MLB Wild Card: Phillies beat Braves behind Nick Castellanos, David Robertson

ATLANTA — Nick Castellanos raised his right hand in triumph and gave it a little pump as he rounded first base. In the dugout, his teamsmates went a little nuts.

It’s been a difficult first season in Philadelphia for the big free-agent addition, but all the grind and all the stress seemed to vanish with one swing under the hot Georgia sun Wednesday afternoon.

Castellanos’ first homer in more than a month, a tie-breaking, two-run shot to center with two outs in the top of the eighth, lifted the Phillies and Zack Wheeler to a huge 3-1 win over the Atlanta Braves.

Castellanos’ ninth homer of the season was his first since June 30 and a span of 113 plate appearances.

His reaction rounding the bases told just how cathartic it was for him.

The reaction in the dugout showed just how much support his teamsmates have for him.

“It was electric (in the dugout) because everyone is pulling for him,” manager Rob Thomson said. “They know what he’s gone through and they know that he cares and so they care about him. It was really neat.”

Wheeler was brilliant. He pitched seven innings and allowed just one run on a mistake slider to Orlando Arcia with two outs in the fifth. The right-hander walked none and struck out seven but was looking at no run support until the Phillies rallied for three in the top of the eighth.

Wheeler was on the dugout steps when Castellanos took Collin McHugh deep.

“Nick’s a really good hitter,” Wheeler said. “He’s just fought a little, but I think people exaggerate it more than it is. He’s been a pretty solid hitter for us if you really look at it. It was nice to see him get that home run in a big spot.”

Castellanos’ biggest hit as a Phillie doesn’t happen if JT Realmuto doesn’t leg out a potential double-play ball that would have ended the inning. Rhys Hoskins walked with one out against Charlie Morton and Alec Bohm singled against McHugh before Realmuto beat out the ball. At first, he was called out. The Phillies won the challenge.

“What a play,” Thomson said. “Rhys gets it going. Bohmer has the hit. JT busts it to keep the inning going and gives Casty a chance to hit a big home run. That was a big hit for him.”

With the lead, Thomson pulled all the right strings in the bullpen to get it to the finish line. Seranthony Dominguez got two outs in the eighth. Jose Alvarado retired dangerous Matt Olson to end the inning. Then newly acquired David Robertson came in, still wearing blue Chicago Cubs spikes, and nailed down the save.

Robertson was with the Phillies in 2019 and 2020 but pitched in only seven games after coming to town on a two-year, $23 million free-agent contract and blowing out his right elbow. At 37, after surgery and an arduous rehab, he’s back and he finally has his first save as a Phillie.

Asked how that felt, Robertson said, “It was definitely better than blowing it, if you want the truth. I had a lot of hard outings when I was here the last time and it felt nice to nail one down for the team. We played hard, fought back and got a really nice win today.”

The Phillies ended their road trip at 5-1. They return home Thursday night with new faces (Noah Syndergaard will pitch) and a 56-48 record. They control the third and final wild-card spot in the NL.

No one Phillie comes home feeling better than Castellanos, who had 11 hits and five RBIs on the trip.

“I think it’s me just gradually trying to do less and less and being happy with a base hit to the right field,” he said of his hot streak. “I think that’s a good starting point for me. Just gradually letting go of expectations and getting back to letting the game come to you.”

And as for that emotional trip around the bases and the greeting he received from teamsmates in the dugout …

“I was really happy,” Castellanos said. “For me personally, of course, it felt great, but more importantly, the Phillies needed it. We’ve got really quality people on this team, and at the end of the day that’s all you can ask for.”

Well, that and a productive trade deadline and a shot to make the playoffs.

“It sends a message that winning is the expectation here,” Castellanos said of the deadline additions. “I’ve been part of deadlines when people are leaving the clubhouse instead of getting added. It feels good when you have established guys coming in.

“With the additions we made plus (Jean Segura and Bryce Harper) coming back, this was the best deadline we could ask for. We still haven’t clicked on all cylinders yet and we’re in playoff contention. It should be interesting. “

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