Why the Phillies Loss Really Hurts
I had a bad feeling in my gut going into Game 5. I knew that we had the better pitcher on the mound, but I’ve also watched enough of this team to know that they are all or nothing. Both the blessing and the curse of this squad is that they operate as one cohesive unit, and when they are in the zone they are a titanium steamroller. However, when one bat quiets, it starts a domino effect, and soon the whole team looks like they’re hacking at mosquitoes with sledgehammers. And so, after watching them hit so poorly in Games 2 through 4, I knew that this game was going to be trouble. I also knew that Roy Halladay often gives up runs in the first inning (he gave up 13 runs this year in the first, more than any other inning, plus 3 more in Game 1), so I had a feeling that a team that couldn’t hit was going to be digging itself out of a hole. The game started just as I had feared, and it went downhill from there. By the sixth inning, the writing seemed to be on the wall.
But strange things happen in baseball, perhaps more than any other sport, and so you continue to watch, hoping that there is a strange bounce, or a crazed squirrel, or a big hit by an unlikely hero (see Ben Francisco, Game 3). Instead our strange moment came on the last play, as Ryan Howard collapsed out of the box, his achilles shredded, and laid down writhing on the ground in pain as the Cardinals danced on the field. It was an awkward way to lose, the rawness of the pain dulled by the concern I had about Ryan Howard. And so instead of anger there was just a certain numbness, a sort of shock that this whole thing was over. There was also a dreadful feeling that with Howard hurt and Jimmy Rollins probably departing, the bad news was just beginning. This had the feeling of not only the end of the season, but the end of an era.
The Phillies were founded during the Chester Arthur administration, and in their first 125 years (with the notable exception of seven years in the late ’70s/early ’80s) the franchise was about as forgettable as, well, Chester Arthur. That all changed in 2008, when they went on a wild postseason ride to a World Series title, then returned to the Series in ’09 to battle the mighty Yankees in a hard-fought six-game Series. 2010 ended in a brutal loss to the Giants, but the pain from that was mitigated when two months later the Phillies brought back the lovable Cliff Lee. Suddenly, the Phillies were truly the team to beat, not in the “J-Roll talking trash despite a 45-year-old as your #3 pitcher” kind of way, but in a “possibly the greatest rotation in baseball history” kind of way.
They backed up the talk with a 102-win season, greatest in team history. And while the year was fun, there was something missing. Looking back, I remembered how fun it was rooting for a 45-year-old guy aiming for his first-ever World Series title. Jamie Moyer’s incredible Game 3 performance in the 2008 World Series was unforgettable partly because it was so unexpected. There could be no moments like that in 2011, because greatness isn’t nearly as exciting when it is made to order. And every fan in Philly expected Halladay, Lee and Hamels to dominate.
We are a city that has a chip on our shoulder not because we expect greatness, but because we’re a bit insecure. In 2008, we got taken on a wild ride partly because we kept anticipating doom and kept being pleasantly surprised. In 2011, we decided to put aside that insecurity and accept our roles as favorites. We decided to throw caution to the wind and anticipate a World Series parade. We were going to shake off the yoke of negativity and boldy enter a new era in Philly fandom, one where the connotations of the 1964 collapse and Joe Carter and the NFC Championship losses were mere footnotes in our sports history, not the defining moments of Philadelphia fandom.
That is why this was more than just a playoff loss. This was a harsh reminder that we are still Philly, that the rug is still going to get pulled out from under us, that the ghosts of Chico Ruiz, Joe Carter and Joe Jurevicius are still very much alive. Even when you stack the chips in our favor, we find a way to blow it. We dared for a single season to behave like Yankees fans, to cheer for our team with a swagger instead of hesitation, and in the end we took a kick to the stomach. We got a harsh reminder that we’re not watching a dynasty. We’re simply fans of a team that has won two World Series since Krakatoa blew up. We are who we thought we were. And that’s not necessarily who we want to be.