Clap Clap ClapClapClap: The Fightin’ Phils in Rounds 160-162
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on September 26, 2008
Baseball hurts like no other sport. Not in literal ways like the one pictured above, obviously, but it didn’t take me long since getting back into sports to realize that there was something that made watching baseball different than other sports. In other sports, you root for your team to win. In baseball, you root for your team not to lose. it’s a subtle distinction, but one that changes your entire perception of the game. When my team wins, it feels good, no doubt–puts a little extra spring in my step, makes Dr. Pepper taste a little sweeter, lets me sleep a little easier and wake up a little happier. But when my team loses, it has a nasty tendency to straight up ruin my life for that night–virtually nothing gives me pleasure of any sort until they have a chance to redeem themselves the next night.
I think it mostly has to do with both the pace and structure of the game–for one thing, it’s the only major team sport where there’s no such thing as a turnover, and the only one where allowing a team to score doesn’t shift the possession at all, so when you’re on defense, you can’t really help yourselves, you can only allow yourself to get hurt less. And then there’s the length–not just a time limit-less nine-inning game, but a 162 game season (nearly twice as long as any other sport), so that a lead is barely ever really safe. And then there’s the fact that no team, no matter how good they are, is ever really guaranteed to beat another team, no matter how bad they are–it’s a sport where even the best teams will lose 60 games a year, and for whatever reason, those losses always hurt more than the wins will ever heal. And then there’s perhaps the biggest thing–the fact that by September, baseball becomes such a regular, everyday thing, that you come to rely on it for a sort of stability in your life, and when it becomes a source of stress and displeasure, it kind of shakes you to the core. (Yeah, maybe I really do need a job, huh?)
So with all this in mind, I can’t say in complete honesty that I’m really looking forward to the next three days of my life. Just two weeks ago, the Phillies seemed like a team that’d start planning their vacations for September 30th–they had dropped two of three to the Marlins, were three and a half back to the Mets in the East and four back to the Brewers in the Wild Card. “If they don’t sweep the Brewers [in their upcoming four-game series],” I said, “They’re done.” Then a remarkable thing–they swept the Brewers [in their upcoming four game series]. Then they took three from the Braves, and two of three from the Marlins. And the Mets started to lose a bunch. Suddenly, we’re at Monday with six games to go, and the Phils are up two and a half on the Mets and three and a half on the Brewers. In less than two weeks, the team went from playoff afterthougths to practical shoo-ins.
Of course, it’s never that easy. The Phils lost their last two, including a particularly embarrassing 10-4 loss against Atlanta’s horrific #5 starter JoJo Reyes (whose NFL equivalent would look something like the Eagles getting blown out by a Seneca Wallace-led Seahawks), while the Mets won a couple against the Cubs and the Brewers swept the Pirates. Now we’re three games removed from the playoffs, and the Phils hold a shaky one-game lead in both the division and the Wild Card. And naturally, rather than focusing on the fact that the Phils are still techncially in the lead, and still need not one but two teams to significantly outperform them over the next three days to be eliminated from contention, all I can think about is the myriad of ways it can go wrong.
Still, I’m trying my best to stay as positive as possible. Not only are the Phils facing maybe the worst team in the NL this season, they’re not even drawing a game against staff semi-ace Tim Redding, who would probably be a Cy Young candidate if he only faced the Phils all season. And while Phils fans will have to grit their teeth with a start from distinctly unreliable mid-season acquisition Joe Blanton tomorrow, they’ll get to end the season with staff rock Jamie Moyer and staff ace Cole Hamels–neither of which have exactly been unhittable lately, but both of which are pretty well guaranteed to at least give the offense a pretty good shot. With a rested Madson and Lidge prepped to make the game over by 7, a starting lineup at full health (and with a suddenly rejuvenated-looking Pat Burrell, no less), and a one-game cushion to play with…things could be a lot worse.
Meanwhile, the Brewers and Mets’ series are far from cakewalks. The Brewers will be playing NL Central bullies the Cubs, who for whatever reason–the integrity of the game, wanting to keep themselves sharp, or just not wanting to set a precedent of losing–still seem to care about winning games, despite having long since clinched not just the division but the best record in the NL. You have a feeling they’re not gonna just roll over for the Brewers–who, by the way, will be sending their two worst starters (Dave Bush and Jeff Suppan) to the hill, as well as staff ace CC Sabathia for the third time in nine games. Meanwhile, the Mets have to contend with the Marlins–not only a team so offensively powerful that no pitcher is a lock, but a team with a recent history of Mets playoff spoilage. And for one of those games, they gotta send little Danny Niese out there, a hurler whose one successful pro outing was against the Braves’ JV lineup, against the Marlins’ Ricky Nolasco, who improbably enough, has become one of the best pitchers in the NL this season.
So really, all the Phils need to do is win two out of three against the dogs of the league and hope one of the other teams loses one against two teams that are pretty good. Seems like a pretty safe bet when you put it that way. But I know better than to expect anything but three days of complete agony–especially since now it looks like incliment weather might be as such that the season might not even be over by Sunday night. And while I really do owe baseball a great deal for giving my life certainty in a time in my life when a great deal was uncertain…I simply can not fucking wait for this regular season to be over. I don’t know if I can take the hurt for more than another couple days.
(Oh, and Philly sports blog The700Level did their list of the Phillies most likely to be the first off the bench in case of a brawl, inspired by Shane Victorino’s near run-in with Braves reliever Julian Tavarez last Wednesday. My top five:
1. J.C. Romero (Is there any doubt? Dude looks like he believes that if a batter dies as a result of a fastball to the head, he should be called out)
2. Chris Coste (A lead by example type, for the sake of team chemistry and to prove that he’s “still got it”)
3. Greg Dobbs (Look at the way the guy swings at sliders that are inches down in the dirt. He’d relish the opportunity to swing at a non-moving target for once)
4. Jayson Werth (Pent up rage from getting picked on in High School)
5. Brett Myers (Just ask his wife LOL)
My bottom five:
1. Pat Burrell (700 pegs Dobbs as the “Not the face” guy, but for me it’s Pat “Handsome As Paul Rudd But I Wasn’t In Clueless” Burrell)
2. Kyle Kendrick (If he didn’t beat the shit out of Brett Myers for one of the most cruelly elaborate practical jokes I’ve ever heard of, clearly nothing is getting under this kid’s skin enough to incite violence).
3. Ryan Howard (Despite being the team’s (and arguably all of baseball’s) prototypical power hitter, dude doesn’t look or sound like he’s gotten into a fight in his entire life. And then there are those commercials where he keeps insisting that he’s a teddy bear. I just don’t see him being much of a brawler)
4. Jamie Moyer (Dude has seven kids, several of which must be approaching college age by now. Think he’s risking his age 46 & 47 seasons on a bad punch?)
5. Brad Lidge (Why mess with perfection?)
Wild Cards: Chase Utley and Cole Hamels. I could see Utley sort of being like Billy Jack–generally a pacifist, but when pushed up against it, unleashes the fucking fury. And Hamels would probably hang back at first and shake his head disapporvingly, but if he sensed the team was losing the brawl, he’d probably do a “Do I have to take care of everything around here?” eye roll and charge in like there was no tomorrow)