Aaron Nola pitched pitched four-hit ball into the seventh inning, Bryce Harper’s homer gave Philadelphia an early lead, and the Phillies held off the St. Louis Cardinals 2-0 on Saturday night to sweep their National League wild-card series.
Nola struck out six and walked one on 101 pitches before leaving with two outs in the seventh. Jose Alvarado then retired Yadier Molina on a popup, stranding a runner on first. Seranthony Dominguez struck out MVP candidates Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado to wiggle out of a two-on, one-out jam in the eighth.
The Cardinals made one finally charge off Zach Eflin in the ninth, getting consecutive two-out singles from Corey Dickerson and Molina. But the starter-turned-closer responded by getting Tommy Edman to foul out to end the game, giving the Phillies their first postseason series win since topping Cincinnati in the 2010 divisional round.
They’ll face a familiar foe, the NL East champion Braves, when their division series begins Tuesday night in Atlanta.
Miles Mikolas allowed two runs and two hits for St Louis before leaving with two outs in the fifth. Albert Pujols had a pair of singles, including one in the eighth in what was likely the final at-bat of his career.
The sellout crowd of 48,515, the third-largest in Busch Stadium history, was at its flag-waving throatiest trying to keep the dream season of Pujols, Molina and the rest of the Cardinals alive. Instead, their fans watched the NL Central champions go down with a whimper, losing in the first round of the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
Harper, who was hitless in the opener, staked the Phillies to the lead when a 76 mph curveball left his bat at 111.6 mph on the first pitch of the second inning. The ball sliced through the cold October breeze and landed 435 feet away.
The way pitchers have dominated the wild-card round, it figured Harper’s one mighty swing might be the difference.
Nola turned in the latest brilliant outing, giving up a single to Lars Nootbaar to lead off the game before blowing through the rest of the St. Louis lineup. The next blemish on the right-hander’s line didn’t come until Edman walked in the third, and Nola promptly struck out Nootbaar and got Pujols on a meekly hit grounder to end that inning.
Nola also got some spectacular defense behind him.
Third baseman Alec Bohm made a stellar snare of Molina’s sharply hit ball down the line leading off the third, and then he made an even more impressive grab to rob Arenado of extra bases in the fourth.
Bohm followed that with a ground-rule double leading off the fifth. Brandon Marsh laid down a sacrifice bunt and, after Jean Segura was plunked by the last pitch that Mikolas threw, Jordan Montgomery walked Bryson Stott on four pitches to load the bases. Kyle Schwarber followed with a sacrifice fly to extend the Philadelphia lead.
The Phillies’ baserunning? That wasn’t nearly as good.
Harper was thrown out trying to take second base on a single in the sixth — the call stood after a video review. Moments later, Bohm was picked off first base with a runner standing on third to end the once-promising inning.
The way Nola and his bullpen was pitching, none of it ended up mattering.
The sweep gives the Phillies an extra day off before heading to Atlanta, where they were 3-6 in the regular season against the defending World Series champions. The Braves won eight of their 11 meetings overall this season.
The Cardinals head into an offseason of pronounced change: Pujols and Molina have said this will be their last year, and erstwhile ace Adam Wainwright could join them in retirement. Arenado could opt out of his contract, though that appears unlikely, while pitcher José Quintana and outfielder Dickerson are eligible for free agency.
Saturdays just got more interesting.