PHILADELPHIA – The private meeting took place two weeks ago in St. Louis, the birthplace of this magical Philadelphia Phillies postseason run, where they were warned there’d be nights like this.
They were told they would have games in which they stunk up the place. They would have moments of glory, moments of failure. Lose games they should win. Win games they should lose.
Well, on Friday night, in front of a frenzied sellout crowd of 44,607, they went through all of the range of emotions, and survived, winning 4-2 over the San Diego Padres to take a 2 games to 1 lead in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.
No one symbolized their night of craziness more than Phillies second baseman Jean Segura, who is playing in his first postseason in his 11-year career, spanning 1,328 games, the most regular season games played without making the playoffs by any active player in baseball, and had a game of biblical proportions.
He giveth, and he taketh away.
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One minute, you’re seeing him blow a routine double-play ball, and apologizing to Phillies starter Ranger Suarez.
The next, he’s spiking his bat into the ground after getting a huge go-ahead, two-run single.
Seconds later, he’s dropping his head after getting immediately picked off first base.
And his wild evening concludes with him making a dazzling, diving stop on Ha-Seong Kim’s sharp groundball to end the seventh inning, jumping up in the air, flexing his arms, and dancing off the field, nearly breaking the hands of everyone who’s brave enough to high-five him.
“I mean, I’m fired up,’’ Segura said. “I don’t know how to explain that, but it’s like Goku, the little Goku, like something, like fire inside my body. Like I just want to get it out. Like explosive. Like, ahhh.
“If you don’t get emotional with 45,000 people in the stands, you’re playing the wrong sport.’’
There would be nights like these, Phillies manager Rob Thomson warned his team, during the postseason. The great teams get up and recover from it. The weak teams melt down. If you’re going to get to the World Series, you better be strong enough to shake it off.
“We had that conversation before the playoffs started,’’ Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “We just had a team meeting and said, “Listen guys, something is going to go wrong. We’re going to blow a game. We’re going to lose a game. We’re going to make an error. We’re going to strike out in a big spot. Something is going to go wrong in the postseason, it happens to everybody.
“We just have to put it behind us and know that at the end of the day we’re going to trust the guy behind us, and we’re going to win that game that day.’’
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Segura endured every emotion of that in one single inning, and lived to tell himself, going from a goat to a hero to a goat to a hero.
The drama began in the fourth inning. The Phillies were clinging to a 1-0 lead after Kyle Schwarber’s leadoff homer and Phillies starter Ranger Suarez induced what appeared to be an easy double-play grounder to shortstop Bryson Stott. Stott flipped the ball quickly to Segura for the first out, only for Segura to drop it. Second-base umpire Doug Eddings initially ruled that Segura got at least one out, dropping the ball on the exchange, only for the call to be overturned.
So, instead of an inning-ending double play, one run scored, runners were on first and second, and there was still just one out.
“That’s the play that I probably made 3,000 times in my life,’’ Segura said, “but for some reason I missed it. … As a player, you learn from your mistake, and you never put your head down. Just keep it up, continue to play the game because you don’t know how the game’s going to end.’’
Segura walked to the mound, first baseman Rhys Hoskins said, and uttered the words: “’Hey Ranger, give me another one. Right away.’ That’s just the kind of mentality you have to have, and it’s awesome to see Jean come through.’’
“We’re all going to make mistakes,’’ Segura says. “We’re human. …I feel really bad when I make that mistake, but I don’t let that bother me. I keep playing the game the right way. I keep hustling. I keep diving for baseballs. That’s the way you want to handle the mistake, not let it get to your head.
“Instead of, ‘Coach, I’m here. I’m scared for them to hit it to me. I’m not ready.’
“No, let it go by. …Maybe I get an opportunity later in the game to win the game, or maybe do something special tonight.’’
Well, redemption was just around the corner. The Phillies rallied in the bottom of the fourth with runners on second and third with two outs. Segura walked to the plate.
“In his at-bat,’’ Realmuto said, “we were actually screaming from the dugout. We’ve seen it before. He pushes that button.’’
Padres starter Joe Musgrove quickly got ahead with two strikes, threw a ball in the dirt that Segura laid off. He fouled off a 93-mph fastball the next pitch. Musgrove, knowing Segura would be aggressive, threw a slider, low and away, barely above the ground.
Segura swung anyway, and hit a soft fly ball to center field. He watched the ball drop. Spiked his bat. And ran to first base.
“It’s very important when you’ve got players that can handle the pressure with two outs, with the game on the line,’’ Segura says, “and be able to come through. I mean, that’s the game I really love.’’
The fact that it was almost an unhittable pitch, where few hitters dare to go, made no difference.
“We were all making a joke in the dugout,’’ Realmuto said, “that I can’t believe they threw him a chase breaking ball. Not many people can put a bat on a pitch like that.’’
And that spike?
“When we see the bat spike,’’ Realmuto said, “there’s usually some anger behind it. The bat flip? Guys aren’t too upset.’’
It was three innings later in the seventh, with the Phillies leading 4-2, when the Padres threatened again. They had a runner on first base when Kim hit a bullet headed towards right-center for a possible RBI, bringing Juan Soto to the plate. Segura dove to his left, snagged it, got up, threw to first, and then put on a show that had the crowd dancing in their seats.
Segura threw his right hand into the air. Kicked his right leg up towards the sky. He jumped up, came down, flexed his muscles, and screamed, “Let’s go!’’
“I felt like flexing with him,’’ Realmuto said.
Six outs later, and the Phillies had their victory, leaving them just two victories away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.
“The way I handle pressure since I was a little kid, I love it ….’’ Segura says. “It’s just the way we handle the pressure in Dominican Republic. Even when we play winter ball, we’ve got guys in the stands, “Hey, when you get out, we’re going to kill you. We’re going to do something bad to you.’ It’s just the way we play the game out there.
“Compared to here, when you come here, dude, it’s a completely different type of game. I think the pressure, when you come from the D.R., it’s nothing.’’
So, while the entire city of Philadelphia may be freaking out, and his team owner saying he can’t sleep with the stress, you really believe Segura is going to come unnerved knowing that he’s playing the most critical games of his life?
“I waited 11 years for the opportunity,’’ Segura said. “I’m not going to go back. I’m going to do the best I can to continue to grind it, to continue to help the ball club, and bring something positive every single day.
“I just waited too many years for the opportunity, and I don’t want to let it go by.’’
Funny, the entire Phillies organization can say the same, going 11 years without reaching the postseason, and 4,388 days without winning an NLCS home game, dating back to Oct. 17, 2010.
They are tired of seeing the highlights and memories of their past glory years, winning the World Series in 2008, and before that in 1980. They want to create their own history. They want to be the model of perseverance and resiliency.
“We’ve talked about it all year,’’ Hoskins said. “Physical mistakes are going to happen on the field, but good teams find a way to absorb those, whether that’s the next inning, later in the game, but we got good players to do that, and we lean on each other, especially when things don’t go well. ..
“I feel like we’ve had a few of those throughout the year. I’m becoming less and less surprised with us coming up with big hits, or just finding ways to win games that we don’t feel like we’re supposed to. It’s what we’ve done all year.
“It’s weird. It’s wacky. It’s beautiful.’’
It’s Philly baseball, 2022 style.
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale