David Murphy: Phils hope fans still show up

Posted: August 03, 2012

WASHINGTON – The gates will open at the same time Friday night. The skyline will rise above the centerfield seats just like it always has. But there is no avoiding the fact that when the Phillies take the field at Citizens Bank Park for the first of a three-game series against the Diamondbacks, they will be a far different team than the one that ushered baseball back to prominence in the city of Philadelphia.

Take, for instance, the lineup that Charlie Manuel fielded on Thursday night at Nationals Park. In centerfield was light-hitting utility man Michael Martinez, who was somewhere in the Nationals farm system the last time the Phillies reached the National League Championship Series. At third base was Kevin Frandsen, who was making his fourth start in a Phillies uniform. Across the diamond at first base was Ty Wigginton, who has never been to the postseason in 11 years in the majors. In leftfield, 24-year-old Domonic Brown. In right, John Mayberry Jr.

That the Phillies ended up falling, 3-0, to the Nationals should not come as a surprise. After it was over and the Phillies were 47-58, Charlie Manuel tried his best to give credit to the opposing starter. At the same time, he acknowledged that the lineup he ran out against Ross Detwiler is not exactly headed for immortality. It is headed home, the next 2 months a prelude to a different kind of October.

But there are games to be played, and there are people who have already paid good money to watch them. It is easy to forget that the Phillies still boast a home sellout streak. Heading into tonight, it sits at 254. For the first time in 7 years, that crowd will not see a team that features Shane Victorino in centerfield. For the first time since 2006, that crowd will watch a team that has thrown up a white flag before Labor Day.

"I really hope that the fans keep coming to the ballgame," said Cole Hamels, who turned in his latest solid outing, striking out nine while walking one in seven innings of work. "The sellout record is obviously something you want to keep intact, especially because next year you know we are going to keep fighting, so if you can kind of stick with it for 2 months or however many home games we have, just try to be positive, because hopefully we can continue something. If you look down the road 30, 40 years from now, you can say, hey, we had 400 or 500 or 600 sellout days, and that's something to say about the fans and the city."

Even before the dramatic events of earlier this week, when the Phillies shifted their focus to the future by trading away Victorino and rightfielder Hunter Pence, they had won just 21 of 50 games at Citizens Bank Park. The promise of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard returning to the lineup has yet to show itself. Since Utley returned on June 27, the Phillies are 11-18 and averaging fewer than four runs per game, with an on-base percentage under .300. Howard was out of the lineup Thursday, and struck out looking as a pinch-hitter for the third out of the ninth and his 15th strikeout in 29 at-bats.

"I think people will still come see us play," Manuel said. "I hope they do, because we are going to keep trying to improve our team, keep trying to improve what we've got. In talking to our people, we definitely want to keep our team where fans are excited about us."

Hamels was the only bright spot on Thursday night. Although he allowed three runs, two of them were aided by plays that Utley and Jimmy Rollins could have made (they were ruled hits). Otherwise, the Phillies managed just three hits, none of them for extra bases.

They took two out of three from the Nationals, but are still 12 1/2 games back in the wild-card race. Friday night, they are back home. It will be interesting to see how they are received.

Contact David Murphy at murphyd@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HighCheese. For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read his blog at www.philly.com/HighCheese.

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