After the disappointment of Game 6, the Phillies face their toughest test: the weight of Game 7 | ET REALITY


PHILADELPHIA – The entire Diamondbacks team had left the field and Kyle Schwarber was there, alone on second base in the middle of the seventh inning, and that’s when it all felt too real. The big slugger had tried to do too much (going 90 feet while trailing by four runs) and paid for it. It was 7:36 pm ET and some people decided it was time to leave a stadium that achieved legendary status in October.

Schwarber’s repeat mistake took less than a minute. Then Citizens Bank Park went dark to mark Craig Kimbrel’s entrance as a ragpicker, and he was greeted by boos. The vibrations died away.

The two scariest words for a team that lost Game 6 at home: Game 7.

“It’s going to be exciting,” Schwarber said after a 5-1 loss. “This is what you play for. Obviously, it sucks, right? You wish you had done it today. Absolutely. But it’s kind of exciting. We are adopting it. We are in this place. We deserve to be in this place. “We have a chance to play our best game tomorrow and move on to the World Series.”

Brandon Marsh singled in the second to drive in a run and then took second base. But the Phillies’ offense was shut out the rest of the way. (Bill Streicher/USA Today)

No one in this town really knows what Game 7 will feel like. The Phillies have been around for 141 seasons and have never played a Game 7. Their opponent in this National League Championship Series comes from a place that became a state in 1912. The Phillies have been around since 1883.

They looked for omens before Monday’s Game 6 began. It had been a year since Bryce Harper made the turn of his life and propelled the Phillies to the World Series. But 30 years ago Monday, the Phillies lost the most heartbreaking Game 6 in club history when Joe Carter delivered a fateful blow. This time, at least, there will be a seventh game.

This franchise is riddled with agony and that is why a Game 7, under these circumstances, will generate the darkest feelings. It’s just natural. These are the Phillies. They opened the door to pain.

But they’re not done yet. What does the first Game 7 in franchise history sound like?

“It sounds like a lot of fun,” Nick Castellanos said. “What a great opportunity.”

This is what Schwarber, one of the few Phillies to play in a Game 7, will talk about in the 24 hours between his team losing Game 6 and Ranger Suarez’s first pitch in Game 7. Nerves can be channeled, Schwarber said, and it’s best not to ignore them. Use energy productively.

“Not everyone is going to try to do that much,” Schwarber said. “That will be the message: don’t try to do too much. Good? Don’t let anything dictate how you feel. Just get in there, take one pitch at a time. Take it out at the same time. That’s what it will be tomorrow. Did you know? It’s going to be an exciting match. “We are all looking forward to it.”

But in Game 6, the Phillies looked like a team that let the situation dictate its play. They stacked non-competitive at-bats. They swung at the first pitch in 15 of their 35 plate appearances, but the trend has been that in every series. Here are the game-by-game first pitch swings in the National League Championship Series: 12, 10, 10, 15, 14, 15. The Phillies got an extra-base hit in Game 6: a JT Realmuto double in the second entry. He scored the only run when Brandon Marsh singled to right field.

Rob Thomson won’t change his lineup for Game 7. “Zero,” Thomson said, when asked if he would consider anything different. That’s the Phillies manager: An alteration, even the slightest, could be perceived as panic before Game 7. Early in Game 6, Diamondbacks starter Merrill Kelly didn’t offer much to hit Schwarber or Harper. Is it difficult to be patient when the pressure to score runs increases?

“Absolutely not,” Schwarber said. “No. I’ll take four walks tomorrow if I can. We trust the guys behind us. That’s plain and simple. This offense is so deep. If we get guys on base, if we get traffic on base, I’ll take advantage of our opportunities with anyone who is on the plate.”

Alec Bohm had two hits in Game 6. He will remain in the clean room spot for Game 7. (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

Alec Bohm has faltered for much of this series, but he was one of the few Phillies to find a hole in Game 6. He had two opposite field singles. He will be fourth again in Game 7. If Castellanos builds confidence at this point, he could move into fourth place. But he is hitless in his last 19 at-bats with nine strikeouts. Realmuto could switch positions with Bohm, but the Phillies used Realmuto as the No. 4 hitter only eight times during the season and doing so on Tuesday would seem desperate from Thomson’s point of view.

Everything is superfluous now. The club’s stars will win or lose the seventh game regardless of the established order.

“It’s a game of inches,” Castellanos said, “or whatever is smaller than inches.”

Here at Citizens Bank Park, the margins have always seemed bigger. Almost like a fairy tale. The Phillies hadn’t lost here this month. When Aaron Nola allowed three runs in the span of nine pitches in the second inning, it represented the Phillies’ largest deficit this entire postseason.

The mood changed.

“It was a lot quieter in those middle innings, when I think things can escalate here,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said. “But once they get someone on base or score a run, it picks up again.”

But the Phillies didn’t do that. They didn’t force Arizona’s best relievers to make stressful pitches in Game 6. They avoided using their best relievers, so the bullpen is fresh for Game 7.

The top of the order, Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner and Bryce Harper, went 0 for 9 in Game 6. (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

To start Tuesday, it will be Suarez against Brandon Pfaadt, the rookie who dazzled in Game 3 and provided a roadmap for any pitcher trying to beat the Phillies. “We just have to get it to the plate,” Harper said, “and do our damage when we can.” Pfaadt is unproven, but his dominant effort early in the series will bolster him.

Suarez pitched a postseason-high 5 1/3 innings in Game 3. The Phillies have had tight control on their quiet lefty, and since it’s Game 7, that will likely apply again. But Suárez, the son of a Venezuelan farmer and recipient of a signing bonus of just $25,000, has a chance to grow his legacy here.

“It’s a very exciting opportunity,” Suarez said, “and I think tomorrow will be a great day.”

That’s what the Phillies told each other in a quiet clubhouse that was supposed to host another raucous party Monday night. “All right, get them tomorrow,” veteran executive Dave Dombrowski told Castellanos. “That’s all.” Castellanos nodded.

That’s all. Nothing else, including the first bad vibes in South Philly, mattered. No one here has ever felt the weight of a Game 7 like this. Perhaps these Phillies are the ones who are supposed to face a challenge like no other in the history of this franchise.

“This team is too good,” Schwarber said. “Every time something difficult has happened to us, we have responded. “Everyone will have the right mindset.”

(Top photo by Kyle Schwarber: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

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