HOUSTON — It ended loudly and suddenly and without any doubt: 12 outs remaining, two men on base, one devastating swing. The bat cracked and the ball jumped and all that was left was to watch. Twenty feet above the center-field wall, a season disappeared.
It ended fittingly. With one team doing its thing. With the other team doing it better. With one superstar striking a blow. With another striking one harder.
It ended as the improbable often does: with a fourth loss in the World Series.
Astros 4, Phillies 1.
Game, set, match.
We’ll remember 2022 as the year the Phillies lost the World Series, because that’s the way history works. We tell it with ourselves at the center. But the victors deserved to write this one. The Astros won it. They were simply better.
Yordan Alvarez’s three-run home run in the sixth inning of a do-or-die Game 6 was the decisive blow. It will not be the defining one. Not for the Phillies. It isn’t often that the city of Philadelphia looks back fondly on second-place finishers. This team? They will be an exception.
That came as little consolation in the immediate aftermath. As the Astros leapt over the dugout railing and swarmed the mound, the Phillies looked on from their side of the field, as if unsure of what to do.
Finality is a difficult thing to grasp, but whenever the sting fades, they’ll be left with an appreciation of all that they accomplished. They’ll remember all of those moments that reestablished baseball as an integral part of this city: That impossible comeback in St. Louis, that magical home opener in the NLDS, that eighth-inning home run that clinched the Phillies their first World Series berth in 13 years. The sliding catches by Nick Castellanos in right field, the impeccable defense by Alec Bohm at third base, the inside-the-park home run by J.T. Realmuto — those are the memories that will burn brightest.
Whatever Rhys Hoskins’ future holds, the home runs will overshadow the groundouts. Jean Segura’s go-ahead single, Brandon Marsh’s double-robbing grab in center, all those leadoff Schwarbombs.
The season was simply a few starts too long for Aaron Nola, two starts too long for Zack Wheeler.
Wheeler did what he could in Game 6. He gave what he had, probably more. For three innings, he was close to perfect. Then, his velocity dipped. In the sixth, his command began to go with it. His first mistake of the night was a big one: a 1-1 sinker that hit a nine-hole hitter on the elbow. Jose Altuve followed with a fielder’s choice ground ball that enabled him to replace Martin Maldonado on first. He then moved to third base on a one-out single by Jeremy Pena.
Jose Alvarado came in from the bullpen. Alvarez stepped to the plate. Nothing about what happened next should overshadow everything that preceded it.
Depth was the difference. Houston was a team built for the long haul. The further down the roster you went, the more apparent it became. The longer these two teams kept playing, the more lopsided the win-loss count would have grown. Hero ball can carry you only so far. It’s remarkable it carried them where it did.
They were up against a Goliath, one of the most perfectly constructed baseball teams in recent history. It’s why they won 106 out of 162 in the regular season. It’s why they entered the postseason 11 wins away from a title. It’s why they needed just 13 games to get there. The Astros were one of two teams in the expansion era to enter the postseason with seven pitchers who averaged at least 9.0 strikeouts-per-nine-innings with an ERA under 3.00 (minimum: 40 innings). The Phillies had one such player: the guy who ran out of gas in Game 6.
As always, there were ifs. What if Edmundo Sosa’s second-inning fly ball to deep left-center had traveled the same distance but 15 feet to the left, where it would have landed eight rows deep for a three-run home run? What if Wheeler hadn’t developed a case of forearm tendinitis and missed much of September? What if that pitch hadn’t caught Maldonado’s elbow?
That they can even ask these questions is an accomplishment all its own. They were here, and that’s still a remarkable thing considering where they once were. From eight games under .500 to a newly minted wild-card spot to back-to-back wild-card wins on the road to seven wins in nine games to a 2-1 lead in the World freaking Series.
The 2022 Phillies may be gone. They will not soon be forgotten.