During the offseason, the Philadelphia Phillies couldn't shake the haunting memory of how tantalizingly close they came to a World Series championship just last October. But this summer, they remained resolute, acknowledging only one outcome that could ever satisfy them in October: reaching the World Series.
Owner John Middleton articulated the collective ambition when he stated firmly, "We've got to get to the World Series."
Fast forward to this winter, and the Phillies find themselves in a perplexing state of contemplation. The cause of their introspection? A disheartening performance by their seasoned closer, Craig Kimbrel, at a most inopportune moment.
Kimbrel's meltdown became the pivotal moment on a fateful Friday night when the Arizona Diamondbacks staged a stunning comeback to seize a 6-5 victory, leveling the National League Championship Series at two games apiece.
The Phillies were cruising, holding a 5-3 lead and a mere six outs away from establishing a commanding 3-1 series lead. That's when Kimbrel entered the fray.
Initially, he gave up a leadoff double to Lourdes Gurriel and managed to retire Evan Longoria on a deep fly ball to left field. Yet, as a full count loomed, the sellout crowd of 47,306 witnessed the shocking sight of pinch-hitter Alek Thomas launching a two-run home run, knotting the game and sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Just a few batters later, Gabriel Moreno's single into center field scripted a dramatic comeback victory for the D-backs.
The Phillies still have aces in their deck, with Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Ranger Suarez lined up for the next three games. In contrast, the D-backs have Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, and Brandon Pfaadt to counter with.
If this series was supposed to be a breeze for the Phillies, it's evident that someone failed to inform the Diamondbacks. Despite their power-hitting trio of Corbin Carroll, Christian Walker, and Tommy Pham struggling at the plate, going a combined 3 for 40 (.075), they've remarkably managed to level the series.
The Phillies' potent offense had been eerily quiet, having scored just one run in 12 innings at Chase Field until Kyle Schwarber's mammoth 409-foot leadoff home run in the fourth inning. This marked Schwarber's 19th postseason homer, making him the most prolific left-handed hitter in postseason history.
With game tied 2-2, the D-backs’ bullpen unraveled in the sixth inning when left-handed rookie reliever Andrew Saalfrank walked the bases loaded without an out. He was instantly removed with Ryan Thompson becoming their sixth pitcher of the game, leaving the D-backs without a lefty for the rest of the game.
The Phillies wasted no time capitalizing.
Third baseman Alec Bohm hit a chopper to third baseman Emmanuel Rivera that took him wide of the bag. He threw off-balance home, but the ball got away from catcher Gabriel Moreno, and by the time he retrieved it, two runs scored for a 4-2 lead.
The Phillies added another run in the seventh with Johan Rojas’ leadoff triple and Trea Turner’s sacrifice fly, but just when it looked like it would be a blowout, it was the Phillies’ bullpen that collapsed.
In the words of D-backs manager Torey Lovullo: “The narrative has changed."
Oh, has it ever.