Phillie’s fandom comes with an understanding that the bad moments will almost always outweigh the good. It is the baggage that comes with supporting the losing franchise in the history of North American professional sports. To put it simply, Phillies has many problems that are hard to ignore.
But for a moment, Brad Miller and Phillies gave a much-needed escape from the pain of baseball fandom in Philadelphia.
The Phillies were down 7-0 in game two of a double header to a mapped Nationals team that had an active COVID-19 outbreak and an impending fire sale. Things looked bleak for a Phillies team that was expected to be a buyer ahead of Friday’s trading deadline.
With a three-run deficit at the bottom of the seventh, Vince Velasquez was forced to come off the bench and pinch due to a lack of position players. Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper, two of the Phillies’ best hitters, left the game early with injuries. The Nationals’ probability of winning reached a peak of 93% after Velasquez’s bat.
After that, Phillies went single, walk, single, walk, single to tie the game to seven. Andrew McCutchen, Ronald Torreyes and JT Realmuto were all down on their final strike that round.
The rally started and ended with Miller. A single on the seventh kept the line moving. A grand slam on the eighth ended it.
“Just to do that and look at the bench and watch the guys go crazy, I think that’s my favorite part,” Miller said. “Just watching my boys go crazy and running around the bases.”
The Phillies are 14 games spread over 24 games in 24 days. They are 7-7 with a weekend series against one of the worst teams in baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates and a rematch against the impoverished Nationals in print. There’s a clear chance for the Phillies to break out of their .500 track. Thursday’s brave efforts will give them a sense of faith that they can do it.
“Unfortunately, I’ve been on a lot of .500 teams,” Miller said. “Another teammate Evan Longoria always said ‘. 500 sucks. .500 is not good. .500 will not get you to the playoffs. October 1 you go home. You go home and you have a lot of time to make sure everyone gets the time in life in the playoffs. ‘”
Phillies has two months to do what Miller suggests they need to do: “Clean up some shit and play a little better.” Better does not mean making four mistakes in a seven-round game and coming back to win seven races. Winning in the most dramatic way is not the most sustainable way to a bunk season after the season.
But that should not be the main draw from Thursday’s victory. Miller’s walk-off grand slam will have its place in the Phillies’ 2021 video yearbook, just as Harpers did two seasons ago. Especially this year, when embarrassing losses pile up and take their toll on a team with a talented group of players, Thursday was a reminder of why baseball is worth seeing in the first place.
The average nine-round baseball game in 2021 lasts three hours and 10 minutes, according to the Baseball Reference. When you multiply that by 162, you get a total of around 513 hours spent watching baseball games in one year. That 513 hours equals just over 21 days spent watching a particular team’s regular season if you’re a fan who never misses a game, giving or taking a few hours for extra innings or seven innings double heads. Multiply that over the course of your life, and you get years of your time dedicated to a very specific hobby.
Maybe some fans turn on the game of intimacy. Some people follow it religiously out of love or self-loathing. Looking at the Phillies comes with a pact that there will be more pain than joy. For the optimists, the pain makes the joy feel a little more sentimental.
Miller’s home run will not go down as a happy moment as Jimmy Rollins’ walk-off against Jonathan Broxton did in the 2009 NLCS. Aaron Nola’s trip to set up Miller’s home run does not feel the same as Brett Myers’ nine-pitch trip that led to a grand slam by Shane Victorino in Game 2 of the 2008 NLDS. Until the Phillies actually reach the playoffs, those moments will only be reserved for the regular season.
But in a season filled with bowel movements, Miller’s grand slam was a pleasant surprise and an emotional moment. It’s OK to enjoy them occasionally.
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