Phillies fandom comes with an understanding that the bad moments will almost always outnumber the good. It’s the baggage that comes with supporting the losingest franchise in the history of North American professional sports. To put it simply, the Phillies have a lot of problems that are hard to ignore.
But for a moment, Brad Miller and the Phillies provided a much needed escape from the pain associated with baseball fandom in Philadelphia.
The Phillies were down 7-0 in game two of a doubleheader to a shorthanded Nationals team dealing with an active COVID-19 outbreak and an imminent fire sale. Things looked bleak for a Phillies team that was expected to be a buyer ahead of Friday’s trade deadline.
With a three-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh, Vince Velasquez was forced to come off the bench and pinch hit due to a shortage of position players. Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper, two of the Phillies’ best hitters, left the game early with injuries. The Nationals’ win probability peaked at 93% following Velasquez’s at-bat.
After that, the Phillies went single, walk, single, walk, single to tie the game at seven. Andrew McCutchen, Ronald Torreyes and J.T. Realmuto were all down to their final strike that inning.
The rally began and ended with Miller. A single in the seventh kept the line moving. A grand slam in the eighth ended it.
“Just to do that and look over to the bench and see the guys going crazy, I think that’s my favorite part,” Miller said. “Just seeing my boys going crazy and running around the bases.”
The Phillies are 14 games into a stretch of 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 depleted Nationals on tap. There’s a clear opportunity for the Phillies to break out of their .500 rut. Thursday’s valiant effort should give them a sense of belief 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 is not getting you to the playoffs. On Oct. 1, you’re going home. You’re going home and you got a lot of time to watch everybody have the time of their life in the playoffs.'”
The Phillies have two months to do what Miller suggests they need to do: “Clean some shit up and play a little better.” Better does not mean committing four errors in a seven-inning game and coming back to win down seven runs. Winning in the most dramatic fashion is not the most sustainable path to a postseason berth.
But that shouldn’t be the main takeaway from Thursday’s win. Miller’s walk-off grand slam will have its place in the Phillies’ 2021 video yearbook, just like Harper’s did two seasons ago. Especially this year, when embarrassing losses pile on and take its toll on a team with a talented group of players, Thursday was a reminder of why baseball is worth watching in the first place.
The average nine inning baseball game in 2021 lasts three hours and 10 minutes, according to Baseball Reference. When you multiply that by 162, you get a number around 513 total hours spent watching baseball games in one year. That 513 hours equals just over 21 days spent watching a specific team’s regular season if you’re a fan who never misses a game, give or take a few hours for extra innings or seven inning doubleheaders. Multiply that over a lifetime and you get years of your time dedicated to one very specific hobby.
Maybe some fans turn on the game out of familiarity. Some follow it religiously out of love or self loathe. Watching the Phillies comes with a pact that there will be more pain than joy. For the optimists, the pain makes joy feel a bit more sentimental.
Miller’s home run won’t go down as a joyous moment the way Jimmy Rollins’ walk-off against Jonathan Broxton did in the 2009 NLCS. Aaron Nola’s walk to set up Miller’s home run doesn’t feel the same as Brett Myers’ nine-pitch walk that led to a grand slam by Shane Victorino in Game 2 of the 2008 NLDS. Until the Phillies actually make the playoffs, these moments will only be reserved for the regular season.
But in a season filled with gut punches, Miller’s grand slam was a pleasant surprise and a feel good moment. It’s OK to enjoy those occasionally.
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