Thomson handles Game 1 like it’s Game 7, and the Phillies’ bullpen makes it worthwhile originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

HOUSTON – The first game of the World Series? Rob Thomson handled it like it was a Game 7.

Clutch hitting, solid defense, a heroic effort by the Phillies’ bullpen and Thomson’s determination Friday night are the reasons the Phils were able to stun another favorite and take another series lead that could change the color of the next few games.

“Every game is a seventh game for us,” David Robertson said after the 6-5 extra-inning victory.

Aaron Nola didn’t have it Friday night. Kyle Tucker crushed his first two home runs to put the Astros up five, while Justin Verlander was busy retiring the first 10 hitters he faced.

This game seemed over after the third inning – that is, unless you watched Phillies 2022. All year long, before any of this seemed possible, they came back against aces and elite players, mounting rallies to overcome a significant early deficit or close late.

Thomson has seen his team do it all year, and the Phillies did it again, getting to Verlander for three runs with two outs in the fourth and two more in the fifth to tie the game.

Thomson stuck with Nola to start the fifth inning, but lifted him after Jeremy Peña struck out Houston’s middle order. Left-hander Jordan Alvarez walked next with Tucker in the dugout, so the move was to use the lefty.

Be that as it may, Thomson moved on to Jose Alvarado, the same Jose Alvarado who has been a regular in the final stretch of the playoffs this month. The score was tied with the Astros’ toughest pitching closer, so it didn’t matter to Thomson that it was the fifth inning. He treated it as a high-impact situation.

Alvarado popped out Alvarez, struck out Alex Bregman to end the inning and left Tucker to start the bottom of the sixth before giving the ball back to Thomson.

A job well done. That started a streak of 5⅔ scoreless innings by five different Phillies relievers against a tough, dynamic Astros lineup.

“I thought when Rob got Alvarado in the game that early in that big spot, I thought that was kind of the key in the game,” said Jay T. Realmuto, who capped things off with a two-run double in the fifth and won it with a solo homer in the 10th.

“We just scored those runs. We came back, tied the game with the ball. And he even said on the mound that he’s like, ‘This is the earliest I’ve ever brought him in, but those outs are huge here.’ If we have momentum on our side, we need to get those outs against their top three hitters.”

“I thought it was huge. Not all managers would bring in one of their best guys this early in the game. And he just pushed all the right buttons from there and the guys responded. Everyone we brought in threw the ball well.”

Alvarado went an inning and Zach Eflin went 1⅓. The next time hard lefties came up, Thomson went to the lefty pitcher again. But it wasn’t Brad Hand. It was Ranger Suarez, the Phillies’ presumptive starter in Game 3 on Monday night.

Suarez, who bounced between a lot of different roles with the Phillies over the past two seasons — starter, closer, long, lefty specialist — struck out Alvarez to finish seventh. Then, the king of the home fielders even-handedly snagged one off the bat of Bregman for the first out in the eighth.

“I just think no moment is too important for him,” Realmuto said.

“He can drop evenly,” Robertson said.

Eflin went a little further.

“He’s got ice in his veins, man,” he said. “You can’t teach that, it doesn’t matter how many pitching coaches you have, how many pitching gurus you go to, it can’t be taught. I love Ranger. It’s easy to root for him.”

The Phillies will check with Suarez on Saturday to see how he feels and if he can start Game 3. At worst, they’ll roll over and use the bullpen for Game 3 with Suarez in Game 4 a day later.

Serantani Dominguez followed Suarez with five innings, three of which were strikeouts, before Robertson recorded the final three in a tense two-hitter.

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to win games when you’re that far,” Eflin said. “Rob hit all the right buttons like he has all postseason and season. It was a great team win, just everyone picking each other up. That’s really what we’ve been doing all postseason.”

When Thomson’s instincts paid off, opposing managers were criticized for their decisions against the Phillies. Why didn’t Bob Melvin use Josh Hader earlier in Game 5 of the NLCS? Why did Dusty Baker only use Hector Neris for five innings? Why wasn’t Ryne Stanek, who had a 1.15 ERA in the regular season, the choice over Luis Garcia to start the 10th?

Those are the questions Thomson hasn’t been asked lately – because he’s managed aggressively and because his players have made him look like a scientist.

“When he makes a move, we all have his back. We trust him,” Kyle Schwarber said. “He’s been doing that all year long.”

After one game of the World Series, the Astros’ home field advantage was gone. The Phillies have their ace, Zach Wheeler, starting Saturday before playing three in a row at Citizens Bank Park jungle.

“We got hit a lot, we had our backs against the wall,” Eflin said. “How will we respond? We’ve been doing that all postseason.

“Getting to Game 1 is very important. Obviously we have three more that we have to win but it puts us in a good place. Now the confidence is skyrocketing.”

Subscribe to Phillies Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Embroiderer | Art 19 | Watch on YouTube