Phillies owner John Middleton had a story he wanted to share with Crossing Broad.
He took us back in time – all of 22 days. He and his team were in Washington D.C. It was a Saturday afternoon, the first day of October, and they had just lost to the Nationals – the worst team in baseball – 13 to 4. It was their fourth loss in five games. Their playoff magic number was stuck at four with five games to go, and three of them were going to come against the eventual 106-win Houston Astros.
It didn’t look good from a fan perspective and Middleton told us, he sort of felt the same way.
Sitting there, alone in his box, with a few hours between games of the day/night doubleheader. Middleton started talking to himself.
“I said to myself, ‘What are we doing here?
Many fans wondered the same thing. How could this be happening again? Wasn’t Dave Dombrowski brought in here to change this? Weren’t the big free agent signings of Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos supposed to make this lineup the deepest in baseball? Weren’t trade deadline acquisitions Brandon Marsh, David Robertson and Noah Syndergaard supposed to fill the holes this team had to secure the first playoff berth in 11 years?
Middleton was right there with you thinking the same thing in those, long hours between games. Then a series of fortunate events happened.
“In the span of the next 30 hours, all of our sudden our magic number was one,” Middleton said.
The Phillies won their last two games against Washington but got some much needed assistance from the Miami Marlins, who defeated the Milwaukee Brewers twice to help the Phillies after years of torturing them.
Then it was a matter of winning one game – just one – in Houston.
“Aaron Nola pitches the game of his life, we get in and the party hasn’t stopped since.” Middleton said. “It’s awesome. Just awesome.”
And it’s not lost on the owner, or his team for that matter, that the party begun in Houston, and if they are going to win their third championship in 139 years of existence, the party may have to finish where it started, as those Astros – the heavily favored Astros – are the team the Phillies will have to beat four times to finish off the Cinderella story.
The whole time he was talking to us, he was cradling the Warren C. Giles Trophy, like a new born baby. It’s a cool trophy – one given to the champion of the National League – but, it’s just a party favor in Middleton’s eyes.
“Well, you got to get this one before you get the next one right,” he said. “So, it feels great. It really does.”
But it’s not the damn trophy Middleton wants back.
And for awhile this season, he wasn’t sure if 2022 was going to be the year. Starting off 22-29, firing manager Joe Girardi in June. Losing Bryce Harper for two months, and also not having Jean Segura for the first month-plus of that time. Losing Zack Wheeler for a month in August and September. Enduring another losing September. At times, the opportunity seemed far off. Seemed dim. Hazy.
But they don’t call this month Red October for just any reason. If you wipe out the two meaningless losses in Houston after they clinched the playoffs, the Phillies have gone 12-2 since Middleton was pondering “What’s going on here” in between those two Nationals games.
They are 6-0 in the playoffs at home, which is a house of horrors for the opposition. Nick Castellanos called it “the jungle.” Philadelphia fans make it the best atmosphere in not only baseball, but all of sports, and the Phillies thrive on it. It’s a real thing. Fans at Citizens Bank Park make a difference in games unlike anywhere else in sports.
Consider, the Phillies own the best winning percentage in the history of baseball in the postseason in a home stadium that has hosted at least 20 playoff games (CBP: 21-8, .724)
It’s a magical place, where magical things happen.
And Bryce Harper’s home run to win the pennant Sunday was maybe the most magical of all:
Harper. Franzke. pic.twitter.com/CiMy6lzFH4
— Nick Piccone (@_piccone) October 23, 2022
For the record, “Bedlam at the Bank” is automatically on the Mount Rushmore of calls in Phillies history, for what may be one of the greatest moments in all of Philadelphia sports history.
Bob and I were talking about that on the way to the Phillies clubhouse. So I asked Middleton. And guess what, he agrees.
“Jimmy (Rollins’) walk-off in 2009 against the Dodgers was spectacular and an equally great moment,” he said, before pivoting. “The difference was, this won us the pennant, that just won us a game and then we needed to win the next night. The Matt Stairs home run. Go back to 1980 when Mike Schmidt hits the home run in extra innings in Montreal to win the division or his double in Game 6 of the World Series to break the game open against Kansas City. This is definitely in that upper echelon, and not just for the Phillies. You can look at Flyers moments, Sixers moments, Eagles moments, there’s not a lot of guys that won a championship for their team with one play at or right near the end of the game.”
And he’s right.
And he has a team that is special. Unique. Unrivaled in the history of this city. The magical run of the 2010 Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final? Nah, this is better than that – even if that included the historic comeback from down 0-3 to Boston. The 2001 Sixers run to the NBA Finals? Again, this is different. This is better. That was a superstar in Allen Iverson, with a Hall of Fame coach in Larry Brown and a collection of role players committed to just being known as worker bees.
I had someone suggest the 1993 Phillies, and while there is a similar feel – that team took us on a ride for an entire season. This team is condensing 1993 into one month for the younger, short attention span generations.
But even still, they are different, and in many ways better. In 1993, the Phillies were supposed to stink, and ran away with the NL East unexpectedly. The 2022 Phillies had much greater expectations coming in and just seemed like they were never going to meet them.
The closest might actually be the 2017 Eagles, but not until the end of the regular season after Carson Wentz got hurt and the Eagles kind of staggered into the postseason with a lot of question marks, and then, miraculously found a way, capturing the imagination of the city with a Cinderella championship in arguably the greatest Super Bowl ever played, pulling off the upset over the vaunted (and hated) New England Patriots.
But the reality is, there are elements of each of those teams in this Phillies team. The-never-say die attitude of the Flyers, the Superstar driving the bus and a manager pushing all the right buttons like the Sixers. The slaying of dragons with a variety of heroes popping up around every corner like the Eagles.
That’s what makes this Phillies team so uniquely Philadelphian. It has the city’s genes. It’s DNA. And it truly believes it’s going to cross that finish line, no matter how daunting their next opponent might be.
And that all starts at the tippy top of the organization.
“We are thrilled to be here today, but this is not our final goal,” Middleton said. “We have four more wins and we’ll bring that trophy back to Philadelphia where it belongs.”