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Heartbreaking End Dampens But Doesn’t Destroy Phillies Incredible Journey

Phillies, World Series

The Phillies stared into the abyss as the Astros celebrated a World Championship at their expense on Saturday night. But they shouldn’t forget about all of the moments they celebrated in their incredible postseason run. (Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo)

The Phillies stared into the abyss as the Astros celebrated a World Championship at their expense on Saturday night. But they shouldn’t forget about all of the moments they celebrated in their incredible postseason run. (Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo)

Heartbreaking End Dampens But Doesn’t Destroy Phillies Incredible Journey

The opposing team celebrated in front of them as the Phillies trudged towards the visitor’s clubhouse, unsure of what would happen next. Failure was always a possibility, of course. But seeing it play out in front of their own eyes made it real in a unique way. They fielded questions from the press about how they would respond. Aout what would come next for them. About how hard it would to be to move on from losing to the same team three times in a row.

Then, the Phillies boarded a plane to Washington, D.C. There, they began a five-week voyage perhaps unlike any other in their 140-year history. No, it did not end with the franchise’s first-ever Game 7. Nor the World Championship they pursued with blissful vigor against some of the sport’s top players and teams. It is difficult to put it all in perspective after the Phillies fell 4-1 to the Houston Astros in Game 6. Their dream season ends just two wins away from ultimate baseball glory. But is worth remembering just far they have come when thinking about how little, but how far, they have to go.

This journey began and ended with a routine fly ball in Houston. In between, the Phillies created memories that will last a lifetime. So many of the players and fans longed to either know or remember what postseason baseball felt like. Now, they know it inside and out. The twists and turns, the incredible highs and lows. Somehow, they took it all in stride. They learned on the fly with a roster featuring just three players with prior World Series experience and a manager with less than a year on the job. For a game that is known for being slow and deliberate, a month flew by in the blink of an eye for an entire city.

It all went so fast because of how long the last decade felt. Even if the Phillies had gone two and out in St. Louis in the NL Wild Card Series, it would have been an incredibly valuable experience. The excitement that built up during the team’s incredible stretch from 2007-2011 had completely disappeared a while ago. There were spurts in recent years, reminders of its existence and just how special it is. All of them fizzled out before anyone had time to appreciate it.

This time was different. The Phillies didn’t just bring the party back home — they soaked it all in. Nearly 400,000 tickets were sold for postseason games at Citizens Bank Park this year. The city of Philadelphia spent October draped in red. The Eagles, usually the city’s most popular team even if they don’t start 8-0 for the first time in franchise history, became somewhat of an afterthought. The Phillies captured the city’s attention and hearts in a way few teams in this city ever has. Nobody who was a part of it will forget that anytime soon.

It will be difficult to think of what could have been, of course. After Kyle Schwarber began the sixth inning with a solo home run, the Phillies could taste Game 7. They were 11 outs away from reaching it when Jeremy Peña muscled a single up the middle to put runners on the corners with one out. The decision was tough, but Rob Thomson had made it before. José Alvarado was warming as Yordan Álvarez lingered in the on-deck circle. Twice, Alvarado had faced Álvarez in the middle innings in this series. He struck him out in Game 1 to preserve the spark the Phillies had lit with a lighting quick five-run comeback. In Game 4, he plunked him with his first pitch, then allowed four more runs to score after entering with the bases loaded and none out.

The rubber match went to Álvarez. Maybe a week ago, when the Phillies felt just a little more untouchable than they did on Saturday, Álvarez can’t take advantage of a mislocated sinker. But he hit this one 450 feet. The message it sent was even louder than the eruption at Minute Maid Park. The Astros were the better team. They deserved to win the Series. That didn’t mean the Phillies weren’t capable of playing spoiler. The margins separating them from victory in Game 5 were agonizingly small. In Game 6, Edmundo Sosa just missed what would have been a tone-setting three-run home-run in the second. The Phillies put up better at-bats and swings against Framber Valdez than they did in Game 2. But Schwarber’s homer was all they had to show for it.

But there is still so much good to take away from the last 34 days, some of the best in their franchise’s history. You have to go back about 30 years to find something remotely comparable, and even that isn’t a perfect match. These Phillies had to achieve something — anything — after crossing the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history with the intent of snapping a decade-long postseason drought. The Phillies have had longer absences, but a larger percentage of teams get in now than used to. The road for those last few teams is more difficult, of course. Conquering almost all of it is validation that the Phillies are closer to what they are in the postseason bracket than they are in the regular season standings.

Time will tell if this lasts. Far better teams have proclaimed they would be back on this stage after coming up short, only to never return. Only three Phillies that appeared in Game 6 — Jean Segura, Zach Eflin, and David Robertson — are not under contract next year. There is youth, both already on the team and in the pipeline, to supplement the efforts of the current core. Many of them — namely, Nick Castellanos and Bryce Harper — could be in a much better position to succeed next year. It seems ridiculous to say that about Harper, who smashed his way to a 1.160 OPS and won NLCS MVP in the longest postseason run of his career. But he did all of that with a UCL tear and just a few months after breaking his thumb.

At their heart of hearts, the Phillies are not a young team. Harper turned 30 the day the Phillies won the NLDS. Zack Wheeler dealt with soreness and arm fatigue in the back half of the season and turns 33 in May. J.T. Realmuto caught miles more innings than any other catcher and will be 32 when the Phillies begin their 2023 season on March 30, 2023.

Six days later, the Phillies will return to Citizens Bank Park for the first time since Game 5 of the Fall Classic. They will unveil a new, beautiful blue flag in Ashburn Alley with the year 2022 on it. The players will receive rings for winning the National League championship. Both will be enduring reminders of the moments and feelings that a team and city shared, singing together and dancing on their own all at the same time. There will never be another 2022 Phillies season. Maybe 2023 will be better, capitalizing on the momentum of this fantastic run and returning Philadelphia to its baseball-loving peak. Maybe this will go down like 1915, or 1950, or 1993 — a glorious, much-needed one-off in the grand scope of a team history full of failure.

However it ages, these Phillies are not failures. They may have fallen just short of capturing the sport’s greatest prize. But for just over a month, they allowed themselves and their fans to feel the joy baseball can provide. Everyone may not remember the 2022 Phillies forever — that honor is usually reserved for champions. But these players, fans, and everyone in the organization will. Only they can appreciate just how special this season was. And how special it still will be for a long, long time.

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