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Resilience, heart, whatever: The Phillies are three wins from a title, and it isn’t going away

The Phillies walked into Houston and took a roundhouse punch to the jaw. They walked out with a 6-5 victory.

Phillies right fielder Nick Castellanos catches a fly ball hit by Houston's Jeremy Pena to end the ninth inning of Game 1.
Phillies right fielder Nick Castellanos catches a fly ball hit by Houston's Jeremy Pena to end the ninth inning of Game 1.Read moreYong Kim / Staff Photographer

HOUSTON — Anybody who says the World Series is like any other game either hasn’t been there or is lying to themselves. There is a density to it, a teeming sort of thickness. The place is crowded even before the crowd arrives, the warning track choked with tripods and microphones and made-up faces, some of them broadcasting live, others awaiting the signal to do so, all of them framed by the fluorescent glow of a thousand artificial lights.

Beyond this perimeter of professional rubberneckers is a second ring of people whose chief purpose is to be there, mostly because everyone else is there too: familiar-looking people with familiar-sounding names, official-looking people with official-sounding titles, gaggles mixing with gaggles and the occasional ballplayer in a gray uniform making his way to the field.

» READ MORE: J.T. Realmuto caps Phillies comeback with homer in the 10th to beat Astros

You saw it on their faces as they wandered out of the tunnel and up the dugout steps. A momentary pause, the kind that occurs when leave the familiar and find yourself in a place that is bigger and newer and grander than your senses could have possibly prepared you for. You arrive at the World Series like you arrive in Manhattan. Whatever places you have been before, you have not been to a place like this.

It could have swallowed them. For three innings, it appeared that it would. Down by five, their starter on the ropes, the Phillies looked like a team that was completely unprepared for the moment. Which is exactly what they were.

Until they weren’t.

It was J.T. Realmuto’s turn. Why wouldn’t it be? He was the reason they were here to begin with, batting in the 10th inning of a game they’d trailed by five. Why wouldn’t he battle back from a 1-2 count, take a couple of cutters, then zero in on a 97-mph fastball? Why wouldn’t that ball jump off the bat and then continue to carry, and carry, and then slip over the wall with just enough altitude to remain out of reach?

There is no answer. All of those things would obviously happen. The Phillies would walk into Houston and take a roundhouse punch to the jaw and they would walk out with a 6-5 victory that leaves them three games from a championship.

“Tonight, I guess tonight was my turn,” Realmuto said. “But it’s been like that all postseason long. It’s been a different hitter every single night coming up for us.”

» READ MORE: Sizing up the World Series MVP betting market

I’d tell you to believe it, but you already do. Realmuto’s solo home run off of Luis Garcia in the top of the 10th inning was the latest pivotal, season-altering blow from a Phillies team that has spent 173 games showing us how they react to the moment. Time and time again, we have seen them disappear into the belly of the beast. Time and time again, we have watched as they force that poor sucker to spit them back out.

“It’s what we do,” first baseman Rhys Hoskins said after the Phillies became the first team since 2002 to win a World Series game that they’d trailed 5-0.

They did it against the Cardinals, and they did it against the Padres, and now they’ve done against the best team in the majors. They’ve done it on the sport’s biggest stage.

Their latest rebirth began as it has so many times over the last three weeks. Hoskins at the plate, the Phillies needing a little something, their longest-tenured hitter finding a way to oblige. Four batters after Hoskins’ one-out single gave the Phillies their first baserunner, a 5-0 deficit had shrunk to 5-3. Three straight hits, all with two outs, the last of them a two-run double by Alec Bohm.

The next inning brought more of the same. Justin Verlander was leaving everything up in the zone. Dusty Baker was managing with too much faith. Brandon Marsh doubled. Kyle Schwarber walked. Hoskins popped out, but only after missing a first-pitch meatball. The tables were turning. Realmuto flipped them over with a double to the center-field wall. Ten batters after Hoskins’ third-inning single, Game 1 was tied.

“It’s the biggest stage there is, right?” said Bohm, the once-maligned third baseman who turned in another magnificent defensive game. “All the stuff going on before the game, all the people on the field, there’s a lot going on. As much as you can just shrink it down and make it a normal baseball game. It’s tough. It’s cool stuff.”

Bohm is a cool player, a cool guy, and this team is full of guys like him. The Phillies are up against a Goliath in these Astros. The longer that 5-5 tie lasted, the more the scales seemed to tip in the home team’s favor. When a starting pitcher of Aaron Nola’s caliber only lasts 4⅓ innings, it is only a matter of time before a bullpen as thin as the Phillies’ runs out of bullets.

But Goliath is up against a David, and maybe something bigger. The Phillies did not just win their first World Series game in 13 years. They did not just beat a team that entered the postseason as the American League’s top overall seed. They beat something else. Maybe it was the pressure of the moment. Maybe it was that strange brand of psychological paralysis where your lungs stick to your chin and you cannot feel your legs. Maybe it was the five-day layoff. Or maybe all of that is projection. Maybe what they really beat was your lingering suspicion.

» READ MORE: Pressure? In the playoffs? Not for these Phillies, who conquered the bigger stress of getting here.

Whatever it was, they beat it. They did it. They sent a message. To themselves. To their opponents. To anybody who still thinks that they can’t possibly keep doing it this way.

This? This is them. Resilience is a rare enough quality that you still can’t completely believe how much of it they have. It is not luck or circumstance or narrative license. It is a skill, a very real one. It is not something that simply goes away.

There is a sign that hangs outside the Phillies clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park. Every time they click-clack out to the field, they cannot help but see it. It says, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” It’s an old quote from Mike Tyson, that legendary philosopher. Life is 50% what happens to you, and 50% how you react.

In Game 1, the Phillies punched back. We’ll see if it matters. But imagine if they hadn’t?