How Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper decisively turned the page in Game 3 win

Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love, but it could also be described as the city of tough love. For ten years, the Phillies desperately sought approval, but only gained exasperation. This being Philly, there was no candy: the fans were both angry and disappointed — until Friday.

For the past five or so seasons, with the results of a long overdue rebuild, the team had taken on the posture of a boiling family gritting their teeth over Thanksgiving dinner. Sometimes the tension spilled out in plain sight.

You now know the story of how this cloud rose. Roughly or not, the 2022 club finally hit its long-awaited pace when the Phillies changed the table topper, replacing famously nervous manager Joe Girardi with the looser styles of career coach Rob Thomson.

The race to claim and hold on to a playoff spot was a relief. But Friday’s cathartic return to Citizens Bank Park saw the Phillies drop the baggage of the past decade – no, increase it – in a 9-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves which strongly tipped the NLDS in his favor.

Hoskins’ adamant reaction to his home run on Braves rookie Spencer Strider spoke of the burden offloaded. For Hoskin, Aaron Nola and Bryce Harper – from the stars drafted into the fight and the stars who chose it – it was the game that saw the void of unmet expectations supplanted by highlights and deafening roars.

Nola, the longest-serving Phillie, has led this rotation since 2015. He was one of baseball’s most productive starting pitchers but never had the chance to strut in the October spotlight. Since the full emergence of Nola in 2017, only Gerrit Cole pitched more innings. Only nine starters beat his park-adjusted ERA and — in a not-so-subtle nod to how the Phillies failed him — only four beat his park-adjusted FIP, which estimates how hard Nola threw. regardless of the defense behind him.

Now he is making up for lost time. His last three starts have been masterpieces, and most significant. On October 3, he flirted with a perfect game and ended up throwing 6 2/3 scoreless to pick up the win that earned him a playoff berth. On Saturday he shot another 6 2/3 scoreless innings to get the win which ended the wild card streak and eliminated the Cardinals of St. Louis. And on Friday, he stalled the Braves for over 6 innings – allowing only one unearned run – to win a crucial Game 3 and put the Phillies on the cusp of a trip to the NLCS.

Philadelphia Phillies Rhys Hoskins points his bat after hitting a two-run homer against the Atlanta Braves in Game 3 of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 14, 2022 in Philadelphia. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Hoskins made his debut in 2017, smashing 18 home runs in a blistering 50 games to provide a rare bright spot, along with Nola, on a team that has lost 96 games. In the years since, his furious rallies and crushing falls have made him an avatar of the franchise as a whole – which, as you may have gathered, wasn’t often a good thing.

For one thing, his numbers unquestionably belong to a good hitter. He’s been at least 11% better than the league’s average hitter every season, by park-adjusted OPS. He reliably hits more than 25 home runs per full season. But his inconsistency – those good overall numbers are often an average of extremely hot and cold streaks – and his defensive limits burned under the microscope of an anxious fanbase.

And speaking of under the microscope, there’s Harper. The superstar who dedicated the rest of his career to the Phillies before 2019 – signing a 13-year, $330million contract – must have started to worry about reliving an unsatisfactory progression from his time with the Nationals.

From the start, he made outward efforts to endear himself to Philadelphia. He could wear any bandana under his hat, but he wears the one that looks like the eyes of the Philly Phanatic. It may be overkill, but it’s an effort. He was also the promised excellent player, winning his second MVP award in 2021. He just hadn’t been able to lead his team to glory. Ithat’s an unrealistic expectation for any baseball player — Nola and Hoskins included — but that’s an expectation nonetheless, perhaps more for Harper than anyone else.

Limited by an elbow injury early in the season and then a broken thumb late in the season, Harper had failed to hit a home run since returning from the thumb injury until the wildcard streak. On Friday, he demolished one deep in the stands at the center right, evoking some of his most memorable moments in Philadelphiaand adding the October multiplier effect.

After an unusual small-ball spree won them the St. Louis series, it was the Phillies who won with the horses that brought them here. Big home runs, big aces. Tearing down the Braves in Game 3 doesn’t guarantee they’ll win the series and advance – far from it – but it did bring a plan to life.

Grievances, concerns, shortcomings. One by one, the Phillies drop them.

The defense that has so often failed them is still not great, but it’s manageable. Major investments fuel victories instead of anxiety. JT Realmuto, the trade acquisition Harper fought to keep, scored on his home run. Where Jake Arrieta waded alongside Nola, Zack Wheeler stepped in as an equally formidable ace. Nick CastellanosRegular season stumbles turned into a string of huge playoff successes. The bullpen is not out yet, which is about the best thing you can say about a bullpen.

Eleven years after Ryan Howard ripped his Achilles and the Jimmy Rollins/Chase Utley era came to a screeching halt, Phillies fans have understandably racked up some skepticism.

Thisthe performance of game 3 seemed to say, Isn’t this another doomed pie-in-the-sky plan. These Phillies have something real to bring to the table, something that may even be worth a toast.

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