Admit It: You Thought the Phillies Were Going to Lose

Why NLDS Game 3 was so tough to watch

The Cardinals had more of the hits. They were seeing more pitches. Tony La Russa walked Hunter Pence to get to Ryan Howard and it worked. Cole Hamels’s bad bunt probably cost the Phillies a run in the third. Once again, Jamie Garcia was shutting down the Phillies. And Ben Francisco was up in the top of the seventh. Francisco, acquired from the Indians in the Cliff Lee trade in 2009, hit .244 this year. He had the worst season of his career.

It felt that way even after Francisco’s three-run homer broke the scoreless tie. Vance Worley gave up a run in the seventh. The Cardinals had the bases loaded with one out in the eighth before Madson got a double play to end the inning. In the ninth, the winning run was at the plate.

I watched the game with a friend who isn’t from the area and isn’t much of a sports fan except when she watches games with me. She was quiet for the last two innings. I figured she was bored. When they won, she admitted how hard it was to watch.

A completely nonscientific sample of friends, coworkers, deli cashiers, the guy who brought the small pizza I ordered last night and Twitter followers confirms pretty much everyone thought last night’s game was tough to watch.

The Phillies have been in the playoffs for five straight years, and I’m still not sure how to watch them. They went down pretty easily in 2007, their first trip to the postseason since 1993. The next year was remarkable for how easy it seemed: The Phillies never trailed in any series and, even then, playoff baseball was a novel experience. It was new, and wasn’t too bad, even as I shouted “He’s gonna blow it!” with Brad Lidge on the mound in Game 5 of the World Series.

Now that postseason baseball is an expectation and not a treat, I’m still unsure how to watch. I’m used to football being nerve-wracking: Roided-up monsters crashing into each other for three hours every Sunday will make you feel that way. But baseball? Are you kidding?

After the Phillies took the lead last night, there was no reason for anyone to believe the Phillies were going to lose. They were the best team in baseball this year. The bullpen had been solid for most of the season. They had a three-run cushion. Yet there we all were.

This, apparently, is what postseason baseball is like: Even when you root for the best team in the game, you spend the whole game ready for the inevitable crushing defeat. The ninth inning of Game 1, where the Phillies led 11-3 before giving up three runs, had a sense of dread to it. It’s not that people don’t believe in the Phillies, it’s that they believe in the cruelty of postseason baseball, where a triumphant win can become a crushing loss in an instant.

I’m still kind of frazzled. And this is how I’m feeling after a win. I think I finally get what it’s like to root for a consistently successful team that’s expected to win, something the Phillies weren’t in the two decades prior to their run of success. If they are indeed part of baseball’s big three along with the Yankees and Red Sox, then this is what it’s going to be like from now on.

It’s great, but how do we get through it? Short of powerful narcotics, I don’t think there’s a way. My mom plays solitaire to stay calm during games, but that doesn’t work for me. Um, maybe breathing into a paper bag? That’s a thing, right? Maybe I’ll try that and report back. In the meantime, you’re on your own.