Phillies enter unfamiliar territory with first Game 7 in franchise history

Phillies enter unfamiliar territory with first Game 7 in franchise history originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

It had to come to this, right?

After the sugar high of signing premier free agent Trea Turner in the offseason and the knee-to-the-groin injuries to Rhys Hoskins and Andrew Painter during spring training. After Michael Lorenzen was acquired from the Tigers and then pitched a no-hitter in his first home start. After Nick Castellanos bounced back from a miserable initial season to become an All-Star. And his 10-year-old son, Nick, became a celebrity in his own right.

The National League Championship Series between the Phillies and Diamondbacks had to go the limit, didn’t it?

After Bryson Stott developed into one of the leagues best second baseman and fans continued singing his walk-up song – “A-O-K” by Tai Verdes – even after the music stopped. After Bryce Harper almost miraculously returned from Tommy John surgery a month into the season. After Cristopher Sanchez showed up with few expectations in June but stepped into the breach for a rotation that was creaking and cracking at the time. And a game was postponed because of bad air quality from Canadian wild fires.

Shouldn’t we have expected the baseball gods to decree that one of the original National League franchises (Estab. 1883) was fated to participate in a Game 7 for the first time in its long and checkered history?

After Harper volunteered to learn to play first base on the fly, which allowed Kyle Schwarber to become the full-time designated hitter. After 22-year-old Johan Rojas was called up directly from Double-A Reading, bringing a Gold Glove-level to center, allowing Brandon Marsh to move to left. After third baseman Alec Bohm worked diligently to become a plus in the field instead of a minus, all those factors combining to improve the overall defense immeasurably in the process. And J.T. Realmuto had the first Phillies cycle in almost 20 years.

Wasn’t it written in the stars?

After Turner got off to a miserable start and then was seemingly turned around by a standing ovation on August 4 from the notorious cranky Philadelphia crowd. After 44 comeback wins, over 3 million fans streaming through the Citizens Bank Park turnstiles. After the defending pennant lounged at seven games under .500 on June 2 before coming on strong to post the league’s best wild card record and then topple the mighty Braves in the NLDS. And “Atta Boy, Harper” became an instant part of franchise lore.

After a full quota of ups and downs, twists and turns, slumps and streaks and surprises, some pleasant and some not so much, maybe it was preordained that the Phillies will play the Diamondbacks one more time, at 8:07 Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park with all their hopes riding on the outcome.

That became necessary because the Phillies lost, 5-1, Monday night with a chance to clinch and advance to the World Series against the Texas Rangers beginning Friday. And now all bets are off.

Maybe the team that pitches and hits better will win. Or maybe the outcome will be decided by a line drive that lands inches fair or inches foul. By a long fly that just makes it over the fence or is caught at the base of the wall. By a shot hit directly at a fielder or just a few feet to either side, a grounder that sneaks through the infield or doesn’t quite make it. By a bad hop, weird carom, replay review or umpire’s call.

“Obviously, it sucks,” said Schwarber, one of the few Phillies to have played in a sudden death playoff game. “You wish you had gotten it done (in Game 6). But it’s an exciting thing and we’re embracing it.

“That’s all we’ve got. It’s going to be a great opportunity. It’s going to be fight, scratch, claw, do whatever you can to do to score a run. Find a way to get outs. Find a way to move up an extra 90 feet. Anything you can. This is going to be a really exciting baseball game because anything goes. This is it.

“The message is going to be, ‘Don’t try to do too much.’ Just take it a pitch at a time, an out at a time. You don’t want to put any extra pressure on ourselves. Don’t go out there and try to do so much more that we hurt ourselves.”

The Phillies find themselves in this position because they’ve lost three of four to the underdog D-Backs since winning the first two games of the NLCS. But they’re comfortable having lefthander Rangers Suarez, who has an 0.64 ERA in three postseason starts, ready to go.

“I’m excited,” said Suarez, who has a reputation for being pretty unflappable on the mound. “But I’ll go home, rest, sleep and get ready for a special day. There’s going to be some pressure but we have to not think about it and just play our game. I’ve said it before. Lur team gives me the confidence to stay calm because I trust them.”

Suarez will start but just about every pitcher for both teams will be available if needed, including Phillies ace Zack Wheeler who started Games 1 and 5.

The Diamondbacks will counter with righthander Brandon Pfaadt, who pitched 5 12/3 shutout innings, allowing just two hits, when he faced Suarez in Game 3. The Phillies had never seen him before and are hoping that they now have a bit of a book that will help them this time around.

“I think we just have to come in here like it’s any other day and be loose and relaxed and go play our game,” said manager Rob Thomson.

There’s something mythic about Game 7 in baseball. Now most of the Phillies and their fans will experience it for the first time. And sometime before midnight Tuesday, one clubhouse will be celebrating wildly. And the other will have all winter to think about what might have been.