'All hands on deck': Phillies staring down 1st Game 7 in club history

October 24th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Kyle Schwarber knows the feelings that course through a player’s body before a Game 7.

He’s played in one. His team won.

The Phillies will play the first Game 7 in their 141-season history on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park after losing to the D-backs, 5-1, in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Monday night.

It is a spot nobody expected them to be. Philadelphia handled Arizona at home in the first two games of this best-of-seven series. Then, after a pair of late-inning stumbles in Games 3 and 4 at Chase Field, the Phillies resumed control with a convincing victory in Game 5 in Phoenix. And they had entered Monday’s contest 5-0 in potential clinching games under manager Rob Thomson.

But then Aaron Nola allowed four runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 6, surrendering back-to-back home runs to Tommy Pham and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in the second inning. Nola allowed another run in the second on Evan Longoria’s RBI double to give Arizona a 3-0 lead.

It was the Phillies’ largest deficit of the postseason, quieting the typically relentless and boisterous home crowd of 45,473.

Those fans will be on edge in Game 7. The Phillies?

“We’re embracing it,” Schwarber said. “We’re in this spot. We deserve to be in this spot. We have a chance to play our best game tomorrow and move on to the World Series. There’s no undermining anything; that’s a good team across the way. They have the same opportunity as us tomorrow. But it’s going to be fun to put everyone’s best efforts and best everything that we’ve got tomorrow.

“That’s all we got is tomorrow.”

Schwarber helped the Cubs beat Cleveland in the 2016 World Series. Trea Turner helped the Nationals beat the Astros in the 2019 World Series.

Maybe those two can help their teammates handle the nerves they will feel on Tuesday.

“It’s going to be all hands on deck,” Schwarber said. “It’s going to be fight, scratch, claw -- do whatever you can to score a run. Find a way to get outs. Find a way to move up an extra 90 feet. Anything that you can. Tomorrow's going to be a really exciting baseball game, because anything goes. This could be it. It's exciting. It's going to be good, anxious nerves coming onto the field tomorrow. This is what you live for, going into the backyard [as a kid]. Game 7. It's going to be fun.

“We’ve been in some pretty high-anxiety spots before. Obviously, having the experience like we had last year being in a World Series, those are all good experiences. Experiences that we had this postseason. It's not all been easy this series. We were able to come back and respond and find a win in Game 5. That's another thing we can draw back on to be prepared for this Game 7.”

It would help the Phillies’ nerves to take an early lead. Home runs would be nice. But runs in any form would help everybody relax.

“They got on top of us the first two games here, and this place got awfully loud,” D-backs closer Paul Sewald said. “We needed to quiet these guys down. It's the first time they've sat, I think, for a playoff game. It's just a testament to how we got this game started."

D-backs right-hander Merrill Kelly allowed three home runs to the Phillies in Game 2. They were the only hits he allowed. He struck out eight and allowed just three hits and one run in five innings in Game 6 without surrendering a homer.

The Phillies will face rookie Brandon Pfaadt in Game 7. He allowed two hits and struck out nine in 5 2/3 scoreless innings against them in Game 3. It was the first time the Phils had faced him. They believe the look last week will help them Tuesday.

“Only one game matters right now, and that’s tomorrow,” Bryce Harper said. “We’ve just got to get him on the plate and do our damage when we can.”

The Phillies will counter with left-hander Ranger Suárez, whose 0.94 ERA is the lowest in postseason history (minimum five starts), just ahead of legendary left-hander Sandy Koufax (0.95 ERA).

“I think tomorrow is going to be a great day,” Suárez said. “It’s like a World Series game. It’s win or go home. We’re going to be ready. We’re going to give 100 percent. I’m excited about it tomorrow.”

That was the message Monday night. Tuesday is not something to dread. It is something to look forward to.

On Tuesday, the Phillies can make history.

“It sounds like a lot of fun,” Nick Castellanos said. “What a great opportunity. … I think you do the best you can to take all of that nervousness and anxiousness that you might feel and turn it into excitement. Because [if] we do win tomorrow and we go to the World Series, we’re a better team in the World Series having gone through adversity than, let’s say, if we would have swept in four games and we have a lull period and we’re waiting to see who we play.”

Somebody will play the Rangers in Game 1 of the World Series on Friday night. The Phillies hope it will be them.

In all best-of-seven postseason series, teams that have won Game 6 to force a Game 7 have come out on top in that winner-take-all contest 34 of 60 times (57%). Teams playing in their home ballparks are only 62-64 all time in winner-take-all postseason games, including 30-28 in best-of-seven series.

“The writing is on the wall,” Schwarber said. “It’s Game 7. Everyone sees it. Everyone knows it. We know that we’ve got to go out and play our best game tomorrow.”