Philadelphia Phillies knock out 104-win Atlanta Braves to book return trip to NLCS

Nick Castellanos became the first player to hit multiple homers in consecutive postseason games, leading 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. Fireworks went off at a frenzied Citizens Bank Park, the Liberty Bell rang and the reigning National League champions were ready to pop bubbly again.

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“These are moments I’m never going to forget,” Castellanos said.

Bryce Harper gave the Phillies a scare when he clutched his surgically repaired right elbow after a collision in the eighth. 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.

“I’m good. Just hit my funny bone,” Harper said after the game. “I’m fine.”

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.

They head next week to an all-wild card NL Championship Series and will play the Arizona Diamondbacks, making their first trip 2007. Game 1 is Monday in Philadelphia.

“We feel good, there’s no question about it,” Castellanos said. “But we’re definitely going to respect the competition.”

The Phillies withstood a pair of scares in once again closing out the NL East champion Braves, who finished with the best record in baseball this season at 104-58.

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 Acuña Jr an extra-base hit that could have put Atlanta ahead.

“It takes a while to get over something like this after the year we had, the expectation we have here,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We got beat by a really good club that has a penchant for this time of year.”

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 the Braves won 101 regular-season games only to get handed an early playoff exit by Philadelphia.

“The only thing that I can say is that I’m learning that the season and the postseason are completely different,” Castellanos said.

Atlanta will surely find little consolation that it’s not the only regular-season heavyweight already out of these playoffs. The teams with the five best regular-season records – the Braves, Orioles (101 wins), Dodgers (100), Rays (99) and Brewers (92) – all failed to reach the LCS.

But this 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 415ft moonshot to left that sent 45,831 fans at Citizens Bank Park into a 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 with the Phillies up 3-1.

Manager Rob Thomson again turned to starter Ranger Suárez to keep the Phillies in the game until turning the game over to a parade of hard-throwers in the bullpen. The plan worked once this series already. Suárez allowed just one hit through three and two thirds 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 Suárez 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 95.3mph when he caught Sean Murphy looking to end the second – before Austin Riley homered in the fourth for a 1-0 Braves 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 it 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.