The decibel level 45,473 full-throated Philadelphians can reach is impressive, and they have another chance Tuesday to push their Phillies forward. But what’s unsettling is the calm. This isn’t a calm sports town. This park, at this time of year, shouldn’t fall into the kind of near silence that enveloped it when Ketel Marte tripled to drive postseason stud Aaron Nola from the game in the fifth, when the not-supposed-to-be-here Arizona Diamondbacks relentlessly built a lead in what became a 5-1 victory in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series.
So what once felt like a Phillies phait accompli comes to Tuesday’s Game 7 and all the anxiety that entails. Here’s the thing: the 84-win Diamondbacks may be a nice team with some nice players. That’s cute. The Phillies? They have stars. They have thump. They make noise.
“This team is too good,” designated hitter Kyle Schwarber said in a silent home clubhouse afterward. “Every time we’ve had something tough come about, we’ve responded.”
The sport needs one more response in what, it turns out, is the first Game 7 in the history of a franchise that dates itself to 1883.
“Sounds like a lot of fun,” right fielder Nick Castellanos said. “What a terrific opportunity.”
It’s an opportunity that is important for Major League Baseball. Officials there can’t and won’t and shouldn’t say this, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true: It’s better for baseball if the Phillies win Tuesday. It’s better for baseball if the Phillies are in the World Series.
This is nothing against these Diamondbacks. “That’s a good team across the way,” Schwarber was quick to acknowledge. Corbin Carroll is the presumptive NL rookie of the year. Merrill Kelly, who shook off a shaky two-walk first inning to allow only one run in five frames, forms a nice tandem with Zac Gallen atop the rotation. Marte, who followed his triple off Nola with an RBI single in the seventh, is a dangerous switch hitter with, as Nola said, “lightning-fast hands.” They’re not bad.
“We also have to give credit to them,” Castellanos said.
It’s nothing really against Phoenix, either. (I’m told it’s a dry heat.)
This is about these Phillies and this time for their sport. The Phillies have Bryce Harper. The Phillies have Schwarber. Those two alone have combined for 10 bombs this postseason, several of the you’re-kidding-me variety. They did next to nothing Monday night. Their at-bats are must-watch.
The Phillies have Trea Turner as their shortstop and J.T. Realmuto as their catcher. Owner John Middleton deemed that pair worthy of contracts that total 16 years and $415.5 million. “Stupid money,” as Middleton once said. But those checks go to those players because they are accomplished and able.
For a sport that spends too much time having to prove or justify its popularity — or stave off the overblown narrative that it is “dying,” something that supposedly has been happening most of this century — it would be best served by having the best, most recognizable players playing the games deepest in October. In the National League, that’s unquestionably the Phillies.
The Atlanta Braves, with the transcendent Ronald Acuña Jr. and a lineup that slugs from top to bottom, aren’t here anymore. The Los Angeles Dodgers, with the mesmerizing Mookie Betts and creaky old Clayton Kershaw, aren’t here, either. The Baltimore Orioles, with a young core of future stars that could carry the sport in years to come, were kicked out on the American League side long ago.
To be clear, this is not a screed about the over-analyzed playoff format. Yeah, I don’t love that MLB added two teams and bulked up the old wild-card games — which effectively opened October with a pair of Game 7s — into best-of-three series. But the longer layoffs those series provide the top two seeds in each league aren’t the reason the 104-win Braves, 101-win Orioles and 100-win Dodgers are at home. Play better.
The reality of the postseason — regardless of a format — is that a sport that glorifies the truths that are revealed over the course of 162 games must find fun and fairness in the results that are produced by tiny sample sizes. Such as best-of-five series. Such as best-of-seven series.
Such as one game to move on.
“It’s going to be exciting,” Schwarber said. “You know, this is what you play for. Obviously, it sucks, right? You wish you got it done today. Absolutely. But it’s an exciting thing. And you know, we’re embracing it.”
As well they should. The Phillies are now 6-1 at home this October. They send Ranger Suárez, he of the 0.64 ERA this postseason, to the mound Tuesday night. Those 46,000-and-change will be back, with their throats well lozenged up.
“Just glad we’re home and playing in front of our home crowd,” Harper said. “Only one game matters right now, and that’s [Tuesday].”
The Phillies will be back. The noise should be, too. On Monday, when Diamondbacks reliever Paul Sewald struck out Castellanos for the penultimate out of the game, some Phillies fans streamed up the aisles to the exits. They will file back down Tuesday night, ready to roar.
“We’re in this fight,” Schwarber said. “We deserve to be in this spot and have a chance to play our best game and move on to the World Series.”
For this city, fingers crossed. The same goes for the sport, too.