This is the time
The first game of the Phillies season was not exactly encouraging. For seven innings it was all right, especially on the two-run homer Jimmy Rollins hit in the bottom of the 7th to tie the game. But then 8th-inning man Tom Gordon let up five runs in the 8th, and the Phils could not respond, ending up losing the game 11-6 to the perpetually bottom-feeding Washington Nationals (“These aren’t the light-hitting Washington Nationals anymore” proclaimed Yahoo Sports writer Rob Maadii, arguably prematurely). It was the same old story for the Phils–disappointing starting pitching followed by unreliable relief, and an inability for the team’s big hitters to respond in the clutch. 2008 was going to be a fun year, no doubt.
The way this team has managed to turn around all the bad vibes of not merely that fluky season opener, not just the disappointing end to last season, but over a hundred years (and over 10,000 losses) worth of franchise doom and gloom, is nothing short of historic. I’ve been reading through You Can’t Lose ‘Em All recently, Frank Fitzpatrick’s retelling of the story of the 1980 championship Phillies team, and yeah, there are definitely some parallels. Bowa, the team’s veteran all-star shortstop called the team frontrunners, just like Jimmy Rollins did earlier this year, Schmidt, the team’s reluctant hero occasionally irking fans with his lack of emotional showiness, is a dead-ringer for Utley, and flat-footed but power-hitting outfielder Greg “The Bull” Luzinski probably knows how pissed Burrell gets when Charlie Manuel subs scrubby Game 3 hero Eric Bruntlett in for him in late innings.
But the attitudes–of the team, of the manager, of the fans–couldn’t have changed much more between the ’80 team and this one. The ’80 team, for all their heart and hustle, sniped at each other, whined about stats, badmouthed their manager to the press (and were slighted and undercut by him in return), and were intermittently booed by their fans right down to the last game of their improbable division win. Optimisim was conditional at best, and pessimism was ever-pervasive, everyone always leaping at the chance to proclaim the team as good as done. And while it hasn’t always been a honeymoon with this year’s squad–Howard and Burrell’s slumping, Myers’ disastrous first half, the J-Roll controversies–the team all seems to like each other, they all seem to listen to (or at least begrudgingly respect) Uncle Cholly, and they all just seem to get the importance of all of it–the series, the franchise, the city, the moment.
The biggest difference, however, has to be in the attitude of fans. Not only are Phils fans not wary of the worst anymore, they expect the best. Fans on the webboards are already planning their victory parties. My dad, a Philadelphia sports devotee of roughly a half-century, seems dangerously close to letting his guard down for the first time since 1964. If you asked somewhere in the city of Philadelphia who they think was going to win tonight, they’d probably say “The Phillies,” and they’d stare at you in confusion while you waited for them to add a disclaimer. I’ll say it too, why not: I think the Phillies are going to win tonight. Not only would I not bet money against them, I’d strongly consider betting money on them. Sure, it helps that they haven’t given fans a reason to doubt them since August, but anyone will tell you that it’s not just that: This year, it just feels different.
Of course, that’s what the Cubs fans said at the beginning of the post-season, before they promptly dropped three straight. And of course, this Rays bunch does have that Team of Destiny feeling to them, so from a dramatic sense at least, no one would really be surprised if they still managed to come back to win. I’m not so blinded by the team’s success that I’m willing to say it’s all over just yet. But that’s the last qualification I’m going to offer in this blog post. If it jinxes the team, well, I guess my Philly fandom is still pretty green, and I probably have a lot to learn about what it feels like to have a sports team yank out your heart and play drunken foozball with it for the millionth time.
But let’s put it this way–in what other city is John Fucking Oates going to end up singing the National Anthem before what could very possibly be your closeout game in a world championship? Why can’t us, you ask? No reason, as far as I can tell.
8:30 PM: Strike 1 to Aki Iwamura. 80 more to eternal glory. Hamels gets Iwamura to fly out, and Tim McCarver comments that Cole “may never have this chance again.” What, to go 5-0 in a post-season, winning two series clinchers (and undoubtedly, two straight post-season MVP awards) and toppling Josh Beckett for Best Big Game Pitcher in Baseball status? Yeah, and Nick Nolte “may never have the chance” to win People’s Sexiest Man Alive again. (Not a joke, sadly–the 1992 winner. I guess he was the only one that year not to buy into the Zubaz craze or something).
8:33 PM: Three up, three down. Champagne by 9:30 EST?
8:38 PM: J-Roll smokes a ball, and I instantly flash to his lead-off home runs in the NLDS and CS clinchers. Turns out “smokes” is a somewhat relative concept, and it falls to left-fielder Crawford with relative ease. Guess we’ll have to go a little off-book, guys.
8:42 PM: Werth walks, and now a trademark Utley HBP. Him going the entire post-season without getting plunked at least once would’ve been far more conspicuous than Howard going homerless or Myers going facial hairless, so thank God we got that out of the way.
8:44 PM: Howard, met with “M-V-P!” chants, promptly strikes out swinging. Love the guy, warts and all, but if he wins top regular season honors, it would definitely be something resembling a travesty.
8:47 PM: Burrell walks, bases loaded for Victorino. The man could no doubt assure his place in the forever ranks of Philly folk heroes with a blast of some sort here. And sure enough, the Flyin’ Hawaiian comes through once more, singling to right field, 2-0 Phils. THE THRILL OF VICTORINO.
8:51 PM: There has never been a man alive slower than Pat Burrell. It hasn’t really mattered in any big spots (though after a Ruiz fly-out, he might’ve cost the team a run by not scoring on a Feliz single), but it would be remiss of me not to mention that this man somehow runs slower than Anthony Kiedis at the end of the “Under the Bridge” video. And you don’t even get to watch the visual poetry of his pecs heaving from one side to the other while he does it.
8:55 PM: Pena…bunting his way on? Are the Rays really waving the White Flag that early??
8:59 PM: Possibly the most exciting thing about the Phils’ chance of closing it out tonight–no more seeing those Bud Light “Drinkability” commercials ten times a night. Guys, we already have one ad campaign complaining about how people say all beer tastes the same, and it’s only through the involvement of John C. “Miracle Worker” McGinley that it’s even slightly bearable. Pushing your luck with a similarly weak argument (and an annoying buzzword to go with it) is inadvisable.
9:10 PM: Unexciting Phillies inning means I have to keep talking about commercials, but I really do love those Bob Melvin Frutista Freeze commercials. Considering how abysmal last year’s infamous “Rules to Live By” campaign was, and how marginally less dreadful this year’s “Triple Steak Guy” ad was, boy is it refreshing to see a Taco Bell commercial that doesn’t make me want to hide under my bedcovers for the rest of all time.
9:16 PM: A dinky hit by Aki, the Rays’ first of the night, is promptly negated by a weak groundout from Carl Crawford, three outs. Is this going to be one of those classic foregone conclusion games where nobody remembers a single thing that happens because everyone involved seemed to know the inevitable outcome from Strike One? Could it really be that easy? Could I set a record for number of home team jinxes in one blog post? Stay tuned.
9:21 PM: Strike three, Ryan Howard. Pop up, Pat Burrell. Swinging K, Victorino. Well, we wouldn’t want to make it too easy for Cole, now, would we? After all, he may never have this chance again.
9:27 PM: Pena gets the first legit Rays hit of the game, a few feet away from a home run. This is when all the adrenaline and cockiness subsides and I realize that we still do technically have five innings to go in this game with but a two-run lead as cushion.
9:29 PM: Longo pushes Pena in with an RBI single, 2-1. Hm.
9:31 PM: Navarro grounds into an inning-ending double play. I slink back into my arrogant bravado as I would a warm bath.
9:34 PM: This House episode looks weird. I’m sure there’s a reason Cutty is yelling “C’mon, cry! CRY!!” at one of her patients, but it’s sort of hard to guess what that might be.
9:35 PM: Feliz strikes out swinging, and Kazmir is starting to look a little too on point. Thank God he seems to suffer from the same tendencies towards handicapping teams a run or two in the first as Myers, otherwise we might really be in trouble.
9:36 PM: Ruiz’s single to the left side brings up a very, very scary question: Could Carlos Ruiz somehow end up being the MVP of this series? .429 batting average, a key longball in game two as well as that game’s winning RBI, praise from the entire rotation for the way he’s called the series behind the plate…I mean if Hamels wins tonight, he’s practically a shoo-in, but if God forbid he didn’t, would the regular-season .220/Ruiz be the main hitting candidate? If so, he’d have to be the ultimate “answer not even Schwab could pull” in a “Name the last ___ winners of the World Series MVP” first-rounder.
9:37 PM: Hamels, bunting, gets nailed in the left hand, and the city of Philadelphia sounds like a Cavs game after every time LeBron takes a hard foul. The fact that I’m able to convince myself that this won’t be in any way meaningful five minutes from now should be comforting, but I guess we’ll see five minutes from now.
9:47 PM: Two very long plate battles lead to walks to Rollins and Werth and a potentially game-breaking AB for Utley. Too bad he already wasted that HBP, huh?
9:50 PM: Chase, clearly hoping to walk the run home, settles for hiting a hard ground-out into the second-base shift. I haven’t bought into the “Phillies can’t get runs home” hooting because, unlike the Rays, at least they’ve been getting them on base in the first place. But a hit there would’ve been kinda nice, huh?
9:51 PM: Zack and Miri Make a Porno has me thinking I might’ve hardlined a little too much on my Nick & Norah stance–clearly, it is the lesser of two disgustingly precious, gratingly raunchy, “alternative”-baiting evils. Well, probably…need some more info on the soundtrack first, I guess. (And, uh, maybe to see either movie).
9:53 PM: Rollins loses a Baldelli pop-up in the now terrible weather conditions. Well, at least Hamels is still pitching right, huh? Maybe he just won’t let them put bat-to-ball again in the last five innings.
9:55 PM: One thing about this team that never disappoints: Motherfuckers know how to turn double plays. I’d like to say the one Utley just pulled–just managing to tag an advancing Baldelli and then gunning down a speedy Bartlett–was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. But really, is it even in this team’s top five for the last month? Whatta crew.
9:58 PM: Briefly remembering the existence of the Titans-Colts game tonight reminds me that I have to take this opportunity to send a big Fuck You out to Ted Ginn, Jr. The second-year Miami wideout, who received a great deal of hype in the pre-season this year, was a reliable disappointment through his seven weeks of underperforming as the third Wide Receiver on my fantasy team before I finally dumped him for the Colts’ Anthony Gonzalez. Last week, of course, he puts up seven catches for 175 years–approximately 20 times the production I got from Plaxico Burress, my current #1–while Gonzalez has yet to make a catch in the game (and for all I know, is injured or suspended or dead or something). That’s what I get for not selecting DeSean Jackson in time, anyway.
10:07: Working against a strike zone that’s apparently smaller than Chris Cooley’s dick, Kazmir walks Howard and Burrell and eventually gets lifted. Good news for us, but it is kind of bullshit–Kaz is a likeable enough guy, and his final stat line this post-season won’t reflect what should have been a fairly dominant pitching performance. Still, two men on, no outs, Vic coming up…can’t say my heart’s breaking too much for the young’n.
10:17: Victorino and Feliz pop-up, the Rays somehow brave the elements to make the plays, and Ruiz can really solidify his MVP case here with an extra base or two. Hits a screamer down the line, but it lands just foul, as Chooch decides another pop-up to first might end up being more productive. The Phils have held on to games like this all post-season, can they do it for four more innings?
10:26: “You just can not help but think that the elements are going to have something to do with the end of this game,” says Buck, and it certainly does have the makings of that type of “The [Insert Lore Variable] Game” game. Luckily, if Hamels keeps bombing ’em like he does to Aki here, maybe we can avoid making it too consequential.
10:34: BJ Upton manages to steal second without necessitating “Yakkity Sax” getting played over the PA. I hate to say it, but I think this game just got good.
10:37: Pena singles to left, scoring Upton and tying the game. Yup, no doubt about it, we got ourselves a ballgame. Goddamn it.
10:39: Mr. Tony Parker flies out to center, ending the inning. Good on the Rays for not going down without a fight, I suppose. But if they wanted to just kinda lay down and die now, gee golly I sure would appreciate it.
10:42: Oh great, now they bring the tarp out. See you guys at three in the morning, I guess.
10:44: All right, to be honest, I wouldn’t have wanted to win in that superlame suspended-game sense anyway–no fans should ever have to stomach the news that their team’s World Series ended three whole innings before it should have, especially with such a flimsy lead. If tying is like kissing your sister, winning like that would be like a second-base makeout with a cousin (one of the ones you’ve known all your life, not like one of the hot second or third cousins you see only once every five years and forget you share the same (great-)great-grandparents for minutes at a time). Nobody–well, close to nobody, probably–wants that.
10:50: Hey, Anthony Gonzalez caught a pass! A big ol’ two-yarder! The evening, and my fantasy season, has been redeemed.
10:52: OK, now the Upton run isn’t pissing me off so much because it tied the game but because it gave Selig and admin on down an excuse to potentially call what could’ve been a game for the ages regardless of outcome. I mean, I guess there are reasons why football is more conducive to bad weather play than baseball, but not really that many, and the prospective public outcry over the Rays’ season getting ended by some bullshit would mean that they would’ve had no choice to let the game play. We finally would’ve gotten to see if baseball looks as awesome and old-school and epic as football does when it’s played in the muck–and during the most important game of the year, no less. I mean, aren’t you sort of curious? It’s not like either team would’ve been more inconvenienced–both teams rely on speed, both on defensive dexterity, control pitching, etc. Why not just let ’em play?
11:06: How many members of the ’07 Giants and Packers do you think are watching this right now and thinking, “Those fucking pussies”? The ’01 Raiders and Pats?
11:13: Game officially postponed. Someone’s gonna catch fucking hell for this. They better, anyway. Well, I certainly didn’t want to have to say this, especially not for some horseshit like this, but I guess we’ll see you here at IITS tomorrow night.