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Phillies Pushed To The Brink By The Smallest Margins In Game 5

Phillies, World Series

Jeremy Peña and the Astros did just enough to defeat the Phillies in a Game 5 classic that gives Houston its first lead of the Series. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Phillies Pushed To The Brink By The Smallest Margins In Game 5

The ball left J.T. Realmuto‘s bat at 102.4 miles per hour, 50,000 sets of eyes locked to is at it there was a magnet at its center. Millions more followed its flight deep into the South Philadelphia night, every Phillies fan hoping it would either clear the out-of-town scoreboard or at least find the outfield’s surface to swing Game 5 of the World Series right back into Philadelphia’s favor.

But of those millions of Phillies fans, there was one hoping it would not drop. He is 27 years old and from nearby West Chester, Pennsylvania. In high school, he reached the 1,000 point in basketball for B. Reed Henderson High School. In 2017, he graduated from nearby 6,000-student Millersville University with a degree in social work. It may seem like an ordinary background. But on Thursday night, he was doing one thing no Phillies fan was.

Playing center field for the Houston Astros.

It is one of the greatest catches in World Series history, likely saving the Astros from allowing a game-tying third run. Houston had scratched their third across in the eighth inning when Rhys Hoskins bobbled a ground ball leading him towards home plate with José Altuve breaking on contact. The Phillies batted seven times with runners in scoring position but recorded just one hit. They left twelve runners on base, including six in the first three innings. Brandon Marsh could not put the ball in play with the tying run on third and one out in the eighth. Kyle Schwarber smoked the next pitch, but Trey Mancini was in the right place at the right time. And then Chas McCormick — childhood Phillies fan Chas McCormick — made the play of his life against them.

All season, the Phillies have powered past the supposed flaws in their roster construction. They found an extra gear in the bullpen from all kinds of sources. Their defense has bent at times but largely not broken. The offense powered them to incredible heights, averaging seven runs per game in the team’s first six home postseason games in eleven years.

But the Astros are a team built with all of the high-end power the Phillies have and more. That does not mean the series is over. However, the Phillies are officially in uncharted territory. They are trailing a series for the first time in this incredible run. The life slowly drained out of one of the biggest parties baseball has seen in recent years in two disappointing nights. Maybe it plays into the Phillies’ narrative of resiliency and staying calm just perfectly. However, those mantras will now be tested more than ever.

For the first time all postseason, the Phillies found themselves trailing in the first three innings at home. Though they and Noah Syndergaard recovered well from a shell-shocking first four pitches that resulted in two hits and a run, they were never able to pull forward. Maybe it’s all different if Syndergaard doesn’t come back for the fourth and allow a solo home run to Jeremy Peña, the only hitter he was ever going to face with Yordan Álvarez on deck. Kyle Schwarber‘s lead-off laser was still electric. Just not quite as all of the ones that have put the Phillies ahead or furthered the frenzy. The fans still yelled and waived their rally towels in belief as the Phillies consistently threatened. Maybe, just maybe, the pain of being no-hit the previous night remained a little fresh.

The Phillies found hits in Game 5 — just not the big one. The opportunity was there for almost everybody; except Bryce Harper, who was the only Phillie not to leave a base-runner on in Game 5. This time, they were on the wrong side of the game’s biggest pitches and slickest plays in the field. Peña made a huge leaping play earlier in the game to take away a hit from Nick Castellanos with a runner already on. The Phillies were right there the whole game. They just couldn’t break through.

It is all hard to put into perspective. Just making the postseason was a massive accomplishment for the Phillies, who snapped the National League’s longest active streak of not being there this year. Coming this far to only come this far would still represent a massive success for a franchise just hoping to remember what the excitement of some of baseball’s biggest moments felt like. They accomplished that long before reaching this stage. Chances like this, however, do not come around all that often. In 140 seasons as a franchise, the Phillies average a World Series trip every 17.5 years. No team with at least two World Series titles wins it all as inefficiently as the Phillies have. Maybe the Phillies will be back here next year. Maybe they’ll have to wait far longer than 13 years to return.

That is uncertain — and not important right now. It takes four wins to become champions, and the Phillies have only lost three times. The 2019 Washington Nationals were arguably in a worse spot — down 3-2 after losing three straight to Houston at home. They rallied to win it all. That doesn’t mean the Phillies will do the same — the odds are still very much against them. The Phillies are familiar with overcoming them, but this will be their steepest challenge yet.

There are positives to take away. The Phillies’ bullpen held the Astros to just one run in six strong innings of work, and they will have Friday off to rest up. Schwarber looks dialed in after a dismal start to the postseason. A struggling Jean Segura recorded a clutch RBI single to cut the lead in half in the eighth. Alec Bohm notched two hits and Castellanos had some of his best at-bats of the postseason. None of it means more than the outcome, but they could help shift what happens next in Philadelphia’s favor.

Maybe the most comforting thing for the Phillies to know is how quickly the narratives can change. Like how Justin Verlander can’t get it done in the World Series until he threw five innings of one-run ball. The Phillies changed the biggest, most agonizing narrative of their franchise’s reputation — that they could not come through in a postseason race — at Minute Maid Park 32 days ago. This incredible run, which will be just that no matter how it ends, began there. It will end there, too.

November baseball sure is something, huh?

Throughout their decade in the doldrums, the Phillies had a terrible habit of making things harder on themselves than they seemingly had to be. Maybe cranking up the difficulty is just the final challenge for them to prevail over. The next game or two will reveal whether this special team has finally met an obstacle it can’t overcome. They won’t see it that way, of course. What they, or anyone else, thinks right now isn’t what will decide this series. The margin that separated the Phillies from victory is small enough to break them. It’s also more than small enough for them to erase. Game 5 reminded the Phillies of just how much the smallest details matter. It’s up to them to rise — or perhaps shrink their sights — to meet the moment.

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