The Day After: What Could Have Been for the Phillies Will Be Lost in the Era's Punctuation Mark
A day later, the raw feelings of emotion that were palpable in the Phillies clubhouse after losing a Game 7 they never should have lost – nor even have happened if they took care of business sooner – were still fresh on the mind.
Every player, rostered or otherwise, was there in the clubhouse. Most, still in uniform. There were hugs and handshakes galore.
Rhys Hoskins was making the rounds. He took an extra minute with Ranger Suarez. Gave him a big bear hug. Rubbed his shoulders like a boxing manager and told him everything was all right.
Brandon Marsh was consoling Johan Rojas. The exuberant rookie who always had a smile on his face and a bounce in his step was slump-shouldered and sad. He just nodded at every word of encouragement that Marsh passed along.
It wasn’t just the players. Owner John Middleton, President of Baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, and GM Sam Fuld were also making the rounds, thanking each player – from the multi-million-dollar stars to the guys who spent the past three weeks staying ready in Clearwater, Fla.
One particular handshake and embrace came between Dombrowski and Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber had no words. As Dombrowski shook his hand, Schwarber just shook his head. It was one of those unspoken physical reactions that said, “I’m sorry, this never should have happened.” Dombrowski saw it, gave Schwarber a hug. Briefly said something to him, and then pulled back, and Schwarber gave him the same head shake a second time.
And then there were the lines.
Players waited, like they were going through the condolence line at a viewing, and each one took turns embracing Trea Turner and Bryce Harper.
Yes, they too proved to be fallible – even with $630 million in combined contracts.
“I watched a full season of Trea Turner. He’s not a 300 million dollar player, I’m sorry. He swings out of his shoes, he’s a below average SS, he has no plate discipline, he’s fast, he slides cool and he had a cool moment with the fans. That’s the truth.” 😳
— SPORTSRADIO 94WIP (@SportsRadioWIP) October 25, 2023
Talk radio show hosts can be intentionally inflammatory jackasses, flip-flopping their stances constantly to fit the faux-emotion of the day they want to create, but it should be noted that the same station that put out that tweet, touted the standing ovations for Turner two months ago, spent countless hours talking about them and how they saved his season, didn’t share the fine print to say that there was an expiration date for their mojo that coincided with the start of the NLCS.
Struggling all series, Turner came to plate three times in Game 7 with a runner in scoring position. Twice he grounded out to third and once he hit a can of corn to centerfield.
Harper seemed to run out of magic in the final two games of the series. For all the talk of how the Phillies should have changed their lineup because Arizona was pitching around Harper, his last seven plate appearances in the series went strikeout, strikeout, flyout, strikeout, fly out, flyout, flyout.
Yeah, he just missed on one of them, as the ball died on the warning track, but it was a dagger of a dichotomy between that and a nearly identical swing in the 2022 NLCS that sent the Phillies to the World Series.
That’s the thing about Game 7s and any championship series in general – you need your best players to be your best players to succeed.
So you can harp on lineups, managerial decisions, bullpen usage, not hitting with runners in scoring position collectively (they hit better with runners in scoring position than the Diamondbacks did, and Arizona is the team going to the World Series), or any other talk show trope, when in reality, all you have to do is look at the players who make the big bucks to see where the game was lost.
That’s not to say Harper and Turner were solely the reason the Phillies lost the series. There were a lot of little things that added up to one big thing they couldn’t overcome, but it was notable that when the chips were down, the guys with the biggest stacks didn’t even have a pair, let alone a full house.
Phillies came home with a 3 to 2 lead. Managed only 3 runs
2-17 with runners in scoring position
Nick Castellanos Trea Turner, Bryce Harper were 0-23 these last 2 games at home pic.twitter.com/8w7Cnz7DYa
— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) October 25, 2023
“It sucks,” Turner said. “We had this right in front of us. We didn’t execute.”
Harper was a little more eloquent.
“Not being able to come through in that moment just devastates me personally,” he said. “I feel like I let my team down and let the city of Philadelphia down. That’s the moment I need to come through and… yeah.”
Harper continued, wanting to send a message to the fans.
“I know they’re hurting right now as much as we are,” he said. “Because when we lose, they lose. … (But) we’ll be back. We’ve got a great owner and a president and a GM that are going to give us the best opportunity to win and be here every single year.”
That’s true. John Middleton has spent “stupid money” to bring his trophy back. Dave Dombrowski has led four different organizations to the World Series. The Phillies will be back.
But it won’t be THIS Phillies team. THIS Phillies team should have gone further. The path was clearer than it ever would have been for them to win the third championship in franchise history.
Instead, THIS team, the one that had all the vibes, that had the most amazing relationship with fans ever seen in this town, will forever be nothing more than a dash – as in the dash that is between the start of an era of success (2022) and the end of the era, when ever that may be.
Unless the Phillies come up with a new color to add to their palate or find a new way to honor a team that didn’t win anything of substance, there will be no banner flying over Ashburn Alley for this team.
The white banners are for the teams that won the division in the regular season, but lost in the playoffs (1976, 1977, 1978, 2007, 2010, 2011), the blue banners are for the teams that won the National League but lost in the World Series (1915, 1950, 1983, 1993, 2009, 2022). The red banners are for the iconic World Championship teams (1980, 2008).
But there’s nothing for this. Nothing for being a Wild Card team who made a deep run but ultimately didn’t earn any banner.
So, they will just be part of the dash.
And the next time we come upon Red October, this team will be different. Yeah, Harper and Turner will be here, and some of the other usual suspects will as well.
However, only 10 players are under contract for 2024.
Eight more players are arbitration eligible. The rest are pre-arbitration. The two big-name free agents are Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins. Both would like to stay here, but odds aren’t on their side. Other free agents, Craig Kimbrel and Michael Lorenzen, are almost certainly not coming back.
And there will be trades. You can bet there will be at least a handful of new faces on the 26-man roster for the home opener vs. Atlanta in March.
Those 2024 Phillies may write a different ending to their season than the 2023 team did. And fans should hope for that after this team, led by their two biggest superstars, had their hopes and dreams dashed – which may be a play on words, but is wholly appropriate for how this team will ultimately be remembered.