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How Do You Cope?

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 24: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts after flying out against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the seventh inning in Game Seven of the Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 24, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

I started pacing three batters in. All day I didn’t think the Phillies were going to win, and things were breaking that way already. When the Diamondbacks took the lead on a Christian Walker groundout, I was sure: The Phillies were not going to win. Dreams of a second straight pennant were done.

I couldn’t get a hit from my couch, though I did about as well as the Phillies did with runners in scoring position. But I could do something about the impending doom creeping over me. The Phillies hadn’t come to bat yet and I was already trying to suss out how I could feel better about things.

I watched the top of the second on my porch. I was back inside. I paced the living room. I sat down. I did some stretching. I straightened up the living room. I tried to get to Kübler-Ross Acceptance as quickly as possible. But really the main strategy I had for Game 7 of the NLCS was an endless repetition in my head that the Phillies were absolutely going to lose. This did not really make watching the game fun, but it certainly makes me feel better now.

This is not always how I deal with a rough ending to a Philadelphia team’s season, but it’s the one I used Tuesday night. In February, I coped with a loss in the Super Bowl by blaming the refs, Nick Sirianni and, most of all, the Sodfather. And the press! The media spent two weeks hyping up the fucking Sodfather’s grass and then the field was shit. And was anyone held to task? No! Any publication worth its salt would have printed a correction, at least.

OK, I’m still working on feeling better about the Super Bowl loss.

I do feel fine about the Sixers loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, probably because I have a lot of experience with that one. But, also, I have basically no idea what happened in the second half of Game 7. I had turned it off when the deficit got too big. I’d used this strategy before: The Sixers were similarly slaughtered by the Celtics in 2002 in a first-round game, and I have no idea what happened after a certain point. The year before, friends and I turned off the game and drove to someone else’s basement during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. We ended up putting the game back on when someone’s dad said the Sixers had made a bit of a comeback. That one worked out really well, as they just won Game 7 and I didn’t have to suffer through the loss. Turning off basketball games is my winning strategy.

Baseball is not a sport I want to turn off. But I know plenty of people who do. My friend J, who I text baseball with all year, told me he turned off the game several times throughout the series. My mom sometimes plays online solitaire to calm her nerves during Sixers and Eagles games. Last night she turned off the game in the second, but put it back on later in the evening so she could be further disappointed. Plenty of sports scolds will chastise fans for doing things like this, especially when the broadcast shows fans heading for the exits. They do not get it. Fans leaving a game early are not fair weather. They are usually some of the biggest die hards there are. They are dealing with the pain by removing themselves from the situation. It is a logical reaction. It is often a smart one.

There are other strategies. You can just pretend it doesn’t hurt. You can instantly shift to “Go Birds” mode. You can delete all your mean tweets you sent to the Diamondbacks’ mascot. You can be mean about the whole team: Maybe the Phillies can have a ceremony where they give out out NLDS “championship” rings like they did for the 2022 pennant. You can make obnoxious jokes about your team’s center fielder, who went 4-for-43 this postseason. Next season, Johan Rojas is just going to bring his glove to the plate to simplify things. Now that I think about it, maybe blaming other fans for leaving early is just another coping mechanism.

October in Philadelphia was a blast. The Phillies won two playoff series, and for a couple of weeks nearly everything went right. Sports fans can create a real sense of community around something as basic as watching a baseball game, and when a team is running through the playoffs the circle grows both in size and intensity. The Phillies had that for most of October the last two years. Since the Phillies hadn’t made the playoffs since 2011, everything in the past two years has felt so new. It is hard to let that go. This is not a Philadelphia-specific problem. A fan simply must figure out how to cope when their team loses. Some times are harder than others.

Even with the best of coping mechanisms, it is hard to erase that dread just yet. The 2023 Phillies will be remembered incredibly fondly one day. It was a great season. But today it just feels like they choked away a great chance at a World Series win for the second straight season. What if 2023 was their best shot at another title with this group? Even if the Phillies keep making the playoffs, there is a good chance it’s never as fun as it was the last two years. It will not be as new. Fatigue could set in. Disappointment might become the theme instead of delight. This could’ve been the best it got for a while.

I’m fine, though. We’ll get ’em next time. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

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