At least when the Phillies lose the World Series, they do it spectacularly.
A cinderella playoff run for the ages ended Saturday night in heartbreak, as a premature pitching change that will be debated for decades led to the Phillies demise in a 4-1 loss in Houston in Game 6.
The fantasies of what could have been will sting for a very long time, but the Phillies really had no business being here in the first place and have rekindled the region’s love for baseball. They’ve also shown they have the talent and philosophy to be a major player for years to come.
All of that will be talked about ad nauseam until March. But for now, there is one final baseball game to break down. Here’s our final look at the good, the bad and the ugly from a World Series loser that will live in infamy:
• It would seem in bad taste to dive right into the few things that were good for the first five innings in Game 6. What is more relevant, I think, is to take a look at the entire body of work that led to where we are today. The Phillies overcame a manager change and a plague of injuries to their stars to limp into the playoffs as the final seed in the NL. They upset the Cardinals, Braves and Padres — each in extremely dramatic and memorable fashion. Citizens Bank Park has arguably never been as electric. And then they took it to the mighty Astros and a made believer out of everyone who has a Phillies shirtsey folded in their t-shirt drawer.
This baseball team deserves a mini parade, even in defeat. They accomplished so much and made this region feel so good. The last few games were really really hard to bare — but that’s only because the prior ones were so damn good. This will go down as a bittersweet missed opportunity and a team that is as lovable as any in the storied history of this sports-loving city.
• Have I said how great the Kyle Schwarber signing was? How many of these recaps this month saw me tossing a blurb right here about how Schwarber is an awesome unconventional leadoff hitter, or a necessary and experienced locker room presence?
In the sixth inning Saturday with very little doing on either side and Framber Valdez absolutely dealing his curveball, the Phils’ outfielder overcame some hesitancy in the box to smash a homer over the left field fence to get Philadelphia on the board 1-0. The ball left the bat at 107 mph:
No one at the time had any idea that it would be the last sign of life shown by this baseball team, but for a few minutes it did feel like a Game 7 was a real possibility.
• The Phillies have made some highlight reel defensive plays this postseason. None of them were as dangerous as this one.
When 2023 arrives, the defense on this squad will no longer be discussed as the team’s biggest weakness.
• The Phillies have been pretty hampered by the dimensions of ballparks the last few games – which are completely and utterly arbitrary. In the ninth on Thursday in Game 5, J.T. Realmuto was about a foot and a half from the biggest home run in Phillies history (it was caught miraculously by Chas McCormick). In the second inning Saturday, after wasting two walks in the first, a single and a walk set up Edmundo Sosa with an opportunity and he hit a sky high almost home run that was just a few feet from leaving the field in deep center. Luck simply has not been on Philadelphia’s side.
• It seems like every Phillies starting pitcher kind of has the same experience in this World Series. Zack Wheeler looked absolutely excellent, with his fastball popping back at 98 mph after the extra day off. He broke a ton of bats, got a lot of easy grounders and only allowed two hits through his first five impressive innings.
But then in the sixth, trouble came. Every single Phillies starter seems to run into a wall and fall apart and Wheeler fared better than most, but a controversial hit by pitch (Martin Maldonado literally set up a foot closer to the plate to get himself intentionally hit) and single to Jeremy Pena got the ace lifted from the game and replaced by lefty specialist Jose Alvarado.
Alvarado was partially responsible for a prior World Series collapse, surrendering some runs after he entered with the bases loaded an no one out a few days ago. With runners at the corners and one away, Yordan Alvarez set the city of Houston on fire with a monster three-run home run to center. Phillies fans will carry this with them for a long time. There was no chance Wheeler could have done any worse, exiting the game with just 70 pitches thrown.
Was Rob Thomson over managing? He’s done the same thing all postseason long and has been right more often than he’s been wrong. But when it mattered the most, his meddling cost the Phillies a chance at a championship and it certainly burns.
• The Phillies were a flawed team and their hot streak covered up their weaknesses. The strikeouts were just awful. They struck out 38 times since Game 3.
• The full collapse continued as the next man up, Seranthony Dominguez, allowed another run on a Christan Vasquez base hit. Down three and with zero momentum, the deficit seemed insurmountable and the talk radio hate for Thomson’s decision seems like it will last for a long time.
• It’s painful to say, but the offseason is about to begin and the Phillies have a lot of question marks going into 2023 — and the biggest one is probably Rhys Hoskins, who vanished this World Series after becoming a hero in the first few rounds of the playoffs. I am quite interested to see what the interest level from fans is when free agency begins in a few weeks.
• After hopping around the country for two weeks, I decided to stay home to cover the last game of the World Series — it was a lot, going to San Diego and then Houston with home games nearly every night in between. Watching on TV for the first time since the Wild Card round, it was pretty frustrating to see how inconsistent the strike zone was in this one.
The third strike to Nick Castellanos in the fourth inning was particularly brutal. A lot of really great at bats and discipline is being punished unfairly when calls like this are missed.
It’s really not something you are as cognizant of without the aid of instant replay and of the strike zone graphic, and I know this is a part of the game, but it certainly was interesting to see the game via broadcast for the first time in a few weeks.
• It kind of felt like there was zero fight left in this team after the Alvarez homer.
• With the loss, the city of Philadelphia hasn’t had a championship Game 7 since the Flyers lost in the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals.
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