Ex-Yankees coach helps Phillies inch closer to World Series miracle | Klapisch

Ex-Yankees coach helps Phillies inch closer to World Series miracle | Klapisch

Many of my friends who are Yankees fans say they have no interest in the World Series. They pulled up stakes on baseball the moment the Astros completed their humiliating sweep of the Bombers. My buddies took it hard, but quickly moved on to the Giants, trading Aaron Boone for Brian Daboll – not a bad switcheroo.

But there’s another group in my circle that’s stuck around to watch the Phillies pull off a miracle, having taken a 2-1 Series lead on the team that was previously dent-proof.

I can see how a Yankees die hard would enjoy watching the Astros suffer on national television, but there’s a more important theme to this Series than a juicy helping of schadenfreude.

The Phillies are teaching the Astros an age-old lesson in this swing-for-the-planets age: contact is still king. Unlike the Yankees, who struck out 50 times in four games against Houston, the Phillies whiffed a modest seven times in Tuesday’s 7-0 ambush in Game 3, during which they blasted five home runs.

That was a record-setting performance on many levels, worthy of its own symposium. But what impresses me even more about the Phillies is their can-do, all-in commitment. Put it this way: nobody comes back from a 5-0 deficit in the World Series to win 6-5, as the Phillies did in Game 1, unless they’re in possession of October black magic.

For that, I credit the manager, Rob Thomson, the true architect of Philadelphia’s success this season and living proof that leadership counts.

It’s worth recalling the Phillies were only an 87-win team in 2022. They finished 14 games behind the Braves and Mets and were the last wild card to qualify. That was a heck of an achievement considering the Phillies were 21-29 in their first 50 games. Manager Joe Girardi was fired on June 1.

Thomson, who was Girardi’s bench coach – and served as bench and third base coach with the Yankees from 2008-2017 – instantly catalyzed the Phillies as Girardi’s replacement. They’ve gone 77-49 since then, including their 11-3 mark in the playoffs. They’re just two wins away from Philadelphia’s first world championship since 2008.

So what’s Thomson’s secret? He got an obvious boost when Bryce Harper returned on August 26 after spending two months on the IL with a broken hand. But the Phillies were already a better team under their interim manager.

Thomson has many of the qualities that Girardi lacked: calm and relatable, allowing the players to relax as opposed to Iron Joe, who managed games with a clenched-fist tightness. Even with four-run leads, he’d haunt the top step of the dugout, oozing anxiety.

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Phillies owner John Middleton offered a candid look into the current state of the clubhouse following the Game 3 rout.

“I think (Thomson) is just right for this club; the right person, the right personality, the right touch, the right guy for this group,” Middleton told reporters. “If they were a different group of guys, you probably would want somebody like Joe, but it wasn’t the right fit for our guys.”

Middleton didn’t want to finish the thought: Girardi had lost the Phillies the same way he lost the Yankees by 2017, so over-prepared the connection with his players had ceased to exist.

I recall what one Yankees executive told me a decade ago about the arc of Girardi’s tenure in the Bronx. The club picked him to succeed Joe Torre in 2008, in part because he’d won the National League’s Manager of the Year award with the Marlins in 2006, and also because of his work as a YES Network analyst in 2007.

Girardi was sharp and relaxed, a good listen. But something changed when he put on the pinstripes in ‘08. Gradually he drifted away from the clubhouse.

“(Girardi) didn’t listen to the players’ music, didn’t watch the movies they watched, he had no interest in what interested them,” the higher-up said. “Ten years ago, if the players didn’t like the manager, they still busted their ass for him. Not anymore. These guys are millennials. Now it’s who the (bleep) are you?”

No doubt Thomson watched and learned from Girardi’s administration, both the good and bad. To be fair, Girardi’s work ethic was unparalleled. His bullpen management was a second strong point.

Thomson is applying those lessons today. Yankees fans who never got acquainted with Thomson can sense his winning personality on any World Series interview on Fox these days.

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Thomson knows the Phillies have the upper hand on Houston; that’s clear. Nothing has been quite the same for the Astros since Justin Verlander blew that 5-0 lead in Game 1.

The Phillies, who were planning a bullpen effort on Monday, caught a break when that night’s rainstorm postponed Game 3. Thomson was able to re-set his rotation with the 24-hour break, handing the ball to Ranger Suarez on Tuesday. Philadelphia’s starter, Aaron Nola, will be on the mound Wednesday night.

History says the Phillies are riding a tidal wave of momentum: the team that wins Game 3 after a split of the first two emerges as world champs 65% of the time.

Thomson and his crew will take those odds. At this rate, the Series might not even return to Minute Maid Park for Games 6 or 7.

Middleton was smart enough not to wait for this shocker to unfold before rewarding Thomson. A new, two-year contract was on the manager’s desk on October 10 – and that was before the Phillies had run the table on the Cardinals, Braves and Padres.

They’re halfway to doing the same to the Astros. The City of Brotherly Love might have a mad crush on Harper, but they’re saving a piece of their hearts for Thomson, the good guy who’s quietly cooking up the black magic of a lifetime.

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Bob Klapisch may be reached at [email protected].

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