WASHINGTON (AFP) — Nick Castellanos smashed two solo home runs for the second consecutive game and the Philadelphia Phillies beat Atlanta 3-1 on Thursday to advance in the Major League Baseball playoffs.
Castellanos became the first player in MLB history to hit multiple homers in consecutive playoff games, blasting one in the fourth inning and another in the sixth.
“Incredible,” Castellanos said. “These are moments I’m never going to forget.”
The Phillies won the National League best-of-five second round series 3-1 and will host the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday to open the best-of-seven NL Championship Series.
“We’ve got eight more wins (to get),” Castellanos said of what the Phillies need to capture the World Series crown.
“We feel good. There’s no question. But we’ll definitely respect the competition and do what we can do.”
Defending champion Houston will meet the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series starting on Sunday.
Castellanos, a 31-year-old American outfielder, also crushed a pair of homers as part of Philadelphia’s MLB record-tying six homers in Wednesday’s game-three triumph over the Braves.
Atlanta had the best record in the major leagues this season, 14 games ahead of the Phillies, but the Braves were ousted in the playoffs by the Phillies for the second year in a row.
“The season and the post-season are completely different,” Castellanos said.
While the Phillies were overjoyed to advance, there was major concern over a right elbow injury to first baseman Bryce Harper.
The left knee of Atlanta’s Matt Olson struck Harper’s right elbow as the Philadelphia first baseman made a catch to end the eighth inning, leaving Harper grabbing his elbow in pain.
Harper underwent “Tommy John” ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow last November and did not rejoin the club until May.
Atlanta starting pitcher Spencer Strider, who led MLB this season with 20 wins and 286 strikeouts, was tagged for three runs off seven hits, three of them homers.
Braves outfielder Michael Harris made a sliding catch to rob Johan Rojas of a hit and Philadelphia of a run in the second inning.
The Phillies put runners in scoring position in each of the first three innings but couldn’t push across a run even as Venezuelan left-handed pitcher Ranger Suarez kept Atlanta hitless for the first three innings.
Austin Riley blasted a solo homer down the left-field line in the fourth to give the Braves a 1-0 lead.
But Castellanos smacked a homer to left field in the Phillies half of the fourth to lift the hosts level.
Trea Turner, who doubled in the first and singled in the third, blasted a solo homer to left field in the fifth inning to give Philadelphia a 2-1 edge.
Castellanos connected on his second homer in the sixth inning to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead. It was the 11th homer of the series for Philadelphia.
Atlanta rallied with two outs in the seventh as Phillies relief pitchers issued three walks to load the bases before Ronald Acuna flew out to Rojas to end the inning.
Marcel Ozuna walked and Sean Murphy singled for Atlanta to begin the ninth inning but the Phillies retired the next three batters to seal the victory.