The euphoria of gaining what seemed to be a game a day in the standings has subsided.
The harsh reality of how difficult it is to win nearly every game has set in.
If that weren’t enough, on Sunday, the Phillies could only lose ground – having lost 3 of 4 to the lowly Astros and waiting on a Cardinals-Dodgers game result that was guaranteed to push them another half game back.
Even sweeping the Mets has still left the Phillies 4 games back — thanks to St. Louis also sweeping Houston — with a dwindling number of games to play (12).
Not only are the Phillies chasing the Cardinals and looking up at the Dodgers — now the red-hot team in this race is not the Phillies — it’s the Milwaukee Brewers, who have won 5 in a row, 8 of their last 9 games and 23 of their last 29 games – having not lost 2 games in a row since the Phillies handed them back-to-back losses on August 18-19.
All the Phillies can do is keep trying to win their games. They don’t have any head-to-head games against the teams in the chase for the second wildcard – so every game means the same amount.
At best, the Phillies can end up with 88 wins – and that’s if they win their next 12 games…to go with the 3 they’ve already won against the Mets.
We had recently adjusted our best guess of the number of wins it would take from 88-90 down to 86. But now with the Cards doing to the Astros what the Phillies couldn’t, St. Louis only needs to go 6-6 to get to 86 wins. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Cardinals go on the road to face the 2 worst teams in MLB – the Cubs and Astros – before finishing up at home with the Nats and Reds, who will likely have clinched their divisions by then. And if somehow the Cards can’t manage a .500 record down the stretch, Milwaukee can get to 86 wins by going 9-4 and L.A. can get there with a 9-3 finish. Maybe the winning total will be 88 after all?
Howard keeps Phils alive: The Phillies would be in that much deeper a hole if Ryan Howard and Chase Utley hadn’t bailed them out Wednesday night. In the 9th inning, with two out and none on and trailing 2-1, Utley drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch that was just low.
For a bizarre few moments, Utley kept standing at home plate, apparently having lost track of the count and thinking there were now 3 balls on him. I can imagine many Phillies fans were screaming at their TV’s imploring Utley to jog down to first base before the home plate umpire changed his mind, and rang him up to end the game.
Up stepped Howard against Mets rookie lefty Josh Edgin. Edgin threw his first pitch to Howard up and in, but it was called a strike. After saying that Howard could turn the season around with one swing when he stepped up, I offered the following assessment – “If Edgin throws the same pitch, Howard should open up early and pull it hard.” Sure enough, Edgin threw another lame up and in fastball, and Howard crushed it off the upper deck overhang in right field, pausing at the plate to admire his handiwork.
The Phillies went on to win 3-2, and it was later revealed that the home run was Howard’s first career home run with two out in the ninth inning when trailing that gave the Phillies a lead or win.
If the Phillies do capture the second wildcard berth, this will be the game people point to with fond memories.
But what if the Phils don’t get there? Here are the 5 games people will most likely point to as games they wish they could have back, if the Phillies don’t make the playoffs:
May 2 at Braves
The Phillies staked Roy Halladay to a 4-0 third-inning lead, and made it 6-0 by the fifth.
Halladay gave it all back in the bottom of the fifth, punctuated by Brian McCann‘s grand slam. and by the time the sixth inning was over, the Phils trailed 8-6 and Doc was out of the game – having given up 12 hits and 8 earned runs in 5-1/3 innings. We would later learn that Halladay went straight to Philadelphia after the game for “personal reasons” and met the team in DC later on the road trip.
Undaunted, the Phillies came right back to re-take the lead in the 7th, scoring 3 runs off Eric O’Flaherty and adding 3 more in the 8th off Kris Medlen (yes, the same Kris Medlen who has been a Cy Young-caliber starter since June).
The 12-8 lead set the stage for Jose Contreras (remember him?) to set up Jonathan Papelbon. As it turns out, Papelbon never made it into the game, as Contreras only retired 1 of the 5 batters he faced (a Jimmy Rollins error didn’t help matters). Michael Schwimer came on with the bases loaded and one out and the game 12-9. He proceeded to allow each of the inherited runners to score and then added an earned run of his own for good measure – first by walking Michael Bourn to force in a run, then giving up the tying single to Martin Prado and a sacrifice fly to Freddie Freeman, before retiring Brian McCann to end the inning.
To that point, Charlie Manuel had not used Papelbon in the eighth – a role that Papelbon would often fill in Boston. That approach would later change, as the Phillies knew they had a major problem in their bullpen starting that night in Atlanta, and a relatively major problem with their ace starter as well.
To their credit, the Fightin’ Phils tied the game off all-star closer Craig Kimbrel, when Juan Pierre‘s leadoff walk and steal turned into the tying run when Shane Victorino (remember him?) singled with two out to tie the game at 13.
Brian Sanches pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the 9th, hurled a 1-2-3 10th, but ran out of luck in the 11th, when Chipper Jones followed Dan Uggla‘s leadoff single with a 2-run walk-off homer and a 15-13 Braves win.
July 5 at Mets
Phillies take 3-2 lead in 4th and re-take 5-4 lead in 6th. Jonathan Papelbon comes on for the save, but gives up a leadoff double to Ike Davis, who leaves for Ronny Cedeno, who is bunted over to third by Josh Thole. Papelbon gets a huge strikeout of Kirk Nieuwenhuis for the second out, but then hits Jordany Valdespin on a 3-2 pitch and walks Ruben Tejada on a very close 3-2 pitch to load the bases and bring up the more dangerous Daniel Murphy. After getting ahead 1-2, Murphy ties the game on an infield dribbler that eludes Papelbon, and David Wright wins it with a sinking liner to right on Papelbon’s first pitch to him.
August 28 vs. Mets
After spotting Mets a run in the top of the first, the Phillies score 4 in the bottom half of the frame – before a single out is recorded – on the strength of a Ryan Howard grand slam off Chris Young. Vance Worley, in what would turn out to be his last outing of 2012, can’t hold the lead, as the Mets chase him in the fifth. The Phillies re-take the lead at 5-4 on Chase Ultey’s solo blast off Young – like Howard’s, it was also Utley’s 9th of his abbreviated season.
In the eighth, Charlie Manuel left Josh Lindblom, who pitched a scoreless seventh, in the game to face David Wright, who drew a 4-pitch walk. Antonio Bastardo came on to retire Ike Davis on a fly ball and strike out Lucas Duda. With two out, Kelly Shoppach drilled a 3-2 pitch down the left field line, and with Wright running with the pitch, he was able to score to tie the game at 5.
After Jonathan Papelbon pitched a 1-2-3 ninth and the Phillies failed to score in the bottom half, B.J. Rosenberg got the call in the 10th and after getting Daniel Murphy out, gave up four straight hits, capped off by Shoppach’s two-run homer, giving the Mets their winning margin of 9-5.
September 2 at Braves
The Phillies score 5 times in the first off Paul Maholm and lead 7-1 after three. The Braves cut it to 7-3 in the sixth and Cole Hamels is pulled after 6, having thrown 105 pitches. Josh Lindblom and Jeremy Horst team up to shut the door in the 7th and Horst pitches a 1-2-3 8th, and is up to 20 pitches.
For whatever reason, Charlie Manuel not only sends Horst out to face Jason Heyward, whom Horst barely keeps in the park with a long fly out, Horst gives up a ground single to Reed Johnson and walks the weak-hitting Paul Janish on a 3-2 pitch. Horst is finally done after 34 pitches over parts of 3 innings, and Jonathan Papelbon comes in now that it’s a save situation.
Papelbon strikes out Lyle Overbay, but then walks Michael Bourn on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases and bring up the tying run in Martin Prado. Prado hits a grounder that goes off Kevin Frandsen‘s glove for an error, scoring 2 and leaving runners at second and third. With a base open, the Phillies elect to pitch to Chipper Jones instead of Freddie Freeman and Jones wins it for the Braves, driving a 1-1 Papelbon offering deep to right-center field to give Atlanta another Jones-fueled walk-off win, capping off a 5-run ninth with an 8-7 final.
To quote the late Harry Kalas after a different crushing September loss (against the Astros in 2007): “All the runs are unearned, but who cares?”
September 13 at Astros
The Phillies start a 4-game series against the worst team in MLB, the Houston Astros, who are 45-98. The Phillies enter the series with a 7-game win streak, the last 6 of which came at the expense of the other two last-place teams in the NL – the Rockies and Marlins.
The Philies take a 1-0 lead in the second and add 3 more runs in the third off Astros’ starter Lucas Harrell. Phils’ rookie Tyler Cloyd, pitching on 3 days’ rest due to the prior Saturday’s rainout at home and subsequent Sunday day-night doubleheader against the Rockies in which he pitched, goes 6 up and 6 down, then pitches out of a bases-loaded jam in the third.
In the fourth, Cloyd would leave before recording an out – giving up singles to Justin Maxwell and Jason Castro, before Matt Dominguez cut the Phils’ lead to 4-3 with a 3-run bomb to left field. B.J. Rosenberg escaped the fourth and fifth unscathed, Josh Lindblom pitched a scoreless sixth, and Antonio Bastardo got through the seventh.
Meanwhile, the Phillies left 2 on in the fourth and Chase Utley left the bases loaded in the sixth. The Phils left another stranded in the seventh, and then Utley grounded out with runners at the corners and 2 out to end the road eighth with the Phillies still clinging to a 4-3 lead.
Phillippe Aumont got the call in the eighth, and after retiring Justin Maxwell and then walking Jason Castro, who was pinch-run for by Jordan Schafer, Schafer was gunned down on a steal attempt by Carlos Ruiz, who had just enetered the game on a double-switch. With none on and two out, the Phillies were one out away from handing the game to Jonathan Papelbon with at least a one-run lead.
Instead, the next 5 Astros reached base, with Aumont walking Matt Dominguez (somewhat understandable after Dominguez’ earlier blast), then hitting Scott Moore with his first pitch. Jake Diekman then relieved Aumont and Astros manager Tony DeFrancesco countered with Jed Lowrie in place of Tyler Greene. Lowrie drove a ball the opposite way to right field for a 2-run double and a 5-4 Astros lead. Brandon Barnes then singled Lowrie home, and Jose Altuve followed with another single before Diekman finally got an out to end the inning.
Another blown lead, another heartbreaking Phillies loss.
The Phillies would go on to blow another 4-3 lead in the last game of the Houston series, using 3 pitchers in the seventh inning while the Astros batted around and scored 4 times. The Phillies would cut it to 7-6 but get no closer, as they dropped 3 of 4 in a disastrous series at Minute Maid Park, turning lemonade into lemons.
Last (home) stand: The nearly certain to be playoff-bound Braves visit for a weekend series, which will be Chipper Jones’ last visit to Philadelphia as a major league ballplayer (unless the Braves catch the Nats and the Phillies make the playoffs). The Phillies will hope to beat the Braves so they can travel to Atlanta for a wildcard game on October 5.
After an off-day Monday, the Phillies finish their home schedule with 3 games against the Nationals. As Phils fans bid Larry “Chipper” Jones a fond farewell, they welcome Bryce Harper for only the third of what figures to be many more visits over the coming years as the new diamond enemy #1.
If the Phillies are within 6 games of the second wildcard spot, they will – despite appearances to the contrary throughout much of July and most of August – have made every home game this season relevant, and will hope to stay alive for a series in Miami and another in Washington. Imagine the caravans heading down I-95 if those games prove to be meaningful – especially the last game, on October 3.
Will it be another Red October? Or will the Phillies raise the white flag sometime over the next 9 September games?
We’ll have more next week on Phillies Notebook.