April 17, 2024

PHILADELPHIA — They wouldn’t use the word “stunned,” but the Philadelphia Phillies certainly looked the part as they sat around their clubhouse contemplating what could have been after dropping Game 7 of the NLCS to the Arizona Diamondbacks, 4-2, on Tuesday night.

“We underachieved as a team,” right fielder Nick Castellanos said. “It’s a frustrating way for the season to end.”

Castellanos was among those that struggled in the series, going 0 for his last 20 over the final six games. He and others lamented the missed opportunities, both individually and collectively. The Phillies lost Games 6 and 7 at home after taking a 3-2 series lead in Arizona.

“It’s not that we’re not good enough to win,” catcher JT Realmuto said. “We just have to finish the job and play a little better. They played better than we did the last few days.”

The Phillies offense — after scoring 10 runs in Game 2 — scored a total of just four in three of their losses. They went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position in Game 7, tied for the fifth-worst batting average in a winner-take-all game since 1990.

One of those moments of failure came in the seventh inning, with two on and two out, and Bryce Harper at the plate. This could have been the moment which vaulted the Phillies back into the World Series while sending the Philly faithful into full chaos in the stands.

It wasn’t to be. Harper flew out on a fastball by reliever Kevin Ginkel.

“Just missed it,” Harper said. “Not being able to come through in that moment, just devastation for me. I feel like I let my team down and let the city of Philadelphia down as well. That’s a moment I feel like I need to come through.”

Harper estimated the ball missed his barrel by a tenth of a second.

Castellanos wasn’t as close. His struggles worsened as the series wore on. He also stranded two runners, back in the fourth inning when it looked like Philadelphia might break it open. Instead, Castellanos struck out and they ended up leaving the bases loaded.

“I think that I felt great until going to Arizona and then I felt like I was grinding to see the ball and see pitches,” Castellanos said. “It’s terrible. It’s a terrible feeling to just be locked in and in a zone then have it fade away at the wrong time.”

That feeling extended to the outcome of the series as well. One year after losing in the World Series, the Phillies fell short of just getting back there. Castellanos was asked if he was stunned by the result, especially after getting up 2-0 in the series, and then again 3-2, and needing just one win home to advance.

“I would say frustrated is the credit word,” Castellanos said. “Just because the potential of this team is so much greater than going home before the World Series. Last year when we lost Game 6, there was a lot of ‘alright we got here. Now we can build off that.’ Knowing how we feel about this team, and coming up short from the year previous, it’s a disgusting feeling honestly.”

That sentiment pervaded the locker room as players said their goodbyes to each other. In one corner, free agent pitcher Aaron Nola discussed his desire to return while injured first baseman — and also a free agent — Rhys Hoskins did the same on the other side of the room.

“This is a team that has a ton of fun,” Hoskins said. “They’re competitive as hell. We have a chance to win the World Series every year with this group. That doesn’t exist around all of baseball. That’s something that’s important to me as a competitor.”

For Nola, his lasting memory could be of coming out of Game 6 after giving up four runs in 4.1 innings. He stared blankly as he answered questions he doesn’t have answers to.

“I don’t know what the future holds yet,” he said. “I hope I’m back next year. It’s the hard part about the business.”

After trying to explain what just happened, the Phillies turned to the future. Despite those couple of free agents, it’s not a roster that’s going to be broken up or is considered at the end of a run. But the result was a step back from a season ago and that won’t sit well with the leaders on the team.

“It felt just as sickening last year as it does this year,” Kyle Schwarber said. “We were two wins away last year. This year we were five wins away. It will never feel right. It never does. It never will. You have to use this for as much motivation as you can.”

Harper added: “We’ll be back. We have a great owner. And a president and (general manager) that are going to get us the best opportunity to win and be here every single year.

“I wish I could have done more. I wish I could have gone out there and had that big hit.”

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