HOUSTON - The Philadelphia Phillies have a 1-0 lead in the 2022 World Series against the heavily favored Houston Astros. They prevailed 6-5 in Game 1, despite the Astros taking a 5-0 lead in the bottom of the third inning. A big reason the Phillies won this ballgame was the work of first-year manager Rob Thomson.
In his first World Series game as a manager, Thomson was masterful.
Thomson managed this game almost like it was a Game 7. He certainly managed it like the Phillies had to have it and he wasn't planning ahead to Games 2 or 3 or 4 at all. It was a thing of beauty. There's no reason to hold back or be scared. It's the World Series. Go all out! Thomson did just that.
The first example was when he removed starting pitcher Aaron Nola.
Nola coughed up five runs in the second and third innings combined, though you could argue some of that was bad batted-ball luck (the two Kyle Tucker home runs were not bad luck at all, obviously, but there were some seeing-eye singles). He settled down and got a 1-2-3 in the fourth inning before retiring the first batter he faced in the fifth inning.
And then Thomson removed Nola. It was a tie game and one of his two workhorse aces had only thrown 81 pitches. Why remove him then? Because it was about to be the third time that daunting lefty Yordan Alvarez saw him.
In the other dugout, longtime manager Dusty Baker stuck with his starter, Justin Verlander, too long. Verlander was clearly slipping when he allowed three runs in the fourth inning, but Baker ran Verlander back out there for the fifth inning. After Brandon Marsh doubled to lead off the inning, Baker should have pulled Verlander before he saw the top of the order a third time. Instead, he left him in and the Phillies went walk, single, double to tie the game.
Not only was Thomson not about to let that happen, he brought in late-inning lefty José Alvarado in the fifth inning. They desperately needed to keep this game tied and Thomson managed that way.
"I thought, honestly, the move of the night was when he brought Alvarado in so early in the game," catcher and Game 1 hero J.T. Realmuto told reporters after the game. "He even said it on the mound. He said, 'this is the earliest I've ever brought him in the game.' But we just came back and tied it. He said, 'the momentum is on our side right now, so we gotta bring our best guy in and keep the momentum on our side.' I don't think that necessarily every manager would bring him in in that spot."
"I think once we scored the three you were kind of feeling it," Thomson added. "Like, OK, we got back in this thing, now the momentum's changed. And that's really why I went to Alvarado in the fifth inning, which I haven't done all year, because I thought that the momentum changed there was so important to keep that momentum, get through those guys, and we'll figure out the rest later."
Figure out the rest later. Music to my ears. What a breath of fresh air.
Alvarado would get three outs before turning things over to Zach Eflin in the sixth inning. Eflin worked 1 1/3 innings scoreless before the next aggressive Thomson move.
Ranger Suárez is the Phillies' third-best starting pitcher. Thomson went to him in relief to deal with Alvarez next time. Suárez would record two outs and throw just 11 pitches. Perhaps the Phillies will go with Noah Syndergaard in Game 3 and Suárez in Game 4, since he didn't have a big workload here? As Thomson noted after the game, it would've been a side bullpen session day for Suárez anyway.
"So what went into it was we, today's a side day, really, for Game 3, so we thought, OK, we've got that one pocket," Thomson said. "Alvarez to Tucker, that's a pretty big pocket and thought, well, we'll put him on that if that situation comes up. If not, that's fine. And it came up."
"Now, he went, you know, he got one out, sat down, went back out. So that's a little more taxing. So we'll have to check with him tomorrow, see how he's doing, see if he's going to be available for Game 3."
We'll find out soon enough, but Thomson wasn't worrying about anything but Game 1 and that's to his credit.
Seranthony Domínguez then finished the eighth and worked a scoreless ninth to get to extras. The Phillies' preference surely would've been to close with Alvarado and/or Domínguez, but neither was left for the 10th inning.
Again, who cares? You have to get to the 10th before worrying about who is going to pitch it. Thomson was just extending the game as best he could until there were no pitchers left, if it came to that.
What it actually came to was a one-run lead in the 10th for David Robertson. He'd probably have been their fourth choice to close the game after Alvarado, Domínguez, Eflin and maybe fifth if we throw Suárez into the mix as well. But they'd already burnt those relievers (and a starter!) to get to the 10th and now there was a one-run lead against the heart of the Astros' powerful order.
Robertson got Alvarez swinging before allowing an Alex Bregman double. He struck out Tucker before walking Yuli Gurriel. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third with the Phillies barely clinging to a one-run lead.
And yet, Thomson didn't panic. He let Robertson finish things off. And he did, inducing an Aledmys Díaz grounder to third base.
Thomson has only managed 111 regular-season games. This was his 12th postseason game at the helm. And he was calm and collected while being aggressive in managing like there was no tomorrow. It was brilliant; a thing of beauty.
Remember, the Phillies were pretty bad before firing Joe Girardi. After they changed skippers, they played at a 95-win pace under Thomson and that was with missing Bryce Harper for six weeks. They are now 10-2 in the playoffs under his direction as well.
Thomson has become the ninth manager in history to take over a team mid-season and win the pennant.
This isn't a coincidence at all. Thomson has a feel for this ballclub. He has his thumbs all over the pulse of this fickle bullpen and knows exactly which strings to pull at any given moment. The team fully believes in him, too.
"I trust anything that man does," Nick Castellanos said of his manager after the game (via MLB.com's Todd Zolecki).
The Phillies have been maligned for their bullpen woes for years, but they haven't blown any late leads in the playoffs. In one of their two losses, they didn't score a run. In the other, it was Nola who blew a four-run lead. A good portion of the credit with this has to go to Thomson for his management of the relief corps. Not that he wants to take full credit for it.
"First of all, I get a lot of help on the bench," he said. "I talk to a lot of the coaches about a lot of the situations. And I'm not really doing the work. The players are doing the work. I'm just sort of making the final decision on who goes where."
It's no wonder the players love him and rally around him.
Should the Phillies complete the job, Thomson would become the third manager ever to win it all after taking the helm midseason after Jack McKeon (2003 Marlins) and Bob Lemon (1978 Yankees). He sure managed like a worthy addition to that list in Game 1.
Thomson has been doing this all season and all postseason, so it shouldn't be a huge surprise, but to see him step up like this in his first-ever World Series game in charge was such a thing of beauty. I'd even go as far as saying he was perfect. That's quite a feat for the first-timer, but he's been overperforming expectations ever since he took over.