Phils' promising season sunk by offensive drought

Slugger Ryan Howard, who suffered a left Achilles injury, is helped off the field after making the last out in the Phillies 1-0 loss in Game 5 of their National League division series.
Slugger Ryan Howard, who suffered a left Achilles injury, is helped off the field after making the last out in the Phillies 1-0 loss in Game 5 of their National League division series. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 08, 2011

What might have been the season of greatest promise in Phillies history lay broken on the field at Citizens Bank Park late Friday night as the Phils were shut out in the deciding Game 5 of the National League division series.

It was an excruciating end for the crowd of 46,530 that arrived hoping to watch the team advance at least to the league championship series for the fourth straight year. Instead, the fans were tortured by a 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in which their most persistent fear - an intense offensive drought - came true.

The Phils got a great pitching performance from starter Roy Halladay, who surrendered a first-inning run but then kept St. Louis quiet the rest of the night, even pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning after he had already crested 120 pitches on the evening.

Halladay's outing was matched, and just bettered, by Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals, however. Carpenter gave up a mere three hits, never more than one in an inning, and only let one Phillies runner stray as far as third base. The Phils didn't put a runner in scoring position after the fourth inning.

There is little in baseball more depressing than watching the other team celebrate after the deciding game of a series, and nothing worse than having to watch it on your home field. That was the fate of the Phillies this season, though, as the Cardinals jumped into each others' arms while Ryan Howard, having injured his Achilles tendon on the final groundout, lay writhing on the ground.

It was an ugly end, befitting a season of such promise that went unfulfilled.

The loss not only extinguished the high expectations of a season in which the Phillies had the best regular-season record in baseball for the second straight year, it also shortens the window of opportunity for the current offensive core to win another championship.

Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Jimmy Rollins will each be 33 when spring training begins. Utley is bothered by chronic knee problems and Rollins will be a free agent. The team will have to decide whether to bring Rollins back, a move that could affect its ability to offer competitive contracts down the road to some of its younger pitchers.

The other two pieces of the offense that have been through all five postseason runs - Howard and Shane Victorino - are on the far side of 30 years old, too, and the team will have to replace leftfielder Raul Ibanez. There are reasonable replacements, but no guarantee that any of the plans to keep the team winning in the near future will work out.

If this five-year run comes to represent a bell curve for the success of perhaps the best-sustained team in Phillies history - a run book-ended by losses in the opening round - then the Phillies, far from establishing a dynasty here, will be more remembered by history as a shortened example of the Atlanta teams that won 14 straight division titles. The Braves won the NL East from 1995 to 2005, with three West titles immediately preceding that streak, and advanced to the World Series five times from 1991 to '99, but only won a single championship.

The Phillies won the division in each of the last five seasons and got to the World Series twice, but their lone title came in 2008 against a Tampa Bay Rays team that won't go down as a great one.

Still, they won it, and had a massive, memorable parade down Broad Street that not only bought them a lot of goodwill and patience from the fan base, but also sold a lot of tickets to Citizens Bank Park.

That championship - the only true, feel-good sporting moment for the City of Philadelphia since the 76ers won the NBA title in 1983 - at least keeps the Phillies compared only to the Braves, and not (God forbid) to the Eagles.

The football team has been an annual tease during a period of sustained success under head coach Andy Reid, and the Phillies have been spared that fate. The fans have given the front office a high approval rating, which is understandable since the Phillies have not only increased their payroll dramatically, but have used the annual trade deadline to fill whatever gaps in the roster threatened the team's success.

This season, the Phils added rightfielder Hunter Pence to augment a faltering offense content to sit with a pitching rotation that is, by far, the best in baseball.

That is why Friday's loss was particularly galling. They did have enough pitching, as it turned out - despite less-than-great starts from Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt - but they still didn't have enough offense when it counted. The Phils scored just one run in the final 17 innings of the series as St. Louis came back to win the last two games.

And so begins a nuclear winter of discontent and one - just guessing here - that doesn't seem likely to be enlivened by the Eagles.

This will be remembered as a great edition of the team, and one that put together a great regular season. It will not be remembered fondly beyond that, however. A lot more was expected that wasn't delivered. Fair or foul, that will be the call.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com or @bobfordsports on Twitter. Read his blog, "Post Patterns," at www.philly.com/postpatterns. Read his past columns at www.philly.com/bobford

 

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