With nothing left for this Phillies team to play for except the slim hope of a record above .500, I figured tonight would be a good night to eulogize the remnants of the season.
It wasn’t hopeful, this 2012 season. Even from the very beginning, before opening day even, there was a palpable sense of dread surrounding the team that would continue to rear its head as the season dragged on. It began, of course, with the humiliating exit from the NLDS by a score of 1-0, capped off with Ryan Howard crumpling into a heap along the first base line while the St. Louis Cardinals swarmed the mound in celebration, eventually taking home the World Series. And it finally, mercifully ended just two nights ago, with the Phillies lineup being flummoxed by Mark Buehrle of the Marlins to the tune of 2-1 to put our postseason dreams to rest for good. It was a sobering thought, no meaningful October baseball for the first time in five years. But at the same time, it wasn’t all that surprising, considering the path it took to get us there.
This team was living on borrowed time from the start. As me and Ryan’s bold offseason predictions (“Howard will be back by the end of May! Then we’ll go on a tear!”, “We can notch 95 wins easily!”, etc.) slowly gave way to reality as the season approached, I came to realize just how much more difficult 2012 was going to be compared to seasons past. Then the news about Utley hit, and all of a sudden, before the season had even begun, we were declared dead in the water. Mikey Miss and all the rest loudly proclaimed that it simply couldn’t be done this year. We’d opened too large a hole.
I said bullshit to all that. This was the Phillies we were talking about, the one team you never count out until they’re officially down. But surely enough, with each passing loss, with every blown bullpen save, every extra-inning defeat, every shiftlessly inept offensive performance, the voice of doubt in the back of my head started to grow. “They can’t make it this year.” “You know it’s over.” “The dynasty is over before it even began.” And so on and so forth. By the end of June, the little voice of doubt had become an all-consuming chorus, and the negativity was being felt by every Phils fan I knew. Even the other diehards were counting them out now, but I couldn’t just give up. Not after all we’ve been through. And then, just in the midst of our darkest hour, a strange thing started happening. We started winning again.
Utley and Howard came back with surprisingly little fanfare compared to how I expected their return to be in April. Didn’t matter though. They were there, in the lineup once again, ready to right the sinking ship and get us back to our winning ways. And we did, though not directly from them taking the field again. The whole team was playing better overall after the All-Star Break and into August and September – Like the Phillies of old, back to their normal selves. Gone at last were the Bizarro-Phils of May/June 2012. At our season’s best, we were 3 games back from the Cardinals, who held the second Wild Card spot in a very flimsy clutch. The Dodgers and Pirates were rendered impotent, and all we had to do was just keep winning and hope for the best. Sadly, we all knew how it ended. Three of four dropped to the dreadful Houston Astros at a critical point, just as the Cardinals got back on their feet. It was 2005 all over again. And as our impossible grasp at postseason play ended with a whimper the other night in Miami, the word that best comes to mind to describe it all? Relief.
In other words, we can finally do what we’ve all wanted to do since May, and put this godforsaken, snakebit, shattered season behind us. Keep our heads up and our eyes firmly locked on 2013, and better prospects within. We’ve got six more years of Hamels to look forward to. Darin Ruf looks very nice. Domonic Brown is finally getting the chance he deserves. Cliff Lee, after a bizarre start to the season, has locked himself right back in. Halladay and Worley can hopefully get their issues taken care of in the offseason too. We’ll most likely be able to start 2013 with Utley and Howard right out of the gate. Carlos Ruiz is still a formidable beast behind the plate. Ruben’s gonna make a move, hopefully for literally anyone other than Michael Bourn. And finally, with grace to every possible deity (Baseba’al included), hopefully the 2012 Nationals season was just lightning in a bottle.
In spite of all of this, though, 2012 wasn’t a complete loss. I’ll never forget the night. July 24th, 2012. Ryan and I were coming home from Six Flags, and we were gonna turn on the Phillies game. (Bear in mind that this game came just two hours or so after we both found out that Shea Weber had been given an offer sheet by Nashville, ensuring that he had no chance of going to the Flyers in an offseason when we needed some upgrades badly.) As we were getting back to the car, he checks the score on his phone. 6-1 Brewers, Cliff Lee gave up a homer to Zack Greinke of all people, and it didn’t look too good for Philly sports that night. We scored four runs off of Francisco Rodriguez the night before to win it on a walk-off, but I kept thinking, “there’s no way that it could happen again, right? We’d need six runs to win now. Surely they won’t blow it again, right?”
Six runs later in the bottom of the eighth, I found myself wondering why I ever had a shred of doubt in the first place. Kratz hit a two-run bomb, Chooch cleared the bases (filled due to three consecutive walks) with a double, and the late Hunter Pence singled him home. Boom. Six runs. Papelbon shut down the ninth with no issue. And the car was exploding with shouts and high-fives all around. The way I was carrying on, you’d have thought they won the World Series right then and there. That night, more so than any other this season, convinced me that even through the doom and gloom of a self-proclaimed “broken season”, there’s still moments like those that make the team, and the game itself, worth tuning in to.
In the end, the Phillies will still be there at the end of the day. Sure, they might be a little older, the pitching spread a little thinner, our divisional rivals might be leagues better than they once were when we beat on them every series we could. But in the end it’s still the team I fell in love with as a kid, and the team I’ll continue to support into 2013, into New York City, and into years and places well beyond.
What’s left to say? Let’s go Phillies. Now and forever.