‘A lot to be proud of’: Phils’ wild ride ends in heartbreak

November 6th, 2022

HOUSTON — The Phillies wanted one more beer together, one more chat.

So they pulled their chairs into a semicircle in a corner of the visitors’ clubhouse late Saturday night at Minute Maid Park. There were seven or eight of them, depending on the moment, including Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, Nick Castellanos, Alec Bohm, Garrett Stubbs, Matt Vierling, Darick Hall and Corey Knebel. A two-minute walk from that spot, on the field, the Astros celebrated their second World Series championship in six seasons, following a 4-1 victory over the Phillies in Game 6.

It was no surprise to see this remarkably tight-knit group have one final hang before returning to Philadelphia, where they will empty their lockers early next week before scattering across the country and elsewhere for the offseason. This team took Philadelphia on an absolutely wild and wholly unexpected ride for the past month. They did not want to leave.

“It was fun, man,” Phillies ace Zack Wheeler said.

That Wheeler could appreciate the ride in that moment said everything. Because for a moment, it looked like the Phillies might force Game 7, following Schwarber’s solo home run in the sixth inning. But Phillies manager Rob Thomson pulled Wheeler from the game with runners at the corners and one out in the bottom of the sixth for José Alvarado.

Kyle Schwarber’s solo home run
“It caught me off guard,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler had dominated to that point.

• Wheeler dominant before early hook adds to Phils’ what-ifs

“He had lightning bolts coming out of his hands today,” J.T. Realmuto said.

Alvarado allowed a three-run home run to Yordan Alvarez, who crushed the ball over the batter’s eye in center field.

• Alvarado-Alvarez showdown turns tide on Phils

The pitching change will be debated and dissected, perhaps as long as anybody alive who watched it remembers it. But Philadelphia had just three hits in Game 6, and just nine hits in the last three games of the Series, all of which the Phillies lost. But in the clubhouse afterward, the players found ways to reflect on the season.

They brought baseball back to Philly. They were the final team to clinch a postseason berth on Oct. 3, when they secured the third NL Wild Card spot. They entered the postseason as an 87-win team that nobody expected to reach the World Series.

Rob Thomson on Game 6 loss
They were supposed to be an early, easy out. But they became the first team in postseason history to score six runs in the ninth inning when trailing in a stunning victory in Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series in St. Louis.

They were off.

Bryce Harper had one of the best postseasons in franchise history, hitting six home runs, including the go-ahead homer in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series against San Diego to send the Phillies to the World Series. There was Hoskins’ epic homer and bat spike in Game 3 of the NL Division Series against the Braves, which got Citizens Bank Park rocking for the first time in more than a decade. Schwarber crushed a homer into the second deck in right field at Petco Park in Game 1 of the NLCS. Schwarberfest was born. Realmuto had an inside-the-park home run in the NLDS and a game-winning home run in the 10th inning in Game 1 of the World Series. The Phillies tied a World Series record with five homers in Game 3.

The Phillies got dominant pitching performances over this run from Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suárez. The bullpen pitched great.

Thomson pushed the right buttons almost the entire way.

Citizens Bank Park was loud, like setting PitchCom to 20 and covering your ears on the infield loud.

“I knew Philly was a really good sports town coming here, but to be able to experience it, it’s a whole different animal,” Wheeler said. “The fans, they love their sports. They’re behind us 100 percent. When we do bad, they let us know and that’s perfectly fine. We’ve got to pick it up when that happens, but I love these fans and it was a lot of fun to be on that ride with them.”

Each time the Phillies won, Calum Scott’s “Dancing On My Own” played. First, in the clubhouse. Then, over the sound system at the Bank.

It became this team’s anthem.

“We proved a lot of people wrong,” Zach Eflin said. “We have a lot to be proud of. But at the same time, it sucks. We just watched the Astros celebrate and do what we wanted to do. We just watched people live out our dream.”

“It hurts,” Nola said. “I know tomorrow it will probably hurt even more. I think the chemistry and camaraderie took us all the way to the end. I think that’s overlooked nowadays. Everybody in this clubhouse pulls for each other. There’s not one selfish guy on this team, and I think it says a lot about this club. Everybody got their feet wet. Everybody knows what the postseason is about now. It’s addicting. It’s a different type of atmosphere. It’s a different type of winning. Because when you win, it’s the most pure.”

Thomson had asked Realmuto after every round how many more victories the Phillies needed to win the World Series.

It started with 13.

It fell to 11, then to eight, then to four.

They fell two short.

“We didn’t get it done,” Harper said. “We didn’t finish it. Doesn’t matter if you’re an 87-win team or a 100-win team. It doesn’t matter. We didn’t get it done.”

But the Phillies believe this is just the beginning. Not everybody will be back next season. But many of them will be. Maybe with some tweaks to the roster, they can finish the job.

“There’s the taste now,” Schwarber said. “That’s the positive thing. It’s going to be a quick offseason now. Everyone is going to have that taste in their mouth and know what it takes to do it. So it’ll be fun.”