A story from history on handling snakes in Philadelphia.

The Philly region is no stranger to a snake. 

Ben Franklin used the image of one to bring all the colonies together. The Sixers used that same image to symbolize their desire to eat their own tails. And now, the Diamondbacks have come back to Philadelphia.

In 1995, Darby Township in Delco was overrun by snakes when the Hermesprota Creek turned into a reptile orgy and they started showing up in people’s roads, yards, and driveways. There was apparently no surer signal of their arrival than hearing the “blood-curdling screams” of your children in the basement. 

Typically they don’t arrive all together and on an airplane, but snakes are around.

“We have in this state only two poisonous snakes — the rattler and the copperhead,” the Inquirer helpfully informed residents in 1939. “You can sleep with all other types without fear.”

Back then, the city breathed a sigh of relief knowing they were free to share their beds with any nonvenomous serpents they pleased. But tonight, the Phillies and Diamondbacks will face each other in Game 6 of the NLCS. 

The Phillies took Games 1 and 2 at home, then flew out to Arizona. It seemed a quiet death in the desert might be in their future, as they dropped the next two games to even the series, thanks in large part to the snake-bitten Craig Kimbrel giving up big hits late. But in Game 5, the Phils came back. Now the only thing between them and their second straight World Series appearance is a dugout full of Snakes. 

The Phillies don’t have much history playing in Game 6’s. 

They’ve done it six times in franchise history, and you don’t need to know their success rate. You can just be satisfied with the knowledge that two of their biggest wins ever came in Game 6: the clinchers of the 1980 World Series and the 1993 NLCS. 

Without much history to dwell in, we’re forced to search elsewhere for insight in tonight’s game — such as this 1912 Philadelphia Inquirer nature column headlined, “How to See Snakes.”

Philadelphia Inquirer column from 1912. (Newspapers.com)

The following bolded quotes are all taken verbatim from that (hopefully tongue-in-cheek) story.

‘Owing to the enormous number of books about them, very little is known about snakes’

Until now, the Phillies and Diamondbacks had no playoff history. They’re currently laying the foundation of a new rivalry, which Dbacks fans will at some point stop thinking about and Phils fans will hold onto forever.

Most people had to take a crash course on Arizona’s team prior to this series: Why is their name a snake but their mascot a bobcat? How did they make it past the Dodgers as an 84-win wild card throw-in? Wait, is that a middle-aged Evan Longoria?

As the NLCS has gone on, we’ve advanced the field of Snake Studies immensely: The mascot is a bobcat because they used to play in Bank One Ballpark (BOB-cat). They made it past the Dodgers because the Dodgers watched Clayton Kershaw give up five runs before recording an out and went to bed for the rest of the NLDS. Yes, that’s Evan Longoria. He’s 1-for-12 with 5 SO in the NLCS.

We even found out the Snakes have a superfan in Jimmy Eat World drummer Zach Lind, who bravely criticized his team’s ownership for its lack of spending — while the Diamondbacks were playing in the NLCS. That takes a real fan!

‘Snakes are very hard to study because they are the most bashful animals in zoology. Naturers who wish to see snakes must crawl softly into the underbrush.’

Tonight’s Phillies starter, Aaron Nola, has a 0.96 ERA in three postseason starts. He allowed two runs to Atlanta in a game the Phillies won by eight. He threw seven shutout innings against the Marlins and six shutout innings against the Diamondbacks. He’s thrown 19 strikeouts and allowed only two walks in all three games combined. 

With him and Wheeler at the top of the rotation, the Diamondbacks’ offense has been the very definition of bashful.

“The best known cure for a snake-bite is to stay away from snakes,” the Inquirer advised decades ago. 

Well, that’s not really a choice at this point, but Nola kept them as far away as reasonably possible in game two, allowing Arizona only four hits as his teammates stomped on the Dbacks’ heads for 10 runs.  

‘The only creature whose architecture is more simple is a piece of string.’

Perhaps this is the Diamondbacks’ problem — their whole thing is “Embrace the Chaos,” which evokes wild, complex images of them bunting, stealing, starting fires, and running away. But a snake is a basic life form driven by instinct. It operates on a need-to-need basis. It has no desire to create multi-tiered insanity. It just wants to eat. 

Well, most of them do, anyway. Some of them just want to be dead.

But this “Chaos” energy the D-backs are trying to hold onto may be the very problem — they’re going against their natural inclinations.

Not only that, but the Phillies seem more equipped and prepared to both be chaotic — like in the double steal and home plate collision in Game 5 that saw Bryce Harper both check on the wellbeing of Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno while also being sure he had touched home plate — AND simple, like how their general plate approach this postseason has simply been, “Don’t miss.”

‘They can be caught alive. This is so easy that even the most unintelligent persons can succeed in it.’

From the 49ers last year to the Dolphins this year; from the Braves last year to the Braves last week. Opponents of Philadelphia teams always come back to one thing: Really, really wishing they hadn’t lost.

They wish it so hard that they want to do things like play again, but with all of their players fully recovered from injuries, or with the entire playoff format rearranged to better suit them. And when those things are pointed out to be impossible and/or stupid, they turn to us, the Phillies fans, as if we’ve done anything wrong, ever.

Their low opinion of us is based on their frustration of losing to a fanbase that loves to win. Hey, when you win 104 games, you’re pretty used to things going your way.

In Philadelphia, when teams lose, we blame the team, and then eventually each other.

When other teams lose to Philadelphia, their fans blame everything except the scoreboard. That low opinion of us only gets lower the closer they get to elimination. But, according to the above quote, even people as dumb as other fans think Philadelphians are, would be capable of killing a snake. 

I mean, depending on what kind of thing Blooper even is, there’s a chance Phillies fans have already killed a snake this postseason. 

‘A snake bite hardly ever kills anybody.’

Statistical accuracy aside, the Phillies have been defeated by Snakes twice in this series. Both times, they brushed it off and got ready for the next game. One of those times, that plan worked. 

The truth is, in a best of seven, you can get bitten a time or two and still walk away. And with a team like the Phillies that’s always giving itself a chance, sucking the poison out and drenching themselves in post-game antivenom, their odds of survival are always good.  

Maybe right now, the Phillies are sitting in a circle in their locker room, quietly reading up on the biological habits of snakes and using that information to strategize on how to beat a baseball team. 

Or maybe, like a snake, they’re keeping things simple:

‘The scientific way to study the habits of [snakes] is to mash them with a club.’

Justin Klugh has been a Phillies fan since Mariano Duncan's Mother's Day grand slam. He is a columnist and features writer for Baseball Prospectus, and has written for The Inquirer, Baltimore Magazine,...