Gonzo: Phillies have all but wasted away

The Phillies' Joe Blanton is not a portrait of confidence as he sits in the dugout during the first inning of Game 4.
The Phillies' Joe Blanton is not a portrait of confidence as he sits in the dugout during the first inning of Game 4.
Posted: October 21, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO - ESPN recently ran Four Days in October as part of its excellent 30 for 30 series. The film told the story of the 2004 Red Sox and their improbable, historic comeback. After being down three games to none against the hated Yankees, Boston went on to win the American League Championship Series.

The documentary opened on the field before Game 4 with former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar and Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy arguing about the writer calling the team "a pack of frauds." The two exchanged words.

DS: "It's embarrassing, man."

KM: "What's embarrassing?"

DS: "You guys are better than this."

No one is calling the Phillies a pack of frauds, not even after falling, 6-5, in a disappointing, seesaw Game 4 on Wednesday night. They are the two-time defending National League champs, and they've treated Philadelphians to some awfully good times. But the rest of the parallel seems appropriate - particularly the embarrassing part and the line about being better than this.

How is it possible that Cody Ross and the rest of San Francisco's rodeo clowns are in command? How is it possible that the Giants are one win away from representing the National League in the 2010 World Series? No one has had troops that weak and won anything significant since Iraq took over Kuwait for a while back in the early '90s.

Before this series began, you would have had a difficult time finding anyone outside Haight-Ashbury's smoke-filled medical marijuana dispensaries who believed the upstart Giants would actually get past the Phils. But somehow, the not-quite Fightin's are down three games to one. If they're going to stage a mini-Red Sox rally and reach the World Series, if they're going to silence the media and the fans and the rest of the doubters, they might want to hurry up and get started.

"You lose four games, and you're going home," Charlie Manuel said. "In order to survive we better start playing, if that's the case."

It didn't help matters that the umpires had a rough Game 4, particularly at home plate. But before you start blaming the team's grim situation on balk talk and bad calls, don't forget that the Phils - with the exception of the fifth-inning outburst and the extra run they tacked on in the eighth - haven't looked great during this series. Umpire ugliness or not, for much of the playoffs the Phillies' bats have been in the kind of deep slumber that would otherwise require a few dozen bottles of Ambien to achieve.

They woke up for a moment there on Wednesday night and gave everyone hope that they'd remain alert. But now they're one game away from slipping into a coma that will last until spring training.

"I see gaps in our hitting," Manuel said. "Basically, what I see that you don't see, you see our hitting from two years ago. I see our hitting today. Does that make sense? You follow that? You see the numbers. You see the homers. I haven't been seeing those today. Really, our offense is down. And I'm not talking about one guy. Our offense basically is down."

He's right. The once formidable Phils have all but wasted away. The flashes they showed in Game 4 ultimately served as nothing more than cruel teases, reminders of what used to be regular occurrences but have become all too rare.

If they have any shot to shock everyone, the Phils will have to stop coasting and start playing with the sort of uninterrupted urgency that made them champions just two years ago. All the dynasty discussions that Philadelphians engaged in after the Reds were dispatched will seem pretty ridiculous if it's the Giants and not the Phils who advance.

The good news is that Manuel will send Roy Halladay to the mound on regular rest for Game 5. If the Phils win, who knows what happens next. The bad news is that the Giants have already smacked around all three of the Phils' top pitchers. A starting staff that was once billed as unbeatable in a seven-game series suddenly looks far less formidable.

And so here we are - hoping the Phils will pull it out while wondering, for the first time in a long while, if they actually can.

"To me, I like to see us jump in and win four straight," Manuel said. "I mean, I didn't necessarily come here to go seven games, something like that. Basically I want to win four. But at the same time if we won four straight it would have been fine with me. But I don't think that's going to happen."

No. Doesn't look that way.

"So I'd say we better buckle down and get after it," Manuel added.

That would be a fine idea, because it's long past time.


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gonzophily.

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