Realmuto legs out 1st postseason inside-the-parker by a catcher

PHILADELPHIA — The second the ball left J.T. Realmuto’s bat in the third inning of Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Saturday afternoon, the crowd at Citizens Bank Park roared in anticipation of a potential home run.

The ball instead glanced off the angled wall in deep center field, but the fans still got their home run during the Phillies’ series-clinching 8-3 win over the Braves, which set up an NLCS date with the Padres.

With the ball ricocheting away from Braves center fielder Michael Harris II, who made an unsuccessful leaping attempt, Realmuto sprinted around the bases in 15.4 seconds for just the 18th inside-the-park home run in postseason history and the first since the Red Sox’s Rafael Devers in Game 4 of the 2017 American League Division Series against the Astros.

It was also the first by a catcher in MLB postseason history.

“I didn’t know,” Realmuto said of being the first catcher to leg out an inside-the-parker in a playoff game. “Once I hit it, I was like, ‘That might have never been done before.’ I thought about it initially, but I wasn’t sure.”

And the reaction once he found out?

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Realmuto said. “ … It was a special moment that I’ll definitely cherish forever.”

But it’s also a moment that felt eerily familiar to Realmuto.

While Realmuto’s inside-the-parker was the first of its kind in postseason play, it was nearly identical to one he hit at the same ballpark five years ago as a member of the Marlins — something he remembered when he saw the ball hit the wall in almost the same place.

With Miami trailing by two in the sixth inning on Aug. 24, 2017, in Philadelphia, Realmuto again lifted a towering fly ball that glanced off the wall and caromed away from Phillies center fielder Nick Williams. Realmuto raced around the bases for a game-tying two-run inside-the-park homer, though it took him one second longer to complete the trip that day (16.4 seconds) than it did on Saturday.

That speed should surprise nobody at this point.

While it’s long been no secret that Realmuto has one of the strongest arms in the Majors behind the plate, he’s also done things with his bat and his legs that few other catchers have accomplished. With 22 home runs and 21 stolen bases this season, Realmuto joined Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez (1999) as the only catchers in AL/NL history with a 20-20 season.

Meanwhile, this was Realmuto’s third career inside-the-park home run, as he also hit one in Miami on Sept. 8, 2015, against Milwaukee.

“This is a guy who’s not just the fastest catcher in the league but one of the fastest people in the league, period,” said Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins. “I had a feeling that [third-base coach] Dusty [Wathan] was going to send him no matter what. Make them make a play and see what we can get with the crowd, right?”

One day after Hoskins’ epic bat spike sent a sellout crowd into a frenzy, Realmuto’s headfirst dive across home plate did the same in Game 4.

The typically stoic Realmuto immediately popped to his feet and slapped his hands together. He was mobbed by teammates before even making it back to the dugout.

“When I slid into home, I couldn’t help myself. I was so excited,” Realmuto said. “Excited for this city. Excited for this team. It was one of those moments I’ll definitely remember forever. And it was just a lot of fun.”

Hoskins, who said he didn’t even remember slamming his bat “until a couple innings later,” can certainly relate.

“It’s just something that comes out,” Hoskins said. “I mean, really, it’s just having a little kid’s reaction in the moment. Could you write it any better?”

That’s quickly becoming the theme for this Phillies team.

It started with the historic six-run ninth inning in their comeback win in Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series. It continued the next day with Bryce Harper’s homer in the Wild Card clincher. Then there was Hoskins’ monumental bat spike in Game 3 of the NLDS. And one inning before Realmuto’s inside-the-parker on Saturday, Brandon Marsh was taking a curtain call after his tone-setting three-run homer.

“We feel extremely confident in ourselves right now. We love the group we have,” said Realmuto, who hit safely in all four NLDS games, going 5-for-18 (.278) with five runs and two RBIs. “I think it started in that ninth inning in St. Louis, with that comeback — that kind of sparked the feeling that we’re here and we’re here to stay. We feel like we can beat anybody.”