So here we are. A 102-win regular season all comes down to this.
The signing of Cliff Lee unofficially kicked off the 2011 campaign in December of 2010. From that point forward, anticipation grew for what promised to be a memorable regular season and – likely – even more memorable postseason.
There was a countdown to pitchers and catchers and a near-carnival atmosphere for a February press conference with the Four Aces and Joe. Many of us, in need of a taste of summer, made the trip to Clearwater for spring training. Opening Day arrived- John Mayberry Jr. walked it off. The following day, Cliff Lee took the mound to what had to be the loudest April 2nd cheer in the history of baseball.
The spring rolled on, and the Phillies, for the most part, lived up to the expectations we set for them. By June – a month earlier than usual for me – I was searching MLB.com to see what the 2011 World Series logo looked like (I always like to get an idea of what patch will be ironed onto the side of our heads come October). Summer came and the Phillies added to their lead. Ruben Amaro traded for Hunter Pence. We ate. Lee dominated again in August, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels continued to be models of Cy Young-worthy consistency. Before we knew it, it was September and the Phillies squashed the Brewers and Braves… but in doing so, they allowed the Cardinals to gain ground. Last year, their three-game sweep of the Padres in August is what eventually allowed the Giants to squeak into the playoffs. This year, their dominance of the Braves gave the Cardinals new life.
Now here we are: 2-2 when it counts. The Aces, who were so good all season, have given up 13 runs in 26 innings. Only one, Halladay, has pitched out of the sixth inning, so far. We can sit here and blame the lineup all we want for putting the team in a must-win situation, their first deciding game in over 30 years, but the Phillies were built around pitching… and it's the pitching that has let them down in this series. Lee was handed a 4-0 lead… at home. He lost it. Oswalt was handed a 2-0 lead in a clinching game. He lost it.
Tomorrow, Roy Halladay, arguably the best pitcher on the planet, has a chance to save the season.
I'm going to go throw up now.
*Here's a frightening tidbit: If the Phillies lose tomorrow, they are going to own the dubious distinction of having a reverse correlation between regular season and postseason success for three consecutive seasons. They've increased win totals in each of the last three seasons. However, in the first two years of that streak, 2009 and 2010, they've taken one step backwards in their postseason success. A Game 5 loss would make it three years in a row.
Tony La Russa complains about the Cardinals' whining label: [STLToday.com]
"If you don't answer the question, then you're not cooperative. If you do answer the question, you come out like excuse-makers," La Russa asserted. "That really (angers me). If there's one thing this team is not it is excuse-makers. … The only thing that can not be ignored, it can be dangerous."
He later added, "Anyone who would accuse this team of whining has not been around it. That's an insult to me and to them."
Roy Oswalt had a serious problem with the now hated squirrel: [Philly.com]
"He wouldn't take the pitch away, and I told him as I was throwing the ball I saw [the squirrel] out of the corner of my eye," Oswalt said. "I didn't want to stop in the middle of my motion, so I threw it, and I asked him if we could take that pitch back. He said no. Then he told me the count was 1-1 and when I got back on the mound he told me it was 2-1, so we kind of had a back and forth on that. I thought it was down a little bit. I got distracted. Never had anything like that happen before."
Charlie Manuel would have killed it: [NESN]
"Of course, being from the South and being a squirrel hunter, if I had a gun there, might have done something," he said. "I'm a pretty good shot."
Game 5, 8:37 tomorrow night.