Fans left with awkward feeling in Phillies' final home game

Chase Utley signs an autograph for Angelina Militello on Fan Appreciation Night.
Chase Utley signs an autograph for Angelina Militello on Fan Appreciation Night. (YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: September 28, 2012

THE LIGHTS flicked off a little after 11 p.m., leaving Citizens Bank Park shrouded in a mournful pale, a handful of laborers drifting through her aisles with garbage bags in tow. Four hours earlier, Cole Hamels had stood in the grass behind home plate and promised the fans that it would not end like this next year. The decorations and dignitaries and pregame sizzle would return. October would breathe life yet again.

"Next year," the slender lefty said to the crowd through a wireless microphone, "we're going to be fighting all the way to November."

Next year. Over the last few seasons, those two words have become increasingly familiar around these parts. But this . . . well, this felt strange.

Last year, it felt perplexing, the lights disappearing in stunned silence after a Game 5 defeat to the Cardinals in the NLDS. In 2010, it felt like a punch in the gut, the season ending in a loss to the Giants in Game 6 of the NLCS. In 2009, it was hopeful, a win over the Yankees in Game 5 of the World Series kept alive the prospect of Citizens Bank Park hosting the aftermath of a championship parade. And in 2008 . . . well, you all probably remember how that felt.

On Thursday night, it just felt weird. It ended with a pop-out by Jimmy Rollins in a game the Phillies lost to the Nationals, 7-3. The Phillies will play six more games, three of them in Miami, three in Washington, but the Philadelphia leg of the schedule is over. It ended as it started, with this once-dominant team looking overmatched both on paper and in practice. While the Nationals fielded a lineup with power in every spot in the order, the Phillies started four players and a pitcher who began the season in the minor leagues.

"It's definitely different from how we want to leave them," manager Charlie Manuel said.

The result was what you would expect: Against rookie righthander Tyler Cloyd, Bryce Harper hit his 21st homer of the year, and Mike Morse hit his 15th and 16th. Ryan Zimmermann, Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth added doubles. That's the way games are won in the major leagues, and Thursday showed why the Nationals have won 94 of them.

The whole thing felt plenty strange. Awkward, even. Like watching a former world champ get battered by a younger, stronger competitor. Many of those in attendance channeled their frustrations toward Werth, who has taken an odd transformation into a Philadelphia villain who is treated like the J.D. Drews and Scott Rolens of the world. Manuel? He has subsisted on the tiny slivers of the future that he may or may not be seeing at various moments during the game.

On Thursday night, one of those moments came in the bottom of the first inning, when rookie slugger Darin Ruf smacked a mid-90s fastball from Gio Gonzalez over the centerfielder's head for a three-run double. In the first three starts of his big-league career, the Double A sensation went 5-for-11 with a home run, a double, and four RBI. All of those starts came against lefthanded pitchers, but Manuel is not going to quibble.

"He put a good swing on the ball," the manager said. "It was down, and he went right through it . . . He looks like a hitter. He thinks he can hit. That's a big part of it, too."

Defensively, Ruf did not make any glaring miscues over the course of the series, at least none that cost the Phillies runs. The other hope for the future, 24-year-old rightfielder Domonic Brown, hit a double off of Gonzalez.

Together, they represent the strongest hint of intrigue for the team and its fans. On Thursday, though, it was hard to ignore that this Phillies team finished under .500 at home for the first time since 2000.

"It's hard to take," Manuel said. "It's hard to take any time you lose. We don't come here to lose. That's kind of how I look at it."

Next year. For ticketholders at Citizens Bank Park, it starts now.


Contact David Murphy at dmurphy@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HighCheese. Read his blog at philly.com/HighCheese

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