Approaching World Series Game Six, the Phillies could lean on the experience of one member who’d been there, done that, down 3-2 in a Series, then took the final two and the world championship. That was seven years ago, when he was a Cub, his season began (thanks to injury) in the World Series, and the Cubs finally did what seven-eighths of the earth thought wouldn’t happen in its lifetime.
“We’ve overcome a lot of things throughout the course of this year to be in this position,” said Phillies left fielder/bombardier/periodic base thief Kyle Schwarber as the Phillies traveled to Houston Friday. “I think when we get there, you’re going to see a really resilient club and we’re going to play until the very end and we’re going to see where it takes us.”
Funny, but that’s just about what every 2016 Cub said, too, when the then-Indians had them on the ropes with the Series returning to Cleveland for Games Six and Seven.
That was then: the Cubs pushed, shoved, pitched, and pounded their way through two arduous games. This is now: The Phillies, whose World Series drought is barely an eleventh of those Cubs’, will have to do all that plus rip, snarl, tear, slice, dice, and air fry. Just as when he was a 2016 Cub, the Schwarbinator won’t surrender, to these Astros or anyone else.
“It’s going to take everything,” said Schwarber, who did what he could to keep the Phillies from losing Game Five when he opened with a nasty home run off future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander in what proved a to-the-max 3-2 Phillies loss. “It’s going to take everyone. We’re excited. Trust me. Sure, it’s frustrating, but we’re also very excited.”
The Phillies are in a strange position this postseason. They enter Game Six with their first series deficit since they wrestled their way to the final National League wild card in the first place. Beyond that, they have reason not to fear. They’ve come back several times to get here in the first place.
Game One of the wild card set against the Cardinals? Down 2-0 in the top of the ninth. Then: bases-loaded hit batsman, two-run single, run-scoring infielder’s choice, RBI single, and a sacrifice fly, and two Cardinal runs in the bottom of the inning weren’t enough to deny the first win of a Phillie sweep.
Game Four, National League Championship Series? A four-run Padres first didn’t exactly bury them alive. Bottom of the first: Two-run homer (Rhys Hoskins), RBI double (Bryce Harper). Deficit cut to one. Bottom of the fourth: Tying RBI single. Bottom of the fifth, after Juan Soto put the Padres back up with a homer? Two-run homer (Hoskins, again), RBI double (Harper, again), RBI single, two-run Phillie lead. Bottom of the sixth: Solo bomb (Schwarber), three-run lead. Bottom of the seventh: Solo bomb (J.T. Realmuto), four-run lead, ultimately four-run win.
Game Five, NLCS? Call it the Mud and Guts Game if you must. Bottom of the third: Phillies take a 2-0 lead with another Hoskins two-run thump. Top of the fourth: Soto cuts the San Diego deficit in half with another solo smash. Top of the seventh, with the Citizens Bank Park rain turning the field into a swamp and pitching grips and strides into mush and mire? The Padres take a 3-2 lead with an RBI single and two wild pitches enabling a run. Bottom of the eighth? Harper fights and fouls his way to a dramatic opposite-field two-run homer. Two Phillies relievers make it stick for the pennant.
Game One, World Series? Kyle Tucker’s two bombs help the Astros bushwhack Aaron Nola in the first three innings. So the Phillies return the favour by ripping five out of Verlander—RBI single and immediate two-run double in the top of the fourth; two-run double in the top of the fifth. The score stays tied at five until Realmuto breaks it for keeps with a leadoff bomb in the top of the tenth, and David Robertson survives a double, a walk, a wild pitch for second and third, and gets the game and win-ending ground out.
All the Phillies need to do now is continue overcoming that nasty 0-for-20 with runners in scoring position until Jean Segura slapped an RBI single in the eighth in Game Five. They need Zack Wheeler to be his best self on the Game Six mound. They need to continue overthrowing their earlier reputation for defensive mishaps and cut the Astros off with more of the glovework and derring-do they began flashing during the Philadelphia leg of the Series.
They need, in other words, to be better than the best of their selves that pulled them into the Series and into the 2-1 Series lead the Astros wrested away from them on their own soil. Astros Game Six starter Framber Valdez, who manhandled them in Game Two, also in Houston, intends to let them do nothing of the sort.
“I think I’m just going to try to continue doing what I’ve been doing all season,” Valdez said through an interpreter after Game Five. “Just try and attack hitters early, try to breathe, try to stay calm, try to meditate. It’s something that’s really exciting. I think it’s something that really adds a lot to your career, and I’m really excited for this opportunity.”
It’ll add something to the Astros’ resume, too: their first untainted World Series rings. Not to mention handing their manager Dusty Baker—the man who steadied the Astro starship after it was strafed by the in-house phasers of Astrogate, keeping his gradually turning-over team playing through the aftermath, three seasons following its exposure, despite the organisation’s turmoil and grotesqueries—the first World Series triumph of his long and mostly distinguished managerial career.
The Astros know the Phillies won’t be simple pickings despite shutting them out back-to-back in Philadelphia, once with a combined no-hitter. It’s the Phillies’ job not to make things simple for the Astros.
“What a better storybook ending,” asked Castellanos, whose limp bat is almost forgotten when you’ve seen his defense turning into must-see television all of a sudden, “than if we can go there and win this in Game Seven?”
First things first, Schwarber would remind one and all.
“We’ve got a pretty good pitcher going for us in Game Six,” the Schwarbinator says. “We’ve got to be able to bounce back offensively. I don’t think anyone believes more in this group than we do. That’s going to be a big thing for us. We’ve just got to be able to play all the outs. We’re going to see where it takes us.”
First, it needs to take them past the Astros in Game Six. Then the Phillies can worry about who writes their storybook ending—the team of Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry (who wrote the screenplay for The Natural); or, any given Astro, plus Jack Benny and Fred Allen, climaxing their long-running mock on-air feud while satirising the notorious weeper quiz show Queen for a Day:
Allen: An expert operating the Hoffman Pressing Machine will press your trousers—
Benny: Now wait a minute! (Studio audience laughter and noise.) Now wait a minute, Allen!
Allen: Keep your shirt on, King!
Benny: You bet I’ll keep my shirt on!
Allen: All right, folks, tune in again next—
Benny: Come on, Allen, give me my pants!
Allen: Quiet, King!
Benny: Where are my pants?
Allen: Benny, for fifteen years I’ve been waiting to catch you like this.
Benny: Allen, you haven’t seen the end of me!
Allen: It won’t be long now!