We didn't have to wait long for the first postseason stunner of 2022. Friday afternoon the Philadelphia Phillies mounted an incredible ninth inning comeback to steal Wild Card Series Game 1 away from the St. Louis Cardinals (PHI 6, STL 3). . They lead the best-of-three series 1-0.
This is what that comeback looks like according to win probability. St. Louis had a 96.9 percent chance to win the game after Rhys Hoskins struck out to begin the ninth inning. It was all downhill there for the Cardinals.
According to the ESPN broadcast, the Cardinals were a perfect 93-0 in the postseason all-time when entering the ninth inning with at least a two-run lead. Now they're 93-1. Also, the Phillies are the first team in postseason history to score at least six runs in the ninth inning after being held scoreless in the first eight innings.
"These guys are so resilient, I've been saying it all year long," Phillies manager Rob Thomson said after Game 1 (video link). "... It was a great ballgame. We just kept fighting."
Needless to say, a lot needs to go right to score six runs in an inning, nevermind in the ninth inning of a postseason game. Here's a look at everything that went right for the Phillies -- and wrong for the Cardinals -- in the ninth inning of Game 1 of the Wild Card Series on Friday.
1. Helsley's command disappeared
Cardinals righty Ryan Helsley was simply one of the most dominant relievers in baseball this season. He struck out 94 and pitched to a 1.25 ERA in 64 2/3 innings, which are the sorta numbers you put up when you throw 102 mph with a nasty breaking ball. Helsley was a deserving All-Star and as good as relievers get in 2022.
The Cardinals led 2-0 when Helsley entered with a runner on first and one out in the eighth inning Friday. He then struck out Brandon Marsh and got Kyle Schwarber to pop up to third base to escape the jam. Helsley then fanned Hoskins to begin the ninth. The Cardinals were two outs away from a win when Helsley's control betrayed him.
After the Hoskins strikeout, Helsley went single (J.T. Realmuto), walk (Bryce Harper), walk (Nick Castellanos), hit-by-pitch (Alec Bohm) to load the bases with one out and force in a run. Only six of his final 17 pitches were strikes and it's not like he missed just off the plate. Helsley went from looking locked in to completely losing the plate.
It should be noted Helsley jammed his right middle finger protecting himself from a shard of broken bat in the regular season finale. After he hit Bohm to force in Philadelphia's first run, the trainer came out to look at Helsley's hand, and he was removed. It appeared to be a stall tactic to get a reliever ready, though the finger injury gives the Cardinals plausible deniability.
"He felt good when he came off the first time (after the eighth inning)," Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said after Game 1 (video link). "Went back out, no issues early on but then said he started to lose feel. We've been honest with each other all year. You say you're good to go, then you're good to go."
2. The infield played halfway
Helsley was replaced by rookie righty Andre Pallante, who had the second highest ground ball rate (63.9 percent) among the 140 pitchers to throw at least 100 innings during the regular season. The move was clearly intended to get the double play, though the Cardinals curiously played the infield halfway. This is neither double play depth nor in enough to cut down the run at home:
With the infield halfway, Jean Segura was able to punch a ground ball just out of the reach of Tommy Edman at second base, scoring two runs and giving the Phillies a 3-2 lead. Edman had to range a good deal to his left and I'm not sure they turn the double play even at traditional double play depth, but there was an out to be had on Segura's grounder, and the Cardinals didn't get it.
Also, give Segura credit. Look at the pitch -- both the location and quality -- he put in play for that ground ball. It was well out of the zone and not many players can make contact with a pitch there, nevermind make good enough contact to hit it through the infield.
It should be noted Pallante and the Cardinals got Segura to chase a similar slider out of the zone earlier in the at-bat. They went back to it and he appeared to be ready for it. Not a bad pitch by any means. Just a good piece of hitting.
3. Sosa pinch-ran for Bohm
After taking a 101-mph fastball to the shoulder to force in a run, Bohm got up and clapped, and then was replaced by pinch-runner (and former Cardinals shortstop) Edmundo Sosa. Bohm is not hurt. The Phillies just put their speediest available runner on base, and also upgraded their third base defense should the game have continued into the bottom of the ninth.
Replacing Bohm with Sosa meant Sosa was able to go first-to-third on Segura's single, and later score on Bryson Stott's ground ball fielder's choice to first base. Paul Goldschmidt made a nice grab and made a good throw to the plate. Sosa just beat it out and slid in safely. Here's the play:
With all due respect, Bohm is a dead duck at the plate on that play. He is considerably slower than Sosa and Sosa made it in just before the tag. The pinch-running decision allowed the Phillies to tack on a run because Sosa went first-to-third, then was able to score on the fielder's choice.
4. Arenado made a rare defensive misplay
Officially it was scored a single, but Nolan Arenado would tell you this is a play he has to make. Marsh hit a two-hop chopper to third base and Arenado, arguably the best defensive player on the planet regardless of position, let the ball get through him. A run scored and the Philadelphia's 4-2 lead became a 5-2 lead.
Not only did a run score there, but Stott was able to go first-to-third, allowing him to score on Schwarber's fly ball as the next batter. Schwarber's sacrifice fly capped off the rally and the Phillies turned a 2-0 deficit into a 6-2 lead.
Marsh is very fast and I'm not sure the Cardinals would've been able to turn two had Arenado fielded the ball cleanly. At the very least, they could have gotten the out at second base and prevented the runner from scoring from second. Instead of runners on corners with two outs in a 4-2 game, there were runners on corners with one out in a 5-2 game.
5. It came down to Molina
Let me start by saying I think Yadier Molina is a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest catchers in baseball history. His workload alone -- roughly 20,000 innings caught between the regular season and postseason -- is Cooperstown worthy. Molina is a legend.
That said, 40-year-old Molina in the year 2022 is one of the worst hitters in baseball. He authored a .214/.233/.302 batting line during the regular season with poor contact quality numbers (exit velocity, etc.). All that wear and tear has rendered Molina's bat unimpactful. An all-time great player, no doubt, but Molina is hardly the first all-time great to limp to the finish.
St. Louis did mount a rally in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Cardinals pushed across a run on two singles and a walk against Zach Eflin, but with one out remaining, Molina came to the plate representing the tying run. The Cardinals had emptied their bench earlier in the game, so there were no pinch-hitters available. Molina struck out feebly to end the game.
A lot of things must come together to erase a 2-0 ninth inning deficit and mount a six-run rally. In the ninth inning Friday the Phillies benefited from Helsley losing his command and shaky defense from a typically excellent defensive team. They also helped themselves with a smart pinch-running move, and got a little lucky when the lineup found Molina in a big spot.
Let's be real here, the Phillies are usually on the wrong end of rallies like this. They've made their fans sit through some painful -- very painful -- bullpen meltdowns during their 11-year postseason drought. Now they're back in October and suddenly they're the team mounting big rallies, and now they're a win away from the NLDS thanks to Friday's ninth-inning magic.
"That's what we do. We fight. It's Philadelphia. We never quit," Bohm told reporters after Game (via NBC Sports Philadelphia).