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Phillies shock Braves again and clinch a second consecutive NLCS spot

Nick Castellanos became the first player to hit multiple homers in consecutive postseason games, sending the Philadelphia Phillies to a 3-1 victory in Game 4 of their NL Division Series on Thursday night that knocked the 104-win Atlanta Braves out of the playoffs for the second straight year.

Matt Strahm struck out pinch-hitter Vaughn Grissom with runners at the corners to clinch the series and send the Phillies rushing the field in wild celebration. The Phillies set off fireworks, the Liberty Bell rang and the reigning National League champions were ready to pop bubbly again.

Bryce Harper gave the Phillies a scare when he clutched his surgically repaired right elbow after a collision in the eighth inning. Matt Olson's left knee clipped Harper's elbow on a play at first base that ended the inning. Harper, the two-time NL MVP, flexed his elbow after a quick examination from the medical staff. He stayed in the game in the ninth.

"Just hit my funny bone," Harper said after the game.

Trea Turner singled twice, doubled and hit a solo homer in the fifth for a 2-1 lead as the Phillies make another run at the franchise's first World Series title since 2008.

The Phillies head next week to an all-wild card NLCS and will play the Arizona Diamondbacks, making their first trip 2007.

Game 1 is Monday in Philadelphia

The Phillies withstood a pare of scares to get to the Diamondbacks. Before the collision involving Harper, rookie center fielder Johan Rojas made a huge defensive play with the bases loaded to end the seventh, running down a deep drive to left-center and denying Ronald Acuña Jr. an extra-base hit that could have put Atlanta ahead.

Wearing throwback powder blue jerseys and maroon hats as they do every Thursday at home, the Phillies took an identical path from a year ago to reach another NLCS: first a Wild Card Series sweep; then they won Game 1 in Atlanta and lost Game 2. Like last season, the Phillies returned home and scored six runs in the third inning of a Game 3 rout.

Then a repeat of a barrage of homers that signaled a knockout victory over their NL East rival, a year after 101 wins wasn't enough in another early postseason exit.

Atlanta will surely find little consolation that they are not the only regular-season heavyweight already out of the playoffs. The teams with the five best regular-season records - the Braves, Baltimore (101 wins), Dodgers (100), Tampa Bay (99) and Milwaukee (92) - all failed to reach LCS.

The Nick Castellanos series

The night belonged to Castellanos, the All-Star right fielder whose production tailed off in the second half only to rally with his son in the front row for the postseason.

A night after he hit two homers in Game 3, Castellanos became the first Phillies slugger, heck, any slugger in baseball history, to drill multiple homers in consecutive playoff games.

His second one ultimately ended the night for Braves starter and 20-game winner Spencer Strider. Castellanos chased Strider in the sixth with a 415-foot moonshot to left that sent 45,831 fans at Citizens Bank Park into towel-waving frenzy. Castellanos soaked in the cheers during the pitching change; he poked his head out of the dugout and raised his arms as Phillies fans grew louder.

Castellanos continued to wave his arms toward the crowd as he headed to right field in the seventh and the Phillies up 3-1.

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