Sunday afternoon was pretty awesome.

Sunday night, not so much.

Those 10 words likely sum up how almost every Philadelphia baseball fan felt on the third Sunday of August in 2023.

My intention for this baseball thought topic was to solely talk about the Phillies as an institution and the level of connectivity they have with this region that is unrivaled in the history of sports in this city.

And yes, I’m aware at the gravity of my words. I will explain them below, if you are willing to read along.

But before I do, I have to stop and recognize that moments in sports are fleeting. Good, bad or indifferent, it’s rare that they aren’t interrupted by other moments, many of which are laced with converse emotions, or at the very least, emotions that aren’t of equal value.

Sometimes, when we’re experiencing what we can only surmise to be the lowest of lows, something happens that immediately pulls you up from the bootstraps.

In recent years I can think of names like Nick Foles, Jean Segura, and the first sign of a light at the end of a dark, winding, confusing, path for the Flyers in the name of Matvei Michkov.

These guys pulled, or are pulling, their team’s fanbases from the pits of despair with the hope and promise of something glorious. Remember how you felt when you learned Carson Wentz was done for the season in 2017? Or if you ever believed in Red October magic in 2022 before Jean Segura’s crazy hit in St. Louis? Or that the Flyers were forever cursed to not get a chance to draft a possible generational talent when they were winning meaningless games in March and ended up picking seventh?

Then remember how you felt when Foles was the unexpected hero to bring home the Eagles’ first Super Bowl. How you felt when the run to the World Series was happening last Fall, or how you felt when Michkov’s name inexplicably kept sliding down the draft board and you realized, my God, he’s going to be there for the Flyers.

(Note: I’m following Kinkead’s editorial mandate to not even discuss the basketball team that shall not be named because, unlike Pagan, I’m a good employee.)

On the flip side, there are times when we are riding so high, that we don’t see the path of banana peels on the ground in front of us, laid out, intentionally each time, of course, by the Sodfather, amirite?

Sunday was one of those days:

Because the feeling that we got when we saw the Phillies players, mingling in with fans wearing “Delco versus the World” in the stands of Lamade Stadium, cheering on 12-year-olds from Media in the Little League World Series with the same energy and enthusiasm as those same people cheer for them when they play on a bigger stage at Citizens Bank Park, was sullied by a Williamsport performance of their own that included eight innings of futility.

A 4-3 loss to the Nationals Sunday night ultimately wasn’t a big deal. Yeah, you don’t want to lose a series in late August to Washington, but the Nats are better than most people think and sometimes weaker teams beat better teams in a series. It’s like Charlie Manuel always used to say, you’re going to win 60 games and you’re going to lose 60 games, so it’s what you do in the other 42 that matter most.

Was Sunday one of those 42? Maybe. We won’t know officially until the end of the season when hindsight is 20/20 and we know what made or broke the Phillies season, but in a vacuum, it was a bad loss.

Zack Wheeler’s name has started to come up in a wide-open N.L. Cy Young race, but then he went out there in a nationally televised game and gave up hits to the first five batters of the game, resulting in four runs, and although he was dominant thereafter, it was enough damage that the Phillies never overcame it.

Oh sure, they nearly pulled off another comeback in the ninth inning before falling short, but it was the way the lineup was mostly uncompetitive in the eight innings prior that frustrated fans.

In the first eight innings the Phillies had just three hits – a single by Trea Turner, a double by Nick Castellanos, and the seemingly standard bunt single in any game Garrett Stubbs plays.

They worked Nationals starter Trevor Williams, whose ERA was north of five coming into the game, for 29 pitches in the first inning, and although they didn’t score, Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper each worked a walk, and there was a sign that they might be able to eventually get to Williams, much like they did when they pounded Williams in a game at CBP two weeks ago.

Over the next five innings, the approach changed. The at bats became less competitive and Williams only needed 65 pitches between innings two and six. And it wasn’t the usual. They only struck out twice in those five innings. It was just a lot of weak contact and a lot of swinging early in the count. A lot of befuddling decisions at the plate.

It’s things like this that drive fans bonkers.

Your best pitcher pitches great for seven innings, but waited until the sixth batter and four runs crossed the plate before he did. Your offense never quits, and always feels it can score in bunches and can turn a bad game into a good outcome, but ultimately didn’t need to put itself in that position to begin with.

This, friends, is the 2023 Phillies.

Yes, they’re one of only three teams in the National League with a foreseeable path to the World Series, but right now they are also a team that looks like something is just a little bit off. Yes, more people are paying attention this season than even at this point last season, so the magnifying glass is much larger on a game-to-game basis, but it does seem like the Phillies have had a plan here all-season to kick it into high gear at a specific time of year, and we’re all just waiting to see when that is going to commence, if it ever does.

Let me also tell you something else about the 2023 Phillies.

If this generation of Phillies does ever bring a championship home, whether it be this year, next year or whenever, this will be the most beloved team to ever play in this city.

I know those are big words, but I stand by them.

Because what happened Sunday afternoon in Williamsport was legendary.

Let’s get the caveats out of the way first:

  1. Yes, this is orchestrated (brilliantly, I might add) by MLB and Little League to have the two teams arrive and process into Lamade Stadium while an actual LLWS game was going on.
  2. Yes, the stars aligned to have a MLB team playing in the featured game AND have a team participating in the LLWS from that team’s area (and in that particular game – keep in mind, had Media won their first game or lost their second game, they would NOT have been playing at that time).

That being said, what the Phillies did – and in particular what their big money players did – was what made the bond between this group and their fans unbreakable.

Yes, they were always going to be in the crowd, signing autographs, taking pictures and genuinely being ambassadors for the sport. But they didn’t have to stand there and cheer for one of the teams.

Yet they did.

They didn’t have to intersperse themselves in the very section of the crowd where all the Media fans were situated.

Yet they did.

They didn’t have to do the “big balls” celebration when Media tied the game in the bottom of the fifth.

Yet they did.

It shouldn’t be lost that the Nationals did their part, too. Some players went and sat with the Rhode Island families. Others made their way over to the other stadium to check in on the international bracket. Dominic Smith and C.J. Abrams were like kids themselves sliding down the hill on cardboard boxes. Others played ping pong in the game room or whiffle ball outside with the teams not playing. All that was cool too.

But the Phillies – they were with their fans. The entire time.

Harper stayed through the final out of Media’s 7-2 loss. He didn’t have to. He did. He talked to the team immediately afterward. No bells and whistles. Just some words from a pro to a team of kids who was hurting after the end of their magical summer.

He wasn’t lying when he showed Turner and Schwarber that he had goose bumps after that hit in the fifth inning. That wasn’t him pandering for the cameras. Harper is very aware of how to market himself and how to say the right things repeatedly to ingratiate himself even more, but this wasn’t one of those moments. This was the evidence of a symbiotic relationship between team and fans that is tighter than any before it.

And it shouldn’t be lost on everyone that those three guys in particular – Harper, Turner, and Schwarber – where in the middle of it all.

Think about how much money they are being paid. They are among the elite. Harper and Turner are the top one percent of the top one percent in the sport. Schwarber doesn’t have their term but he’s still making $123,456.78 per game ($20 million a year).

And yet, here they were, cheering for 12-year-olds, from their adopted hometowns.

Imagine some of the biggest money players to play with the other sports teams in town doing that – together. It doesn’t happen. It hasn’t happened. Might the Phillies have set a new bar that will make more Philadelphia teams want to do the same? Maybe. Maybe the Eagles show up for the Public League championship football game. Maybe the Flyers show up at the state championship between the Flyers Cup winners and the Penguins Cup winners.

Maybe the Six-

Nope. Not going to do it.

Anyway, there was something that was even better about the Phillies players in the crowd Sunday afternoon.

They weren’t supposed to be there in time for that game.

But, being the Phillies, they changed their travel plans to ensure they would arrive in time to be there for the boys from Media Little League. Think about that for a minute, too and the buy-in it takes from the top of the organization all the way down to the guys who handle all the travel logistics and everyone in between. The equipment guys. The Public relations staff. The social media team. Hell, even the Phanatic.

They’re always all in. And they’re always all in together.

And one last thing….

Take a look at Schwarber’s hat?

It might be hard to read, but it says “Phamily.”

That’s what these Phillies and their fans have become.

And if they can somehow win a championship together, it will be a relationship that is eternal.

First things first though. Stop losing games in the manner they did Sunday night.