Tonight, for the first time in their 141-year history, the Phillies will play in a Game 7.
Win or lose, a Phillies legacy will be cemented tonight.
Should they do what they are favored to do, they will defeat a game Arizona Diamondbacks team in a do-or-die postseason battle that will propel them to the World Series for the second consecutive year. A victory tonight will go down as perhaps the greatest game in Phillies history that was not a World Series clincher.
Should they lose, Game 7 will take its place alongside some this franchise’s darkest moments, scarring the sports psyche of a generation of fans forever.
Tonight’s madness is necessitated by a shockingly lackluster 5-1 loss last night at the previously invulnerable Citizens Bank Park. Aaron Nola didn’t have his command, Arizona piled up some early runs, the Phillies stranded numerous early scoring opportunities, and the crowd got eerily quiet.
Make no mistake, should the 84-win Diamondbacks win Game 7 and take these last two games in Philly, it would be a massive, massive upset, akin to the 2011 Phillies falling to the Cardinals in five games only this time, the Phils will have blown a 2-0 series lead and lost four out the last five games in the series, with the final two at home.
That is the suffocating angst associated with this Game 7.
Perhaps we, and the players, been giving the crowd and the energy inside the building a little too much credit for the Phillies’ success this postseason. Sure, the Bank has been an outrageously good home field advantage, but even the most vociferous fans are going to get quiet when there’s nothing to cheer for. Last night, the D-Backs punctured a hole in that home field advantage, and there’s real concern they will do it again.
No, the Phillies are not invincible at The Bank. We know that now.
Still, the Phillies are the favorites for a variety of reasons, one of which is certainly the fact they’re playing at home. Despite last night’s loss, you’d still much rather play Game 7 in Philadelphia than in cavernous Chase Field with the roof closed.
Game 7 starter Ranger Suarez appears to be the right guy for a game of this magnitude. His even temper and cool demeanor should help him navigate the nerves that will almost certainly be there when he takes the mound shortly after 8pm ET tonight. He brings a postseason career 0.94 ERA into tonight’s game as well, and no moment has ever seemed too big for him. But he’s also never pitched in a Game 7 before.
Neither has Arizona’s rookie Brandon Pfaadt, who was outstanding in Game 3, getting Phillies hitters to chase out of the strike zone all night, throwing 5 2⁄3 innings of shutout ball, allowing just two hits and no walks while striking out a career-high 9 hitters. But, he’s also a rookie who posted a 5.72 ERA in 18 regular season starts, and this will be the Philllies’ second time facing him.
Zack Wheeler will almost certainly get in this game if it’s close. So will Zac Gallen. No one knows how either starter will perform coming out of the bullpen. It’s a totally different animal. Jose Alvarado, Jeff Hoffman and perhaps Matt Strahm should be the only arms used out of the Phillies’ ‘pen tonight, and you can rest assured only Torey Lovullo’s most trusted arms will be on the mound tonight as well.
Of course, it often doesn’t matter who is throwing against the Phillies. When guys are hot, they hit pretty much anyone, and when they’re not, they make even the most pedestrian pitchers look like aces. Right now, Kyle Schwarber, Bryce Harper, and Brandon Marsh are hitting the ball well. J.T. Realmuto has done some good things, too, but Trea Turner, Alec Bohm, Bryson Stott and Nick Castellanos are all struggling of late.
Arizona pitchers have begun pitching around the two slugging lefties at the top of the lineup, forcing their right-handed hitters to beat them. Over these last four games, they haven’t.
Bohm did scratch out two hits last night, both of them seeing-eye grounders to the right side that were the product of luck more than anything else. Castellanos’ slump (0-for-19 with 8 Ks in Games 2-6) came out of nowhere, but we’ve all seen him turn on a dime. Since his grand slam in Game 2 of the wild card series, Stott has been unable to find a consistent stroke, and Johan Rojas is an automatic out in the nine-spot. At the moment, there are enough holes in the lineup for the Diamondbacks to avoid the hot spots, and that needs to change in Game 7.
In order to win a game like this, heroes need to step up. In Game 7s, heroes become legends. Just ask Texas slugger Adolis García, who almost single-handedly willed his team to victories in Games 6 and 7 of the ALCS over the Astros.
Who will be our Adolis García? Will Schwarber and/or Harper be given that opportunity? Will it be Turner, who has been so good for so much of this postseason but has flailed as of late? Will Bohm, Stott or Castellanos figure things out in time to drive in those key runs when they matter most? Will Suarez bring his good stuff to the hill once again and cement his place in Phillies lore? Will Wheeler build upon his playoff legacy with important outs tonight? Will the bullpen provide stability when they’re needed most?
And perhaps just as importantly, will the baseball angels be on the Phils’ side? The danger of playing in a Game 7, especially when you’ve had a 2-0 and 3-2 series lead, is that a single missed call by an umpires, a single bad hop, one broken-bat blooper, one hanging breaking ball or ill-placed fastball can be the difference between celebrating one of the greatest victories in franchise history, or coming to terms with one of its most crushing defeats.
Make no mistake, the Phillies should be favored tonight. They’ve bounced back from tough losses and bad offensive performances already in this postseason, and there’s no reason to think they won’t do so tonight. While Philadelphia sports history doesn’t give us any real reason to be overly optimistic, past is not always prologue.
The vibes are not immaculate right now, but that can all change if the Phillies jump out to an early lead, which they’ve done most of the time here at Citizens Bank Park. Getting on the board first may be the most important thing tonight, sending the crowd into an early frenzy and putting the pressure on the rookie and D-Back hitters. Momentum is real inside CBP, but that cuts both ways. Get in an early hole, the hitters start to press, and the crowd can turn silent in a hurry.
There are just so many ways this thing can go.
One way or another, by 11:30pm ET tonight, the Phillies will be in the midst of a clubhouse celebration for the ages, or attending funeral services for their 2023 season.
A legacy will be cemented, one way or another.