One & done would rival '64 for Phils

Gene Mauch was the manager of the 1964 Phillies squad that blew an unfathomable lead. (AP file Photo)
Gene Mauch was the manager of the 1964 Phillies squad that blew an unfathomable lead. (AP file Photo)
Posted: September 28, 2011

IF YOU'RE UNDER 55, you missed it. Or don't remember enough about The Horror for it to have made a lasting impression.

If you're right up against 55, maybe you can remember your dad beating on the refrigerator with his fists. Or kicking something while hollering, "Effing Mauch . . . Effing Shantz . . . Effing Bunning . . . "

It is good and it is bad that the Phillies' 1964 collapse is something your dad still talks about - if he is still alive. Or perhaps a big brother or older friend.

Maybe in another half-century, there will be a poem to commemorate Philadelphia's 12 days in hell.

Gather 'round children and listen to hear

How the Phils had a pennant with nobody near.

They had ordered new cars those confident jokers

Who knew in 12 games they'd be all-time chokers?

It is bad because you and your children, Generation WTF, are collapse virgins. You have a clean emotional slate and a closet filled with Phillies attire. Which jersey should I wear tonight? Utley? Halladay? Lee? Rollins? Hamels? Howard? Nah, I'll go with a Victorino. He's hot.

Everybody knows the eight-game mixup that started the day after they clinched the division - yawn - with win No. 98 was just God's way to keep us humble and let Charlie rest some guys and wind down the innings-pitched totals for the South Philly Fling Quartet.

The bats came alive in New York on Sunday and when they took the field in Atlanta on Monday night, the Phils had that Sherman's March look. The take-no-prisoners scowl was back. Spring training of September 2011 was over. No more B-game lineups.

With a nod to the 1976 and '77 teams that each won 101 games on the way to NLCS elimination by the Reds in three and the Dodgers in four, they looked like the best team in franchise history once again. Win 100 or more games and a team develops an aura of invincibility that hides the warts and problems encountered during the long season.

But the Phillies who will take that great record into the always-scary best-of-five NLDS Saturday are held together with staples, strapping tape and baling wire.

It's going to take a triple to score Ryan Howard from second. One advance scout is said to have used an egg timer Monday to clock the hoof-sore slugger from second to third on a two-out single that would have scored Andy Reid.

Fortunately, Jimmy Rollins is doing his best hitting and running after another year of nagging leg issues. Chase Utley doesn't limp, grimace, alibi or give any indication he is playing hurt. But he is no longer the great hitter he was before the hip-labrum thing, now the patellar thing.

Perhaps most troubling is the Bastardo Situation. It appeared clubs were picking up on him setting up with his fastball grip, then changing it for his slider grip. Quiet hand, fastball. Moving hand, slider. After pitch-tipping diagnosis, he was moving his hand before every pitch. There, tip that . . . The Mets pounded him for three runs anyway. Bastardo wasn't tipping his pitches, he was tipping his lack of command. His lethal slider wasn't biting, it was nibbling. He was overthrowing his fastball to hit 92. I always worry when a young Dominican pitcher suddenly loses stuff, because these guys would rather have root canal with no anesthesia than cop a sore-arm plea, and Antonio has had elbow issues in the past.

When future generations look at the 2011 standings, they might conclude, "Wow, what an easy division title." The victory total masks the intensity of the daily struggle to put a healthy lineup on the field. It took the incredible pitching, taken for granted, and some first class jury-rigging made possible only by a versatile bench.

The projected Opening Day starting six (plus a platoon in right and the normal catching rotation) has missed a staggering 189 of the Phils' 161 games.

Ryan Howard has been the iron man with 151 games played. Placido Polanco has missed 40, Shane Victorino 30, Rollins 20. Raul Ibanez has been the healthiest starter by far, missing 18 games. But John Mayberry was the main reason for that. Raul has had a tremendous season.

The almost-daily lineup mix-and-match resulted in the primary bench players getting an amazing 1,531 at-bats in 597 games.

The Division Series has always been a concern, probably because I covered the Phillies losing three of them in 1976, '77 and '78. And the epic Astros series in '80 - four of the five games went extra innings - was an exhausting baseball equivalent of the Ali-Frazier Thrilla in Manila.

This team, crippled as it is, should get through the first round, no matter the opponent.

If it doesn't?

Be ready for a big-time shock, under-55 set.

This will be your 1964, the big difference being:

Gene Mauch's team was picked no better than fourth or fifth in the strongest National League of all time. There were no playoffs in '64. You won the pennant or went home.

Charlie Manuel's team was all but presented the World Series trophy when the Phils reacquired Cliff Lee. The hype was enhanced by the deal for Hunter Pence.

So, the bestest, baddest, costliest team in Phillies history goes into the postseason bearing the heaviest imaginable burden of heightened expectations. And, boys, they've gotta carry that load . . . a long way.

Pray it doesn't happen to your generation, under-55s . . . Pray you and your children will not be faced by a lifetime of waking in a cold sweat after shrieking . . .

"Effing Manuel . . . Effing Howard . . . Effing Lidge . . . "


Send email to bill1chair@aol.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/BillConlin.

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