PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Nick Castellanos became the first player to hit multiple homers in consecutive postseason games, sending the Philadelphia Phillies to a 3-1 victory in Game 4 of their NL Division Series on Thursday night that knocked the 104-win Atlanta Braves out of the playoffs for the second straight year.
Matt Strahm struck out pinch-hitter Vaughn Grissom with runners at the corners to clinch the series and send the Phillies rushing the field in wild celebration. The Phillies set off fireworks, the Liberty Bell rang and the reigning National League champions were ready to pop bubbly again.
Bryce Harper gave the Phillies a scare when he clutched his surgically repaired right elbow after a collision in the eighth inning. Matt Olson’s left knee clipped Harper’s elbow on a play at first base that ended the inning. Harper, the two-time NL MVP, flexed his elbow after a quick examination from the medical staff. He stayed in the game in the ninth.
“Just hit my funny bone,” Harper said after the game.
Trea Turner singled twice, doubled and hit a solo homer in the fifth for a 2-1 lead as the Phillies make another run at the franchise’s first World Series title since 2008.
The Phillies head next week to an all-wild card NLCS and will play the Arizona Diamondbacks, making their first trip 2007.
Game 1 is Monday in Philadelphia.
The Phillies withstood a pare of scares to get to the Diamondbacks. Before the collision involving Harper, rookie center fielder Johan Rojas made a huge defensive play with the bases loaded to end the seventh, running down a deep drive to left-center and denying Ronald Acuna Jr. an extra-base hit that could have put Atlanta ahead.
Wearing throwback powder blue jerseys and maroon hats as they do every Thursday at home, the Phillies took an identical path from a year ago to reach another NLCS: first a Wild Card Series sweep; then they won Game 1 in Atlanta and lost Game 2. Like last season, the Phillies returned home and scored six runs in the third inning of a Game 3 rout.
Then a repeat of a barrage of homers that signaled a knockout victory over their NL East rival, a year after 101 wins wasn’t enough in another early postseason exit.
Atlanta will surely find little consolation that they are not the only regular-season heavyweight already out of the playoffs. The teams with the five best regular-season records — the Braves, Baltimore (101 wins), Dodgers (100), Tampa Bay (99) and Milwaukee (92) — all failed to reach LCS.
The night belonged to Castellanos, the All-Star right fielder whose production tailed off in the second half only to rally with his son in the front row for the postseason.
A night after he hit two homers in Game 3, Castellanos became the first Phillies slugger, heck, any slugger in baseball history, to drill multiple homers in consecutive playoff games.
His second one ultimately ended the night for Braves starter and 20-game winner Spencer Strider. Castellanos chased Strider in the sixth with a 415-foot moonshot to left that sent 45,831 fans at Citizens Bank Park into towel-waving frenzy. Castellanos soaked in the cheers during the pitching change; he poked his head out of the dugout and raised his arms as Phillies fans grew louder.
Castellanos continued to wave his arms toward the crowd as he headed to right field in the seventh and the Phillies up 3-1.
Manager Rob Thomson again turned to starter Ranger Suarez to keep the Phillies in the game until the turning the game over to a parade of hard-throwers in the bullpen. The plan worked once this series already. Suarez had allowed just one hit through one hit in 3 2/3 innings in his Game 1 start before Thomson turned the game over to six relievers in a 3-0 win. The plan in this one, get Suarez at least twice through the lineup — and the pitcher often overshadowed by Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola succeeded.
The hard-throwing lefty buzzed through three hitless innings _ hitting 95.3 mph when he caught Sean Murphy looking to end the second — before Austin Riley homered in the fourth for a 1-0 lead.
The early homer, the early deficit, rarely troubles these Phillies. They wait for their long-ball heavy lineup to deliver and _ for the second straight game — it was Castellanos who tied the game 1-all on a solo shot. Castellanos socked one inside the left-field foul pole and pointed to his young son, Liam, as he crossed the plate.
Liam was a fixture at the ballpark for most of the summer and tagged along with Castellanos from the clubhouse to the All-Star game. Liam had been absent from the ballpark once school resumed, but his dad has gushed about his presence this postseason.
Father, son — and all of Philadelphia — get at least one more round together.
Center fielder Michael Harris II saved Atlanta’s Game 2 win with a leaping catch in the ninth and helped double off Harper at first base to end the game. Harris flashed his leather again in the third, this time on a sliding catch that led to Castellanos getting doubled off at second to end the inning.
The Phillies get three days off before the NLCS opener.
The Braves have lost 10 of their last 11 elimination games and will ponder what went wrong after another empty postseason.