ATLANTA — Nick Castellanos has a way of ruining well-intentioned moments. On a brilliant blue Tuesday afternoon in Georgia, the Phillies right fielder stomped all over the Braves’ march to a World Series title defense.
Castellanos has become a meme for his tendency – through absolutely no fault of his own – to intrude on solemn on-air moments, like apologies and eulogies, with clutch hits. While we probably ought to keep an eye on the stock market and the health of some of our beloved cultural figures, the only ones harmed in Castellanos’ three-hit, three-RBI, clutch-defense performance in Game 1 of the National League Division Series were the Braves, who lost both the game, 7-6, and home-field advantage in the five-game series.
A day game during the workweek is a blessing. Everyone else you know is at work or at school, and you’re at the ballpark. On a day like Tuesday, with the sun high and temperatures hovering in the low 70s, Truist Park was baseball fan heaven. The crowd was loose, jovial, and – in many cases – already a few beers in by the time Braves starter Max Fried threw his first pitch.
It didn’t take long, however, for Fried to lose the plot and the Phillies to gain the lead. With two outs on the board, Fried pushed JT Realmuto to a full count, and Realmuto stroked a two-strike single to keep the inning alive. Castellanos singled him in, and the Phillies ended up putting two runs on the board before Atlanta even swung a bat.
The bottom of the first set was the tone of the day for the Braves. After one Ronald Acuña Jr. double and walks to Austin Riley and Matt Olson, the Braves loaded the bases against starter Ranger Suarez with just one out … only for William Contreras to hit into an inning-ending double play. Philadelphia hadn’t been in the postseason since 2011, and the Braves are still basking in that 2021 world championship, but for Game 1, the vibes felt reversed.
This year marks only the second time the Braves and Phillies, longtime division rivals, have met in the postseason. In the previous showdown, way back in 1993, the grubby Phillies of John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra and Curt Schilling knocked off the insurance-firm-calm Braves of Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, four games to two. That Phillies team would go on to lose to Toronto in the World Series on Joe Carter’s memorable, series-ending Game 6 home run.
Just like that year, the Braves ran out superior starting pitching, but the Phillies countered with a run of opportunistic hits that obliterated that advantage. Philadelphia killed Fried with a thousand cuts, peppering runs in four of the first five innings. Castellanos’ bases-loaded single in the fourth was the game’s decisive blow, putting Philadelphia’s fifth and sixth runs on the board en route to a 7-1 lead.
“This is a very unselfish club. We get ahead and we’re adding on runs,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said after the game. “Our situational hitting was really good today. Our baserunning was really good, sac flies … I just thought we played a really good game overall.”
The Braves, meanwhile, squandered opportunity after opportunity. Travis d’Arnaud homered to cut Philadelphia’s lead in half in the second. Outside d’Arnaud, though, Braves hitters flailed, leaving 19 men on base, with Dansby Swanson – who struck out his first four times at bat – the main offender. Until the bottom of the ninth, Atlanta showed signs of a pulse only in the bottom of the fifth, scoring two runs on d’Arnaud’s double.
In the final frame, however, the Braves, down four runs, put two men on for Matt Olson, who comes into this postseason with the unenviable task of replacing franchise legend Freddie Freeman. Olson promptly homered, bringing the Braves within a single run of the Phillies with only one out.
Contreras was up next, and roped a shot into right field that seemed certain to drop. But it nestled in the glove of a diving … Nick Castellanos. One out later, and Philadelphia had a one-game series lead.
After the game, Castellanos gave a succinct breakdown of how that catch unfolded. “I saw him swing, saw him hit it, saw it going towards me, I ran and caught it the best I could, and it worked out,” he said. He laid on the ground for a couple of seconds after catching the ball, thanking the heavens and thinking that two outs, nobody on in the bottom of the ninth is a much better situation than the tying run anywhere on the base.
“He swung the bat really well, had some really big hits, made a great play in the ninth,” Thomson said of Castellanos after the game. “I hope that’s the start of something.”
Atlanta clinched a playoff slot several weeks ago, and locked down the top seed early last week. The Phillies, meanwhile, were the final entrants into the 14-team playoff field, and began their postseason run with two straight victories over a motivated Cardinals squad at an emotionally charged Busch Stadium.
“We’re super confident,” Bryce Harper said. “We’ve got to stay on them and keep going, understanding that if we go home 2-0, it’s a big advantage to us, especially going to the postseason in Philadelphia.”
It’s a long way to the National League Championship Series, but if the Braves are going to get back there for a third straight year, they’ll need to get through Castellanos … and that doesn’t seem to end well for anyone but Nick Castellanos.
Contact Jay Busbee at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.