in six games.

The Phillies knocked off the Braves – better yet – they knocked out the World Champions with big innings winning 8-3 on Saturday after a 9-1 victory on Friday night, out-scoring the Braves 17-4 the last two games of the NLDS.

Good pitching has something to do with all the swings and misses, I get that, but this is a death by a thousand cuts, swings and misses.

The Phillies left no doubt.

The Guardians stunned the Yankees, 6-5, scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth on the strength of five singles. That’s contact baseball and it beat Powerball by the Yankees, home runs by Aaron Judge, Harrison Bader and Oswaldo Cabrera.

Winning baseball.

Here at BallNine we are all about constant contact on offense, the home runs will come when pitching mistakes are made – but contact against a good pitch in the postseason provides dividends the EV Nerds and EV owners will never understand.

EVs can just run out of power, and to be clear, not that kind of EV, we are talking about Exit Velocity. Look how the power goes out in California, just ask my man Chris Vitali.

As one scout told BallNine, “What’s the exit velocity when you hit nothing but air?’’

Good question.

The game is called baseball, and it’s all about putting the ball in play. The game is not called Exit Velocity. In the Phillies put away inning, the three balls that were hit that did serious damage had exit velocities of 63 mph, 30 mph and 76 mph in that sixth inning when the Phillies lead went from 4-2 to 7-2.

It was a thing of beauty.

The Phillies totaled 13 hits in the game while the Braves totaled 15 strikeouts in their big swing and miss world. And you wonder why they couldn’t repeat. No one has repeated as World Champion since the Yankees ran off three straight World Series titles in 1998, ’99 and 2000.

Good pitching has something to do with all the swings and misses, I get that, but this is a death by a thousand cuts, swings and misses.

As one scout told me about these Braves: “They played embarrassingly bad. What I always say good teams play consistently, the Braves thought they won the World Series vs the Mets that weekend and just folded. That was a weak performance.’’

The Mets and the Braves, after a season of success both sat on their laurels and could not even make it to the NLCS.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 15: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies embraces his wife Kayla Harper after defeating the Atlanta Braves in game four of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 15, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The Braves continued to swing from their heels down five runs in the ninth and went down in perfect fashion against Seranthony Dominguez, three batters three Ks.

But we haven’t gotten to the best part yet. The best part was J.T. Realmuto’s inside the park home run in the third inning. The blast sent Michael Harris Jr. all the way to the left-centerfield wall on a sprint. Turns out he was the only Braves outfielder that was running.

The wall in that spot is angled at Citizens Bank Park, but as I preach here, outfielders nowadays are too lazy to work extra defense in visiting parks to understand the nuances of those parks. Harris pulled up a bit, hit the wall at the last second, the ball bounced off the wall and like a pin ball machine, the ball started on a rolling path back to right field. Rightfielder (in name only) Ronald Acuna Jr. could not be bothered to trail the play and stood gawking as Harris had to run the ball down. That told me he did no extra work in the outfield to figure out what would happen if the ball hit off the wall in that manner.

Hey, it’s only the playoffs, why hustle when you can just stand around?

It was pitiful to watch, and Realmuto put it in gear and flew around the bases diving into home for an inside the park home run, an easy inside the park home run.

On Braves radio Joe Simpson made a great call, he was not going to let Acuna get away with that and told the fans: “Harris bangs into the wall and the ball ricochets from one side of the field to the other side … believe it or not it’s an inside the park home run by J.T. Realmuto, 4-1 Phillies. It was an absolutely horrible play, lazy play on the part of Ronald Acuna Jr. He was a spectator. He never moved. He never even made a move toward right-centerfield … It was absolutely awful watching Ronald Acuna watch that play.’’

A perfect description by the veteran broadcaster, a former major league player, a former outfielder and first baseman, who knows all the angles players must take on balls hit in that situation. Again, it’s called baseball and on every ball put in play crazy things can happen but you have to put the ball in play.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 15: Dusty Baker Jr. #12 and Jeremy Pena #3 of the Houston Astros celebrate defeating the Seattle Mariners 1-0 in game three of the American League Division Series at T-Mobile Park on October 15, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Remember when Acuna Jr. criticized Freddie Freeman and was reported saying there was “friction’’ between the two players? I guess the Braves did miss Freddie Freeman.

One other Mets point here, when Realmuto became a free agent after the 2020 season the Mets should have gone hard after him, he would have been the perfect fit but instead the Mets signed free agent catcher James McCann. I’ve always appreciated how hard and how smart Realmuto plays the game and I remember being impressed when I saw him at AA Jacksonville in 2014 when he was still part of the Marlins organization. This is his first postseason and that inside the park home run was an example on how to play the game, Realmuto’s flight around the bases, and how not to play the game, Acuna Jr. being a spectator in right field.

David Ortiz said it best about Dave Dombrowski’s approach. “He is all about winning.’’

That’s what it takes. Dombrowski is not one of these GMs who wants to stack prospects like cord wood just so he is loved by the Prospect Crowd that runs deep in MLB and the media these days. Much like the EV Crowd, the Prospect Crowd thinks you get a trophy for compiling prospects, not wins. Two of Dombrowski’s moves at the trade deadline paid off on Saturday with Brandon Marsh and Noah Syndergaard, who were both added from the Angels. Marsh got the Phillies on the board with a three-run home run in the second when Charlie Morton tried to get cute with a breaking ball instead of throwing a high fastball to Marsh. Marsh struggles with the fastball up. Syndergaard was the starter for the Phils and left with a 3-1 lead after three innings turning the game over to the bullpen, which has been rebuilt by Dombrowski.

Having baseball people making baseball decisions is what it is all about. Dombrowski is now in his third LCS over the last 10 years with three different teams, this year’s Phillies, the 2018 Red Sox and the 2013 Tigers. He knows how to go after it. Dombrowski is a Hall of Fame executive.

Winning baseball is the key, not winning the Prospect Watch.

The win also means this will be Bryce Harper’s first trip to the NLCS.

“What an opportunity,’’ Harper said. “You have to beat the champions to be the champion.’’

Harper is doing all the right things in these playoffs, hitting the ball the other way, even hitting an opposite field home run Saturday and an opposite field RBI single. That’s leadership.

The Astros are a team with leadership and swept the Mariners away in three games, but the third game said so much about the state of baseball and it’s not good.

CLEVELAND, OHIO - OCTOBER 15: Oscar Gonzalez #39 of the Cleveland Guardians celebrates with manager Terry Francona #77 after a win over the New York Yankees in game three of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on October 15, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Astros got a home run from young shortstop Jeremy Pena in the 18th inning to beat the Mariners, 1-0. Many will consider this game a classic. Sure it went 18 innings, but it wasn’t a classic. It represented everything that is wrong with the game today, starting with Rob Manfred’s ridiculous Fake Runner rule which created a situation where teams did not have to work for that extra inning run, it was basically given to them.

If you give things away, people are not going to work for it, it’s really that simple. There is no Fake Runner in the postseason. Teams are lost without it.

Teams do not know how to create runs and people are running around calling this game a classic. The style of play was boring as well. On a college football Saturday where the action is everywhere on the football field there were a total of 42 strikeouts between the Mariners and Astros. That is not entertainment. That is today’s swing for the fences world in a nutshell. It was pathetic to see the two teams try to score.

The Mariners waited 21 years to host a playoff game and who knows, their fans in Seattle may have to wait another 21 years to see their Mariners score a run there. Good for Pena, though. He replaced Carlos Correa who went for the green in Minnesota and wound up with a perennial loser instead of a perennial winner.

With the win and the sweep, the Astros have made it to the ALCS for the sixth straight season. They are basically the Braves from the Bobby Cox days. This Astros team is not nearly as dangerous as some other Astros team. They just don’t seem to have the firepower they once had and Jose Altuve is lost at the plate right now. This could be the year the Yankees (if they survive the Guardians) can dispatch of the Astros.

Here is your Mariners question of the day. Can you name the last Mariner to score a run in Seattle during a playoff game?

It was Stan Javier, who hit a two-run home run against Mike Mussina on October 18, 2001 at Safeco Field when it was called Safeco Field with Mike Cameron on base. That’s it, no other Mariner has crossed home plate in the postseason in Seattle since that hit and on Saturday night they played 18 innings and the Mariners could not manage one run against the Astros while striking out those 22 times. And don’t forget all the popups.

Seattle Mariners players Stan Javier (R) and Alex Rodriguez (L) wave to fans after the Mariners defeated the Chicago White Sox 2-1 to sweep the American League 2000 Division series in Seattle 06 October, 2000. (Photo by MIKE NELSON/AFP via Getty Images)

The Mariners struck out 22 times, the Astros struck out 20 times. The Astros were 0-11 with RISP, the Mariners were 0-8 with RISP. Ex-Met prospect Jared Kelenic took an 0-for-7 with four Ks. Adam Frazier also took an 0-for-7. Jose Altuve had them all beat, going 0-for-8 with three strikeouts and somehow did not manage to get a hit the entire three-game series.

Manager Scott Servais essentially lost the series in Game 1 when he brought in starter Robbie Ray to face Yordan Alvarez with two outs in the ninth and leading 7-5. Ray gave up a three-run home run in the Nerd inspired pitching change and that was basically light’s out for the Mariners. A Game 1 victory for Seattle would have changed the tone of the entire series, but Alvarez came up with the big hit, something no Mariner could do over 18 innings on Saturday night.

Over in Cleveland, Tito Francona ran circles around Aaron Boone again and the Yankees could not win even with Aaron Judge hitting a monster two-run home run.

Everyone knew all along the ALCS would travel through Houston once again and these Astros may not be as strong as the Astros teams in the past.

No matter who plays the Astros in the ALCS it is going to come down to which team plays winning baseball, as it should and does every October.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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