ATLANTA — It felt as good as it looked.
Nick Castellanos extended his right arm into the air as he rounded first base in the eighth inning of the Phillies’ 3-1 victory over the Braves at Truist Park on Wednesday afternoon. His teammates in the visitors’ dugout went nuts. Castellanos smacked a two-out, go-ahead two-run home run to center field to move the Phillies back into the third NL Wild Card spot with a half-game lead over the Cardinals. It was his first home run since June 30.
It was his biggest moment in a Phillies uniform.
“For me, personally, of course it feels great,” Castellanos said. “But most importantly, the Phillies needed it.”
“We still haven’t clicked on all cylinders yet, and we’re in contention,” Castellanos said. “We’re a playoff team.”
Imagine those Deadline acquisitions doing what they are supposed to do. (Robertson already contributed, pitching a perfect ninth inning Wednesday to earn a save.) Imagine Segura and Harper coming back and doing what they are supposed to do.
Imagine Castellanos stepping up, too.
He is heating up. He is batting .389 (14-for-36) with two doubles, one home run, five RBIs and a .949 OPS in his last nine games. He has struck out only five times in 38 plate appearances (13.2 percent). He batted .245 with 20 doubles, eight home runs, 46 RBIs and a .655 OPS in his first 94 games, striking out 98 times in 393 plate appearances (24.9 percent).
“It’s just gradually trying to do less and less, and being happy with a base hit to right field,” Castellanos said. “I think that’s a good starting point for me.”
How did he get to that point?
“Just gradually letting go, right?” he said. “Expectations. Getting back to letting the game come to you, really.”
Castellanos had his Phillies moment because ace Zack Wheeler allowed only one run in seven innings. Rhys Hoskins worked a one-out walk in the eighth. Alec Bohm followed with a single to put runners at the corners.
JT Realmuto hit a ground ball to Braves third baseman Austin Riley, who threw to second for one out. Second baseman Orlando Arcia’s throw to first arrived almost at the same time as Realmuto. First-base umpire Bill Welke called out Realmuto for a double play.
The Phillies challenged it.
Replay showed that Realmuto beat the throw. The call was overturned.
Three pitches later, Castellanos homered.
It is good to have Realmuto in moments like that. His sprint speed (28.7 feet per second) puts him in the 87th percentile in baseball, according to Statcast. He is the second-fastest catcher behind Jorge Alfaro (28.8 ft/sec).
Realmuto really hauled down the line there. Statcast measured his sprint speed at 30.0 feet per second. He went from home to first in 4.23 seconds, which was his third-fastest time of the year.
“That guy just amazes me,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I told [bench coach] walt [Weiss], he’s a machine. He catches every day and it seems like he expends no energy catching. He can really run. With 29 other catchers in the league, that’s a double play.”
“To be honest, I kind of stumbled out of the box a little bit, so I was actually worried I wasn’t going to get there,” Realmuto said. “That might be why I was running a little faster. The first step I didn’t feel great about. The swing wasn’t the outcome that I wanted, so as soon as I saw the ball go on the ground I tried to book it as fast as I could. That was a big spot there. We needed that run. I was glad I was able to beat it out and give Nicky a chance to win the game for us.”
Castellanos delivered. The Phillies flew home as optimistic as they have been in a long time.
“The morale is high in this clubhouse,” Realmuto said. “We feel really good about ourselves. We’re confident. We just have to go out there and swing the bats well. We’re pitching well. We’re playing good defense. We feel like we’re a team that could go on a run. I would definitely say that our best baseball is ahead of us.”