Cliff Lee's take on the distinction I make in this post: "Whatever." (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Real talk: I didn't start this recap until the umpire threw his hand out to mark the third strike on the 27th out. This was purely based on superstition, so you can thank this late recap on my deep, deep fear of jinxes, grumpkins, and various monsters under beds. Perhaps this was an unreasonable move on my part, especially as it seems that the Phillies are a team of destiny: when I joked that Roy Halladay had willed Jimmy Rollins' game-breaking HR over the wall, RTP punned off of my response in a way that gave me some pause with regard to that destiny. While I'm not going to be talking about the Triumph of the Will that we're most familiar with - this is a family blog, and there's nothing family about classic films that work as Nazi propaganda - I'm going to be pulling from one of the phrases that inspired that film's title, namely the Will to Power.
In a rough-and-dirty way, Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of the will to power imagines a kind of biological imperative for continued life. For Nietzsche, the primary motivator for living beings - and increasingly that designation gets finer and finer, moving from humans to the operation of cellular organisms and biological processes - is to stay alive. In sublating the motives of pleasure and force to this will, Nietzsche constructs a somewhat troubling version of the classically Darwinian claim: the will to power implies a very serious survival of the fittest. And while, of course, this kind of thinking inspired some problematic ideologies - from the banal evil of the Nazis to the evil banality of Ayn Rand - the theory itself is tempting to use in our current situation. Indeed, as it would seem, the Phillies are not only following a will to power - as all baseball teams structurally must - but are actively defined by their accession of power. In other words, it would be tempting to claim that the Phillies are not only surviving by being the strongest, but that their strength guarantees their survival. But is this true? Let's jump to see exactly what this team of destiny is really made of.
Early on in this game, I was asleep (metaphorically) at the switch - the Phillies' work day and my work day unfortunately coincided. So I can only assume that, during the time I wasn't listening to them on the radio or watching them on TV, the Phillies were doing exactly what I was doing. Understandably, the first couple of innings were a bit rough, as the Phillies were being criticized on the overly theoretical construction of their literary theory. In future games, the Phillies will want to remember to begin with the novel as opposed to Marxist orthodoxy if they hope to provide readable and compelling work in the future. Checking in with Franzke and L.A. in the third inning, they sounded as confused as I was, but it seemed as if the Phillies had finally got down to baseball, with Cliff Lee and Josh Johnson apparently pitching in the batters' absence, as both had two scoreless half-innings in the book. While Lee had given up three hits - two dribblers, and the hardest hit ball by opposite number Josh Johnson. Johnson, on the other hand, had walked two - Domonic Brown and John Mayberry, Jr. in the second - but given up no hits. As a born and bred Negadelphian, the no-hitter watch was in effect!
That watch would last until the sixth inning. Before the Phillies could get their first hits, the Marlins would get their first runs. Lee began the inning with a strikeout swinging, his fourth in a row, but would hit some rough luck: Donovan Solano hit a grounder to short that Jimmy Rollins bobbled, allowing Solano to take first on an error. After this, Jose Reyes was safe at first and Solano at second thanks to an error by Cliff Lee himself, and, after a single by Carlos Lee, the score was 1-0 bad guys (h/t Hawk Harrelson) with no earned runs. We were understandably crestfallen.
But how about that team of destiny? In the bottom of the sixth, Jimmy Rollins got the Phils' first hit, a grounder between the first and second basemen, and Juan Pierre sac bunted (blech) to get Rollins to second. After a walk by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard was poised to be the hero; sadly, after a really hopeful just-foul ball down the line, Piece struck out. Fortunately, Mayberry followed him up with a single that scored Rollins and improbably got Utley to third in a bang-bang play. Brown followed up with a groundout, sadly, but the game was knotted! It was assumed at this point that we'd at least seen the last of Johnson, but he batted in the top of the 7th and was back out to face the Phillies in the bottom of the inning. At first, this seemed to be a bad thing, as Johnson struck out Erik Kratz and Michael Martinez, but after a Pete Orr single and stolen base, Jimmy Rollins said thee nay! A two-run homer gave the Phillies the 3-1 lead that had seemed so improbably twenty minutes earlier.
And then the destiny thing again, as Phillipe Aumont and Jonathan Papelbon acquitted themselves well, pitching a scoreless eighth and ninth, with even the TV booth suddenly changing their tune on the bullpen's quality. The assumptions rolled in as the Phillies took their seventh in a row, and the team of seemed destined to power, not just willed there. But then, that's the problem with the will to power - it assumes that if you want something badly enough, you can always have it. And for the Phillies, this simply isn't true. Sure, we could argue that, if they wanted anything bad enough in baseball, given the vagaries of luck, it isn't available to them, but even granting the very big (and dubious) claim that a team can always win tough games if they try hard enough, the Phillies are blocked by teams that may or may not lose, regardless of how hot the Phillies get. What is more remarkable, though? - the Phillies as a destined lock for the playoffs, or a team that continues to win as the chances get more and more improbable? As the Phillies balance on a razor's edge, I think some commentators want to point to the will to power as a method of survival and success (and others do the opposite; that's a problem for another post), but it is even more enjoyable, I would claim, to understand them as precarious, balanced, and acrobatically careening to the postseason. If they fall, we still curse either way, but in the latter issue, at least we are not left looking for accountability or answers hopelessly. We are, instead, left pointing and gawking at the incredible run this team has put together, just like the kids whose eyes we want so much to see the game through.
...so, like, this team, huh?