Where does 2023 rank among the Phillies’ all-time collapses? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
This time the cold shock didn’t come from an ice-cold drink being poured down the Phillies star’s neck de jour as he was interviewed outside the dugout as fans cheered and happily sang along to the music blasting from Citizens Bank Park’s sound system at maximum volume.
This time it happened amid the stunned silence of another sold-out crowd that would take some time to adjust to the stark reality of what seemed so unthinkable just a few days ago. Maybe even a few hours earlier.
The Phillies had just been beaten by the 84-win Diamondbacks, the third and final wild-card team to qualify in the National League Championship Series. Due to the almost unimaginable 4-2 loss on Tuesday night against strong underdog Arizona, the Phillies were unable to repeat as pennant winners for the second time in franchise history. They won’t advance to play the Texas Rangers in the World Series starting Friday night.
It’s a bit like James Gandolfini in the last scene of the last episode of The sopranos.
They never saw it coming.
There is no way to accurately measure sports injuries or compare disappointments. It’s too personal, too subjective. It is also generational. There are older fans who will look you in the eyes and say that you can’t truly know fear unless you lived and died with the Fightins for the final 12 games of the 1964 season when they managed to win by 12 to squander a 6½-game lead.
There was Black Friday in 1977, Joe Carter’s walk-off home run against Mitch Williams in 1993, the first-round exit for the group that won a franchise-record 102 games in 2011, just two wins shy of victory against the Astros in the World Series came last year.
However, there is a strong case to be made that there has never been a more disappointing loss in the 141 years the Phillies have been doing business at Recreation Park, Baker Bowl, Connie Mack Stadium (née Shibe Park), Vet and Citizens Bank Park. And not just because it was the first Game 7 the franchise had ever been involved with.
As in 1964, it played out with the slow-motion drama of old newsreel footage of the Hindenburg breaking apart over a field in New Jersey in 1937. But also, as in 1993, the end came with the abrupt finality of a slamming door.
The most recent experience always feels the roughest. Perhaps this distorts any attempt at impartiality. But just think about it.
Eight games into this postseason, the Phillies have had success. They were 7-1. And they didn’t just win. They took on the Marlins in the Wild Card Series, the mighty Braves in the Division Series and easily defeated the Diamondbacks in the first two games of the LCS.
As a team, they hit .284. They outscored their opponents 46-13 and outscored them 19-4. And their employees’ earned run average was 1.39.
In the next five games, including four losses, they batted a total of .172 and averaged one home run per game. They were outscored 18-15 and the pitchers had a 3.68 ERA.
That was the big picture. More narrowly speaking, despite everything, they returned to Citizens Bank Park on Monday night needing just a win in two games to advance to the World Series in consecutive years for the second time in franchise history. And they had to like their chances. They were undefeated at home. Their starters, left to right, were Aaron Nola (0.96 postseason ERA) and Ranger Suarez (0.64).
And they both lost.
There was an eerie silence in the stadium after Tuesday night’s finale, when pinch-hitter Jake Cave flew to right. Dazed and disbelieving, fans streamed glumly toward the exits.
The Phillies clubhouse was mostly silent afterward, save for the sound of slaps and exchanges of high-fives. A few players sat close together, murmuring quietly to each other. Some stared into space. At least a few had tears in their eyes.
“They beat us,” said Kyle Schwarber, an extremely outgoing player who was the first to come to the center of the room to speak. “Everyone has an uneasy feeling in their stomach. It’s not the way we imagined this thing would end. It won’t go down well with a lot of people.
“You can look back on a lot. Lots of what ifs. But you have to find a way. Every time you lose, it doesn’t feel right. That never happens. It never will. So we need to use this as much motivation as possible.”
Nick Castellanos was on a roll early in the postseason, hitting five home runs at one point in three games. In the NLCS, he was 1 of 24 (.042). He was asked if he was stunned by what happened.
“I would say frustrated is the right word,” he said. “I don’t feel stunned. I just think we didn’t perform well as a team. It’s a frustrating end to the season. Because I think the potential of this team was much greater than going home before the World Series.
“When we lost (to the Astros) last year, obviously we were disappointed because we didn’t win the whole tournament. But there were a lot of, ‘We’ve arrived.’ Honestly, it’s a disgusting feeling knowing what we think of this team and then falling short of where we were last year.”
Managing partner John Middleton and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski walked around the room, shaking hands and offering encouragement. None of those words, none of anyone’s words could ease the pain.
“It’s a little shocking,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “Not because of them. They are a good team. It’s just more about us thinking we were the team that could keep going and keep winning ball games. We believed in ourselves and are a little shocked that we didn’t get the job done. But they have outscored us in the last five games.”
Bryce Harper shook his head. “Just really hard,” he said.
Add everything up. There have been many disappointing moments in the history of Phillies baseball. But it’s hard to imagine anything more frightening.