Phillies hit below .100 in final 30 innings of World Series, tip their caps to Astros


HOUSTON -- There's never just one reason why a team’s postseason ends, why the winners are mobbed on the field by family and staff from all levels of the organization while the other side sits somberly in its clubhouse answering questions about what went wrong.

Did the Phillies lose the World Series because Rob Thomson pulled Zack Wheeler too early in Game 6?

Did they lose because Jose Alvarado lost the magic he rode from mid-June through the early days of November?

Did they lose because they couldn't hit? Because they couldn't come up with the clutch defensive plays the Astros executed?

The answer is all of the above. But if there's one lasting image Phillies fans will have from the final three games of the 2022 World Series -- all Phils losses -- it will probably be the offense's disappearing act.

The city was as confident as the ballclub after the Phillies slugged five home runs in a 7-0 win in Game 3 to take a series lead. Then came the no-hitter. Then the night of a zillion stranded runners. Then one more unproductive evening against Framber Valdez.

Over a span of 30 innings from the sixth inning of Game 3 through the end of the World Series, Phillies hitters went 9 for 98 for a pitcher-esque batting average of .092. Forget the lack of success with runners in scoring position, they didn't hit, period. Kyle Schwarber kept homering and Bryce Harper did damage throughout the postseason, but there was too little support elsewhere in a lineup that was built to pound the baseball.

"Heck, they’ve got good pitchers," said Schwarber, whose solo homer off of Valdez in the sixth inning was the Phils' only run in a 4-1 loss.

"That’s what they’re known for. Obviously, they’ve got great offensive players too, but their pitching has been pretty spot-on. Yeah, the no-hitter was the no-hitter. But you go to Game 5, we felt like we were a swing away, which we were. Obviously tonight, we were in that game all the way. It’s good pitching. You tip your cap."

Did the Phillies run out of gas? Was the Astros' pitching staff just that good?

"I think it's a little bit of both," Nick Castellanos said. "We definitely could have hit better down the stretch, but also, they do have great pitching and the old saying goes, great pitching beats great hitting. They had some clutch hits. We played well. Sh--, we were two wins away from being the best team in North America.

"There's no way around it, man, it's a sh---y feeling. But at the same time, grateful for the opportunity to have this sh---y feeling because there's a lot of teams and players that have never been able to play in the World Series."

That was a common refrain throughout the Phillies' clubhouse. The players were extremely disappointed because of how close they were to pulling off another upset and shocking the world but recognized that this is an experience they can build off of moving forward.

That doesn't necessarily mean they'll be right back in this spot next year or the year after. There's an element of luck for any team that advances as far as the 2022 Phillies and who knows if there will be as many rabbits to pull out of as many hats as this group did.

"I don't know about running out of steam," Rhys Hoskins said. "There's endless amounts of adrenaline that flow throughout the playoffs. Just a good team. They beat us. Not often do we say that, but they beat us this time.

"I think we're always surprised, that's the type of confidence that we have in ourselves as an offense. But they made pitches when they needed to and that was the difference in the series. 

"It's hard to get momentum against that bullpen."

In the end, the Phillies needed more from their right-handed hitters. Hoskins went 3 for 25 in the World Series with 10 strikeouts. Castellanos went 3 for 24 with 10 strikeouts. J.T. Realmuto went 1 for 16 with 10 strikeouts in the final four games. Jean Segura went 3 for 21 without a walk or extra-base hit.

"They landed a lot of breaking balls in the zone. They threw a lot of strikes with those early and then got chases late," Hoskins said. "Especially when you have high velocity behind that, it makes it tough to hit."

This postseason was Valdez' coming-out party. The Astros' left-hander showed the world how difficult his sinker-curveball combination is to hit and he gave the Phillies fits every time he faced them, beginning with his start in the final game of the regular season when he struck out 10 over five scoreless innings. Including that game, Valdez allowed just two runs to the Phillies in 17⅓ innings with 28 strikeouts. He dominated.

"There's always things we can do better as an offense, but really, you just have to give credit to their pitching staff," Realmuto said. "Top to bottom, the best stuff that we've seen this year from every guy we faced. Not a lot of weaknesses in their staff and that's why they were successful all season long."

It wasn't just Valdez or Cristian Javier. It was relievers Ryan Pressly, Bryan Abreu, Hector Neris and Rafael Montero, all of whom came out of Houston's bullpen throwing hard, hitting spots and benefitting from exceptional glove work behind them.

"I think it was a combination of a couple things, really," Thomson said. "We went through a dry spell at the wrong time. And you've got to give credit to their pitching. They've got great pitching, they really do. I congratulate Houston for the World Championship. They've got a really good ballclub and they can beat you in a lot of different ways."

This will sting for a while -- for the players, for Thomson, for his coaches, for the front office that put this team together and the fanbase that acted as the 27th man all October into November. Maybe the feeling would be different if the Phils were swept. But by winning Game 1 and crushing Houston in Game 3, they teased that they had one final push left, even against a juggernaut like the 2022 Astros.

The better team won. The Astros played all season with the expectation of winning a championship. The Phillies had the same hopes, even in the dark days of May, but it never looked like a realistic possibility until they caught fire in the ninth inning in St. Louis on October 7. That was a calendar month ago but it feels like a year has passed given all these Phillies have been through since.

"It's a picture in our mind and that'll stay with us until we get there," Hoskins said of watching the Astros celebrate. "It stinks but we'll use it as fuel.

"I don't know if anybody thought we would be here given where we were. As an overall statement, we should be proud of what we were able to accomplish even if we came up short."

Realmuto's takeaways were similar.

"It didn't end the way we wanted it to end but I don't want that to take away from how proud I am of this group, how much fun we had together and how much we jelled together," the Gold Glove catcher said. "It's unfortunate that it didn't end the way we wanted to, but it was a good ride."

And now the Phillies look toward the future. The Winter Meetings are a month away. An important offseason awaits. Segura, Zach Eflin, Noah Syndergaard, Kyle Gibson, David Robertson and Brad Hand are free agents. The team payroll is still extremely high, as will be the expectations in 2023.

"The first thing we touched on as a group when we came back in here was that this is not something to hang your heads about," Castellanos said. "This is a step moving forward to next year. Now everybody on this team has been here before, everyone has been in the playoffs before, myself included. This is the deepest I've ever gone by a long shot. 

"All these rookies that we have now have postseason experience -- Alec Bohm, Bryson Stott, Brandon Marsh. Now Alvarado has pitched in the postseason, Ranger Suarez, Aaron Nola, Wheeler. There was so much gain from this run and so much positive movement. I said that if anybody would have asked if we would've been the best team in the National League, I don't think a lot of people would've said yes. But that's where we are. We just came up short."

It will be interesting to see how this team, referred to as a team of destiny in recent weeks, is remembered once the sting subsides. It was one of the wildest rides in Philly sports history, but there was no storybook ending.

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