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Ace high: Phillies 6, Diamondbacks 1

Zack Wheeler pitched the Phillies to the brink of the World Series

Championship Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Five
Zack Wheeler delivered for the Phillies on Saturday
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

After the Phillies’ bullpen blew game four of the National League Championship Series, the Phillies needed both quality and length from Zack Wheeler in game five. And the staff ace delivered, pitching seven brilliant innings, carrying the Phillies to a 6-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. The win gave them a 3-2 series lead, putting them one win away from their second straight NL pennant.

Wheeler wasn’t alone in his heroics. The Phillies have often been (too?) dependent on the home run for their offense, but they scored two runs in the first inning thanks to some small ball. Kyle Schwarber led off with an infield single, advanced on a single by Bryce Harper, and was driven home by a Bryson Stott single.

A double steal - combined with a poor throw by Arizona second baseman Ketel Marte - gave the Phillies their second run.

We didn’t know it at the time, but that would be all the offense Wheeler would need. He walked the first batter of the game (the only walk he’d allow) and Gabriel Moreno added a one-out single to put two men on. But Wheeler easily escaped thanks to a strike out and ground out.

Wheeler was in command the rest of the way. After the first, he didn’t allow more than one baserunner in any one inning. And when the Diamondbacks did hit the ball well, the Phillies’ defense made plays, like this beauty by Stott.

Diamondbacks starter Zac Gallen settled in after that two-run first, and the game was still 2-0 headed into the sixth. And that’s when the Phillies’ power re-emerged.

First, Kyle Schwarber sent one deep into the night.

Two batters later, Bryce Harper came close to matching him.

J.T. Realmuto missed a chance to add to the lead when he hit into an inning-ending double play. But after Alek Thomas got the D’Backs on the board with a solo home run in the seventh, Realmuto did the rarest of feats for the Phillies: Hit a home run with a runner on base.

With Wheeler done after seven, it was up to the beleaguered bullpen to get the final six outs. Jeff Hoffman capably got the first three, and Seranthony Dominguez started the ninth to get the next two. But a walk and infield single made things a little less comfortable, and Matt Strahm was called in to nail it down. One Corbin Carroll strikeout later, and the Phillies were one win closer to their ultimate goal.

When the best pitching performances in Phillies playoff history are discussed, this outing by Wheeler should be mentioned among them. After what happened on Friday, an early exit by Wheeler might have been disastrous. Instead, he carried the team to the brink of the World Series.

After an off day on Sunday, the series will return to Philadelphia where the Phillies have been dominant thus far this postseason. They’ll have Aaron Nola on the mound, a rested bullpen, and a stadium full of fans ready to celebrate. See you then!