2022 World Series – How Rob Thomson leads the Phillies
PHILADELPHIA — The baseball gods wasted no time in giving Philadelphia Phillies boss Rob Thomson his first major managerial moment in the Fall Classic.
Five months after taking over from sacked Joe Girardi, Thomson had already weathered the Phillies’ disappointing end to the regular season and three tough rounds in the playoffs, including a three-game wildcard streak that no manager had ever faced. Now, in Game 1 against the heavily favored Houston Astros, Thomson had a quick decision to make.
After losing 5-0 early, his team had just tied the game in the top of the fifth inning. Starter Aaron Nola, normally one of Philadelphia’s aces, was already at 81 pitches and clearly struggling – but going into the bullpen after just the first 4.1 innings of a best-of-seven series was also very risky.
Thomson chose the risky move.
He closed in on Jose Alvarado, who got the last two outs of the fifth and the first of the sixth. But the 58-year-old manager wasn’t done – he would use four more of his top relievers to ensure his side held on for a 6-5 road win.
“He’s got the pulse of it,” Phillies president Dave Dombrowski said the next day. “And he has my support.”
It was just the latest example of the deft touch Thomson has shown in his first year in charge of the Phillies – although his greatest moments are undoubtedly to come as his team tries to stay alive. in the World Series, trailing 3-2 heading into Game 6. Saturday night in Houston.
His message to the team could very well be the one he tells himself about his own career. After all, he was not a man on the management fast track.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to panic,” Thomson said Friday. “We just have to keep doing what we’re doing and focus on the little things. I always tell them, focus on the little things and big things will happen.”
Great things happened for Thomson in June, and they continue through October.
He has already been granted a two-year extension after only a partial season on the job. But while Thomson’s sure footing might seem supernatural, it was actually honed by years on the coaching staff, including six years as a bench coach for the Phillies and Yankees before that.
In fact, when Thomson took over from Girardi, it wasn’t the first time he had considered managing the Phillies. Two years prior, when manager Gabe Kapler was fired, the organization considered then-coach Thomson for the job before reaching a mutual decision not to interview him.
“When we hired before Joe, we talked to him about taking the job,” Phillies owner John Middleton said. “And he said no. He said I don’t think I’m the person for this. I think you should go out and find someone else.”
It was pure Thomson who, according to those who know him best, never played politics for a promotion.
“I agreed with them that they needed an experienced guy,” Thomson said.
So, instead of taking the job, Thomson helped the front office choose Kapler’s successor. But after Girardi brought a button down approach to the clubhouse, Middleton and Dombrowski knew they wanted something different – and who they wanted for it. It was Thomson’s time – or so they hoped.
“When Dave started talking about this move in May,” Middleton recalled, “I said to him, ‘I don’t know if he’s going to take the job.’ He didn’t feel he was the right guy for it (last time), which obviously (turned out to be) an incorrect assessment.”
So why was Thomson this time open to the possibility of accepting a job he had previously refused?
“Different circumstances,” he said.
What could have happened in 2019 suddenly seemed right. The team was not winning in the tightly controlled atmosphere with Girardi at the helm. A looser grip – in exchange for a lack of experience – turned out to be the right decision.
“We didn’t have everyone feeling the best versions of themselves and when Thomson was able to come in, without any pressure on him, he just walked out and let the baseball play,” right fielder Nick Castellanos said. .
But still, a World Series — even a playoff run — wasn’t a sure thing, especially when Thomson took over the team 22-29.
“You never know how a guy is going to react until he gets there,” Dombrowski said. I never anticipate this calm.”
With Thomson, however, you could come close. ‘Even-keeled’ is used to describe him so often that might as well be his first name. It’s something he’s learned over the years in the dugout, and it comes in handy as the stakes have risen throughout the playoffs.
“I think at the start of my career I wasn’t as balanced as I am now,” Thomson said. “You kind of learn from those moments and know you can’t control things and then why worry about certain things. I think the experience of going through all those different moments throughout a career of about 30 years teaches you in a way to be balanced.”
His players agree: time spent in the dugout matters, they say, even if it’s not as a manager.
And Thomson has been there for decades, coaching in the minor leagues for the Tigers and Yankees before becoming Girardi’s bench coach in New York in 2008. Then at the Phillies for the same job under Kapler in 2018.
“With him comes a lot of experience, a lot of big games, a lot of superstar players in management, every step he’s taken,” Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm said. “So I think when he took over he was definitely ready. For me, there didn’t seem to be any growing pains or anything with that.”
Current bench coach Mike Calitri added: “He’s the most prepared human being I’ve ever known…His ability to be placid and calm shines through throughout the team.”
Calitri is Thomson’s sounding board in games. He is the voice behind the manager. He was also part of the thought process to be aggressive with the bullpen in Game 1.
“We felt some momentum after scoring,” Calitri said. “If that momentum comes back, it’s probably not good for us.”
Thomson agreed, crafting an early narrative that would set the tone for his Fall Classic performance: Worry about today and let tomorrow take care of itself.
“In these seven-game series, where you have 2-3-2, you have that day off, two days off, potentially, and so you can use guys a little bit more,” Thomson said the day after the game. 1. “If we start the season next year, I can tell you that I won’t get there because it’s a marathon. It’s a sprint now and you have to go there every day.”
In the end, the strategy paid off when rain postponed Game 3, giving Thomson’s bullpen another day off.
Of course, not all high-risk moves will work. In Game 4, Thomson retired Nola with the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth inning, again for Jose Alvarado. This time, however, Alvarado hit the leadoff batter to give up the lead, and the Astros scored five runs in the inning, eventually tying the series, 2-2.
But win or lose, Thomson is the same soothing presence in the locker room — as he was after that Game 4 loss, which saw the Phillies hitless for only the second time in a World Series game.
“I walked into the clubhouse…and just told them to rinse that off,” Thomson said. “Let’s go.”
Then he left, giving his veteran club the space to absorb the moment, much the same way it has since June. This relaxed style is an integral part of who he is – stable, calm and prepared.
And so far, his success in the job has proven that the wait is worth it – for him and the team he leads.
“We are all grateful to have the opportunity to play for him,” said Bryce Harper. “We all want to go there and play our best game for him, and he has all the confidence in the world in our ability to go there.”