Jim Thome, midway through his June 23 walk-off bomb. Miss you, Jim Jam. (Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images)
There's really no sense in talking around it, since you're probably thinking the same thing: the Phillies haven't been very good this year. (That's actually putting it mildly.) Though their less than stellar play has been constant throughout the first half of the season, the interminable suckfest of June sapped my will to live. The precious moments of exciting, exemplary 2012 baseball were erased from my memory, replaced by an endless loop of Hunter Pence and Ty Wigginton striking out with men in scoring position and making unfortunately timed fielding errors while looking like doofuses.
But good baseball has existed in 2012. And not just in general -- for the Phillies! As proof, I present the 5 best games of the season so far.
April 5 -- Phillies 1, Pirates 0 -- Ahh, the endless possibilities of Opening Day. The Phillies started their season in Pittsburgh, a place where they've never had much success. That didn't matter, though, because Roy Halladay was on the mound. He cruised through eight innings on 92 pitches, giving up just two hits (both in the first), walking no one, and racking up five strikeouts. Jonathan Papelbon's first appearance as a Phillie went well, as he got the save in the ninth. The offense managed only one run on eight hits against Erik Bedard, but when the pitching is that good, who cares about the rest?
May 6 -- Phillies 9, Nationals 3 -- This game had pretty much everything you want in an entertaining baseball game. Great pitching, lots of runs, and theatrics. Yes, this is the famous game in which Hamels drilled Bryce Harper, giving him a very personal and loving "Welcome to the big leagues!" gift. Also famously, Harper stole home against Hamels just a few batters later -- his first stolen base in the majors. That single half inning contained so much awesomeness that everything else was simply icing on a really tasty cake. Harper's steal of home was the only run Hamels allowed over eight innings. The three runs the Phillies brought into the ninth were enough to win, but they unloaded on Nationals reliever Ryan Perry anyway, scoring six runs. Hunter Pence also had a great night, hitting two two-run homers.
May 23 -- Phillies 4, Nationals 1 -- Wet Luzinski billed this game as "zOMG Bryce Harper vs. Cole Hamels 2 WHAAT?", but Harper was relegated to the background as the Phillies were firing on all cylinders. They had pitching: Hamels four-hit the Nats through eight shutout innings, and had a no-hitter until the sixth. They had hitting: Carlos Ruiz went 3-for-4 while batting cleanup for the very first time, and Shane Victorino went 2-for-4 with a home run. And they had defense: Chooch, Freddy Galvis (good Lord do I miss him), and Hunter Pence all had fantastic plays that saved runs.
June 23 -- Phillies 7, Rays 6 -- Of course this game made the list. It had to. It featured a massive home run from Jimmy Rollins, as well as a home run from JUAN PIERRE. Juan "Noodle Arm" Pierre. Hit a home run. With two guys on base. That alone is enough to put this game in the "great" category. However, that's not what this game will be remembered for, and we have Jonathan Papelbon to thank for that. We should all thank him for blowing his first save of the year and allowing the Rays to tie the game, because that made Jim Thome's incredible walk-off bomb possible. Jim Jam hammered a 3-2 pitch to left field, and the game was over. After making his way around the bases and through the throng of celebrating teammates, Thome told Papelbon that he wanted his check -- Pap had promised Thome $5000 if he hit a home run. That is what legends are made of.
July 4 -- Phillies 9, Mets 2 -- "Let Leedom Ring!" is the headline I would have used in the game recap had I not been celebrating my freedom by watching half-naked men dance around in Magic Mike. When the movie started, the Phillies were losing to the Mets 2-0. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a few hours later that the Phillies had beaten the Mets into submission over the final three innings. Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz hit back-to-back homers, begging the question: Why does Charlie Manuel insist on splitting them up with Ryan Howard? But that's a question for another day. On July 4, the story wasn't that the Phillies won, or even the number of runs they scored. It was all about Cliff Lee, who pitched superbly and finally got his first win. Eight innings, seven hits, two runs, one walk, and nine strikeouts. No matter what happens from here, at least he didn't have a winless season.
- April 18 -- Cliff Lee pitches 10 (!!!?!?) shutout innings in San Francisco, doesn't get the win, and the Phillies actually lose. Except for the horrible, horrible ending, it was a great game.
- May 3 -- Joe Blanton pitched a complete game shutout against the Braves, his first complete game since 2007. It was nice to see the Braves get handcuffed, especially against Blanton.
- May 26 -- And as long as I'm honoring fantastic performances by oft-maligned pitchers, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Kyle Kendrick's complete game shutout against St. Louis.