Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper celebrates after winning a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates to clinch a wild-card playoff spot, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Update 9:40 p.m.: It took until a walk-off hit in the 10th inning, but they did it.

The 162-game MLB schedule is more than a marathon. It’s a meat grinder. 

Remember the Phillies’ struggles to open the season? The 1-5 start that followed the blown 5-0 lead against Jacob deGrom with Aaron Nola on the mound on Opening Day?

Or how about their 25-32 start? Four months in which it seemed impossible anyone could hit a three-run homer? Trea Turner’s miserable beginnings, Harper’s career-worst, month-long homerless streak and all those late home runs that turned into late losses by the bullpen?

None of it matters now. It was all just a part of the narrative of a journey that will (baseball gods willing) culminate in your Phillies clinching their second straight trip to the playoffs as they open a three-game series against a lowly Pirates team that lost 82 games this year.

As we discussed on Episode 723 of Hittin’ Season, in order for the Phils to jump around one another in celebration as fireworks litter the night sky, the requirement is pretty simple.

Win tonight. That happens, and they’re in. 

The Phillies hold a six-game lead over the Miami Marlins, who currently sit just outside the playoffs at 81-75. The Diamondbacks and Cubs have identical 82-74 records, with Arizona holding down the second wild card and Chicago the third, based on tie-breakers. Fortunately, Philadelphia holds the tie-breaker advantage over both teams, essentially giving them a 6-game lead with six to play. 

Even if the Phillies don’t win tonight, they’re in if the Cubs lose to the Braves OR the Marlins lose to the Mets OR the Diamondbacks lose to the White Sox. 

And that’s not all!

The Phils are itching for home field advantage in the 3-game wild card series that begins next Tuesday, and they can clinch THAT tonight if they win AND the Cubs lose to the Braves OR the Brewers beat the Cardinals (the Brewers need to clinch the NL Central in order for the Phils to clinch the top wild card… don’t worry about it… it’s going to happen). 

There are other scenarios where the Phillies can clinch everything even if they lose. Such is the beauty of a dwindling schedule and a large enough lead built on the backs of the pathetic Mets, who were swept out of Citizens Bank Park in four games over the weekend.

But no one wants to clinch a spot by losing.

Unlike the last five Septembers, these Phils are surging to the postseason. They’ve won five in a row and have taken their last three series, going 2 of 3 in St. Louis and claiming huge victory in Atlanta last week. After this week’s series against the Pirates, the Phillies will finish the regular season with three games against the Mets in New York.

Wrapping things up tonight would allow Rob Thomson to rest his best bullpen arms, set up his starting rotation, and get some of his everyday regulars some pine time. 

But there’s a delicate balance between getting some much needed rest and becoming rusty. Thomson certainly doesn’t want to mess with the team’s mojo too much, given their success since Aug. 1.

In their last 50 games, the Phils have blasted 99 home runs, the same as Atlanta, most in the Majors. They’ve scored the second-most runs, have slugged .499 as a team and are playing a confident brand of baseball we’ve never seen them play in September.

However, this week, Phillies fans can prepare to enjoy one of the greatest things they can ever see — a clinching moment on their home turf. 

Philadelphia, cross your fingers and get ready for a Red October.

John Stolnis grew up in Delco as a rabid fan of all Philadelphia sports, but the Phillies have always held a special place in his heart, particularly those disappointing Juan Samuel-led teams of the late...