The Final Eulogy on the 2011 Phillies
I do not know where to begin, mainly because I cannot believe that it has come to an end. A week ago I put up a post saying how Phillies’ fans needed to get behind the Yankees to make the World Series in order to seal a remarkable and, by most franchise standards, historic season. The Phillies made this a memorable season alright, for all the wrong reasons. After Thursday night the Tigers gave the Yankees an unceremonious exit in the Bronx and, heading into Friday, the Phillies had a critical Game 5 lined up. The Yankees being knocked out was a shame, but really only meant in my eyes that the Phillies would not get their shot to redeem themselves for 2009. So they would just have to face someone else in the Fall Classic, no big deal.
I should have known better. Roy Halladay was a little shaky in the first frame in Game 1 but settled down as the Phils blew the doors off the Cardinals. Game 2 started out with the Phils taking Chris Carpenter to the woodshed and giving fan darling, Cliff Lee, a 4-0 lead. With Lee on the hill that lead is typically insurmountable, not to mention the Phils got to take a crack at the spotty Cards bullpen early. Unfortunately the entire Phils squad checked out and did not score a run over the final seven innings, and Lee picked that day to be human. He squandered the lead and ultimately lost, 5-4. After an 11-run outburst in Game 1 the Phillies’ offense scored over the next four games 4, 3, 3 and a nice little goose egg in Game 5.
These declining run totals look even worse when you break them down. They went scoreless in the final seven innings of Game 2, they won Game 3 but went scoreless in eight of the innings and were only saved by a pinch hit three-run homer by Ben Francisco. Now at that point they were up 2 games to 1, and the one game they lost was a hiccup by Lee. Game 4 they sent Roy Oswalt against Edwin Jackson, and the latter should have had as much success as Tito or Jermaine. The Phils were primed for the kill, and after Jackson’s first five pitches of the game the Phillies were up 2-0. From that point on the Phils scratched out only one more run and the normally reliable Oswalt, who up to that point had never lost a post season game in which he started, coughed up the lead and the Phillies were now squared at two games apiece heading back to Philadelphia.
Game 5 was torture. Doc showed up and threw one of the gutsiest games I’ve ever seen. After throwing in the vicinity of 30 pitches in the first inning alone, he settled down before eventually walking a tightrope like no other in getting out of a make-or-break-the-season type of eighth inning where there was no room for allowing another run. Once again, though, the Phillies offense was offensive, but not in a good way. The game was like a slow death of missed opportunities and bad breaks, supplemented by one ball hit by Raul Ibanez that was nearly a three-run shot and a Chase Utley rocket in the ninth that almost knotted the score. In the end the Phils were headed for an early October vacation and Doc got saddled with an undeserved “L” as a parting gift for the 2011 season.
This was a tough one to take all around. Despite living in the Philly area I consider myself to be rather impartial. In years past I have gone to the games and rooted them on, but in 2009 and 2010 when they got eliminated I was pretty indifferent and just moved on. This year was different, though; for the first time in many years, I felt emotionally invested. Maybe it was the “Four Aces” hype and “World Series or bust” mantra. They steamed through the regular season and even added Hunter Pence as a much-needed injection to a questionable offense. When Pence got to town he brought even more energy and an offensive kick. Now there was no doubt about a trip to the WS. My wife and I talked about pulling the kids out of school for the day should they win it to hit the parade. I had the bait of a WS trophy in my mouth and was running with it.
Maybe the attachment came from my oldest son who really got into the team this year and whose enthusiasm and unconditional love for them was contagious. It turned my rooting for the home town team from a near detached professional angle and turned it into butterflies and anxiety in the big moments. I have had more fun watching and following baseball this year than I have had since I was a kid. I was a fan and did not want the season to end, or should I say end without a trip to the Series. It was too much fun, a special season, one that I was able to appreciate for fear it would never happen again. I recognized this but was not sure how many others did. When times are good many think they will last forever.
Now with the bitter disappointment comes the unfortunate reality of the situation. This may not be their last chance, but was it their best chance? Ryan Madson is a free agent now and he is going to be looking for a large raise. If you saw the Phil’s bullpen then you know they have zero leverage with Madson. He was a reliable closer on a 100-win team. Will someone give him a bigger offer? Roy Oswalt has a healthy $16 million option that they will probably not pick up. If he leaves, that’s one less ace. Brad Lidge has a $12.5 million option that he’s not worth due to his health, and I cannot see them picking it up. Raul Ibanez is a free agent and will more than likely not be back. Domonic Brown will get another crack at a starting outfield spot but he has nowhere near lived up to the top prospect in baseball status that he has received. There is more.
Jimmy Rollins will be shopping his services as a free agent and seems to be looking for a five-year deal. Do you pay him despite reduced production and the fact that he is not getting any younger? Many consider him one of the leaders of the team so you are going to more than likely be forced to overpay. The most interesting plot could be Cole Hamels, who will be heading into his final year of salary arbitration in the off season and will be an unrestricted free-agent after 2012 if the Phillies do not get an extension done. He is going to want to be backing up the Brinks truck to Citizens Bank Park, especially after seeing Halladay and Lee get their payday. Something tells me there will be no “home town” or team friendly discount on his next contract. If he hits the market, or negotiations go bad, watch out. Think the pitching depleted Yanks may have interest in 2013? Think his former reality star TV wife would like NY?
Worst case scenario they start 2012 with a starting rotation of Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Joe Blanton, Vance Worley or Kyle Kendrick. Freddy Galvis at shortstop, the underachieving Brown in left and a closer to be named later for a ‘pen that could not be relied upon this past October. Will this realistically happen? No. I think Madson and Rollins get signed. Then again I also thought they were going to the World Series, and if you are unable to sign just one of those three it opens up some serious questions concerning the team dynamic and who is stepping up to fill those roles.
Factor in that as the team ages they have a rather depleted farm system caused by all the big acquisitions they have made starting with Lee in 2009. Any young players they have are pretty much all below the Double A level, which is years away from the majors in the MLB time system. In the meantime all the other teams in the NL are closing that talent gap the Phillies are enjoying now with younger and cheaper talent. The Braves pitchers who making their way up the ladder are scary; the Nationals are sleepers who could be two to three years away from making some noise. Should the Giants land Jose Reyes and they get even some semblance of an offense, with their arms, teams better look out. The Phillies could not beat the Giants when they had no offense at all.
Digesting all of this makes the October meltdown even harder to swallow. This could be one of those moments in time when every member of the team, and its fan base, reflects back one day on the magnitude of the moment that slipped away and it really hits home because it was never the same since.
- I have an idea for the Phillies’ 2011 team video that should be out by Christmas. The team’s PR and marketing functions are more than welcome to use it. How about “2011 Phillies….Why They Faltered”….wait, let’s shorten that title up. Try this one on, “2011 Phillies….WTF.” The fans can identify with this title much more, I think.
- My favorite fan by far in Game 5 was the guy in the first row over the right field wall with the rope tied around what I hope was a stuffed rally squirrel’s neck and just swinging it around.
- Dick Stockton was brutal announcing during the series, he needs to hang it up. He sounded like these were the first games he saw all year. John Smoltz on the other hand was awesome, I thought.
- Nothing disgusted me more than seeing Tony LaRussa and Mark McGwire hugging after Game 5. The smug and whiney LaRussa I have come to terms with. But seeing McGwire get rewarded on the 50 year anniversary of the Roger Maris single season HR mark, the one that he disgraced was just too much. Only thing worse could possibly be if Newt Gingrich was the Cards manager and Michele Bachmann was the hitting coach and watching them celebrate.
Matt Aber is a baseball enthusiast who thought the rally squirrel was originally Craig Sager’s hairpiece blowing across the field. Matt is an advocate of the national organization called The Miracle League which allows special needs children to play baseball. He encourages you to support this worthy cause and learn more at www.miracleleague.com.