Most of all, Maine has saved me from the Phillies.
Until this summer. This summer, Maine kept me from them.
For 2 long weeks.
For 2 long weeks I wanted to know if they won. I wanted to know if they lost. I pleaded in vain with restaurant owners and bartenders to dedicate just one of their 10 televisions to the Phillies instead of the Red Sox.
I was stunned and delighted to discover that WPHT (1210-AM) came in loud and clear at night in southern Maine.
I was stunned and delighted to be chatted up by vacationers from the Delaware Valley.
This represents a huge sea change for me. For most of the last decade, and this one, too, vacation came at a perfect time, Phillieswise. Amid one underachieving summer after another, disappearing in late July and early August provided a sort of reset button, allowing me to withstand any heartache they could dish out in the last 6 weeks of the season. Their propensity to turn bats into sawdust in big spots, the underwhelming moves at the trade deadline, the
chicken-and-egg argument over whether the fans made the team play badly or the team made the fans act badly - it all lost relevancy with each state passed through.
This year though was different, like a lost connection amid a phone call with a friend. The injuries, the young personable stars, the late rallies, the perseverance of players like Chris Coste and Greg Dobbs, the Q scores of players like Jamie Moyer, Shane Victorino, Aaron Rowand and Ryan Howard - the Phillies have become a source of civic pride, even amid ugly stumbles like yesterday's 8-4 loss to Pittsburgh.
The Phillies are a team the whole nation will embrace . . . if they could ever get into a postseason. Ah, but that's the rub, as always. With three of the team's starting pitchers now on the shelf and a bullpen that can best be described as a blind man's tool kit, the Phillies can still torture as much as titillate.
Yesterday, it was J.C. Romero and Antonio Alfonseca who made you pine for the days of Dennis Cook and Turk Wendell. It is instructive that Jose Mesa, who is the Phillies' all-time saves leader, has never had a bobblehead day.
That's for his own protection.
But these land squarely in the lap of a general manager whose reputation, in less than two seasons, has been more volatile than his bullpen. Once perceived as a savior and later as a bit of a stooge, Pat Gillick has done an admirable job this summer filling some of the craters his moves - or lack of moves - created. Kyle Lohse has pitched well. J.D. Durbin has been a find. The three-run home run that recent pickup Russell Branyan hit in the sixth inning yesterday should have been a game-clincher.
On a team without back-end pitching holes, it would have been. But that's been part of the ride, and in a whacked-out way, it's what makes this team compelling. They're not Ali,they're Chuck Wepner. They're not Timmy Brown, they're Vince Papale.
They shouldn't be here. Not this close to first, or the wild card, not this late. These Phillies have the chance to be Philly in a way no baseball team in this town has been since the Whiz Kids. Shane Victorino is coming back. Chase Utley, too. Rehabbing Freddy Garcia is pitching again. In other places they would be using words like "magical" by now.
We don't use that word here. "Hope" is our closest synonym. This team has given you that. They make it hard to quit on, because they haven't quit on themselves.
If you don't believe that, try going to Maine for a couple of weeks. See if you don't end up in the car at night, fiddling with the dial. *
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