Hyped for another Game 7? Here are the key storylines

October 24th, 2023

And just like that … we get another Game 7.

The Rangers romped their way to their first World Series in 12 years on Monday night in their Game 7, finishing off an ALCS that was upside down in nearly every possible way. They are one of six teams that have never won the World Series, and if they keep playing like they did the last two nights in Houston that list will soon be whittled down to five.

And now, in the NLCS, we have another Game 7, one that looked like an impossibility a mere five days ago when the Phillies had outscored the D-backs 15-3 while winning the first two games of the series.

Some years we don’t get any Game 7. This year? This year we get two in two days.

Here’s a look at three key storylines for Tuesday’s tilt.

D-backs at Phillies
Series tied 3-3
Brandon Pfaadt vs. Ranger Suárez
8:07 p.m. ET, TBS

Storyline No. 1: Did the D-backs finally end the Citizens Bank Park mystique?

You’d be hard-pressed to find an observer who thought the D-backs were going to head into Citizens Bank Park, a stadium in which the Phillies had been (a very dominant) 6-0 this postseason, and win Game 6. The symbiosis between the Phillies and their home fans, and the noise and thunder that resulted, felt almost like an impenetrable fortress in the playoffs: No one was getting through that. And then … the D-backs, like it was no big deal at all, took a 3-0 lead in the second inning and never looked back en route to a 5-1 win in Game 6.

The Phillies have had teams on their heels from the get-go in Philadelphia this whole postseason. But now we’ve seen it can be done: They can lose at home. They just did. And if they can do it once, they can absolutely do it again. If anyone needed another reminder that a team can win Games 6 and 7 on the road to steal a series … well, the Rangers just did it.

Storyline No. 2: Which unlikely postseason hero further cements his legend?

Ranger Suárez -- whom we are still counting as “young,” if that’s OK with you, since he just turned 28 in August -- has been a perfectly solid pitcher for the Phillies in his six-season MLB career, emerging after the 2020 season as a key member of the staff. But no one has ever confused him for an ace … until the playoffs get going.

In eight postseason games (six starts) over the last two seasons, Suárez has a jaw-dropping 0.94 ERA, and the Phillies have won seven of those eight games. (The only game they lost was Game 3 of this series, and you can hardly blame Suárez for that one; he gave up no earned runs in 5 1/3 innings.) And now he’s taking the mound with the whole season on the line.

But if you think he’s unlikely, check out Brandon Pfaadt. The rookie had an ugly 5.72 ERA in 19 regular-season games, 18 starts, and gave up more than a hit allowed per inning. But he improved down the stretch and then, this postseason … might have become the D-backs’ best starter? After a rough outing against the Brewers in the Wild Card Series, Pfaadt has thrown 10 brilliant postseason innings, giving up no runs, four hits, no walks and striking out 11. He was especially dominant in Game 3, making this ferocious Phillies offense look helpless. He's rolling right now like he never has in his professional career. Neither one of these pitchers has to go that far into this game: This is a Johnny Allstaff game if there ever were one. But they can’t get blown out of the water either. They need to keep their team in the game … in the most important game of their lives.

Storyline No. 3: Can the Phillies make their first Game 7 a memorable one?

One of the most remarkable baseball postseason tidbits is that the Phillies -- you know, one of the oldest franchises in North American professional sports -- have never played in a Game 7 before. Incredible, right? Heck, even the D-backs, who before two weeks ago hadn’t won a postseason series since 2007, have played in a Game 7. (A rather famous one, at that.)

There is nothing in baseball like a Game 7, particularly one with as much uncertainty as this one. How long will the starters go? What will this crowd be like? Is Nick Castellanos, the emotional star of the Phillies postseason before this series, going to get it going (he’s currently 1-for-20 in the NLCS)? Can the D-backs stay as relentless on the basepaths after swiping four bases in Game 6? Is this Ketel Marte’s moment? Corbin Carroll’s? Bryce Harper’s? Kyle Schwarber’s? Trea Turner’s?

All huge stories, all fascinating mysteries, all enveloped by the big overarching story: It’s Game 7. One of these teams is going to be pouring beverages all over everybody’s heads tonight. One of these teams is going to be doing the opposite of that. This is the good stuff. This is why we do this.