PHILADELPHIA — They were on the wrong side of baseball history, and as far as Rob Thomson is concerned, it ended at 11:27 p.m. ET when the Astros celebrated a combined no-hitter by rallying on the mound at Citizens Bank Park. Thomson, as he always does, waited in the shelter until each Phillies player had passed – including those who trudged out of the bullpen. Then the Phillies manager followed them inside the clubhouse on Wednesday night.
He had something to say after Game 4 of the World Series. Thomson stepped into the middle of the room.
“The last time that happened,” Thomson said, “we did pretty well.”
There weren’t many words spoken. Some players heard different versions of the speech.
Keep your head up.
Turn the page.
The last time that happened was not the World Series. It was in April. Thomson was the bench coach. when five Dishes pitchers orchestrated a no-hitter against them, the Phillies were 21 games into a journey that has now reached unthinkable limits. This, a 5-0 loss to the Astros which tied the series at 2-2 and guaranteed a return trip to Houston, was the Phillies’ 177th game of the season. Everyone is tired. The moment had never seemed too big for these Phillies; they fought their way into this playoffs and pushed everyone. They were carried by the disturbed energy within this stage where, through Wednesday, they were undefeated in the playoffs.
The Phillies now face real adversity, a rare event in this surreal sprint to a championship. There were few close calls Wednesday against Christian Xavier and the other three Houston pitchers – Bryan Abreu, Raphael Montero and Ryan Pressley; Jean Segura lined up to complete the eighth inning and Kyle Schwarber missed a double off the first base line by inches in the third inning. The Astros fired 89 four-seam fastballs — nearly two-thirds of their total throws — and the Phillies were helpless.
For one night, at least.
“Confident as ever” Alec Bohm said. “I don’t think anyone cares. Tonight stay here. Tomorrow is a new day.
Thomson doesn’t often address his players as a group. He avoids it because he is not a manager who believes in performative traditions. Team meetings are not Thomson’s style.
It had been 66 years since the World Series had been successful. The disappointment deserved a quick visit to the clubhouse.
“He understands it’s a loss,” Schwarber said. “We all understand that. When he arrives and says that, it’s just so little. …”
Schwarber snapped his fingers.
“Everything is fine. The season is not over.
The season has, at most, three games to play. The Phillies will start Noah Syndergaard in Game 5 – the last baseball game of the year in South Philadelphia. The bullpen will register more outs than Syndergaard; a best-case scenario is something like four innings from the 30-year-old right-hander. Syndergaard has pitched in the World Series before, but that was seven years ago. He started this game with a 98 mph fastball which intentionally sailed over the head of Alcides Escobar. Syndergaard was a different pitcher then.
“I’m trying to remember what I was thinking seven years ago,” Syndergaard said Wednesday afternoon.
Even seven months ago feels like an eternity. Syndergaard was with the angels, trying to reinvent themselves. That process started with his first start, against the Astros. Justin Verlander opposed him. Now, these two will end their seasons head-to-head. They shared the same physiotherapist who helped them navigate the arduous rehabilitation process after Tommy John surgery.
“This whole opportunity gives me chills,” Syndergaard said.
The Phillies had a chance to start Zack Wheeler on regular rest in Game 5, but they opted to hold him off for Game 6 so he could have more time. Wheeler is no longer the same pitcher he was at the start of the playoffs, and it is a major concern. The Phillies reviewed the schedule and determined that a bullpen game in Game 5 made the most sense as there is a scheduled bye day between Games 5 and 6, but not Games 6 and 7. Thomson will have his entire stable of relievers behind Syndergaard for Game 5.
Everyone is tired right now. Joseph Alvarado looked vulnerable for the first time in weeks. He inherited a tough situation in the fifth inning Wednesday night — bases loaded, no outs — and hit Yordan Alvarez with the first pitch he threw. It had been four days since Alvarado had pitched. He didn’t think he was rusty. He wasn’t trying to enter Alvarez. He just missed.
“I was focused on the target,” Alvarado said. “The same Alvarado as always. The last thing I want to do there is hit him.
The Phillies will have regrets; they had jumped on every advantage to stifle opponents at Citizens Bank Park. This has, so far, allowed them to avoid the most pressing scenarios of these playoffs. Now, to win the World Series, they know they have to win at least one game in Houston.
They will have Ranger Suarez on regular rest for a potential game 7. Aaron Nola, who was retired after 67 pitches in his 37th start of the season, could be an option for a few innings in Game 7 on three days off. The Astros could counter Javier on three days off. But he threw 97 pitches. He would be limited in Game 7. “I don’t know, two or three innings, maybe,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. Maybe Houston trust Lance McCullers Jr. enough to bounce back from a horrible outing in Game 3 to be a factor in a Game 7. Perhaps the best thing to happen to the Phillies is that Baker decided to start McCullers ahead of Javier in this series.
But Houston has the best starter in this series, Framber Valdez, for Game 6. That, plus home-court advantage in two of the potential three games, provides an inherent advantage for the Astros.
“It’s just a loss,” Schwarber said Wednesday night. “Now it’s a two-man race. See what happens.
How does it feel to be on the wrong side of history?
“I really don’t care,” Schwarber said. “We will move on to tomorrow. It’s cool. We’ll be in the history books, I guess.
“It’s not good,” Bryce Harper said. “Not good.”
“Nobody cares,” Bohm said. “So what? What are you going to do? Cry it? We’re moving on. I don’t think anyone here cares.
The Phillies, all season, preached about the qualities of resilience in the team. They’ve seen things since April. They’re off on a ride that few teams have ever enjoyed. It has never been easy. So add to the book being unsuccessful in the World Series.
“These guys, they have short memories,” Thomson said. “They will go home tonight. They’re going to lay down and come back here tomorrow and prepare and compete like they always do.
But the manager knew: it was not a loss. It has been 66 years since a team was hit in the World Series. He had to say something – short and obvious – but something his players needed to hear.
“And,” Nick Castellanos said, “He was absolutely right.”
(Top photo by Kyle Schwarber: Bill Streicher/USA Today)