December 2, 2023

The Phillies look on from the dugout as the Diamondbacks celebrate winning the NLCS in Game 7. Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer

Tuesday night, we experienced one of the most painful losses in Philadelphia sports history, as the Phillies lost Game 7 of the National League Championship Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In what could have possibly been the best team remaining in the postseason, they certainly did not play like it.

The Phils had a 2-0 lead going into Arizona. They then lost two of three there. No problem, they were still only one win from their second straight World Series appearance, with two chances to do it in Philadelphia. And the Phils fell right on their face. Arizona’s starting pitching was better, their hitters did not chase like did, they strung together timely hits, and the bullpen made pitch after pitch to deteriorate any hope the Phillies had late.

If any team was going to win a World Series, it was probably this one.

So, where do they go from here? I am not totally sure.

There are no glaring holes in this team, unlike last year when the Phillies lost to the Houston Astros in the World Series. One of them was the shortstop position, which was filled by Trea Turner, featuring an 11-year, $300 million contract. He had some incredible moments in his first Red October. Turner made a game-saving diving stop to start a double play in a Game 1 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. For a good part of the run, Turner was the best hitter for the Phillies, finishing the postseason with a .347 batting average. However, he went 0-for-8 in Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS.

The big names in this series. Kyle Schwarber, Turner, Bryce Harper, and Nick Castellanos were all unable to get the big hits in the big moments. The superstars went a combined 1-28 in Games 6 and 7 of the NLCS at Citizens Bank Park.

That right there is roughly $92,834,615 of the 2023 Phillies’ $260,726,209 payroll. That is flat-out unacceptable.

Castellanos homered twice in each of the final two games of the NLDS and in his first at-bat of the NLCS. After that, though, Castellanos did not record a single hit for the remainder of the seven-game series. He went 0-for-23, striking out 11 times, including when the Phillies had a chance to break the win-or-go-home game wide open.

Harper, the heart and soul of this team, the man who was paid $330 million to deliver in games like these, did not register a hit in his last seven at-bats of the postseason. He walked once in Game 6, as the DBacks did not want to pitch to him. But when it really mattered, Harper flew out against right-hander Kevin Ginkel on a fastball right over the plate that he usually smashes to end the seventh inning.

“I feel like I let my team down and, you know, letting the city of Philadelphia down as well,” Harper said postgame.

Schwarber, Turner, Harper, and Castellanos are not going anywhere anytime soon, however.

But the two longest-tenured Phillies, Aaron Nola, and Rhys Hoskins, might be. The two sat with each other in the dugout during the final innings of Game 7, knowing it might be the last time they share a clubhouse together.

“It’s the hard part about the business, right?” Nola said postgame. “You spend pretty much the whole year together. Battling through the ups and downs. The successes and struggles. That’s what makes the game so pretty.”

Dave Dombrowski, who will determine their future in Philadelphia, greeted both Nola and Hoskins in his trip around the clubhouse. Hoskins thanked Dombrowski for the opportunity to pull off an incredible comeback from a torn ACL in spring training that robbed him of his final year under contract with the Phillies. They were one win away from giving Hoskins a chance to be a small part of what could have been a World Series championship. He flew to Clearwater, Florida following Game 2 of the Wild Card series to take at-bats at the Phillies’ “stay-ready” camp. He flew up for Game 7. He gave it all he had, but Hoskins, and the Phillies, ran out of time.

“Everybody just wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves, right?” Hoskins said. “This team was clearly that. It’s a group of guys that I think was destined to be great. We were, we just came up short tonight.”

The 2023 Phillies were supposed to be it. The “Team of Destiny” if you will. The pitching was deep, the lineup had power and incredible depth, and the defense improved. There were bumps in the road and times when they looked like pretenders, but they entered the playoffs as contenders. Health was working in their favor, and they looked to be in a better position than they were a year ago.

However, that all ended in Game 3 when Craig Kimbrel came in for the ninth-inning tied at one, giving up the game-winning base hit to Ketel Marte. That turned the table.

The 35-year-old Kimbrel pitched the most innings of his whole 14-year career and ran out of gas at the end. It seemed to be happening in early September, but it all came crashing down in the NLCS.

If manager Rob Thomson does not put Kimbrel in for Game 3, or Game 4 (which he blew as well), the Phils may have swept the DBacks.

Or if Thomson decided to adjust the lineup, move the struggling Bohm out of the four-hole, and create some protection around Harper.

There are a lot of “what ifs” with this series, and those games can not be played.

Yes, the Phillies were better than the DBacks on paper. But that does not matter in a postseason series, it is who goes out there and wants it more. And obviously, that was the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2023.

Game 7 — the first that the Phillies played in the 141-year history of their franchise — will be remembered as one of the darkest days the team has ever had. There may not be a lasting image like Greg Luzinski’s failed attempt at catching a fly ball in the ninth inning of Game 3 of the 1977 NLCS, or Ryan Howard lying in misery on the field after the Phillies were eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, but individual at-bats by Castellanos, Turner, and Harper Tuesday will never be forgotten by Phillies fans, even if they try to.

The 2023 season will be defined by the failure to get five more wins and a victory parade down Broad Street, again. And I will say it again, I am not exactly sure where the Phillies go from here.

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