PHILADELPHIA — In the calm of Saturday afternoon before Game 4 of the National League Championship Series here turned woolly, San Diego Manager Bob Melvin offered some lucid perspective.
“Every day in the postseason, it feels as if you’re on the brink, to tell you the truth,” Melvin said, especially referring to those days when a team has lost the night before.
A couple of hours later, Philadelphia updated that from every day to every inning for the Padres. Desperately needing a win to even the series and avoid being pushed to the edge of elimination, San Diego exploded for four first-inning runs — and then gave them all back.
The Padres lived on the brink all evening in Game 4, inning to inning, threatening the great escape and then being walked to cliff’s edge. It was too much to maintain, and keyed by two two-run Rhys Hoskins home runs, the Phillies won, 10-6, to grab a three-games-to-one stranglehold of the series.
The Phillies now can clinch a spot in their first World Series since 2009 on Sunday afternoon with Zack Wheeler on the mound. In three postseason starts this month, Wheeler has surrendered only three earned runs over 19⅓ innings for a 1.40 E.R.A. He has struck out 17 and walked only three. Combining both regular and postseason play, Wheeler has thrown 25⅔ consecutive scoreless innings over his past eight starts against the Padres.
The Padres are reeling, and the knockout blow just may have been delivered in a chaotic Game 3.
Caught in that space between Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suárez, Philadelphia elected to start an opener, Bailey Falter, who had not pitched since Oct. 5. The rust was evident. Manny Machado ripped a home run on Falter’s eighth pitch of the game. Josh Bell followed with a single and Falter walked Jake Cronenworth. Next, Brandon Drury drove two runs home with a double and Ha-Seong Kim plated another with a single.
It was 4-0 before the Padres starter Mike Clevinger threw a pitch. But San Diego’s problems started quickly. It took the Phillies only four batters into the first to chop San Diego’s lead to 4-3. Kyle Schwarber singled, Hoskins belted a two-run homer, J.T. Realmuto walked and Bryce Harper boomed an R.B.I. double.
In all, the first inning lasted 48 minutes. Clevinger was chased before he could record an out. Falter faced only six hitters.
The Phillies tied it, 4-4, in the fourth against the Padres’ third pitcher of the night, Sean Manaea. San Diego’s brinkmanship continued, and things took a turn in its favor when Juan Soto came alive to wallop a two-run homer that jumped the Padres ahead, 6-4.
But again, they could not distance themselves from the brink. Manaea, who had yet to pitch in this postseason, had been dropped from San Diego’s rotation in September and had not been on a mound in a game since Oct. 4, was torched by Hoskins for another two-run homer in the fifth. Then he walked Realmuto and Harper followed with his second R.B.I. double of the game.
The Phillies led, 8-6, by the time the fifth inning was finished, and 9-6 by the time another titanic Schwarber homer landed in the sixth (this one 429 feet to center field, screaming out at 113 miles per hour off the bat). When Realmuto cranked another homer to lead off the seventh in increase the lead to 10-6, it was as if the Phillies were just showing off.
This is a team that had to scrap all the way to the finish line of the regular season just to claim the bread crumb that was the last of six playoff spots in the N.L.
That was then. Now, the Phillies are flexing their muscles and appear poised to claim their ninth N.L. pennant as soon as Sunday. For one thing, the sluggers and stars are stepping up at the perfect moment.
Philadelphia’s first four hitters — Schwarber, Hoskins, Realmuto and Harper — combined in Game 4 to go 9 for 18 with four homers, nine R.B.I. and 10 runs scored. It was a show of brute force and it simply overwhelmed the Padres.
In the process, Harper cracked his 10th extra-base hit of the postseason, tying a Phillies franchise record.