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Destiny denied: The Phillies learn that pitching isn’t enough

Oct 7, 2011, 11:54 PM EDT

Phillies' Ibanez reacts to grounding out to end the seventh inning of their MLB baseball playoff game against the Cardinals in Philadelphia

Someone tell me when I can breathe.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the Cardinals’ 1-0 win over the Phillies was the best pitching matchup I’ve witnessed since Morris vs. Smoltz.  Not when you figure in the stakes involved. Not when you appreciate just how brilliant Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter each were.  This, to put it bluntly, was pitching porn. It was a shame that either of these two aces had to lose. But Roy Halladay losing after such a brilliant performance reminds us that it takes a full team, not just a dream rotation, to win it all.

You’d be excused if you thought that Philly had, in fact, won it all several months ago.  The moment Cliff Lee signed last winter was treated as a coronation by some. How could a team with Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt not lead the Phillies to a world championship? Over the past five years it’s been understandable to see Phillies fans adjust from rooting for a team that loses a lot to a perennial favorite, but even the world championship in 2008 didn’t change the tone surrounding this team like putting these four aces together did. The mood changed from one of hope and confidence to one of expectation in the winter of 2010-11, and it carried on throughout the year as the Phillies built an insurmountable lead in the NL East.

But those of us who’ve been around the block in the NL East a little bit — specifically, those of us who knew and loved the Braves of the 1990s — know that the regular season is a very different beast than the playoffs.  Those fantastic rotations are great for building a lead over the course of months. They give you an advantage four out of every five nights or so between April and September and they allow you to steadily — almost boringly — put yourself ahead of the competition.  Depth and pitching rule all in the summer.

But in the postseason, with so few games in play, that advantage is greatly reduced. Even against a seemingly overmatched opponent, that advantage only persists in a couple of games. And even in those games, it takes nothing more than a hit or two — like, say, a Rafael Furcal triple and a Skip Schumaker double — to neutralize even that.  Roy Hallday pitched brilliantly after falling into that 1-0 hole. But he needed help to get out of it, and that help never came.

In June, a team’s bats can go to sleep for four or five games and no one thinks anything of it.  I bet there were a number of stretches where Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Carlos Ruiz and everyone else in that Phillies lineup slumped around the same time.  It’s survivable then.  It’s a death sentence in the postseason, and that’s what the Phillies received this past week. The game story surely breaks down Howard’s 0-for-15 to end the series and all of the other similar ugly numbers, but you don’t need to know those specifics to know that Halladay was on his own tonight.  For as valiantly as he pitched, he needed someone to come through and they didn’t.

But it’s not just a story of failure. Credit Chris Carpenter for brilliance of his own. A three-hit shutout — indeed, the first 1-0 shutout of his career — tied this one up in a bow.  He had help from some spectacular defense by Rafael Furcal too.  And of course those two hits by Furcal and Schumaker. Neither of which were part of the Cardinals’ plans for dominance of the National League last winter.  Neither of which carried the Cardinals through the regular season. They just … happened.

And the fact that they just happened should be well-remembered by fans of the next team that assembles a seemingly invincible roster.  Fans of the next version of 2011 Phillies who believe that, because of some audacious moves by the front office, the regular season is a formality and that postseason glory is theirs for the taking.

Baseball just doesn’t work like that. It takes more than just a great pitching staff.  It takes more than a great lineup. It takes more than great defense. It takes all of those things playing the ying to the other two things’ yangs for six months. And then it takes them all converging at once for a week or two in October.

Didn’t happen for the Phillies this year. And to expect with any degree of certainty that it was going to way back in the winter was folly. Let it be a lesson we all remember in the future.

152 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. deep64blue - Oct 8, 2011 at 1:01 AM

    Congratulations to the Cardinals for a deserved series win.

    In 2008 we had a team that could hit and an average rotation and won it all. Every year since then the Front Office has strengthened the rotation but done nothing to bolster an aging Offence.
    2008 – WS winners
    2009 – NL Winners
    2010 – NLCS
    2011 – NLDS

    I sense a pattern here.

    Craig is right, I’d take one or two less Aces for a bit more Offence. It’s a big off-season for the Phillies, still we won 102 games, were the best team in the NL during the regular season, won our 5th straight NL East title – nothing to get depressed about but changes are needed.

  2. vintage1496 - Oct 8, 2011 at 1:02 AM

    I’m loving all the Phillies fans playing innocent on here. “Why is everyone hating us?” Because you were the most obnoxious, boastful, entitled fans all year, and now the team chokes and you all try to pretend you weren’t the biggest bunch of jackwagons for the last 10 months.

    Genuine hat tip to halladaysbiceps for the “take my medicine” comment, all the other Philly fans cowering deserve every ounce of bitterness you feel this offseason.

    • loungefly74 - Oct 8, 2011 at 11:30 AM

      great comment vintage. if you’re going to dish it, ya gotta take it as well. all part of the game. i took a beating (rightfully so) when my giants didn’t even make the playoffs…but hey, i’ll take my lumps.
      anyway, all that hype/talk from the philly fans jut makes this a bigger fall. but i will say, i would have done the same if i was in their shoes.

  3. schmedley69 - Oct 8, 2011 at 1:13 AM

    Craig, I think you are selling some of us longtime Phillies fans short. I for one knew that nothing is ever guaranteed, especially when it comes to Philly teams. We have been left at the alter way too many times before. I was happy when they signed Lee, but I didn’t think that it guaranteed anything. It’s very hard to win a championship, and dynasties are few and far between. The Phillies lineup has been declining for years, and now it is borderline dysfunctional. I think it’s time to turn over the apple cart. No position player should be untouchable.

  4. dirtyharry1971 - Oct 8, 2011 at 1:17 AM

    you can always count on Ryan “Whiff” Howard when it comes to the postseason. He’s a record breaker in that stat

    • halladaysbiceps - Oct 8, 2011 at 1:22 AM

      For once I agree with you. I can tell you that he will be crucified by the local media and fans in this town during the whole off-season. He stunk.

    • marinersnate - Oct 8, 2011 at 1:22 AM

      Ryan “Whiff” Howard leads that catagory? I figured that A-Roid had set a record that would never be broken.

  5. goawayeverybody - Oct 8, 2011 at 1:22 AM

    Ha ha ha Phillies fall down and go boom! So much for all these Philadelphia “dream teams.” HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!!!

  6. dirtycrumbs - Oct 8, 2011 at 1:27 AM

    3 game 5s decided by 1 run.

    Baseball I love Baseball.

  7. madisonave99 - Oct 8, 2011 at 1:33 AM

    Absolutely FANTASTIC end to the best LDS round ever! As a NY Mets fan, i’m over the moon that both the Phils and Yankees lost AT HOME in Game 5′s. Carpenter pitched a clinic. I feel so bad for Ryan Howard, how probably tore his achilles on that final at-bat

  8. halladaysbiceps - Oct 8, 2011 at 2:00 AM

    FYI,

    Here is the anger from Philly right now about this team. If you think I’m a crazy Phillies fan, read through some of these comments. I’m sure there’s no doubt you will enjoy them:

    http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/phillies/20111007_Painful_ending_for_Phils_in_1-0_loss.html

    • jwbiii - Oct 8, 2011 at 2:59 AM

      “we are a city of losers. we will always loose. this is nothing special nothing that we will rememeber…no one remember tampa bay to close the vet, no one remember the loss at home to carolina…we are a second rate bush league east coast city full of choke artists and wannabees. we are the least clutch city on the planet and we deserve to wallow in our own filth
      — ThinkTwice”

      I like the self-loathing in this one.

      • halladaysbiceps - Oct 8, 2011 at 3:02 AM

        And a lot of people here think I’m crazy. Imagine if you had Philly posters from philly.com on this board.

    • jimeejohnson - Oct 8, 2011 at 11:58 AM

      Those Philly.com comments are brutal! It’s and east of I-5 thing: turning on the teams you love like a pit bull when they dare lose! Cardinal fans living in the Philly area are keeping a very low profile, today. In the immortal words of the Rolling Stones: ‘”you can’t always get what you want”!

  9. yournuts - Oct 8, 2011 at 2:04 AM

    Tough break for the Phillies tonight. It is evident that in a short series anything can happen. This year the two best teams during the regular season lost in the first round. When a Team gets hot you never know what can happen. Unfortunately for Television this ALCS and NLCS will have the worst ratings in baseball history. 3 small market teams and the Texas Rangers! It should be a good matchup in both series. Call me when spring training starts.

    • jimeejohnson - Oct 8, 2011 at 12:03 PM

      Ratings: give me a break! Real fans don’t give a hoot about them. We want to see the two best teams battle, and this year will be glorious. Tell Boston, NY, and Philadelphia that money cannot buy championships!

    • svargas1963 - Oct 8, 2011 at 12:45 PM

      wow, if I remember correctly because it WASN:T the Yankees last year and a couple of cinderella teams the ratings were pretty darn good last year.

    • svargas1963 - Oct 8, 2011 at 12:46 PM

      wow, if I remember correctly because it wasn’t the Yankees last year and a couple of cinderella teams the ratings were pretty darn good last year.

  10. goawayeverybody - Oct 8, 2011 at 2:13 AM

    I relish this notion from certain fans that somehow if it had been a 7 game series, the Phillies were a lock to win. Ha ha ha, keep dreaming! The Cardinals won the regular season series 6 games to 3. Either the Cardinals just match up well against the Phillies or they are simply better.

    Deal with it!

  11. seeingwhatsticks - Oct 8, 2011 at 3:21 AM

    Remember way back in 2010 when the Phillies players talked about cementing dynasty status with a third straight trip to the World Series? Man those were the days.

    Since I had to endure almost a year’s worth of “fluke victory” Philly fan comments turnaround is fair play. Isn’t it possible the 08 win was a fluke and that the real Phillies are a good but not great team?

    • xmatt0926x - Oct 8, 2011 at 4:18 AM

      Could be. But who’s the more likely fluke? The team that one it one year, then went back to the World Series the next year, the LCS the next year and has won 5 straight divisions or the team that won it once and failed to even make it back to the playoffs the next year? The last team to repeat a championship was the Yankees about 11 years ago. Is every champion since a fluke because they didn’t repeat?

      • xmatt0926x - Oct 8, 2011 at 4:22 AM

        This isn’t to defenf the 2008 Phillies team as being great. They were not. My point is to question you and the Giants fans on every board who seem to think the Phillies losing this year somehow makes up for your teams failures. It makes no sense. I was on a different baseball board and fans of other teams were telling Giants fans to go away. It was that bad. The answer to your team being questioned as a legit champion won’t be answered with the Phillies loss this year.

    • loungefly74 - Oct 8, 2011 at 11:22 AM

      well…sticks, lets be real. the phillies are great, heck, the best on paper at least. the giants are very good though they have crappy hitting. we got hot last year at the right time. ya need to be good to hot, keep that in mind.

      but yeah sticks, (as a giants fan as well)…its like shooting fish in a barrel getting a smile from these comments.

  12. loganzas - Oct 8, 2011 at 9:50 AM

    Hey giant fan loser – your team sucks and it was a miracle they won last year. The Phillies should have beat the crap out of your low class team when they had the chance (second only in low class to the Brewers with Nyjer Morgan leading the pack of low class posers ) during that brawl this year- but hey there is always next year! I hope you enjoyed that last year because it’s the last post season you will see for a very long time. If Brian Wilson was smart he’d get off that team….oh and your little whimpy pitcher who likes to shoot his mouth off…a little girl could beat him up. So why don’t you shut up and go back to loving your substandard team in slience.

    • jimeejohnson - Oct 8, 2011 at 12:25 PM

      Phillies choked against the Giants last year, but this year they just plain lost to the better team. You should be proud of your team’s great season and blow off comments from some petty, jealous fool.

  13. tigrrrr - Oct 8, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    Ah… The dream rotation was nothing more than the eagle dream team… Loser!

  14. cintiphil - Oct 8, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    Craig:
    You were so sure that the Phills were going to win. All over T-V, all I heard is how Halladay can’t be beat on this night.Well, I suppose that is why they actually play the game. I have to admit that I thought the Phills would win also, but not as certain as you were. For the Philly fans, you had better get used to this. Your club is not getting younger. I look for Polanco to be traded or unsigned. I think Howard will miss most of next year. As I stated before, Ibanez is looking very old to me, not to mention Rollins. I have no idea who you have to fill those slots, but it will be difficult. Also, look for Oswalt to hang it up soon because of injuries. This was the year for the Phills. After this, it will be a long time before they will win 102 again.

    • clydeserra - Oct 8, 2011 at 12:34 PM

      to be fair, he only gave up one run. And if the phillies were a little better at the cut off, he would have givin up 0 runs.

  15. loungefly74 - Oct 8, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    congrats to the cards for pulling off an improbable victory over the mighty phillies. just a beautiful game of pitching aces battling eachother. that said….
    …i admit, i am freakin happy. i respect the hell out of the phillies (and d-backs) but hate them.
    …hearing the agony of defeat by the usual commenters here is like sucking on a bottle of “orphan tears”.

  16. jimeejohnson - Oct 8, 2011 at 11:52 AM

    This has been one hell of a year for the “favorites”! I’m not a member of the Phillies faithful, but I thought this was their year, too. Where is Utley’s hair and the other Philly faithful? You have to take losing the same way you take winning: with dignity and respect for your opponents, like the classy and brilliant halladaysbiceps, whose posts make these blogs so much better. The thrill of victory is balanced by the agony of defeat, but there are still lobstah rolls for fans of the BoSox and cheesesteaks for the Philly faithful. Life goes on, even for the fans of the Yankees and my favorites, the amazing (cruddy) Mets! Enjoy the rest of the playoffs, everybody, and keep things in perspective: it’s only a game.

    • drmonkeyarmy - Oct 8, 2011 at 12:00 PM

      HB and I have been here a majority of the time. Not the time to disappear and hide, I agree.

      • jimeejohnson - Oct 8, 2011 at 12:06 PM

        Mind you, I do not castigate those Philly faithful who cannot bring themselves to this board, today, but there are those, like me, who sympathize with you all and remind you, again, that there is no winning without losing, no life without death. Go forward, never straight!

  17. svargas1963 - Oct 8, 2011 at 12:42 PM

    Wonder if Cliff Lee wishes he had taken that Texas contract after all now? So much for the dream team

  18. cleverbob - Oct 8, 2011 at 12:48 PM

    What a phenomenal game from both pitchers. I can’t help but think that the Phils really let down their ace last night. They owed it to Halladay to spot him that one run at the bare minimum. Congrats to the Cards and their fans.

    • firedude7160 - Oct 8, 2011 at 1:18 PM

      I agree. Halladay did his hob, and the offense left him high and dry

  19. rexadelphia8 - Oct 9, 2011 at 12:07 PM

    Every time I see jealous non fans from other squads comment I want to find them and smash them. It’s sad when you try to make your pathetic lives better by talking siht. Find your own team who is also a bust and talk about your own failures

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