Bill Lyon: The Phillies at midseason

Charlie Manuel walks back to the Phillies dugout after arguing an umpire's call during the first inning of the season at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
Charlie Manuel walks back to the Phillies dugout after arguing an umpire's call during the first inning of the season at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 09, 2012

Bill Lyon is a retired Inquirer columnist and author of "Deadlines and Overtimes: Collected Writings on Sports and Life"

So, then, is this it at last?

Is this the day we knew would come, the day we dreaded but tried to forget?

The day the Phillies fell to earth?  

Ah, yes, let the good times roll, we said, and we did, we did, and never a thought about tomorrow.

Five giddy, glorious, head-spinning years, the Golden Age of baseball in Philadelphia, when every night was a party … and now here comes the check and you can't cover it, and the man who bears it is named Reckoning, and he has no sense of humor.

At all.

So here we are just past the halfway portion of the 2012 season, and the Fightin's are gut-shot. Everything that can go wrong has. No respite on the horizon. They've been in hurtin' situations before, but never as daunting as these.

They have not yet run out of time, but opportunity is slip-sliding away, and as that eminent philosopher, Yogi Berra, cautioned: "It gets late early out there."

Frankly, it looks like it's going to take more than they've got just to scuffle into the playoffs and then hope for divine intervention. They're a team confused and frayed around the edges.

And the first rifts in what has been a long and warm relationship are showing, the sort of cracks-in-the-wall fissures you see when couples begin to wear on each other, familiarity breeding you-know-what.

Among the overwrought battalions of e-mailers and hyperventilating twitters, there is talk of wholesale jettisoning. Some of the villagers are muttering and impatient and clamor for the team to be "blown up" so they can start over, and they call for Ruben Amaro's head on a spike or at the very least for him to acquire three bulls for the bullpen and a power bat or two and, you know, all those items that are just lying around waiting for Rube to scoop up. It should be so easy. And, oh yes, Charlie Manuel has reverted to being an idiot and really must go.

When there is wreckage scattered all over the crash site, there is more than enough blame to go around. To be fair, the Fightin's, first and foremost, have been decimated by injury, cruelly sustained, with enough players who have been on the disabled list to field two full teams.

The most costly have been — all together now — Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Doc Halladay. So the midsection of the batting order has been gutted, from the very start, and the staff ace sits and stews and whispers soothingly to his ailing shoulder. You take the two most important bats out of any team's lineup and watch it stagger. Take away 20 wins, ditto.

To complicate things, none of those three will carry guarantees. They can be gone again in an uneasy instant — Utley has chronic knee troubles, and chronic is Latin for "it isn't better and it never will be." Howard hasn't had an at-bat that counts yet. And Halladay … all those innings, all those years when he was the bell cow, it isn't unreasonable to wonder if certain key body parts have said: We surrender.

And on the subject of pitching, can there have been a more catastrophic unraveling than what has befallen the Four Aces?

Remember all those pictures of the pitching staff that was going to be featuring four — count em, four — 20-game winners? How can you divide four Cy Young awards?

Roy Oswalt is long gone. Halladay, you know about. And the most mystifying of all, Cliff Lee, who won 17 times last year and could lose 17 this one. Only Cole Hamels has escaped, and even then the Golden Gun is being dangled as trade bait, and if that should come about there will be mass apoplexy in Fightin's Nation.

If there is not a U-turn coming, the exodus of the fan base could begin. Wait, check that. It has begun. Oh, they still trumpet each new day of yet another record crowd. The tickets have been sold, all right, but more and more, fewer and fewer actual bodies occupy those seats.

Meanwhile, the manager, usually an affable sort, is showing the strain. He said the other day to reporters: "You guys ought to sit in the dugout with me and give me all the scenarios if you don't think I know them. We don't know how to manage the game? Really, I think you guys ought to sit down there with us or tweet us or something."

Well, here's a sobering thought about just how far they have fallen: The franchise that has won its division five years running, and won 102 games last year, is now all-out to reach .500.

So then, here she comes. Out of the mothballs she chuffs and puffs, resurrected for times of turmoil and tumult just such as these, the vehicle so familiar to fans of the professional baseball team of Philadelphia …

All aboard, then, for the Phillies commuter special: The 3:10 to Panicsville.

It's filling fast.

E-mail Bill Lyon at lyon1964@comcast.net.

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