The Latest in A Sad Chapter of Phillies Baseball
There was a reason why your parents lied about sending the family dog to a farm upstate. In ignorance, a comfortable lie is always better than the cold, hard reality. Better to deal with a temporarily nonplussed child who believes his dog will play fetch into eternity than an inconsolable child who just lost an irreplaceable best friend.
Baseball, funnily enough, is similar though unintentionally so. We often watch our favorite players grow up and become talented major leaguers, but as their careers inch closer to expiration, they are traded or released, joining other teams as they desperately attempt to breathe life back into a sputtering career. John Kruk, the fan-favorite first baseman of the 1993 team that went to the World Series, left the Phillies after the ’94 season. He joined the Chicago White Sox before retiring mid-season. Pitcher Steve Carlton, who won a World Series and all four of his Cy Young awards with the Phillies, sputtered with the San Francisco Giants, the White Sox, the Cleveland Indians, and the Minnesota Twins before calling it quits. Catcher Darren Daulton played with the Phillies in the majors between 1983-97 before the Phillies traded him in July. He retired after the season.
The exception, of course, is third baseman Mike Schmidt. Schmidt went 0-for-5 on May 28 in San Francisco against the Giants, bringing his May average down to .117. He retired, sobbing, in front of a shocked press corps in what has to be one of the saddest events in baseball history. A baseball legend, the greatest third baseman in baseball history, was reduced to a sobbing mess of a man as he accepted his inability to do his job any longer. Retirement is typically done not in front of television cameras and microphones, but through an impersonal press release. Sometimes you don’t get to choose to send the dog upstate, though; sometimes he just gets hit by a car.
The Phillies entered another sad chapter in the tale of their decline since 2011 last night in the opening game of a four-game series against the Nationals in Washington. Cliff Lee was making his third start since being activated from the disabled list with a flexor pronator strain in his left elbow. Lee was humming along into the third inning. Danny Espinosa had doubled with one out, but Lee bounced back and struck out pitcher Gio Gonzalez. After his first pitch to Denard Span, his 31st of the evening, Lee uttered the F-word, then motioned to the dugout that he felt something in his elbow. Lee left with a trainer, and was replaced by reliever Antonio Bastardo.
The injury is the same as before: a flexor pronator strain in his left elbow. Considering that the team is fully out of contention, it’s safe to say that Lee’s season is done. That 31st pitch to Span, an 85 MPH cut fastball, could be the last pitch he will have thrown in the major leagues. At the very least, we may have seen the last of an effective Cliff Lee.
We saw how quickly a pitcher can fall from grace in Roy Halladay. He went from winning the Cy Young award in 2010 and finishing as a runner-up in 2011 to posting a 4.49 ERA in ’12 and falling completely apart last season. The face of an overheated, overmatched Roy Halladay on the mound in Florida on September 23 is forever singed in the minds of Phillies fans. Halladay, an emotionless baseball robot, shaking his head and sighing defeatedly to pitching coach Rich Dubee before walking off of the mound. Halladay announced his retirement in the off-season.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Phillies were the class of the National League going into 2011 with baseball’s best starting rotation and a formidable middle of the lineup that could compete against anyone. But the Phillies left the NLDS with a hobbled Ryan Howard and nothing has been the same since. Phillies fans have been treated to worst case scenario after worst case scenario.
The Phillies absolutely have made some critical mistakes in the time since. A lot of what they did in an attempt to compete was a calculated risk. Signing Howard to a five-year contract was a calculated risk. Trading for Roy Halladay and signing Cliff Lee to a five-year deal, also calculated risks. Most of the time, you end up on the losing end of a small portion of those risks. Some pay off, but most will return a small gain, a small loss, or neutral value. The Phillies have been hit especially hard on every risk they’ve taken. It’s unfortunate, and important for fans to realize that the Phillies’ current position is as much due to misfortune as incompetence.
Most teams get the chance to send their players upstate to a farm, giving their fans a chance to say goodbye with grace and dignity. The Phillies have not been afforded that privilege — not with Halladay, not with Howard (yet, at least), and there’s a very real possibility they won’t get that privilege with Lee, either. It’s as sad an end to an otherwise glorious chapter of Phillies baseball as could have been written. Even worse, neither Halladay nor Lee will get the World Series ring they thought they’d get when they first arrived in Philadelphia.