Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Fun and the Frustration of the Phillies

Last night, shortly after I wrapped up my guest co-hosting duties for The Unsportsmanlike Conduct Show (do yourself a favor and listen to former NFL player Steve White spit truth), I turned my full attention back to the Phillies-Mets game. There were already two outs in the top of the ninth inning, and it was a 3-2 count to Chase Utley with the Phils down 2-1.

The next pitch was out of the strike zone, ball four, only Utley didn't leave the batter's box. He had forgotten the count. As Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler waited for Chase to head to first, confirming it was indeed ball four, the umpire finally informed Utley that he could take first base. Odd, but surely it would be moot seeing as the scuffling Ryan Howard was due up.

One massive swing later, and Ryan Howard was back to being the Big Piece, the man who has made a living off destroying baseballs. And it was both exhilarating and incredibly fun to see.

As Enrico said, it was a reminder about how much fun Phillies baseball can be, a reminder of what the potential is for a guy like Ryan Howard should he return fully healed in 2013. And it helped keep the Phillies on life support for October, however faint their chances of survival are.

Combined with Jimmy Rollins' leadoff home run and continued torrid streak in September, it was simply a fun baseball game to watch, even if the offense was dormant most of the night. Cole Hamels was excellent yet again. The Phils came from behind on the backs of the balky centerpieces Utely and Howard, and Jonathan Papelbon got himself another fist pump. Like I said, fun baseball, the type of fun we've grown accustomed to over the past five years, and the type of fun that had been so painfully absent through the first four months of the season.

Then it all harkened back to frustration, at least for me. Frustration in the fact that players like Jimmy Rollins waited so long to perform the way they are now. Frustration in the injuries to Utley and Howard, not to mention damn near everyone else. Frustration in the games this team has given away throughout the course of the year, whether it be through shoddy bullpen work, questionable managerial decisions or an offense losing its luster.

And most of all, frustration in the way this team, on the cusp of truly making a surprising, late push for the playoffs, dropped three of four games to the worst team in the league right as the Wild Card was there for the taking.

Think about it. If the Phillies just take 3 of 4 or even sweep the dreadful Houston Astros — a team that has lost 101 games this season — they are literally right there on the Cardinals' heels, primed to take on the Braves for a one-game playoff. Instead, they lose three of four to the worst team in the league, making the fun moments like last night all but meaningless in grand scheme of things.

It's another facet that has made 2012 such an odd, infuriating season. Moments like last night, watching Ryan Howard come through when all signs said he would not, watching the Phillies come from behind and defeat the hated Mets, they are fun. Incredibly fun. And they provide hope that with the proper moves, 2013 could be another special year.

But they also bring out the frustration of the first four months of the season, and the lethal series that did them in.

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