The Phillies scored four ninth-inning runs against Francisco Rodriguez Monday night. Yes, that's right. They won a game in their last at-bat for the second day in a row after spending the entire season making the decision of those departing fans Monday night a prudent and obvious one. They won a game after trailing after the eighth inning for the first time this season.
The first time. They are now 1-42.
So what does it mean? Life? Hope? Well, hold off on that. Because the idea all along was to hold on until Roy Halladay came back. Sure, it would be great to get Howard healthy and Chase Utley, too, but the Phillies were treading water over the first 2 months of this season without them and with Doc as their ace, treading water even as the not-so-good doctor started showing troubling symptoms himself.
Someone asked Charlie Manuel before the game how much the Phillies had missed Halladay, and the manager basically told us to crunch the numbers. "I think we missed him immensely," the Phillies manager said. "You can see how much we missed him."
Well, yes and no. The Phillies were one game over .500 when Halladay left the Phillies. But they were not without problems, not without disappointments, not already mired in underachievement and doubt. Part of that doubt and underachievement was based on Halladay's disappointing May, a month that began with him horrifically surrendering a six-run cushion against the Braves, and ended with a two-inning stint against St. Louis on May 27.
He was placed on the disabled list after that, for 42 days. The Phillies had the majors' second-worst record over that span, digging a hole that even a whole Halladay, and a whole Howard, and a whole Utley, would find it difficult to churn out from.
Howard and Utley were in the middle of everything Monday night. They combined for consecutive home runs in the first inning, were in the middle of the ninth-inning rally as well. That rally was made possible by a second straight game of outstanding relief, but it was also necessary due to Doc's ineffectiveness. He allowed two runs in the first inning after getting two outs. He allowed three straight hits in the fourth inning, beginning with a two-out single to opposing pitcher Randy Wolf, ending with Carlos Gomez's three-run home run off the leftfield foul pole. He left after six sweat-soaked innings, after 92 trial-and-error pitches.
"His command wasn't what could be expected," Manuel said afterward. "I think the next time out he might be more sharp with his command."
First-inning runs were Doc's M.O. last season, but this didn't have the same feel, just as May didn't have that same feel. Then, Halladay was looking for the pitches that worked best, pitches he would use for the rest of his night. But Monday night from the start, he hit people and missed spots badly, and his fastball hovered at around 90 mph. When he did get two strikes, he couldn't get the third. When he got two outs, he couldn't close out the inning.
"I think his fastball was more crispy than it is right now," said the manager. "There's usually more pop on it."
Maybe this is part of the process required for him to become Roy again, but the Phillies are long out of their allowance for those type games. If their season is in fact a coffin, the nails already hammered in would have split and shredded their tomb. They need Roy to be Roy again. And fast.
As great as he is, that may not be humanly possible. He is 35 after all, with a ton of mileage on his Hall-of-Fame treads. Not everyone gets to pitch until they are 40. Not even Hall of Famers.
The stadium is a living symbol of all of that these days: Hope, fear, sadness on most nights and on the last two, a joyous ode to how it used to be all the time around here. Can it be again? It would be one of the greatest sports stories of all time.
Might even keep the people in their seats 'til the end. n
Contact Sam Donnellon at firstname.lastname@example.org. For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/SamDonnellon.