One year ago today, the tide turned for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Not long into then-interim manager Rob Thomson’s tenure, the club found itself down in the divisional standings and down to the Los Angeles Angels 6-2 in the bottom of the 8th inning on a seemingly arbitrary Sunday afternoon.
The game felt like just one in the millions of Phillies’ losses over the years until suddenly; it wasn’t. With the swing of a bat, a full count, and two outs heavy on his mind, Bryce Harper tied the game at six runs apiece with a thunderous grand slam home run. One inning later, down 7-6 in the bottom of the 9th, rookie shortstop Bryson Stott brought the victory home with a three-run walk-off home run.
At that point in the season, the Phillies held a measly 25-29 record, good for 11.0 games back from the division lead. Not even the most ardent of Phillies fan could’ve expected what would happen next: that the team would go 19-8 in June, 15-10 in July, and 18-11 in August, just enough to sneak into the playoffs as a wild card seed. No one predicted that the team would tear through the National League playoffs and come within inches of a World Series title. And yet they did.
One could argue that in the grand sea of a 162-game regular season, success is defined less by just wins and losses but instead by moments.
Moments that lead to victories, that change the cosmic state of a team from the butt of a joke into something people can believe in. A gutsy call to the bullpen, a stolen base, a passed ball, and a walk-off win are all infinite and unknown consequences to the outcome of a season.
So who am I to believe that this year’s team can be more than it is? That at 27-32, the 2023 Phillies can be more than the sum of their costly, underperforming parts?
To believe in the unbelievable, a chance at redemption, a chance at a world championship?
Maybe it’s because, as fans, we’re all just looking for something to believe in. Something to put our hearts into, to fill that void, to take that journey with a team – a never-ending pursuit of grace land vindicated by the ephemeral visage of a championship.
Tonight marks the first in a series of moments that have the power to determine the outcome of the Phillies’ season. Tonight the Phillies start a three-game set against the Detroit Tigers, who at 26-31 are not far off from where the Phillies are now, but so far away from what this team wants to be.
Tonight, against the lowly Tigers, the Phillies have the chance to finally turn the tide.