June 13, 2024

PHILADELPHIA — Every year, October baseball is a treat, a mish-mash of drama, intrigue, strategy, excitement and nerves frayed and fried. Game 7s take each of those elements and supercharge them. Sports exist for series that go the distance. And this October has gifted a pair of them.

Two days. Two Game 7s.

Early Monday evening, the Arizona Diamondbacks handed the Philadelphia Phillies their first home loss of this postseason, booking a Game 7 in the National League Championship Series on Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park. As the Diamondbacks reveled in extending their season with a 5-1 win, the Texas Rangers were in the process of extinguishing the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, an 11-4 drubbing that kept alive hopes of the franchise’s first championship in 63 years of existence.

As little theater as the wild card and division series rounds this year provided, the LCS have made up for it. And Tuesday’s affair, featuring the star-laden Phillies aiming to make up for their World Series loss last season against the “scrappy,” “gritty” — their words — Diamondbacks attempting to turn an 84-win season into a championship, presents a tantalizing story, regardless of outcome, playing out in real time.

This is baseball at its best. Sure, games are always binary — win or lose — but Game 7s offer a twist: win or go home. They’re not uncommon, exactly, but they are rare enough that the Phillies, who played their first game in 1883 and have played more than 20,000 games in their history, have never participated in a Game 7 — until now.

The last time both championship series in a full season went to Game 7s was 2004, and both series were all-timers. (It also happened during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season.) It speaks to how special this postseason has become, a consideration not lost on the Diamondbacks, who already disposed of a pair of division champions (the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers) and are aiming to fell a Phillies team that entered the NLCS as distinct favorites.

“It could go well, and we’ll celebrate, and it could go poorly, and it could even be my fault,” Diamondbacks closer Paul Sewald said. “But this is why you play. To play in this month. To play Game 7.”

It’s the biggest stage, and one set for indelible moments, as the Rangers and Astros illustrated Monday night.

It’s where Texas outfielder Adolis Garcia concluded the series of his life with a game that etched him in history books. Three days ago, a 99 mph fastball from Astros reliever Bryan Abreu tagged Garcia in his shoulder two innings after he punctuated a three-run home run with a sloth-caliber trot around the bases. The Rangers slugger’s Game 7 coda included four hits in five-at bats, a pair of home runs and five runs batted in.

It’s where Bruce Bochy has cemented his case for the Hall of Fame. The Rangers’ manager, who came out of retirement to take over a team that lost 94 games last season and 102 the year before, is now 6-0 in winner-take-all games, including three Game 7s. He is the first manager to win an LCS with three different organizations. He was the perfect shepherd for the team that spent $500 million on a middle infield in free agency before the 2022 season and another $250 million on pitching this winter and then got Max Scherzer and Jordan Montgomery, who together covered the first five innings of Game 7, at the trade deadline.

Every team’s path to Game 7 is different. The Rangers relied on their bats; the Astros seemed to survive on pure will. Philadelphia rode its stars, Arizona its moxie, and, perhaps more unexpectedly than on the other side of the bracket, their NLCS clash has also produced captivating baseball.

Game 6 showcased the Diamondbacks at their best: hitting home runs and stealing bases and getting five fantastic innings from starter Merrill Kelly and four more from a once-maligned bullpen that found itself at the most opportune moment. Tonight, the calculus for the Diamondbacks is simple: score early and quiet the raucous crowd at the Bank. In this series, when the Phillies get on the board in the first inning, they are 3-0; when they’re held scoreless, they’re 0-3.

“That’s what we need to do all the time,” Arizona shortstop Geraldo Perdomo said. “The first two games there were so loud, and I think [Monday] we answered early. … In any stadium, when the opposite team scores first, the crowd — it’s not loud how it used to be in the beginning. That’s what we need to do for [Game 7], too.”

Philadelphia won’t make it easy. The same mashers who have pummeled 10 home runs this series — Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, J.T. Realmuto and Nick Castellanos — will look to add to the total. Phillies starter Ranger Suarez went toe-to-toe with D-backs rookie Brandon Pfaadt in the brilliantly pitched Game 3, tossing 5⅓ scoreless innings to Pfaadt’s 5⅔. For whatever gap there might be on paper, the NLCS participants are about as even as it gets on the field.

And now, it comes down to Game 7. When Perdomo thinks of Game 7, he remembers the winter league battles between Aguilas and Licey in his native Dominican Republic, that rivalry the country’s equivalent of Yankees-Red Sox. Pfaadt thinks back to just a year ago, when he started and won Game 7 for the Triple-A Pacific Coast League title.

This, though? This is the big leagues. This is for a shot at the World Series. If stars are made in October, legends are made in Game 7.

No, the seventh game won’t prove anything writ large the first six haven’t already. It will, though, send one team to Arlington, Texas, for Game 1 of the World Series on Friday and the other one home for the winter. The stakes are almost too colossal for one game, and yet those stakes are precisely what make Game 7s so exceptional.

This is why we watch. One Game 7 is in the books, and another is coming at 8 p.m. ET. Nothing churns the stomach and induces nausea and fires up the dopamine quite like it.

Isn’t it great?

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