Just one of those days for Phillies

Posted: August 17, 2011

EVEN THE hype machine seems to have run out of steam. Could just be the dog days. Or maybe the equipment's in the shop for an oil change after working overtime to spit out all the hyperbole and instant analysis of the early games against the Braves - National League East showdown! - the recent home-and-home against the world champion Giants - Possible NLCS rematch! - and the June appearance of the Red Sox - Potential World Series preview!

Or maybe it's just that, to be honest, the series that opened last night at Citizens Bank Park means more to the visiting Diamondbacks than to the four-time division champion Phillies.

Arizona, after all, is this year's come-out-of-nowhere team, shocking the world by being in first place at the top of the stretch run, trying to build on a fragile lead. The Phillies have a comfortable margin and would have to self-immolate to keep from capturing the division yet again. Heck, they would have to stumble badly to keep from setting a franchise record for wins.

Even the most recent sellout crowd seemed to be more jazzed about seeing the rescheduled dedication of the Harry Kalas statue in Ashburn Alley and picking up their giveaway Placido Polanco bobbleheads than breaking down What It All Means against the team the Phillies would meet in the first round if the season ended today.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and manager Charlie Manuel rarely miss an opportunity to remind everyone, including the players in the clubhouse and quite possibly themselves, that nothing becomes official until all other contenders are mathematically eliminated.

Which is true, of course, except for that by now it sort of goes in one ear and out the other, kind of like when parents are always telling the kids to do their homework before watching television.

That the Phillies let one get away in a 3-2 loss to the Diamondbacks was disappointing to those in attendance and watching or listening from afar. But, hey, stuff happens.

Not that there weren't portents throughout the day, little clues left scattered about even before the game started that were subtle reminders of how thin the line between success and failure can be.

There was Polanco, 90 minutes before the first pitch, revealing that he'd be going on the disabled list because of the sports hernia that's kept him sidelined since Aug. 6. That came not long after Amaro sat on the bench and said that the third baseman was much improved and might even start tonight.

Miscommunication? Intentional misdirection play? Regardless, the effect is that it shrouded Polanco's injury with mystery and leaves a cloud of doubt about how much he'll be able to contribute the rest of the season.

Moments after Polanco spoke, Cole Hamels stood in front of his locker and pooh-poohed any worries about his left shoulder, which had undergone an enhanced MRI the day before. That test was ordered because the slender lefty had trouble getting loose during his last start on Friday.

The announcement was that Hamels has rotator-cuff inflammation in the back of his shoulder. This was deemed good news. He's expected to skip a start and be good as new, and that may be exactly how it all plays out. Except that Brad Lidge had rotator-cuff inflammation in the back of his shoulder in spring training and it took him 4 months to get back. Every medical situation is different, but it still makes you wonder just a little.

In the sixth inning, catcher Carlos Ruiz took a foul tip off his, um, groin area and fell to the dirt writhing in pain. He was able to shake it off and remain in the game, but catchers are on the firing line more than a hundred times in every game.

And the Phillies' biggest wish at the moment is just to stay healthy, a factor that multiplies in importance once the postseason begins.

It's not encouraging that Diamondbacks rookie Josh Collmenter largely shut them down with his collection of 88 mph fastballs and 78 mph changeups, even though there's no reason to believe that would impact October.

That Roy Halladay was unable to hold a lead in the top of the ninth is sure to become a hot-button issue. Since he leads the National League in innings pitched and gave up hits to three of the first four batters he faced makes it an easy second guess.

Two things, though. One is that Halladay only had recorded 100 pitches, had struck out the side in the eighth and was working with an extra 2 days of rest.

The other is that Manuel, if nothing else, was at least consistent. If he's going to preach about not letting down and trying as hard as possible to win every game, he needs to manage that way. And he did.

Odds are that this will all work out fine. And there aren't that many more games to use as invisible measuring sticks, anyway. Two more against the Diamondbacks, a couple series against Atlanta and a four-game set in Milwaukee in September.

By October, then, the hype machine should be tuned, gassed up and ready to go.

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