Amongst the pandemonium of the Philadelphia Phillies’ triumphant Sunday night victory over the San Diego Padres, there has been one phrase that’s stood out. It’s been echoed in every interview, from every rabid fan in the nosebleeds high above the field to every member of the organization from Bryce Harper all the way to principal owner John Middleton.
This city. Those two words have been the pervading sentiment behind most of what I’ve written for this site in the past two years. They have been the driving force behind this season’s conquest, the enduring heartbeat of this magical team that could be felt, beating through every jaw-clenching, teeth-grinding, nerve-fraying victory the Phillies have logged on their way to absolution. They are the very same two words that for the past 11 years have been a benchmark of failure – an ideal that the Phillies, with every season of continued mediocrity failed to live up to.
This year, they have failed no more. With Sunday’s victory, the Philadelphia Phillies booked their first ticket to the World Series in 13 years, forever etching the date of October 23rd, 2022 into the memories of Philadelphians for generations to come. Harper and his cohorts have included those two crucial words in every interview because they know exactly how much their success means to this fanbase – one that has seen its spirit broken time and time again, left gaunt and starved for success for over a decade. It’s been easy for them to see, all they’ve had to do is look above to the sea of red and white, a raucous crowd that could be heard for miles throughout the streets of South Philadelphia. For five games, this city showed up, all 45,485 who could fit into the confines of Citizens Bank Park, willing the Phillies to five consecutive home victories and a National League title.
After all, Harper and the rest of the Phillies know what Sunday’s victory means for the organization. In the immediate future, it signifies a burgeoning confidence for perhaps the hottest team in baseball. Although their World Series opponent, the Houston Astros, are unbeaten in the postseason, the Phillies are playing on a level like never before.
For the first time all year, every piece of the team is finally clicking at once, a glorious synchronization that has been the key to this club reaching its potential. The lineup, which throughout the season went through fits of inconsistency, is as imposing as ever, with the 1-2 punch of Kyle Schwarber and Rhys Hoskins powering the Phillies to the National League title. They rallied back from late game deficits, had clutch hits with two outs, and advanced runners in scoring position like a championship team. The starting pitching has found its footing – led by the utterly dominant Zach Wheeler, who has a 1.78 ERA in 4 starts and Aaron Nola, whose proven to be more than capable in big game situations – and has survived late in series thanks to a stellar Ranger Suarez and long man combination of Noah Syndergaard and Zach Eflin. The top arms of the bullpen have been firing on all cylinders too – Seranthony Dominguez has struck out 15 and walked none while allowing just 1 run in 7.2 innings and the ‘pen is tied with the Astros for most saves in the postseason.
The cherry on top? Bryce Harper’s epic postseason performance. Harper’s game-winning, two-run home run in the bottom of the 8th inning, didn’t just solidify him as the NLCS MVP, it may very well have cemented him as the best player in baseball. For not only did Harper hit .400 with a 1.250 OPS, 2 HRs, 5 RBI, and just one strikeout in 20 plate appearances, he’s been the best hitter throughout the entire postseason, leading all hitters in hits (18), average (.419), doubles (6), home runs (5), RBIs (11), runs (10), and total bases (39). After being robbed of a consecutive MVP bid in mid-June and struggling in his regular season return, Harper miraculously flipped a switch at the most crucial time of the year. He’s been the catalyst for the postseason’s most powerful offense and the centerpiece of the Phillies’ success. He’s a two-time MVP, seven-time All-Star, and the most complete hitter in the game. Last week Harper turned 30 – before his birthday, he was just one of three players in MLB history with at least 250 home runs, 800 walks, and 100 stolen bases prior to their age-30 season.
For the long term future, the team’s World Series berth is immeasurably impactful. In 2022, they are ahead of schedule – just breaking into the postseason would have been a fine achievement on its own. They weren’t supposed to be contending for a World Series Title, not yet anyways. In 2023, the Phillies will be viewed differently. No longer will they be thought of as a frisky wild-card team, but a true contender for the division title. Under manager Rob Thompson, they are a different team – one that does not look up at the Atlanta Braves or New York Mets, but instead at eye level, or perhaps even with a downward gaze. There will be a new reality for all in the organization, with expectations to be met from the players on the field to the number of zero’s doled out in John Middleton’s checkbook.
For all that the World Series berth means to the Philadelphia Phillies, however, it means even more to the city. For on Sunday night, as the thousands in Citizens Bank Park sang triumphantly of high hopes and thousands more stormed down Broad Street in pure exultation, the city was set ablaze with hope. It’s the power this team held all along, silently, for the last twelve years. The ability to remind us of what it means to be a Philadelphian. To send a city of 1.61 million disparate souls into a churning, roiling mass, rising together as an unstoppable wave, united by the common belief that we will prevail. A collection of people who finally know what it means to be a part of something. To that, we ask of the Phillies just one last thing: to take us home, to Philadelphia.
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