For the past six months, every time the Philadephia Phillies took the field you had this feeling that they would win. Even after watching St. Louis pull even at 2-2 in the series, and the bats going cold and the runs becoming more scarce and precious, the Phillies had home field advantage and perhaps the greatest advantage of them all on the mound on Friday night: Roy Halladay. Seven days later, that feeling has vanished.
And so have the Phillies.
Chris Carpenter delivered for the Cardinals. The Phillies delivered a dud. The Cardinals are heading to the NLCS after their thrilling 1-0 win in Game 5. The Phillies are heading home and heading into what figures to be a long and painful winter.
Indeed, the fall down the mountain is a helluva lot easier than the climb up. And with Friday night’s NLDS loss to St. Louis, I think it’s both safe and appropriate to say that the Phillies have fallen all the way down the mountain. And make no mistake about it, over the past three years this loss, in this fashion, and under these circumstances takes the worst toll.
Three years in a row the Phillies have lost their final game of the season. Losing in 2009 World Series to the New York Yankees was tough to take. After all, there’s no love lost between the two cities and it’s the Yankees who are maybe the most hated franchise in sports unless you want to count the Miami Heat. It was an opportunity to win back-to-back titles and take down baseball’s most storied franchise at the same time. It didn’t happen. Last year’s loss in the NLCS to the San Francisco Giants was somewhat tougher. The Phillies lost at home and had to watch the Giants dance around Citizens Bank Park while becoming the first team other than the Phillies since 2007 to represent the National League in the World Series.
But I’ll argue this loss probably trumps those previous two given the circumstances. The Phillies went out and got the best free agent pitcher in Cliff Lee last winter. They got the best trade deadline acquistion in Hunter Pence. They won 102 games and their fifth straight NL East division title. They had the best pitching rotation in baseball. Instead of taking a step or steps forward, the Phillies have taken steps in reverse. And this latest postseason loss just isn’t going to cut the mustard.
Sadly, it’s fitting how the Yankees and Phillies have managed to parallel each other over the past two nights. Baseball’s two highest payrolls are now reduced to October spectators. And isn’t it only fitting that each team’s two biggest boppers, Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard, have each committed the final out for their teams in each of the past two postseasons? The Yankees had pitching problems. The Phillies had hitting shortcomings. In the end, it cost them.
There has been a fierce hunger in Philadelphia since the Phillies brought home the city’s first World Series in 2008 since 1980. They, not the Philadelphia Eagles, ended Philly’s title drought dating back to 1983 and in turn, became top billing. They’ve been loved, admired and adored for ending the drought, which makes this very difficult to fully sink in. Maybe six or seven years ago, just making the playoffs would have been acceptable or good enough. But now, good enough isn’t good enough. Now the Phillies are expected to not just make the playoffs or win the division; they’re expected to win the whole thing and be the last team standing with their fingerprints on the World Series trophy.
Good enough won’t do anymore. Not with 220 straight sell outs. Not with four legitimate Cy Young candidates. Not with two former MVPs. Perhaps as time passes, you’ll be able to look back on the 2011 season and remember it with a smile. The way Roy Halladay continued his machine-like dominance. A pair of Xbox-like months for Cliff Lee in which he went 5-0. Chase Utley’s first game back or Hunter Pence’s first game after coming over from Houston. Nothing can hurt or take away from the good times and the great moments. Unfortunately, this Phillies’ loss did a little of both. It’s hard to imagine anyone will ever forget Halladay’s no hitter in the NLDS against Cincinnati a year ago. It’s tough to imagine anyone will forget Philadelphia’s 102 wins and their ‘Phour Aces’. But sadly now as the years pass and you tell your children or grandchildren stories of great moments, those stories much end with one final and hearbreaking sentence….’and the Phillies didn’t win the World Series’.
In sports, not matter how good you are or how many wins you accumulate or how much talent you stockpile, you’re only going to have a small window of opportunity to win championships. I don’t think it’s completely out of line to wonder how much longer that window will be open for this current group. Chase Utley’s body continues to take a pounding. Jimmy Rollins is set to become a free agent and there’s a good chance he might not be wearing a Phillies uniform in 2012. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee will be another year older. Like Rollins, Roy Oswalt could be playing somewhere else next season. Ditto for Brad Lidge and Raul Ibanez.
The 2011 Philadelphia Phillies had every reason to be something very special. But instead of order championship memorabilia, we’re left to order an autopsy and wonder how something that felt so right on so many nights suddenly feels so very wrong.