By Joe Quillen
Have you ever wondered “Oh no, not again” while watching your favorite team playing in an intense playoff battle? Welcome to my world, as we saw it again from my Philadelphia teams, this time from my beloved Phillies.
Coming into this year’s NLCS, I thought the Phillies/Diamondbacks series was a slam dunk. Phillies defeated the Atlanta Braves for the second consecutive year, and it almost felt like déjà vu as the Phillies would be taking on an inexperienced playoff team that had not been to this point together. The Phillies were favored to return to the Fall Classic, and a potential rematch against the Cheatin’ Astros, or the Asterisks, as many baseball purists will call them. Instead, things unraveled quickly over a six-day period.
Phillies held serve at home to start the series, winning 5-3 and 10-0. The first game went as expected. Kyle Schwarber hits a home run on the first pitch he saw in his first at bat. Bryce Harper his one two at-bats later. Nick Castellanos also continued his hot streak from the Atlanta series with a homer. Arizona came back a little bit with a home run by Geraldo Pedromo, but the bullpen shut it down.
Game 2 went even better than the first game. Kyle Schwarber hits 2 homers. Trea Turner started off the festivities in the first inning. Then things started to unravel after Schwarber’s second homer for Arizona’s pitching. Then some smaller ball in the sixth and seventh leads to a 10-0 win. Suddenly, even I’m thinking “what was I thinking Phillies in 5, this could be a sweep!” Man was I wrong, though I was still cautious on social media and with friends about how the Phillies never swept a best-of-7 series.
Having been at Chase Field once before for a non-game event, I should have known to check the weather. It’s October, right? It can’t be over 100-degrees, right? Sometimes it is those little intangible things that I look at from time to time. Also being someone who has dabbled in horse racing from Turf Paradise, I should have known better and checked the weather, because if the weather was too hot, the roof would be closed, and it was.
But why is that Joe? You’re making no sense! The Phillies were playing a team that had not been in the NLCS since they won the World Series in 2001 and were a brief memory in 2017 when they were swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS in their last MLB Postseason foray. But remember last year with the Phillies? A fan base who was starving for a winner? I still doubt that the Diamondbacks were starving for a winner, but sometimes that unexpected run fuels a fanbase.
Phillies took a late 1-0 lead on a wild pitch. It was a struggle to get that run, but this is our year, right? Orion Kerkering showed how green he was and was not up to the challenge, and Arizona tied the game. Then the bad Kimbrel we saw down the stretch, though you could argue that Rob Thomson ran him like Seabiscuit into the ground, failed to hold off the Diamondbacks in the ninth, as the DBacks got their first win of the series.
Once again, the Phillies lead as the latter innings approach. This time it was 5-2 Phillies as fans got up to stretch. But the Phillies bullpen fails again. Gregory Soto faces his three batters but can’t close out the inning. Orion Kerkering comes in again. He gives up a run on a walk but he gets out of the inning. But it’s not to be. Alek Thomas homers off Craig Kimbrel who blows the save. Then Jose Alvarado gives up the lead. Phillies end up losing 6-5, and you start to feel like maybe things aren’t what they should be, but we still have games 6, and some thing called game 7, an event the Phillies never played in before Tuesday night, in Citizens Bank Park. What could go wrong.
Apparently, not much could go wrong, at least for game 5. Schwarber goes yard, as does Harper as they tried to play who could hit the ball farther off of Zac Gallen. Zack Wheeler shows why is the ace of the Phillies. Phils win 6-1, and they only have to win one of the last two in the nuthouse on Pattison Avenue. What could go wrong?
When you have a raucous crowd like Citizens Bank Park which was hitting 110 decibels, you must take the crowd out of the game. Make no mistake, the Phillies had a huge home field advantage in a sport that tends to have the most road teams winning games in the playoffs. The Phillies playoff crowds are legendary. You can go all the way back to 1977 when Burt Hooten was knocked out of the game from the wild Phillies crowd.
But when you have a team that adjusts, that is how you can beat that crowd. You also had Aaron Nola who was off his game. Tommy Pham and Lourdes Gurriel hit back-to-back homers in the second, and that shut the crowd up. The DBacks even remembered how to steal bases! Arizona wins 5-1, forcing a game 7. Oh no! Could it be happening?
I admit, I did not feel good on Tuesday. It all started early in the day. I had some family issues that popped up. I said to myself, “no, not today.” On top of that, I wasn’t feeling it with the Phillies all day. Most times when I have these feelings, they are false alarms. I can’t say how many times I’ve told my friends that I don’t feel good about a certain game, pick against them, and my team wins, no matter the sport or team. I even said something like that on Wednesday’s Bleacher Brothers show, as I told everyone to take the Commanders with the points over the Eagles, but the Eagles win a very uncomfortable game yet again. But I was on my own island here.
What could go wrong? The Phillies’ Swiss Army Knife Ranger Suarez is pitching. He has shown time and time again over the last two years that he was the guy that could bail you out. The top of the first wasn’t a great showing my Suarez, but there were some dumb luck plays along the way that led to Arizona’s first run. Oh, it’s only the top of the first. What could go wrong?
I’m not too worried yet. Bottom of the second, Alec Bohm goes yard on the first pitch. CBP is in a frenzy. My hopes are up. It’s tied! I feel a little bit better in a game that I called the greatest thing in sports, as long as your team is not playing!
The bottom of the fourth comes along. Alec Bohm walks. I could tell that Brandon Pfaadt is starting to unravel. He’s wild, but his wildness is not being near the catcher’s target. Bryson Stott doubles. Alec Bohm scores to give the Phillies the lead 2-1. This is what the Phillies needed right? This is the momentum change we needed! This is what the Phillies need to pull away after allowing Arizona to hang around the whole series.
Then Johan Rojas comes up. As great as he was in the final two months of the season filling in the centerfield spot, he showed why he was at AA Reading until July. He showed how he was slumping by striking out. Well, it’s still 2-1 after 4, but we lost an opportunity to put this game away. Let’s get Ranger through the fifth, and we can start shutting this down.
That’s when the momentum shifts for the final time. Corbin Carroll singles to bring in Emmanuel Rivera. The game is all level at 2-2. But there’s still trouble on the bases. Carroll steals another base, setting the stage for the series winning hit by Gabriel Moreno. It’s 3-2, but it felt like 10-2.
The Phillies would tease us a few more times, but it was all for naught. The Diamondbacks bullpen, much maligned before the trade deadline, gets the job done inning by inning. The outs remaining in my head dwindled down as I am telling a friend or two that this game is over. There were no clutch hits like Bryce Harper’s “Bedlam at the Bank” homer in last year’s NLCS. Everyone went cold. Visions of a return trip to the World Series turned to a nightmare as the Diamondbacks celebrated on the Phillies home turf, just like the Cardinals in 2011 and the Giants in 2010.
Visions of a parade down (or up) Broad Street have to wait for another year as the team we all thought had no chance upset the Phillies in seven games. Arizona made the adjustments needed to win, almost as if they lulled everyone to sleep with the fact that they were not stealing bases like they had all season. The Phillies just tried to bash their way to another trip to the World Series. Instead, they are literally dancing on their own, on the golf course somewhere wondering how this went off the rails.
In the end, as a Phillies fan, I, and many of you who thought the Phillies were a lock to win, are shocked or numb to what happened. But I should have expected this right? If you are a Philly sports fan, you hope for the best, but you expect the worst. How many times have Philly teams clothed third world countries in unneeded championship gear? That’s probably not as true as people think, but if it is, Philadelphia sports teams have clothed the world over the last 40 years or so.
Visions of a parade go from a championship parade turn to an annual tradition called the Mummers Parade. What went wrong is all Phillies fans will think about until the first pop of a baseball hitting a catcher’s mitt or a crack of the bat in a batting case or a practice field in Clearwater next February.
Maybe this is the bitter pill the Phillies need to take a step back to get John Middleton’s trophy back, or maybe this is the start of a backwards progression like the 2008 World Series champions experienced in their following three Red Octobers. Hopefully it is the former and not the latter for the Phightin’ Phils, because the last thing I want to say as the leaves start to change is “Oh no, not again!”