Let's get this out of the way immediately - last night was horrible. An otherwise amazing pitching duel on a picture perfect night to be outside watching a professional baseball game was ruined by the fact that the Phillies wound up on the losing end of the win-or-go-home Game 5.
I was fortunate enough to be in the crowd along with resident blog poet Wet Luzinski, and the disappointment after the game was palpable. The slow crowded walk down the ramps from the upper deck to the ground floor had the cadence, sound, and ambiance of a death march.
But I'm here the day after to set a few things straight and to point the blame the only place it can reasonably be placed - at the game of baseball.
First, Ryan Howard is not to blame for the Phillies not winning yesterday. Sure, Howard had a bad game and once again had the last Phillies plate appearance for the season. But Ryan Howard made 4 outs last night, not 27. Ryan Howard didn't miss the cut-off man in the first inning. Ryan Howard wasn't thrown out at second base on a stupid steal play. Ryan Howard didn't give up two extra-base hits to start the game. And Ryan Howard didn't strand the only two men the Phillies had in scoring position. In essence, last night's loss, the last of the season, was a team effort.
Second, the Phillies didn't lose because they played without emotion. They lost because they didn't score more runs than the other team. That's it. Whether they did it with emotion or without is irrelevant. If the team had played the exact same way but Raul Ibanez's fly ball in the fourth inning traveled a few more feet or Ryan Howard's soft liner in the same inning had been just out of the reach of the second baseman instead of just in his glove, would anyone care one bit about whether the team felt flat or not? Of course not. Psychobabble narratives are just post-hoc descriptions of athletic events that are used to justify fans' impressions of why the team won or lost and to avoid the fact that losses happen, even when a team is trying. All the athletes on the field last night were trying their hardest. Someone had to lose, and it happened to be the Phillies.
Third, the Phillies didn't lose because of their 8-game losing streak in late September. There is not one rational connection anyone can make between that losing streak, when the lineup was filled with the Pete Orrs and Eric Kratzes of the world, and what happened in the playoffs. After all, if you think one streak late in the season matters more than the other 102 wins going into the post-season, then why not look at the 4 game win streak that ended the season, 3 of the games coming against a team that had everything in the world to play for?
Fourth, the Phillies didn't lose to a bad team. They lost to a team with excellent players, including a phenomenal Chris Carpenter last night. No one should forget that as much as the Phillies are top-flight professional athletes, the St. Louis Cardinals are as well, and they had one of their best pitching at the top of his game yesterday.
Fifth, the premature end of the season doesn't change the fact that the Phillies were the best team in baseball in 2011. The team was dominant from start to finish in the regular season. They won more games than any other team. They made it look easy. They made their fans happy. Last night's disappointment should not erase the six month journey that was unlike anything we've ever seen before as Phillies fans. This team, even with losing to the Wild Card team, treated us to something special this year. That cannot be erased.
So who is to blame here? There's only one finger to point, and that's at the game of baseball itself. The baseball post-season, especially with the opening series being only 5 games, has nothing to do with who is the best team. Bad teams can beat good teams over the course of 5 games. There's no guarantee in such a short series, and we saw that last night.
And even in a longer series, baseball is a game where you have to accept that teams that are better can and do lose. It happens all the time. Games can be excellent, as last night's game was, and your team can still lose. Pitchers can pitch well, as Cliff Lee did Sunday night, but lose because almost all of the balls in play fell for hits, whereas almost none of Chris Carpenter's last night did.
This is how this game works. If you're looking for anyone else to point a finger at, you're missing the point. Baseball is a cruel sport, and we witnessed its cruel end last night. That's the only culprit here.
To the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies, thank you for an amazing season I will never forget. Let's do it again in 2012 and hope we get a better October result too.