Most Americans root for the underdog, but the head of America’s Pastime probably won’t be cheering for one tonight in Philadelphia with a trip to the World Series on the line.
With the Rangers punching their ticket to the Fall Classic for the first time since 2011 last night with an upset win over the Astros in Houston in the AL Championship Series, Texas awaits the winner of Diamondbacks-Phillies tonight in Philly in Game 7 of the NL Championship Series. For one night at least, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has to be a Phillies fan as there is no way the league, its sponsors or its advertising partners want to see Arizona taking on Texas in the World Series because no one is going to watch it.
A big-market team with a large payroll, the Rangers do have some decent star power with players like Adolis García, Corey Seager, Max Scherzer and Nathan Eovaldi. Texas is also one of six major league teams without a World Series title, so that’s a storyline that will be somewhat of a draw for casual fans. (As long as the NFL isn’t on at the same time.)
Remember it or not, the Diamondbacks actually do have a World Series title as Arizona knocked off the New York Yankees in 2001 in a classic matchup that saw D-Backs pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling named World Series co-Most Valuable Players. Unlike the ’01 team, this year’s edition of the Diamondbacks lacks star players that casual sports fans can latch on to and root for. An 84-team trying to turn a ho-hum regular season into a championship is a good story, but it’s not really enough to make the Diamondbacks even close to the draw that the Phillies will be if they are able to return to the World Series after losing to the Astros a year ago.
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The Phillies, who hadn’t lost a game at home this postseason before dropping Game 6 to Arizona last night, have a murderer’s row of sluggers in Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner and Bryce Harper and a ravenous fan base that has turned Citizens Bank Park into a madder house during home games in Philly. A hostile home crowd of 45,473 turned out to watch their team lose to Arizona last night, more than 20,000 more fans than the Diamondbacks averaged during home games this season.
Will more Arizona fans show up to support their team if the Diamondbacks can knock off the Phillies tonight? Probably a few and there will certainly be some Rangers supporters who make the 15-hour drive from Texas to Phoenix or hop on the 2.5-hour flight from Dallas to the Valley of the Sun. But will casual fans want to watch two mildly interesting teams compete for the championship of a sport that has slipped in popularity and is just starting to make its way back to mainstream relevance? Maybe, but Manfred and Co. would probably prefer not to find out. That’s why the Phillies have at least one more fan, at least for Game 7 tonight.
No matter what happens, history will be made as the winner-take-all matchup is the first time the Phillies have played in a Game 7 in 140 years of being a major league franchise.
Former Phillies first baseman John Kruk will throw out the ceremonial first pitch a little bit before 8 p.m. EST.