June 3: The Philadelphia Phillies are 22-29 and have just fired manager Joe Girardi. The club officially named former Kansas baseball catcher Rob Thomson as the interim manager to captain a ship that was largely underperforming with star talents of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Kyle Schwarber, Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Nick Castellanos.
Up against two divisional powers in the form of the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, it looked like the Phillies were going to chalk this season up to another year added to the 11-year playoff drought.
Oct. 3: Nola strikes out nine in Houston over six and two third shutout innings and Schwarber blasts two home runs to punch a playoff ticket for the Phillies, securing the last National League Wild Card spot.
“Red October” has returned to Philadelphia, but with an interim manager in charge, how did they get here?
Thomson joined the Phillies coaching staff in 2018 as a bench coach after previously working alongside Girardi in the same position with the New York Yankees since 2008 and winning the 2009 World Series on his staff.
Thomson kept his role as bench coach when Girardi made his way to Philadelphia in 2019 but stepped into the managerial position directly following Girardi’s dismissal. The Phillies sat at seven games below .500 at the time when Thomson took over. But after, the team went on to post one of the best records in baseball, going 65-46 on the rest of the season, even after various challenges like losing Bryce Harper, the former NL MVP for an extended period of time, and going 11-14 throughout September.
But, despite the mounting challenges faced by the Phillies, the pieces all fell into place for an October playoff run. There are several aspects that came into play for the success — Two veteran pitchers in the form of Nola and Wheeler have helped lead the way. With Schwarber also blasting 46 home runs during the season, things can get easier, but culture change in the clubhouse produces a larger impact than one might think.
“We respect Thomson so much, what he's done for us. He loves this game and works hard and understands what his players need," Harper told ESPN.
The end of the Phillies’ playoff drought still brought an uphill battle as the team faced the No. 3 seed St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card series. And game one of the series seemed to remind the Phillies of where they started to begin the season — But a six-run ninth inning put the series in Philadelphia’s favor, and Nola was lights out again in game two to put the final nail in the coffin for the Cardinals.
With the upset to send the team to the NLDS, the Phillies committed to Thomson and his success.
The team announced that they’d be removing the “interim” term from Thomson’s title on Monday, locking down his spot as the club’s manager with a two-year contract.
“As time progressed, it became apparent that Rob was the right person to lead this team and our club's on-field performance over the course of the season certainly reinforced that,'' President of Baseball Operations David Dombrowski said in a statement.
During his time at Kansas, Thomson holds the single-season batting average record, posting a .443 in 1984, while also leading the team in hits the same season and in 1985.
Thomson went on to be drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1985, though made the transition to coaching for the organization in 1988. Now after a coaching career that spans over 30 years, Thomson now takes on the challenge with his first MLB managerial position.