Bryce Harper and the Phillies' big bats go quiet in NLCS, dumped by Diamondbacks in Game 7
Trea Turner had the moment that could have pushed the Phillies toward the World Series waiting for him. Philadelphia — with an electric offense grounded by strikeouts and unproductive at-bats — put the potential tying runs on base against Arizona’s bullpen in the seventh inning.
Here it was, the first Game 7 in the Phillies' 141-year history, and Turner simply needed to keep the rally going as his team tried to erase a 4-2 deficit.
The $300 million shortstop, whose middling season was rejuvenated by a manufactured standing ovation in August, flied out to center field against Kevin Ginkel.
No worries. Bryce Harper was up.
You know Bryce Harper, the master of the postseason stage?
The two-time NL MVP who sent the Phillies to the World Series a year ago with a go-ahead home run was in position to try and repeat the feat against Ginkel. The righty-against-lefty matchup seemed to favor Harper, who had two homers already in the NLCS among the scores of his previous clutch postseason hits. But this time he lofted a 2-1 fastball to center, ending the scoring threat and Philadelphia's last, best chance to return to the World Series.
Members of the Philadelphia Phillies watch during the ninth inning in Game 7 of the baseball NL Championship Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Philadelphia Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Turner and Harper never got going once the NLCS returned to Philadelphia, where raucous crowds had given the Phillies an air of invincibility. Nick Castellanos finished hitless in his last 23 series at-bats. The home run hitters stopped hitting home runs. The Diamondbacks are instead headed to the World Series after knocking out the Phillies 4-2 on Tuesday night, and the team from the desert celebrated a Game 7 victory on Philadelphia’s own turf.
“In any of those games, you always want to have the moment, you always want to have the opportunity,” Harper said. “I think a lot of the guys on this team have had those moments, have had those opportunities. Reaching a little bit? Of course. But at the same time, we’ve been in those moments. Just didn’t get it done.”
This one will sting in Philly.
Blame the offense? Sure. Johan Rojas was perhaps the biggest of all the Game 7 rally-killers. Kyle Schwarber, Turner and Harper combined to go 1 for 11, and the trio was 1 for 20 in the final two games.
“I tried doing too much and put myself in bad counts,” Turner said.
Pin the collapse on the bullpen? Absolutely. The Diamondbacks used a walk-off single in Game 3 and a tying two-run homer late in a Game 4 win that wiped out an 0-2 NLCS hole.
Rob Thomson, the popular can-do-no-wrong Phillies manager in his first 1 1/2 seasons, made a series of questionable decisions. He stuck to his gut and kept inconsistent Alec Bohm in the cleanup role and was repaid with a solo homer in the second inning.
Other calls backfired.
The Phillies led 2-1 in the fourth and had runners on the corners with one out. Castellanos struck out — one of 11 in the NLCS. After a walk to Brandon Marsh, Thomson let Rojas hit rather than use a pinch hitter for the light-hitting outfielder. Rojas struck out, part of a 4-for-43 postseason.
“We had the lead at the time. Taking two out — taking your best defender out of the game, and wasting two players, I just didn’t think that was the right time,” Thomson said.
The Phillies eventually turned to ace Zack Wheeler for the first relief appearance of his big league career. It might have meant more had Thomson turned to Wheeler in the fifth rather than let starter Ranger Suárez try and push through one more inning. Suárez instead gave up two runs that put the Diamondbacks ahead 3-2, and they never looked back.
Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Zack Wheeler leaves the game during the ninth inning in Game 7 of the baseball NL Championship Series Arizona Diamondbacks in Philadelphia Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
The Phillies have not won a World Series since 2008.
“I told the club if you asked me two days ago, two weeks ago, two months ago if we would be going home tonight, I would have said no. So that’s how much belief I have in this club,” Thomson said.
The Phillies will have plenty of time to look back at how series leads of 2-0 and 3-2 veered so off course. They have major decisions to make on pending free agents Aaron Nola, who lost Game 6, and Rhys Hoskins, the slugging first baseman who missed the season with a torn left ACL.
With or without the longest-tenured Phillies, Harper said the future remains bright in Philadelphia.
“Just understand that we’ll be back,” he said.