Phillies, with new playoff hero Bryson Stott leading way, set up NLDS grudge match with Braves

PHILADELPHIA – Between the on-base celebrations and dugout histrionics and, when the occasion demands it, the alcohol flying and the dancing by themselves, the Philadelphia Phillies can sometimes resemble a never-ending fraternity bash.

And in the ritual that matters most, Bryson Stott got initiated Wednesday night.

He joined his older brothers and had his first massive, mind-losing, game-clinching playoff moment, one mighty swing that sparked another postseason bacchanalia, and was rich in symbolism for what Stott and the Phillies can become this season.

Bases loaded, lefty reliever, high fastball, inner half at 95 mph and Stott, the angular 200-pound middle infielder, pounded it 405 feet to right center field for a grand slam that cleared the game but overmatched Miami Marlins out of the playoff field.

It made a three-run game 7-0, and the eventual 7-1 final set up a World Series-caliber rematch in the National League Division Series:

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Philly-Atlanta, the rematch.

Game 1 is Saturday at Truist Park, and Wednesday night, the Phillies attacked the champagne and Anheuser-Busch products as if they knew two days off and a manageable flight awaited.

We’ll get to the Braves, who were upset by Philly in a four-game NLDS last year, in a minute.

First, though, Stott: He was a valued but background player as a rookie, toggling around the infield, sitting often against lefties, slapping 10 home runs.

Meanwhile, the Phillies became baseball’s biggest party last October, all the way to Game 6 of the World Series.

Rhys Hoskins with a dagger home run – and a vicious bat spike – against Atlanta. Kyle Schwarber with a booming upper-deck shot against San Diego. Bryce Harper homering through the rain against the Padres to win the pennant. And homering on the first World Series pitch he saw at Citizens Bank Park.

Is momentum a thing in baseball? That’s a few thousand odious words for another day. But the juice a player, a team gets from turning a series on one swing?

That’s real.

“Whenever you do have that postseason moment, it’s something you’re able to build on, right?” Schwarber said through a flurry of champagne and beer Wednesday night. “It’s knowing that you’re capable of coming through in the big moment. For him to have that tonight, that’s great confidence.

“And hopefully all of us can keep building on that.”

Those moments might be as you’d imagine: A weightlessness, a temporary loss of time and place and bodily actions. Nick Castellanos felt that in Game 1, with a dirty bird not usually seen in Philly.

Stott launched Andrew Nardi’s pitch into a throng of delirious fans and pulled a Hoskins, spiking his bat. Yet had no idea he did so until reserve catcher Garrett Stubbs told him.

“I don’t usually pimp home runs,” says Stott. “I don’t think I hit them far enough to do that.

“So, I just kind of got caught up in the moment, I guess.”

As he edged off second base, Bryce Harper laughed.

Harper and Stott are pals from Las Vegas, Stott living with Harper and his family during his rookie year. Harper’s chuckle was not unlike a big brother seeing his protégé grow up, though the significance of it was not lost on the Phillies superstar.

“It was a really cool moment for him,” says Harper. “I gave him a hug, told him I loved him, man.

“For him to go up there and swing at the first pitch and get good wood on it – no spot’s too big, no spot’s too small. To see him evolve as a hitter, evolve as a player – he’s really good and he’s going to get better.”

That’s been a theme this week as the Phillies overwhelmed the Marlins – that the club’s improvements go far beyond signing shortstop Trea Turner to a $300 million contract or adding Gregory Soto to the bullpen or Taijuan Walker to the rotation.

No, it’s also about players on the edge of stardom getting better. For Stott, who was overwhelmed by fastballs while batting .136 in 44 at-bats last postseason, it was about getting in the weight room earlier and more consistently.

And about patterning his approach on high fastballs after Schwarber. And probably a little osmosis as his teammates showed how to play pressure-free in October.

“That’s kind of been the underlying factor of all our young guys,” says Schwarber. “One, they got the experience last year, but they took the next step to be really great players. Bryson was a prime example of it tonight, in a big moment, wasn’t fazed by it at all. Put a helluva swing on a good pitch.

“The way he was able to one, handle that situation and two, execute – that’s huge. He’s such a great baseball mind. He’s such a great self-evaluator. That’s the beautiful thing – these young kids are really good evaluators of themselves, they know what they want to get better at, and they attack it.”

Now, to attack Atlanta, once again.

The Phillies blitzed their NL East rivals last year, stealing Game 1 in Atlanta thanks to Castellanos’ defensive heroics and then crushing strikeout king Spencer Strider in Game 3, Hoskins’ bat spike the punctuating blow. The Braves were sent packing a day later.

Now, the Braves are 104-game winners, six-time NL East champs, the No. 1 seed in the NL. Strider won 20 games; Ronald Acuña Jr. will be the NL MVP.

“Atlanta’s really good,” says Harper. “They’re one of the best teams in baseball. They hit 300 homers (307, in fact) this year. That’s incredible.

“It’s going to be an electric series. We can’t wait.”

It will be a level up, to be sure. Phillies starters Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola – who pitched seven shutout innings in Game 2 – were untouchable against Miami: 13⅓innings, one earned run (0.68 ERA), 11 strikeouts and one walk.

The going will be tougher against Acuña and Matt Olson and Austin Riley and all the rest of them. Yet Philly will bring a team seemingly impervious to pressure – and with one more player who earned his postseason stripes.

“I know I yelled at the dugout and couldn’t really hear myself,” says Stott, who turns 26 on Friday. “So, I knew the crowd was loud. Any time we get to play here, you know it’s going to be loud from the very first pitch.

“I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else. It’s a phenomenal time every time we take the field here in the postseason. Just being able to do this at home was really cool.”

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