Oh look! Ryan Howard has spotted a rare bird! Right after hitting a three-run homer in Game 1 of the NLDS! (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
When the Phillies season ended...the way that it ended...I didn't really want to talk about it. Or think about it. Or look at or wear Phillies gear. Or really even be in my house. I spent two weeks far away from here on a business trip once the season ended, surgically removing any and all baseball from my life. Shockingly, this didn't seem to help the gaping, festering wound in my heart and soul that was caused by the Phillies postseason. I returned to find the Brewers and the Tigers eliminated, and then had to watch the Cardinals finish off their "Cinderella" postseason by cramming their glass slipper down my throat.
Since it was physically painful to think about what had actually happened, I harkened back to a simpler time; a time when there was a game to be played almost every day, and a loss didn't mean the end of the baseball season. I sought to heal myself by watching some of the best Phillies games of the 2011 season. I came up with 15 games and three honorable mentions (described below). I'll feature the games by date, because healing works best in chronological order.
Now: LET THE HEALING BEGIN!
April 2: Phillies 9, Astros 4, AKA Cliff Lee's Return. I went to this game with my dad, and we were completely bowled over by the overwhelming amount of love present in the stadium. Citizens Bank Park was ready to collapse from sheer happiness, a combination of the previous day's walk-off win, and Cliff Lee's first start. 2009's consolation prize had become 2011's favorite son. This is what many Phillies fans had been waiting for since Lee was traded in December 2009. It hadn't felt right, him being on another team (or two), but now he had returned -- and by choice. Lee went seven innings, giving up three runs on four hits, but if you went by the crowd's reaction, you'd have thought he threw a no hitter and went 4-for-4 at the plate. You could practically choke on the optimism in the (cold, cold) air. The season stretched before us, full of possibility. And hopefully, much warmer weather. Trivia Question: Which former Phillies reliever gave up an 8th inning run in his second appearance of the season? Answer: I'm sorry, I have no idea who you're talking about.
July 30: Phillies 7, Pirates 4, AKA Welcome, Hunter Pence. I had never paid much attention to Hunter Pence until that night. Suddenly, everything that I once didn't care about became endearing. He wore high socks. He smiled a lot. He was adorably awkward, a furious whirl of arms and legs, and he took some of the strangest practice swings I'd ever seen. His first at-bat as a Phillie immediately won over the crowd despite the fact that it resulted in an out. After coming to the plate to a thunderous standing ovation, he smacked a ball to a fielder shaded up the middle. Pence hustled down the line and beat the throw, but umpire Angel Hernandez called him out. Pence tore off his helmet, but smiled all the way to the dugout, walking past Charlie Manuel who was on his way to argue (unsuccessfully) with Angel Hernandez. The crowd ate it up. The game itself was also really great, with all but one starter notching at least one hit. (Ryan Howard went 4-for-4 with a home run and two doubles.) Even Cliff Lee, who wasn't very sharp at the mound, had two hits. This game was full of so much promise. Hunter Pence was joining the fold, Placido Polanco had returned from the DL, Dom Brown was learning left field in AAA and would probably be back in the bigs soon, and there was an important road trip in the immediate future. Fun Fact: On the radio broadcast, Larry Anderson spent a good five minutes being extremely complimentary of Chuck LaMar (Assistant GM of Player Development & Scouting) and his ability to supply fresh bodies/talent for Ruben Amaro's periodic plundering of the Phillies farm system. LaMar resigned a month later.
October 1: Phillies 11, Cardinals 6, AKA My Only Pleasant Postseason Memory. If this game is isolated and looked at as just a game, and not the start of an ultimately unsuccessful postseason journey, it may be possible to one day enjoy it. Right now, it's still too soon for me to watch this without any baggage. But good Lord, was this ever a great game. After Roy Halladay gave up an extremely uncharacteristic three-run homer to Lance Berkman, he sat down the next 21 hitters he faced. In the sixth inning, Ryan Howard hit a three-run jack of his own, which landed in the second deck and gave the Phillies the lead. After a single from Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez would hit a two-run homer. The Phillies tacked on three in the seventh and two in the eighth. A three-run Michael Stutes shaped hiccup didn't even matter. This is how it was supposed to go. Fun Fact: [muffled sobbing]