Watching them make weak out after weak out against Cardinals starter Kyle McClellan last night at Busch Stadium didn't settle anybody's stomach, either. Even a 10-2 win over the Pujols-less Redbirds didn't do much to take the edge off since a parade of a St. Louis relievers temporarily mislocated the strike zone in the eighth, contributing to the mayhem with four walks and two hit batters.
Now, all this sky-is-falling fretting seems a little silly. Especially in June, with more than half a season left to play. Especially with a .622 winning percentage to fall back on.
Except that it's also perfectly rational. After all, this isn't about fattening up on teams flying the distress flag anymore. The rules of engagement between club and fan base have changed. That's what happens when a franchise wins the division 4 straight years and assembles one of the best on-paper rotations in recent memory, pushing the payroll to the second-highest in baseball.
Instead, it's taking what's been observed so far and overlaying it onto October when every opponent is a winner. It's seeing a lineup full of All-Stars being neutered by some of the lesser pitchers in the league . . . and translating that into what that might portend in the postseason when most of the starters are coming off good seasons.
It's Frightenin', Phils.
Being back in St. Louis, with the famous Gateway Arch looming like the world's largest croquet wicket on the centerfield horizon, provided a perfect opportunity to help put the regular season into perspective.
Here's what real trouble looks like. It was exactly 11 months ago this morning that the Phillies awoke in their downtown hotel to find themselves in a skid. They had lost four straight. They were just two games over .500, in third place, seven games out of first.
They were facing Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright on a blazing hot getaway day, with a heat index approaching 100 degrees. Pitching for the Phillies was Cole Hamels who was having a solid, if unspectacular, season.
That day, though, Hamels was brilliant. He blanked the Cardinals on one hit through eight innings. The Phillies got Wainwright out of the game after six innings, but couldn't score until finally pushing across a pair of runs in the 11th to win.
From that point to the end of the season, they went 49-19 to finish the regular season with baseball's best record for the first time in franchise history.
Even with the benefit of hindsight, it's difficult to say for sure how pivotal that one game was. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, for example, said yesterday he didn't really remember it. Besides, later that night hitting coach Milt Thompson was replaced by Greg Gross. And, a week later, Amaro traded for Oswalt.
Charlie Manuel, however, is convinced that this game not only lit the fuse for the team as a whole but was a significant turning point in Hamels' career.
"I keep going back to that game," the manager said. "I think it turned us around and it turned [the lefthander] around. What he showed that day was determination. The competitive part really came out. He was going to stay out there in the hot weather. You could tell. He wasn't saying too much in the dugout, but you could tell he was really into it and determined they weren't going to score on him.
"Not only was it hot, it was humid. And when you win a game like that, it kind of sparks you up, and I think that's exactly what happened. I think he grew up that day and found out how good he really was. I think he found out a whole lot about himself that day."
Since going into that game, he has 2.42 ERA in 29 starts.
That's all great. The kicker, of course, is that the Phillies were the hottest team in baseball going into the postseason, swept the Reds in the first round and then had the rug pulled out from under them by the Giants in the NLCS. So the angst about observing present weaknesses and projecting future problems has merit.
But, look, it's also still nearly a month until the All-Star break. It would be a shame if we've lost our ability to sit back and enjoy the ballgames. The longest season is a 162-act play that has to unfold at its own pace.
Right now, it's important to remember that while every game is important, no single game is all that important.
October, and all that it implies, will be here soon enough.
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