Phillies left with 'sick feeling' after gut-wrenching NLCS exit

October 25th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Bryce Harper shook his head again. He could not believe it.

He could not believe what happened to the Phillies on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park. He hurt, but everybody in their clubhouse hurt following a stunning 4-2 loss to Arizona in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. A team that seemed destined to return to the World Series just a week ago instead consoled each other with hugs and pats on the back. Then they said their goodbyes.

The Phillies believed they should have been spraying champagne and blasting “Dancing On My Own” to celebrate a return to the Fall Classic. Instead, Rhys Hoskins walked around the clubhouse, hugging his friends as teammates for perhaps the final time.

“It's a group of guys that, I think, was destined to be great,” Hoskins said. “And we were. We just came up short tonight.”

Aaron Nola stood in front of his locker and talked about his uncertain future in Philadelphia, too.

“Hope I’m back, for sure,” Nola said. “But I don’t know what the future holds yet.”

Kyle Schwarber, Jake Cave and Hoskins sat together, perhaps discussing the season that ended too soon. Nick and Liam Castellanos sat on the floor in front of them. Alec Bohm, who spiked his bat so hard after striking out in the eighth inning that it splintered, stood and listened.

But Harper shook his head. He created “Bedlam at the Bank” in Game 5 of the 2022 NLCS, when he hit a game-winning home run in the eighth inning against San Diego to send the Phillies to the World Series. He had another opportunity to create another iconic moment in the seventh inning on Tuesday.

He just missed.

The Phillies had runners on first and second with two outs. Harper stepped into the batter’s box against D-backs right-hander Kevin Ginkel, who threw a first-pitch slider in the dirt. Harper took a 96 mph fastball down the middle for strike one. Ginkel followed with another slider in the dirt for ball two.

Ginkel threw a fastball down the middle. Harper swung and skied a ball to center field for the inning’s third out.

“Got a heater and just missed it,” Harper said. “He threw me the pitch I wanted. I went 2-1 and he threw me a heater, and I just … man, just not being able to come through in that moment just devastates me personally. I feel like I let my team down and let the city of Philadelphia down as well. That’s a moment I feel like I need to come through and … yeah.”

How close did he come to hitting it out?

“I mean, 109 at 44,” Harper said, referring to the ball’s exit velocity (107.6 mph) and launch angle. “So he beat my barrel by a tenth of second, probably.”

A tenth of a second.

A tenth of a second that could have changed the Phillies’ season. They could be preparing to play the Rangers in Game 1 of the World Series on Friday in Texas. Instead, they wondered how everything went wrong.

"It's pretty jarring,” J.T. Realmuto said. “It's never fun to lose, ever, especially when I feel like we were playing a really good brand of baseball at the start of the series. Things just took a turn.”

The Phillies took a 2-0 lead in the series. They were in command. Then they suffered two late-inning collapses in Games 3 and 4 in Phoenix. Craig Kimbrel earned his 400th career save and made the NL All-Star team this season, but he took the losses in both games.

“I mean, I really can’t describe the disappointment I have in myself,” Kimbrel said. “It’s definitely not going to be anything I ever forget. As a person, we’re supposed to grow on the things that get dealt to us in life. … They always say as a reliever you’re supposed to have a short memory, but it doesn’t mean you ever forget. You remember the times you get beat. You remember what it feels like.”

Castellanos will remember his finish. He became the second player in postseason history (joining the Yankees' Reggie Jackson in 1977) to hit five home runs in a three-game span. Castellanos hit a home run in his first plate appearance in Game 1 of the NLCS, but then he went hitless with 11 strikeouts in his final 23 at-bats.

“It’s frustrating,” Castellanos said. “I think that we underachieved as a team. … I think just because the potential of this team is so much greater than going home before the World Series. Last year, when we lost Game 6, I think obviously we were disappointed because we didn't win the whole thing, but there was a lot of like, 'We got here. Now we can build off of that.' So knowing how we feel about this team, we came up short from what we did the year previous, it's a disgusting feeling honestly."

But it’s reality. The Phillies’ offense struggled at the end. They were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position in Game 7.

“Everyone's got a sick feeling in their stomach,” Schwarber said. “It's not the way that we pictured this thing ending, but it's a lot of things to look back on. I'm sure this isn't going to sit right with a lot of guys. And we're going to have to make sure that we do everything in our power in this offseason to make sure that we come out, and we know it's going to be a challenging, tough year going into next year. But try to envision ourselves getting to this spot and making sure that doesn’t happen.”

Said Harper: “We’ll be back. We’ve got a great owner and a president and GM that are going to give us the best opportunity to win and be here every single year. … We’ll be back.”