Phillies Fans Get Roller-Coaster Weekend

How last night's loss made us forget all about Saturday's win

The good news: It is Monday, and the sun still rose in Philadelphia this morning. It is hard to explain the deep depression that can develop after a sports loss. The Phillies are, after all, no more than nine strangers who happen to play baseball in South Philadelphia. But after watching the Phillies win a club-record 102 games during the regular season, seeing them two games away from elimination after coughing up 4-0 lead is tough.

“Baseball is really two sports—the summer game and the autumn game,” Thomas Boswell wrote in How Life Imitates the World Series. “One is the leisurely pastime of our national mythology. The other is not so gentle.” The game was not so gentle yesterday.

Things hadn’t gone well earlier in the day. The Eagles blew a 20-point lead and lost to the 49ers. When a “Let’s Go, Phillies!” chant broke out as the Eagles bungled their way to a 1-3 start, you could almost see the “this is a baseball town” storylines forming in sportswriters’ heads. Like the Phillies, the Eagles came into the season highly touted, but unlike the Phillies … well, you get the idea.

It was true, though: The Phillies were going to make us forget the Eagles. One of the best rewards of following sports is the camaraderie that comes after a big win. The Phillies’ come-from-behind 11-6 win on Saturday night was the kind of game Phillies fans will remember for a while. I had the same conversation with five different people on Saturday, essentially variations of, “Oh my god, how awesome was Ryan Howard’s homer?”

And it was awesome. I watched Saturday’s game at McCusker’s Tavern, a fantastic South Philly bar at 17th and Shunk covered in Phillies merchandise. The place erupted like everywhere else in Philadelphia when Howard gave the Phillies a 4-3 lead; everyone was so pumped we even applauded Ryan Howard’s curtain call, as if he could hear us.

By the time it was 11-3, Saturday night’s Phillies games was one of those playoff routs that turned into a citywide party. The three runs the Cardinals scored in the ninth weren’t a threat. Reporters noted Carlos Ruiz had written 10 mas—10 more—on a whiteboard in the Phillies clubhouse. Legitimate matchup worries be damned; the Phillies were going to beat the Cardinals in the NLDS like they’d steamrolled the Reds last season.

And it seemed that Sunday night would be more of the same. The Phillies got three runs in the first inning, two on a Ryan Howard single. The Big Piece, as Charlie Manuel calls him, didn’t drive in any runs last postseason. He had six in 2011 already. The Phillies tacked on another run in the fourth; with Cliff Lee on the mound, it looked like a 2-0 series lead. And the news was good all over: Out in California, the Union took a 1-0 lead in their game against Chivas USA, a win that would move the team into first place in the Eastern Conference.

The Cardinals had leadoff hits in the first and second innings but didn’t score; they continued to get to Lee as the game continued. St. Louis scored three in the fourth, with the Phillies surviving only due to Raul Ibanez throwing out Jon Jay at the plate. Ibanez couldn’t get Ryan Theriot at the plate in the sixth and the game was tied; Lee left the game after giving up the go-ahead run in the seventh.

And the Union gave up a game-tying goal in the 90th minute. No team in Philadelphia could hold a lead Sunday. Good thing the lingerie football team didn’t have a game, or it would have coughed up a late lead, too.

Almost as bad as losing was the dread in the late innings of Sunday’s game, the sinking feeling the Phillies weren’t going to come back. It was enough to make you curse Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa as he made move after move that shut down the Phillies lineup. By the fifth or sixth time I heard “Written in the Stars” coming out of commercial in the seventh inning I was ready to go to bed. The game seemed over already.

The loss was hard for the same reason as the Eagles, the same reason as the postseason series losses in 2010 and 2009: The Phillies could have won. They had Cliff Lee on the mound with a 4-0 lead. Cliff Lee! He spurned the Yankees to come to Philadelphia. He quickly became the most popular Phillie. He’s so cool it looks like he doesn’t even try. And he couldn’t come through in his biggest game of the season.

It’s just one loss. The Phillies are still favorites to win the series. Cole Hamels goes to the mound tomorrow with a chance to give them the series lead. But after a tough Sunday in Philadelphia, it doesn’t feel that way.