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Phillies sluggers cold again in NLCS, Nola falters in Game 6 loss to Arizona

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola leaves the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fifth inning in Game 6 of the baseball NL Championship Series in Philadelphia Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola leaves the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fifth inning in Game 6 of the baseball NL Championship Series in Philadelphia Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum

BY DAN GELSTON contributing

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bryce Harper got pitches to hit. He just didn’t hit them.

That’s how Monday night went for the Philadelphia Phillies, sending their NL Championship Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks all the way to Game 7.

With a World Series berth at stake, Harper took a called strike three in the third inning. He struck out swinging to end the fifth in Philadelphia’s 5-1 loss.

The two-time NL MVP was at the forefront of another cold NLCS outing for Phillies hitters.

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Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner and Harper — the top three hitters in the lineup — went 0 for 9 with four strikeouts. Nick Castellanos went 0 for 4, dropping to him to 1 for 20 in the series against the D-backs.

These weren’t the Fightin’ Phils. These were the Fizzlin’ Phils.

The sluggers who mashed homers at a record rate earlier in the postseason disappeared in Game 6. The Phillies are hitting .227 with one homer and three RBIs when trailing in the NLCS.

Up next, the first Game 7 in 141 years of Phillies baseball.

“I’m just glad we’re at home and playing in front of our home crowd,” Harper said. “Only one game matters right now and that’s tomorrow.”

The Phillies send left-hander Ranger Suárez to the mound in an all-arms-on-deck situation. Manager Rob Thomson said ace Zack Wheeler, who tossed seven shutdown innings in a Game 5 win, would be available.

Suárez pitched 3 2/3 innings in his first postseason start as part of Thomson’s plan to follow him with an array of hard-throwing relievers against Atlanta. He worked five effective innings in a Game 5 NLDS win against the Braves.

Suárez struck out seven in 5 1/3 innings and earned a no-decision in his Game 3 start this series against Arizona.

“I don’t think he’ll be too nervous out there,” Thomson said. “He’s a cool customer. He’ll go out there and pitch his game.”

The Phillies needed Aaron Nola to pitch his in Game 6.

Instead, Nola got rocked in a Phillies postseason start for the first time in October.

Now, the right-hander who has played more seasons with Philadelphia than any other active player can only wonder if it was the last start he would make for the franchise.

Nola hadn’t allowed a homer in the playoffs. Against Arizona, he gave up two. He hadn’t allowed more than two runs. Nola allowed four. And that 3-0 October record?

Gone.

Just like the pitches Tommy Pham and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit off Nola in the second inning that sent the Diamondbacks on the way to perhaps their biggest postseason win since Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

“Didn’t execute some pitches, and he paid for it,” Thomson said. “But we didn’t score any runs.”

There have been winner-take-all games in previous Philadelphia postseasons — highlighted by a Game 5 win in the 1980 NLCS against Houston — but never have the Phillies stretched a series to a seventh game.

The good news, even with the loss, the Phillies get to play Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park, where their postseason winning percentage is about as high as a Schwarbomb.

“We’re at home,” Harper said. “It’s a great place to be. Of course, we wanted to get the job done tonight. Weren’t able to do that.”

They still have a chance. Harper’s 11 home runs in two Philadelphia postseasons match the most in franchise history. Schwarber has five homers in the NLCS. It’s not like the Phillies are asking them to get out of their comfort zone.

Just connect and see what happens.

Schwarber had three hits for the Chicago Cubs in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, and it was his leadoff single in the 10th inning (his pinch-runner scored) that propelled them to the championship.

He knows how to win one. Schwarber also knows a crucial ingredient in getting the W is patience.

“I’ll take four walks tomorrow if I can because we got trust in the guys behind us, plain and simple,” Schwarber said. “This offense is so deep. If we get traffic on base, I’ll take our chances with anyone at the plate.”

Castellanos said earlier in the postseason the Phillies “thrive after we get punched in the face.” The Diamondbacks have thrown jabs, hooks and uppercuts — a walk-off Game 3 single, a tying three-run homer late in Game 4 — at the Phillies over the last four games.

Can Philly get off the ropes?

For a puncher’s chance, they need to swing the bats.

“It’s a game of inches,” Castellanos said, “or whatever’s smaller than inches.”

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