HOUSTON — When the Philadelphia Phillies fired manager Joe Girardi after a 22-29 start to the season, it was hard to imagine that Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber and interim manager Rob Thomson would be dancing in a champagne shower come October.
But this team persevered through the tough start and an injury that took Harper out for two months to do just that, beating the Houston Astros 3-0 Monday night to clinch its first playoff berth in 11 years.
“This is the goal,” Harper said. “This is what you play for.”
Aaron Nola took a perfect game into the seventh inning, and Schwarber homered to propel the Phillies to the victory.
“It hasn’t been an easy season,” Schwarber said. “We went through a manager change, went through the MVP being down … and we went through people saying that our season’s over, that don’t even count the Phillies and they can’t catch the baseball … and for us to get all of our guys back and healthy and for them to all be there and contribute, that’s what it’s about.”
After Brandon Marsh caught Mauricio Dubon’s fly ball in center for the game’s final out, Philadelphia players jumped and cheered in jubilation before meeting at the mound, where they hugged and bounced around some more.
The video board at Minute Maid Park displayed the team’s logo and the words “Congratulations Philadelphia” as the Phillies celebrated.
A small but vocal group of Philadelphia fans congregated near the team’s dugout and chanted, “Let’s go Phillies,” in the bottom of the ninth inning.
In the victorious clubhouse, Thomson gave his team a quick speech before champagne flew.
“We’re not done,” he told his team. “After Wednesday, we’ve got 13 more wins and we’re world champions.
“Congratulations, enjoy this, you’ve earned it.”
Players and coaches danced and sang as champagne from bottles affixed with special labels celebrating them punching their long-awaited and hard-fought ticket to the postseason rained down and soaked their red playoff T-shirts.
“When I signed here in ’19, I said it was going to take us a couple of years, three or four or five years, to get to where we needed to be,” said Harper, a two-time MVP. ” And we’re not where we need to be right now, but this is step one to hopefully greater success and a greater opportunity to get to where we need to be.”
Harper credited Thomson as the key to the team turning things around. Thomson said he appreciated the compliment but wouldn’t take credit for the success.
“At the start of the year, we just weren’t playing well, and we weren’t playing to our capability,” Thomson said. “But I always felt like we were going to get there, and we did. So, I just happened to come in at the right time.”
The Phillies clinched at the same ballpark where they secured their last postseason trip on Sept. 14, 2011. That game was a 1-0 victory over the Astros highlighted by a complete-game shutout by Hall of Famer Roy Halladay.
Philadelphia’s postseason drought was the longest active one in the majors after the Seattle Mariners clinched their first playoff berth in 21 years Friday night.
Now that the Phillies have clinched, all 12 playoff spots are set, with the exact matchups to be determined in the next two days.
The Phillies entered the opener of the final regular-season series needing a win or a loss by the Milwaukee Brewers to get a National League wild-card spot. The Brewers rallied to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 6-5 in 10 innings a few minutes before Philadelphia wrapped up the victory.
Nola struck out nine and didn’t allow a baserunner until Yordan Alvarez singled with two outs in the seventh. David Hensley followed with a single, and Nola was replaced by Jose Alvarado, who struck out Kyle Tucker to end the inning.
Zach Eflin pitched a scoreless ninth to complete the shutout and get his first save in 11 years of pro ball.
Schwarber got things going for the Phillies in their first visit to Houston since Sept. 16, 2012, with a leadoff homer off Lance McCullers.
Philadelphia added some insurance when Bryson Stott and Schwarber hit back-to-back solo shots off Jose Urquidy to start the eighth inning.
It was the eighth multiple home run game this season for Schwarber, who leads the NL with a career-high 46 home runs and now has 199 homers in his career.
The Phillies have three players who will appear in the postseason for the first time after playing more than 600 career games. Jean Segura leads the group with 1,327, JT Realmuto has 1,004 and Rhys Hoskins is at 666.
Segura, who is in his 11th major league season, began to wonder if this day would ever come.
“I was feeling some pressure on myself, like I’m probably never going to get to the postseason,” he said.
Now that he has made it, he couldn’t be happier.
“It was a long ride,” Segura said. “I’ve been waiting so many years for this opportunity, and I guarantee I’m not going to let it go by.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.