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An Alternate History of the 2022 Phillies’ World Series Run

It’s late December, and you know what that means. My peers across the media industry are proudly sharing their favorite stories of the past year, an often self-indulgent practice I’m allowed to poke fun at because I’ve definitely done it myself. But as I looked back at the words and sentences I put together in 2022, it occurred to me I have been carrying around a burden: My favorite piece I wrote this year has been read by a grand total of one other person. It got spiked.

Turn the calendar back to late October. People were apple picking, listening to Taylor Swift’s new album and learning a lot about the British government. MLB editor Matt Martell asked me whether I’d want to write a column about the Phillies winning the World Series. The Phillies are the team I was geographically born to root for, whose misery I watched a little too closely the last decade, whose schedule I revolved my own around for that month, canceling social plans to spend autumn weekend nights in front of the TV.

My favorite story of the year was relegated to a work of fiction, but that doesn’t change how much fun we had this postseason.

The playoffs were a special experience. I have long since left Pennsylvania and two years ago moved even farther away from my hometown, but the nature of this postseason run (its length, its excitement, its unexpectedness) elicited a strong feeling of community. Long-dormant group texts came to life nightly. My social media feeds filled with photos from inside Citizens Bank Park, and they became excuses to catch up with everyone. That game sure was something, huh? How’ve you been the last three years? This is an aspect of sports that is so foundational for so many fans, and it rushed back into my life around a squad that had fired its manager in June. It was joyful to feel those particular butterflies of a tight and important baseball game involving my team once again, and to know how many of my people were going through the same.

The Phillies last won the World Series my senior year of college, the perfect time in my life to enjoy such a thing. This felt like I was teleported back into that type of aura. I no longer had a keg in the living room, and one of my text threads had to be spoiler-free in the early innings because my friend would watch on delay after he’d put his kids to sleep, then fast-forward through commercials and tell us when he’d had caught up to live action. But other than that, sure, just like college.

So when Matt asked me to write about this team, I took great pains to do it well. I wanted to have my thoughts and feelings put into words, for myself and to share with friends and strangers who may have enjoyed the experience as much as I did.

When the Phillies clinched the NLCS, I started typing some notes into my phone. It was twice as many words as Matt had asked for. When they came back from a 5–0 deficit in Game 1 against Justin Verlander, I emailed the notes to myself so I could pull them up on my laptop, which is when you know things are serious. When they hit a World Series–record five home runs to turn Game 3 into a laugher, I labored until 3 a.m. so it would be ready for SI’s copy editors and fact-checkers when needed.

The Phillies lost Games 4, 5 and 6, and nobody has read my words except Matt.

The column is unsalvageable—a jumble of words that are not just reduced to fiction, but no longer possible in this timeline. Even if the team wins it all next year, the tone and reaction would be totally different. It was written about the journey of snapping an 11-year playoff drought with an unlikely title as a sixth-seeded wild card, not being in the World Series two years in a row.

I had a recent conversation with some coworkers about how columns like these would make a great April Fool’s Day project—letting people take a quick plunge into the bizarro world where the Phillies won it all. People enjoy historical fiction, don’t they?

Then the week before New Year’s hit, and people started sharing their favorite pieces from the last 12 months. My mind went back to those nights in October and early November, and I thought, Hey, you know what would be funny …

I also recalled at some point this month that last year, on Dec. 27, my former SI colleague Kalyn Kahler tweeted that she was two books short of her goal for 2021 and asked whether anyone could recommend some “extremely short books.” I teased her that this was Big Overachiever Energy, but I admired (and identified with) the need to check this box off a list no one else would care about. That’s when it clicked. We have just a few precious days to put a bow on the year, whether that means finishing your reading list, making that phone call you’ve been putting off or rescuing the contents of an abandoned Google Doc.

So, yeah, that’s my energy right now. Put your finishing touches on the year that was. Go forth into the new year with hope for what will be. Set goals for yourself and see to hitting them. Put yourself out there.

Below is my favorite thing I wrote in 2022. It’s about the Phillies winning the World Series. It’s totally nonsensical to share it now, and I imagine anyone who is not a Phillies fan will likely find this laughable. Who cares; it wasn’t meant for you, anyway.

But happy new year. May your 2023 be full of things that make you and your loved ones as giddy as I was this past October, and may you arrive at January ’24 proud of how you spent the year.

Bryce Harper reacts after hitting a two-run home run to clinch the NL pennant.

Bryce Harper’s game-winning home run in NLCS Game 5 sent the Phillies to the World Series.

The 2022 World Series champion Phillies spent October as a walking, talking, timely-homer-mashing paradox. The red flag that will be lifted to the top of a pole in the Citizens Bank Park outfield signifies an achievement that hit with the suddenness of a lightning bolt on a clear, blue day and rolled in behind schedule like an Uber that says it’s 10 minutes away for nearly an hour.

Over the last 10 years, this franchise trudged back to the summit the hard way. Not in the methodical, consultant-approved manner we have seen efficient teardowns lead to expedited buildups in Houston and Chicago. This is a polite way of saying the overall plan didn’t really work at all. But they’ll get the banner and the rings anyway.

The Phillies have, quite famously, had plenty more failure than success over their 140 years of operation, making it easy to catalog the good years into distinct eras. The run of five straight division crowns, two pennants and a title from 2007 to ’11 stands as probably their finest. What followed was a desperate, floundering quest that stood in stark contrast to the glory years that filled a then relatively new ballpark with so many positive memories.

It is impossible to separate this newly crowned champion from those years of wandering. It lurked in the background from spring training through every up and down until that sigh of relief when the playoff drought was broken in Game 160. The Phillies’ own recent history proved a more exhausting foe than the Cardinals, Braves, Padres or Astros.

The length of time between championships wasn’t even that long, comparatively. Only 10 of 29 other teams had won more recently. It just felt like it because of the depths to which the Phillies fell and the often confounding ways in which they did it.

But at various times this season—the nine-game winning streak in June, the 32–20 mark while Bryce Harper was out with a broken thumb, the six-run ninth-inning rally in the wild-card round in St. Louis—the Phillies proved this team was different from the ones that had folded before it.

Then they came home to that very ballpark, fully shed their past—the good years and the bad—and built new traditions, winning the first six games in front of their home crowd in the process. Red rally towels replaced the ubiquitous white ones that offered a literal thread through the Chase Utley–Jimmy Rollins–Ryan Howard years. “Dancin’ On My Own” became the team’s anthem, not just blaring through the clubhouse, but over the ballpark sound system before Harry Kalas’s “High Hopes.”

Phillies center fielder Brandon Marsh celebrates with Kyle Schwarber after hitting a home run in Game 3 of the World Series.

Kyle Schwarber and Brandon Marsh were two of the players brought in this year from outside the organization. They fit right into this ragtag group of lovable lads.

The 2008 championship was led by a core of home-grown players. This one was captured on the backs of imports, plucked from elsewhere around the baseball universe. That’s not meant in a negative way to cheapen the accomplishment. Owner John Middleton said in 2018 he was ready to spend “stupid” money, and then Dave Dombrowski took over in ’20 and did it in smart ways—importing culture, along with homers and strikeouts as he and his lieutenants put finishing touches on the roster.

It helped to already have Harper, the engine at the center, who signed his 13-year, $330 million contract in 2019 and spoke at his introductory press conference about leaving enough to sign other players to help him win. Harper is going to have a Hall of Fame plaque someday, and we may have just witnessed the month everyone will remember most.

The Phillies hung onto their past for too long. The folks in place multiple regimes ago belatedly dismantled an aging core but failed to turbo-launch a climb back to relevance. They fell way behind the industry in analytics. They botched trades and squandered high draft picks. They had historically bad bullpens, and those were in some of their better years. They had to watch the Nationals and Braves win titles as their own September collapses piled up.

This team did not grow into a champion from seeds planted by trading its stars of yore or, outside of Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins, with the players who became the faces of the down years. The veteran core was complemented by role players young enough not to have suffered through the ugliness of those years after the famed sellout streak had ended, when attendance plummeted and losses mounted.

There was always potential to pull the fans back in. In 2020, when COVID-19 kept even the team’s most ardent supporters outside the gates, a group showed up in the rear parking lot to chant, “Sign J.T.” into the empty park. They came back every night that season, as Harper publicly egged them on and parroted that message, until J.T. Realmuto’s signature was on the paper for a contract extension.

As piece after piece was added—Zack Wheeler, Kyle Schwarber, José Alvarado—the city fell for this ragtag group of sluggers miscast as outfielders, youngsters who came to be known as Phillies Daycare and a roster that seemed to have a new player as hero every night.

The Phillie Phanatic celebrates

The Phillies winning, Citizens Bank Park rocking, the Phanatic celebrating—how could anything be more fun than this? 

This team took a while to get jump-started, both in a micro and macro sense. But when they turned it on, they did it fast. The Phillies will be remembered for the numbers 22 and 29, their tally of wins and losses when Joe Girardi was fired and Rob Thomson took over as the sixth manager since the last World Series run. They immediately tore off eight wins in a row, then built up a big enough cushion to survive their annual September swoon and reinstitute their summer magic for an autumn encore.

This is what MLB wanted when it expanded the postseason field: more teams with a chance deeper into the season, 100-win behemoths be damned. Every middling team will point to these Phillies when they dream of turning it around. Every underdog sixth seed will say it’s happened before.

This playoff bracket disruptor had the perfect home among the we-told-you-so, only-we-can-criticize-our-team Philly fans. It generated a gleeful cockiness, compounded by the Eagles’ being the NFL’s last undefeated team nearly halfway through their season. The energy in Philadelphia shook a ballpark and radiated through millions of TVs. Eagles spiritual center Jason Kelce chugged a beer and embraced the Phanatic on the field during an NLCS game. How could anything be more fun than this? How could anyone—Alec Bohm now included—not love this place?

We don’t know yet whether this is the start of a new golden era of Phillies baseball, or if this wild ride of a season will be remembered as a one-off blip like the beloved 1993 team that stole the city’s heart despite coming up two games short. That depends on what happens next.

Few franchises have better seen how quickly and dramatically fortunes can change. But the Phillies authored one of the more unlikely and unforgettable championship runs in modern history—equal parts satisfying because it seemed to take forever and thrilling in that it came so out-of-nowhere.

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