Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Brandon Marsh and designated hitter Kyle Schwarber react after the team's loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 7 of the baseball NL Championship Series in Philadelphia Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

When I last wrote about the Phillies for this fine website, I titled it, “The Phillies are utterly destroying the Diamondbacks in a beatdown of epic proportions.”

At the time I wrote it, it was the truth.

After a 10-0 demolition in Game 2, the Phillies were 7-1 in the postseason and undefeated at home. The vibes were pristine, the city was on fire, and it didn’t look like anything could stop them. They were mauling home runs left and right, their starting rotation was untouchable, and their bullpen had the lowest ERA of any in the playoffs. At that time, teams that had won the first two games of a seven-game playoff series had gone on to win 84% of the time — 75 out of 89 series. 

Make that 75 out of 90, now.

That’s why last night’s Game 7 loss, as well as the defeat in Game 6 the night before, has knocked the wind out of every Phillies fan in the Delaware Valley. 

Folks, there’s no way to sugarcoat what we just witnessed. This team choked. They choked away a 2-0 One hit in twenty-eight at-bats.series lead by playing an awful Game 3 in Arizona and blowing a late lead in Game 4, thanks to a Craig Kimbrel meltdown. But they brought a 3-2 lead home after a rousing Game 5 win, and few thought Arizona was going to come to Philadelphia and win two straight games in what had become professional sports’ greatest home field advantage.

We should have remembered the lessons of Games 4 and 5 of last year’s World Series. Wins are not automatic at Citizens Bank Park.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for this disappointment. Aaron Nola’s early implosion in Game 6 took the crowd out of the game early and planted seeds of doubt throughout the stadium. Craig Kimbrel’s blown save in Game 4 was a killer. But most of the blame must be laid at the feet of the team’s biggest stars – Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, and Nick Castellanos, all of whom went a combined 1-for-28 in the final two games of the series. At home. With two chances to win the pennant on their home turf.

One hit in 28 at-bats

To win a Game 7, you need heroes, and Arizona had multiple heroes last night, specifically series MVP Katel Marte, the expected Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll, catcher Gabriel Moreno, and a bullpen that suddenly became untouchable. 

Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the 7th, Turner and Harper had their chances to be the hero the Phillies desperately needed. With runners on 1st and 2nd and one out, Turner delivered one of his worst at-bats of the season, swinging at two pitches that were two feet off the plate, ultimately popping up to center field. As Harper strode to the plate, certainly fans harkened back to Game 5 of the NLCS last season, when his “Bedlam at the Bank” dinger shocked the world and punched the team’s ticket to the World Series. 

Could he do it again? After so many clutch home runs during the last two years, did he have another hero moment in him? He did not, sending a lazy fly ball to center field on a hit-me fastball for the final out. 

Earlier in the game, Nick Castellanos struck out with runners on 1st and 3rd and one out after the Phillies had jumped ahead 2-1 in the 4th inning. A simple fly ball would have scored a run. Johan Rojas followed two batters later by striking out with the bases loaded. Turner squandered additional scoring opportunities. 

Of course, this was not out of character for certain versions of the team we witnessed this year. From April toJuly, the Phils struggled to hit home runs, and they were terrible all year long with runners in scoring position. In the playoffs, that trend continued, only the avalanche of solo home runs rendered those struggles moot. But when the Phillies went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position in Game 7, there were no dingers to bail them out. 

The Phillies were a Jekyll and Hyde offense all year, and it cropped up again, this time at the worst possible moment.

We’re all shell-shocked, and the biggest bummer of it all is the identity of this team, and of its players, has changed in the eyes of many Phillies fans out there.

After Game 2, and throughout the postseason, the 2023 Phillies had become perhaps its most beloved iteration in franchise history. We loved this team. Many of us still do. But in many fans’ eyes, their utter collapse in these final two games at home have changed how they will perceive this group moving forward. 

Some are calling them “losers.” My mentions are filled with calls for people to get traded, calling guys “bums.” An entirely new generation of Phillies has been introduced to true Phillies sports pain that the rest of us experienced in 1964, 1977, 1993 and 2011.

We believed this team was different. We believed this team was a foil to past Philadelphia sports failures. We didn’t think they were capable of doing this, at least not to this 84-win Diamondbacks team. Instead, they joined a litany of Philly sports teams that fell short.

It’s been rough

Do you want to know why sports fans in this town are damaged? Consider what we’ve witnessed in the last calendar year:

  • The Philadelphia Union lost the championship game in a shootout.
  • The Eagles lost the Super Bowl in the final seconds thanks to a horrible ref’s call and a slippery field.
  • The Phillies lost the World Series to the Astros after holding a 2-1 lead with two more games at home.
  • In May, the Sixers blew a 3-2 series lead to the Boston Celtics, falling in Game 7.
  • The Phillies lose their first ever Game 7 to the Diamondbacks.

That’s a lot of sports-related trauma packed into less than 12 months.

Right now, emotions are raw. It’s hard to fathom getting as gleeful about the Phillies as we have been over the last three months again. Suddenly, “Dancing on My Own,” doesn’t sound as fun. The “big balls” gimmick when a player gets a big hit, and all the rest of the things that made this team such a joy will likely be taken with a bit more cynicism moving forward.

And that’s a shame, because this is the most likable, engaging, and entertaining Philadelphia sports team I can remember. 

For those of us who spent the summer of 1993 watching every one of that team’s playoff run, I can tell you, this team and these players are more enjoyable. 

They’ll be back

I’ve always believed a team’s definition of success doesn’t necessarily depend on winning a title. The 2022 Phillies were proof of that.

This one cuts differently. This is one of the most painful losses this franchise has ever had and it’s going to take a while before the fanbase is back on board.

But make no mistake, this team will be back. The Phils have some decisions to make with Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins, but other than them the bulk of the 2024 roster will look a whole lot like this year’s. They’re likely to make the playoffs again and get another crack at this thing. And while the thought of another playoff run with this group feels fruitless and potentially exhausting, this is a World Series contender as currently constructed. They just haven’t actually won it yet.

Remember, the 1980 Phillies went through three seasons of crushing postseason disappointment before finally breaking through. Success isn’t always linear, and if you give yourself a shot at getting into the tournament every year, you’ve always got a chance.

If baseball has shown us anything, it’s that winning the World Series is exceedingly hard. Even a battle-tested team like the defending world champion Houston Astros lost Games 6 and 7 at home to the Texas Rangers this week. Hundred-win teams like the Braves and Dodgers didn’t even get this far. Postseason baseball is a crapshoot, and if a couple key players slump, or one good starting pitcher has a bad night at the wrong time, it can all blow up in their faces.

I don’t know what the legacy of the 2023 Phillies will ultimately be. Some of it will change depending on what happens next year. If the ‘24 Phils go all the way, the disappointment of this season will simply turn out to be a part of the journey that ultimately ends in a parade down Broad Street.

This run ended way too soon, and we’re all very sad.

The Phillies blew it.

There’s nothing really more to say.

John Stolnis grew up in Delco as a rabid fan of all Philadelphia sports, but the Phillies have always held a special place in his heart, particularly those disappointing Juan Samuel-led teams of the late...