Phillies NLCS Collapse Is Just The Latest In A Long Line Of Wounds
By Kevin Cooney
At some point in early September, I was digging through some of the final things that were in my parents’ house before we put it up for sale. And deep inside one cedar chest of drawers that belonged to my late father- underneath family pictures, military and police commendations and other personal items- was a faded strip of tickets to the 1964 World Series that my dad and grandfather purchased for that fateful Phillies autumn.
That year never faded from his memory not just for the joys that came with it -Jim Bunning and Chris Short, Dick Allen and his personal hero, Johnny Callison- but the scar tissue that was everlasting for his generation from losing a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games to play for the National League pennant. It was deepened by Black Friday in 1977, healed slightly by the World Series win in 1980 but always ever present on the surface when things went bad.
Every generation with this franchise has that moment when unbridled joy runs smack dab into harsh reality. It is part of the reason why those years that end in confetti are so cherished – because the only thing that normally falls around here is the anvil on the head.
The 2023 Phillies are now in that class- joining the ‘64 Phils, the 2010-11 Fightins, the ‘77 Sixers, the 2002-04 Eagles and the Lindros-era Flyers. They were enormously lovable, created a bond with the city- and yet, will ultimately be remembered for its gigantic failure to win something that seemed destined to be theirs.
The steep and sudden collapse of this team to the Arizona Diamondbacks is something that will be picked upon for generations to come. The reason is simple: the lineup dried up in the desert and never was able to recover. For all of the wrong moves that were made in the bullpen in Games 3 and 4- ones that gave Arizona oxygen in their comeback- the fact remains that Philadelphia came home with two chances to head back to the World Series and squandered both at the plate. A lineup loaded with big salaries produced pennies. A style that can boom with the best went bust.
The suspects are plentiful and familiar. Rob Thomson’s managing in the middle of the season and his full steam ahead orders with the same lineup should come under criticism. The bullpen sagged in the biggest moments. Aaron Nola’s potential final act in Philadelphia in Game 6 was like far too many this summer- underwhelming after glimpses of greatness. By the time Alec Bohm got going, it was too late. But most of the ire will fall upon two people. The first is Trea Turner, whose loss of confidence was evident by the failed bunt in the fifth inning that didn’t advance Kyle Schwarber and who spent the final five games of the series flailing at anything thrown down and away.
The other is Nick Castellanos, who homered in his first NLCS at-bat – and didn’t do anything productive after that. Turner is going to be here- that contract from last winter guarantees that. But Castellanos could be part of a strange dynamic that may make him appealing this winter to move – especially if a more reliable “small ball”, less inconsistent lineup ends up being Dave Dombrowski’s next move. Philadelphia has outfield options in the minors and potentially go bring Rhys Hoskins back by moving Bryce Harper back to right field next year.
The hot stove will burn shortly and Nola’s free agency will be the chief drama. But this team has other holes it must fill- starting with the bullpen. If we assume Craig Kimbrel has thrown his final pitch as a Phillie since he’s a free agent, will Dombrowski decide to go for someone like Josh Hader who is turning 30 but could end up costing money that would be needed to fill Nola’s potential gap at the No. 2 starting spot.
One thing worth keeping an eye on is this: It will be fascinating to see if there’s a long term ripple effect between the relationship between this group and the fan base that seem to bathe in all of the October glory. The Phillies became the “it” team and Citizens Bank Park was the cool bar to be seen at during this summer. But we’ve seen this before: from the time the park opened to 2011, it was a party which demanded people to be seen every night in the hot spot.
In that sense, the honeymoon has ended. Yes, the park will be packed. But the summer of regular season mediocrity probably will not be tolerated next year at the same level because the memories of October’s run from 2022 have faded further in the distance, replaced by a forever scare on the city’s psyche.
It is the latest in a long line of wounds in this town. One that goes from generation to generation. A circle that always seems to come back to the same spot- the one right under the cliff where the anvil just dropped from.