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The Phillies celebrated Matt Vierling’s walk-off single on Wednesday with a child-like joy the organization has rarely felt during its lengthy postseason drought. They hope to reach a whole different level of partying in their final 10 games of the 2022 regular season. (Steven M. Falk/Philadelphia Inquirer)

11 Years Later, Phillies May Be Ready To Begin New Era At Last; 7th-Day Stretch

The Phillies celebrated Matt Vierling’s walk-off single on Wednesday with a child-like joy the organization has rarely felt during its lengthy postseason drought. They hope to reach a whole different level of celebration in their final 10 games of the 2022 regular season. (Steven M. Falk/Philadelphia Inquirer)

11 Years Later, Phillies May Be Ready To Begin New Era At Last; 7th-Day Stretch

Back in the glory days, which were only made possible by 14 years of not-so-glorious ones beforehand, there was magic in the Phillies’ final homestands. The crowd roared before game 162 in 2007 when the out-of-town scoreboard showed good news. The Phillies entered that day tied for the NL East lead with the Mets. Before the Phillies even started, the Mets fell behind 1-0 to the Marlins in the first inning. Then 4-0. Then 5-0. And then 7-0. All in a half inning’s work. The then most dramatic finish in a generation occurred in game 161 of 2008, as a diving Jimmy Rollins kickstarted a game-ending 6-4-3 double-play with the bases loaded and Brad Lidge’s perfect save season on the line to clinch the East. In fact, in four of the five years the Phillies won consecutive NL East titles, they finished the job in front of their home fans.

A similar type of joy crept into Citizens Bank Park in perhaps the final six games the Phillies play there this season. Yeah, it was there last year and wound up being all for naught. No, it wasn’t all-encompassing — there is still work to be done. The road to returning to the postseason in 2022 is difficult. It’s been that way each of the last four years and will almost certainly continue to be so. But all everyone is focused on is the challenging task of sticking around when the postseason party begins on Oct. 7.

The Phillies didn’t blow anyone away during the past week. But at a time when they all but had to stabilize after a frightening flash of falling apart started to set in, the Phillies found a way to do just that. They went 3-3, which is acceptable considering their competition was strong. The Brewers lost a couple of times. The Phillies’ magic number is down to eight.

There have been hints that the Phillies could fall apart in similar ways to the years past. They lost a game in which they scored 11 runs and another in which they held three separate leads. But there was a healthy mix of drama and domination as well. The Phillies have been less consistent in September than in months past, which is frustrating and understandable. It is harder to win at this point as bodies ache and pitching staffs start to wear thin. There is a reason baseball teams celebrate just making the postseason harder than teams in any other North American pro league.

If nothing else, the Phillies used these last six home games to set a precedent that they can still deliver when they need to the most. If the Phillies hadn’t answered after falling behind Toronto 3-0 on Wednesday, which would have been their sixth consecutive loss, things could have spiraled very quickly. But they rallied in fitting fashion, with veterans J.T. Realmuto and Kyle Schwarber starting and riding on the momentum created by unsung young heroes like Dalton Guthrie and Matt Vierling. After surrendering 18 runs on Tuesday, the Phillies allowed just four in the next three games.

It would have been great if the Phillies had won on Sunday to win their series against Atlanta and claw one step closer. But the scoreboard at Citizens Bank Park had already shown the Brewers losing while the teams were stuck in a lengthy rain delay. It hardly captured the euphoria of the last home game in ’07, but it’s still meaningful.

The Phillies’ magic number has gone down on seven of the last eight days. The team does not have the most robust competition standing between them and a Red October. That is especially true if the Astros already have their seed locked in by the season’s final three games and use those days to rest their stars. If the Phillies finish 6-4, Milwaukee would have to go 8-1 to pass. Even then, the Padres, who play their next six games against the Dodgers and White Sox, would need at least a 4-5 record to avoid being the odd ones out.

Most teams would be counting down the days until clinching at this point. But the Phillies are not most teams. They have proven that all season and throughout their existence, often for worse but sometimes for better. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and if so, only the Mariners yearn for postseason baseball more than the Phillies. Both teams have endured excruciatingly close calls in years past only to fall just short. Both are as close as ever to ending their droughts.

But that realization only provides so much comfort when it’s ended with so much heartbreak in the past. The 2020 Phillies bombed a season-ending seven-game trip that included four games against the then 20-32 Nationals. They lost three of four in D.C. and six of seven on the trip that ended with a three-game sweep by the best team in the AL. It is eerily similar to their conclusion to the 2022 regular season. Much will be made of that unless the Phillies put significant breathing room between them and the Brewers before heading to D.C. for a double-header to start their weekend.

Even that might not be enough to slow the narratives. For everything the Phillies did well over the last week, Milwaukee did gain ground, albeit largely due to taking three of four against 60-93 Cincinnati. This week is the Phillies’ chance to respond.

Other than Friday’s convincing 9-1 win, the Phillies mostly played with the same chaos that has burnt them in the past. That is concerning, but there are encouraging signs under the hood. Zack Wheeler returned with four scoreless innings on Wednesday. Noah Syndergaard followed him with two of the same in his first piggyback appearance. They’ll join forces again Tuesday. Bryce Harper, who is hitting .151/.259/.329 in September, has driven in a run in three consecutive games and homered Saturday. It is hardly MVP-caliber production. But every bit counts. Nick Castellanos could be activated as soon as this upcoming series as he recovers from an oblique injury. With no rehab assignment, it’s fair to question how effective he’ll be out of the gate. But just a big swing or two could be the difference. Castellanos was playing his best baseball as a Phillie before going down on Sept. 2.

Everyone wants to contribute right now because the Phillies know that is what good teams are made of. Past Phillies teams that failed to find success down the stretch were often too top-heavy. If the bottom dropped on just a player or two, they virtually had no shot. That is not the case this season. The “where would the Phillies be without them” lists are much longer now. The Phillies have been propped up by their youth and unsung heroes. They have overcome every absence this season has thrown at them.

But there is one absence left that the Phillies must prove they are stronger than. The Phillies have done so many things to try and usher in a new era since the old one died about halfway between home plate and first base at 11:06 P.M. on Oct. 7, 2011. “Really, it changed everything,” said Rollins of the team’s Game 5 NLDS loss to the Cardinals in 2011.

An era defined by taking a step back was always inevitable; it is for every great team at some point. But it’s a lot easier to tear down a great identity than it is to build a new one. The Phillies have thrown everything but the kitchen sink in hopes of doing so. They touted a budding homegrown core in 2018 and spent some in free agency to back their words. At ownership’s command, they splurged in 2019 to try and take the next step or six in one fell swoop after the Braves edged them out for the right to gain postseason experience the year prior. They prioritized stars over depth in 2020, and it proved to be untenable. New management spent 2021 trying to correct course but just did not pick the right personnel.

For the few outsiders who can handle or at least overlook the boisterous Philadelphia fanbase, it would be fitting for the Phillies to end their drought in 2022 because they finally “deserve” to do so. They did not rush top prospects and cause their development to stagnate. There is star power, but not at the expense of depth. They do not have a unit that is challenging some of the sport’s most unflattering records. After going old to new school at a breakneck pace, proving to be a lesser version of the teams they were imitating, the Phillies have already 83 wins, their most in a season since 2011, by being somewhere in the middle. They have received contributions from across the organization. All of them have played a significant role in bringing them to this point.

And all of them will play a significant role to bring the Phillies to where they hope to be. The Phillies, top to bottom, have been tested in ways Rollins and everyone present in 2011 couldn’t have imagined at the time. But baseball and life often present their toughest tests before their greatest rewards. It is better to win more, of course. Who that cares about the Phillies wouldn’t be happier if they did? But as the Phillies prepare to take another autumn leap of faith into the unknown, if the net holds up this time, it will spring them to heights that the sport’s model franchises couldn’t achieve through something as simple as clinching a postseason berth.

Maybe in time, the Phillies will be more like them. But there is no time like the present. The Phillies may actually make the postseason for the first time since 2011. This is an assertion that math backs. FanGraphs gives the Phillies an 86.5% of making it. Baseball-Reference gives them an 83.2% mark, even projecting them to finish in the second Wild Card spot. Incredibly, the odds are on the side of the team with the most losses in professional sports.

Right now, however, the odds aren’t what matters most. It’s not the how, when, or what the Phillies qualifying for the postseason may look like that is the most important. It’s the why. As in, why are you still here? Someone who doesn’t understand sports probably wouldn’t blame you for jumping off a ship that has spent a decade straight sinking in agonizing fashion. They might even think you’re crazy for staying. But as an off-day gives way to a nine-day sprint that will determine the legacy of the first Phillies season in 11 years where it truly feels like the team has earned the right to make the postseason, everyone who hopes the dog days will give way to a dog-pile and all of the champagne this time around should ask themselves that question.

The Phillies have already proved they can bounce back from tough defeats in September. It should just take one more push to make sure no one forgets that for another 4,000 days — at least.

On the day the Phillies return to the postseason, whether it’s this year, next, or in another 10 years, everyone should celebrate in a way that answers that question. The worst part of the drought is the inability to remember what baseball joy feels like. The type of joy that defines childhoods and is there to turn to even in the darkest of times. The Phillies have earned an opportunity too good to pass up. If they give one back, make sure you handle it the same way.

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