October 26, 2022
The calm before one last major storm. Friday can't get here soon enough.
The Phillies have a date with the Astros in the World Series, but Game 1 is still a couple of days away.
In the meantime, collective views of Bryce Harper's pennant-clinching homer are well into the millions (highly recommend the Moneyball edit) and Calum Scott's cover of "Dancing on my Own" is charting again.
For now, it's quiet, but that doesn't mean there's any shortage of things to say or stories to tell about the NL Champion Phillies.
So here's what they're saying...
Bryce Harper's eighth-inning at-bat that led to "the swing of his life" was an elite display of hitting in the biggest moment of the Phillies' season.
Facing San Diego's Robert Suarez, who carries a devastating sinker, Harper saw seven pitches and battled and adjusted with each one.
Behind in the count 1-2, pitch No. 6 was critical. Suarez threw the changeup, Harper laid off. The count went to 2-2 with the entire outlook of the at-bat completely shifted.
At 91.5 mph, Suarez’s changeup had about six to seven mph of velocity separation from his fastballs in this at-bat. But that wasn’t enough for Harper to be fooled. Even in swing mode and despite a career-high chase rate of 35.5% this season, he saw this perfectly executed pitch well enough to spit on it with no hesitation. From Suarez’s point of view, this take is worrisome. Harper had been on the fastball enough the entire at-bat to warrant off-speed below the zone, but letting this pitch go by was a sign not to throw it again; if the next changeup lands in the strike zone, you’re in serious trouble.
Suarez didn’t have to go back to the heater, but if you’re truly reading swings and takes, there is no way you go back to the changeup. As this at-bat progressed, Harper only looked better. The sound move for Suarez was to go back to his best pitch and execute it as well as he could. [FanGraphs]
Pitch No. 7: Suarez made the sound move. He went to the sinker. Harper turned on it. Phillies took the lead.
The very best hitters make pitch-to-pitch adjustments like we saw here from Harper. But not a single hitter in the sport was able to do what Harper did here: hit a home run off a Robert Suarez sinker. Much respect to one of the best hitters of this generation. [FanGraphs]
Mike Schmidt saw the same masterful at-bat.
The pitch Harper got a hold of, hitters almost never do anything with. But that didn't matter to the reigning NL MVP, on a complete tear through the postseason. He took it the opposite way.
Said Schmidt, via The New York Times' Tyler Kepner:
“I said to myself, ‘I can’t believe what I just saw,’” Schmidt said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “You don’t see hitters go to the opposite field very often, if ever, to win a game, especially of that magnitude. You have to have total control of yourself to go with the pitch in that situation.
“Normally a guy will pop that up, swing and miss it, hook it to the second baseman, because normally the pressure of the moment takes over and causes you to be over anxious. And to be able to hit that fly ball to left field, it’s almost like he said, ‘Hey, let me show you how to win this game. I want to hit this fly ball to left field.’”
Then Schmidt, the most valuable player of that World Series against Kansas City, gave Harper a powerful compliment.
“That guy,” Schmidt said, “he is one of, if not the, greatest performer under pressure I’ve ever seen.” [The New York Times]
Schmidt, one of the greatest Phillies ever and probably the greatest third baseman ever, watched the NLCS from his home in Florida, but will be back in town next week for the World Series.
The 2022 Phils will take on the Astros 42 years after Schmidt and the 1980 championship team took Houston down in an NLCS that went down as one of baseball's greatest series ever.
Baseball can make a month feel like a lifetime.
A few weeks ago the Phillies were struggling, so much so that them losing their playoff spot last second to the Milwaukee Brewers was a serious possibility.
Whatever you felt at the time, owner John Middleton felt too. But again, baseball can make a month feel like a lifetime.
[Middleton] took us back in time – all of 22 days. He and his team were in Washington D.C. It was a Saturday afternoon, the first day of October, and they had just lost to the Nationals – the worst team in baseball – 13 to 4. It was their fourth loss in five games. Their playoff magic number was stuck at four with five games to go, and three of them were going to come against the eventual 106-win Houston Astros.
It didn’t look good from a fan perspective and Middleton told us, he sort of felt the same way.
Sitting there, alone in his box, with a few hours between games of the day/night doubleheader. Middleton started talking to himself.
“I said to myself, ‘What are we doing here?'"
Many fans wondered the same thing. How could this be happening again? Wasn’t Dave Dombrowski brought in here to change this? Weren’t the big free agent signings of Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos supposed to make this lineup the deepest in baseball? Weren’t trade deadline acquisitions Brandon Marsh, David Robertson and Noah Syndergaard supposed to fill the holes this team had to secure the first playoff berth in 11 years?
Middleton was right there with you thinking the same thing in those, long hours between games. Then a series of fortunate events happened.
“In the span of the next 30 hours, all of our sudden our magic number was one,” Middleton said. [Crossing Broad]
Aaron Nola pitched the game of his life to start that final series down in Houston. The run took off from there.
If Rob Thomson is never promoted to interim, and then eventually full-time, manager, the Phillies most likely aren't in the World Series. They may have never snapped out of the rut they were in through the first two months of the season.
A baseball lifer who stayed relatively out of the public conscious throughout his coaching career, the past few months have shot Thomson fully into the spotlight as the skipper for the Phillies' turnaround.
He apparently hates the attention, wrote MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, but the players have rallied around him and it's spread through every part of the club.
Wrote Zolecki from the clinching Game 5:
Michele Thomson has been married to Rob Thomson for 35 years. She wore an “I Ride with Philly Rob” T-shirt to Game 5 of the NL Championship Series. Bryce Harper sparked interest in the T-shirt when he wore one during BP in late August at Chase Field in Arizona.
Thomson shook his head when he first saw Harper wear it.
He hates the attention.
So it was funny to know that Michele wasn’t the only one representing her husband at Game 5. Rhys Hoskins’ wife, Jayme, bought T-shirts for the players’ wives, fiancées and girlfriends.
She surprised Michele with one, too.
They all wore them to Game 5.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Michele said.
It might be the best example yet of how much players love playing for Thomson. Because if players didn’t love playing for Thomson, the wives wouldn’t love them playing for Thomson. And if the wives didn’t love them playing for Thomson, they sure as heck would not wear “I Ride with Philly Rob” T-shirts during the Phillies’ most important game in more than a decade.But Thomson has that effect on people. [MLB.com]
Everyone rides with Philly Rob.
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