Castellanos’ bat, glove help Phillies top Braves 7-6 in NLDS

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ATLANTA — Nick Castellanos had already carried quite a load with his bat.

When the Philadelphia Phillies needed his glove in the ninth inning, he didn’t let them down.

Castellanos drove in three runs and made a potentially game-saving catch, lifting the Philadelphia Phillies over the reigning World Series champion Atlanta Braves 7-6 in the opener of their NL Division Series on Tuesday.

The Phillies have won three straight games to begin these playoffs, hardly looking like a team making its first postseason appearance since 2011. They followed up their wild-card sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals with a victory over the team that finished 14 games ahead of them in the NL East.

It wasn’t easy. Matt Olson hit a three-run homer in the ninth off Zach Eflin to bring the Braves within a run.

But Castellanos, capping off a brilliant all-around day, made a sliding catch in right field for the second out to help snuff out the comeback – a clutch play from a player frequently maligned for his defense.

“Do anything I could to not let it hit the ground,” Castellanos said of his mindset.

He sprawled out on the grass – arms raised above his head, the ball securely in his glove – before rolling over and flipping it back to the infield.

Castellanos appears to be finding his groove after missing most of September with an oblique injury.

“I hope that’s the start of something, because he’s been out for a long time,” manager Rob Thomson said. “Maybe he’s really getting his timing back now.”

Alec Bohm added two RBIs for the Phillies, who built a 7-1 lead by the top of the fifth and made it stand up against a Braves lineup that squandered numerous chances to get back in the game earlier.

Travis d'Arnaud homered and drove in the other three Atlanta runs, but the team that won 101 games during the regular season and edged the New York Mets in a thrilling NL East race suddenly finds itself in a best-of-five predicament.

Game 2 is Wednesday afternoon in Atlanta before the series shifts to Philly.

Castellanos had a run-scoring single in the first – the Phillies jumping ahead 2-0 before many fans had settled in their seats for the lunchtime start – and added a two-run single in the fourth.

Castellanos came in hitting .148 (4 for 27) in seven postseason games. He had nearly as many hits in this one, going 3 for 5.

And that catch on William Contreras‘ opposite-field liner truly made it a day to remember.

“Baseball is really, really fun right now,” Castellanos said.

Max Fried, whose last postseason start was a World Series-clinching victory over the Astros, failed to get through the fourth against the Phillies.

The Braves ace was roughed up for eight hits and six runs – two of them unearned, but that was because of a throwing error by Fried.

The Phillies, on the other hand, have been playing like playoff-hardened veterans even though their 11-year postseason drought was the National League’s longest.

They started the season dismally, which led to the firing of manager Joe Girardi in early June.

Thomson guided a remarkable turnaround as interim manager, the Phillies bouncing back to claim the NL’s final wild card.

Thomson had the interim removed from his title on Monday, agreeing to a two-year deal to remain at the helm through 2024. The Phillies gave him quite a thank-you in his first game as plain ol’ manager.

D’Arnaud led off the second with a homer deep into the left-field seats off Ranger Suarez to make it 2-1. But the 22-year-old left-hander was not flustered.

Suarez went just 3 1/3 innings but made a couple of big pitches to keep the Braves down.

After walking two to load the bases in the first, Suarez escaped on Contreras’ inning-ending double play.

Atlanta loaded the bases again in the third, but d’Arnaud struck out on a high fastball out of the zone. Suarez pumped his fist emphatically on the way to the dugout.

“We had him on the ropes,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “We just couldn’t get a big hit.”

The Braves put two more runners aboard in the fourth. This time, the threat ended with Dansby Swanson whiffing at a 3-2 pitch from Andrew Bellatti, who was credited with the win.

Swanson slammed his helmet to the dirt in frustration – which was pretty much indicative of how this day went for the defending champs.

The Phillies knocked out Fried in the fourth, the left-hander leaving with runners at second and third. Jesse Chavez had a chance to escape the jam after he struck out Realmuto, but Castellanos came through with a two-our single to left that made it 6-1.

FRIED FLOPS

This was quite a postseason comedown for Fried.

In Game 6 of last year’s World Series, he pitched six scoreless innings in a 7-0 victory that clinched Atlanta’s first title in 26 years.

Fried was stricken with a stomach bug in the final week of the regular season but insisted he was fully recovered.

“I’m not going to make any excuses,” he said. “I took the ball today and put us in a big hole right off the bat.”

ROSTER MOVES

Phillies reliever David Robertson was left off the NLDS roster after injuring his right calf jumping to celebrate Bryce Harper‘s home run in the clinching wild-card victory at St. Louis.

Spencer Strider, the Braves’ hard-throwing rookie, made the roster after he was sidelined since Sept. 18 with a sore left oblique. He was not available for Game 1, but could pitch later in the series.

UP NEXT

RH Kyle Wright, who led the majors with 21 wins, faces a must-win situation when goes for the Braves in Game 2. He’ll be opposed by Phillies RH Zack Wheeler (12-7, 2.87), who grew up in suburban Atlanta.

Bonds, Clemens left out of Hall again; McGriff elected

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – Moments after Fred McGriff was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, almost two decades after his final game, he got the question.

Asked if Barry Bonds belonged in Cooperstown, a smiling McGriff responded: “Honestly, right now, I’m going to just enjoy this evening.”

A Hall of Fame committee delivered its answer Sunday, passing over Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling while handing McGriff the biggest honor of his impressive big league career.

The lanky first baseman, nicknamed the “Crime Dog,” hit .284 with 493 homers and 1,550 RBIs over 19 seasons with six major league teams. The five-time All-Star helped Atlanta win the 1995 World Series.

McGriff got 169 votes (39.8%) in his final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot in 2019. Now, he will be inducted into Cooperstown on July 23, along with anyone chosen in the writers’ vote, announced Jan. 24.

“It’s all good. It’s been well worth the wait,” said McGriff, who played his last big league game in 2004.

It was the first time that Bonds, Clemens and Schilling had faced a Hall committee since their 10th and final appearances on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. Bonds and Clemens have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, and support for Schilling dropped after he made hateful remarks toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others.

While the 59-year-old McGriff received unanimous support from the 16 members of the contemporary baseball era committee – comprised of Hall members, executives and writers – Schilling got seven votes, and Bonds and Clemens each received fewer than four.

The makeup of the committee likely will change over the years, but the vote was another indication that Bonds and Clemens might never make it to the Hall.

This year’s contemporary era panel included Greg Maddux, who played with McGriff on the Braves, along with Paul Beeston, who was an executive with Toronto when McGriff made his big league debut with the Blue Jays in 1986.

Another ex-Brave, Chipper Jones, was expected to be part of the committee, but he tested positive for COVID-19 and was replaced by Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall.

The contemporary era committee considers candidates whose careers were primarily from 1980 on. A player needs 75% to be elected.

“It’s tough deciding on who to vote for and who not to vote for and so forth,” McGriff said. “So it’s a great honor to be unanimously voted in.”

In addition to all his big hits and memorable plays, one of McGriff’s enduring legacies is his connection to a baseball skills video from youth coach Tom Emanski. The slugger appeared in a commercial for the product that aired regularly during the late 1990s and early 2000s – wearing a blue Baseball World shirt and hat.

McGriff said he has never seen the video.

“Come Cooperstown, I’ve got to wear my blue hat,” a grinning McGriff said. “My Tom Emanski hat in Cooperstown. See that video is going to make a revival now, it’s going to come back.”

Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, Frank Thomas and Alan Trammell also served on this year’s committee, which met in San Diego at baseball’s winter meetings.

Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Belle, Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy rounded out the eight-man ballot. Mattingly was next closest to election, with eight votes of 12 required. Murphy had six.

Bonds, Clemens and Schilling fell short in January in their final chances with the BBWAA. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%).

Palmeiro was dropped from the BBWAA ballot after receiving 25 votes (4.4%) in his fourth appearance in 2014, falling below the 5% minimum needed to stay on. His high was 72 votes (12.6%) in 2012.

Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and Clemens maintains he never used PEDs. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days in August 2005 following a positive test under the major league drug program.

A seven-time NL MVP, Bonds set the career home run record with 762 and the season record with 73 in 2001. A seven-time Cy Young Award winner, Clemens went 354-184 with a 3.12 ERA and 4,672 strikeouts, third behind Nolan Ryan (5,714) and Randy Johnson (4,875). Palmeiro had 3,020 hits and 568 homers.

Schilling fell 16 votes shy with 285 (71.1%) on the 2021 BBWAA ballot. The right-hander went 216-146 with a 3.46 ERA in 20 seasons, winning the World Series with Arizona in 2001 and Boston in 2004 and 2007.

Theo Epstein, who also served on the contemporary era committee, was the GM in Boston when the Red Sox acquired Schilling in a trade with the Diamondbacks in November 2003.

Players on Major League Baseball’s ineligible list cannot be considered, a rule that excludes Pete Rose.