Phillies 4, Nationals 2: The Best of All Possible Kyles

The philosopher Gottfried Leibniz claimed that we were living in the best of all possible worlds, a claim that, for him, solved the metaphysical problem of evil. To whit, for Leibniz, that the world contained evil in it was not an argument against the existence of an omnipotent or omniscient god, but rather a proof for the existence of that God – if evil existed, it was only to produce a condition for good. A practical example: while we instinctively like having painless digits, one can’t fully appreciate the feeling of a healthy finger without understanding what a finger sliced to the bone might feel like; for Leibniz, the problem of evil is of a similar function. One simply cannot have the brilliance of a Walter Benjamin or an Antonio Gramsci without the evil of an Adolf Hitler to inspire their embattled prose. Evil brings out good, or at least the former puts the latter in stark enough relief that we can identify the differences between the two.

Suffice it to say, like many seemingly air-tight proofs of transcendental claims, Leibniz’ claim has been not entirely free of critique. Still, you have to admit, it has a definite appeal. If we can account for evil while saving the potential for overwhelming good, then we can have our cake and eat it too – we can be living in the best of all possible worlds while still conceding that this world has (necessary) imperfections. In fact, one can begin to rationalize the 2012 Phillies with the same basic logic, arguing not, as with Prof. Cohen, that we are in a golden age (however true this may be), but instead arguing that we are living in the best of all possible seasons, even as the palpable evil of 2012 continues to assert itself. Follow me after the jump for the logic.

Tonight’s game between the Phillies and the Nationals had, as had the rest of the season, featured the at once fraught and overplayed possibility of a flipped script, wherein the ascendant Nats beat up on the reclining and resigning Phillies, a mirrored image of what we had so willfully enjoyed as a matter of course for the past few years. Remember that sweet, sweet winning malaise – that will be a returning theme. The game started as a seeming mismatch, as Kyle Kendrick went up against newly solid starter Edwin Jackson. Yet, while their respective ERAs suggest otherwise (Kendrick with a 4.26 ERA on the year, Jackson with a more sterling 3.69), the tale behind the tape tells a different story, with Kendrick sporting a 4.26 FIP and Jackson holding a more evenly matched 4.09 FIP. You might call this bad luck, BABIP, clutchitude, 2012, whatever you’d like, but for whatever reason, Jackson has outpitched Kendrick for much of the year.

Not tonight. Kendrick continued to be confusing – in a good way – tonight, going 6.2 innings, most of them scoreless, with 3K, 2BB, and 1HR, allowing 2 ER. Unless I miss my count, Kendrick’s scoreless streak thus ended at 21.2 innings, less than 38 innings behind Orel Hershiser. Next time, Kyle. Still, it would prove to be enough, as Kendrick’s opposite number, Edwin Jackson, would go six less strong innings, letting up three runs on seven hits, though striking out a prodigious eight batters while walking only two. All of Kendrick’s runs were earned on the last batter he faced, Lance Moore, who hit a pinch-hit 2 run home run after a somewhat controversial two out walk to Kurt Suzuki. Prior to that, he was pitching a heck of a Kendrickian game, walking few, striking out few, and getting grounders (57.1%). Jackson, on the other hand, was brutalized by the Utley-Rollins connection, with Utley singling to score Jimmy in the first inning, and Jimmy knocking a single down the line to score John Mayberry and Laynce Nix in the fourth. Ryan Howard tacked on an insurance run in the 8th, singling home Utley against Michael Gonzalez.

The final innings of the game featured quite the bullpen roulette, with Washington using three different relievers, and Philadelphia using six (!). Jeremy Horst, Antonio Bastardo, Joshua Lindblom, Raul Valdes, B.J. Rosenberg, and Jonathan Papelbon combined to pitch the last 3.1 innings. If I had told you that before you knew the score, would you assume we’d have a Phillies’ victory to celebrate? No? Quelle estrange! But, as it happens, they did a pretty good job, with everyone but Lindblom earning themselves a hold, while Papelbon earned the save with a nifty combo of hit, caught stealing, K, K. Rosenberg also had an exciting strikeout of Jayson Werth swinging, and Valdes and Bastardo netted K’s as well.

In all, then, LOLNats, right? Well, sure, right and wrong. Because, as we’ve noted above, this is not the norm in the 2012 season. The 2012 season has been much more about evil than good, and had you asked me what the outcome of a one run game in the 7th inning would be, I’d frankly have assumed the worst. That it was not the worst was, to me anyway, rather remarkable. What a revelation that Kyle Kendrick could pitch well enough, that Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Ryan Howard could hit well enough, and that the bullpen and chief bullpenner in residence Jonathan Papelbon could nail down the possibility of a win with only the most entertaining kind of drama involved. What a relief, what a feeling, what a reminder of the way that baseball is supposed to, ideally, make one feel. This feeling has been in such short supply this season…so why, indeed, do I say that this game is proof that we are living in the best of all baseball seasons?

Simple. Because last year, this game would not have mattered to you. Don’t bother denying it – I’ll admit it: it wouldn’t have mattered to me at all. Oh, certainly I’d have watched, and, yes, I’d have enjoyed the win, but we assumed wins against the Nats last year. We all, or at least most of us, fell into that trap, I’d expect. And, truthfully, without the pits of irritation, despair, and frustration that 2012 represents, then how would we, as Phillies fans, ever realize how wonderfully brilliant these kinds of wins could be? In other words, if we imagine this in terms of the dialectic (ahem) of past and present, the wondrousness of 2011 could not be fully realized without 2012’s awful depths, temporality aside. We might say that the history of the Phillies allows enough evil for the metaphor to stand, and we might be partially right, but it would be folly to imagine that without any contrast, that our highs would truly be the best that they could be, nor that our lows would be as palpable. We can agree with Bertrand Russell in his assertion that Leibniz’ theory fails rigorous logical tests, and, indeed, we might reasonably claim that we’d be awfully happy if 2012 was just a record breaking, constantly successful, easy World Series winning year. But, it seems to me that we’d be fooling ourselves. To know the bottom of this team is to better appreciate the heavens of this team. In the long run, you can imagine this season giving a better exemplar to how great the 2011 team was, playoff success or no. But tonight, remember that wins like this feel better, more whole – even if they are less relevant – in a season like this. We are in the best of all baseball seasons because, in the end, it is a baseball season – it mixes good and evil in such seemingly arbitrary contrast that we cannot help but feel both palpably. Baseball is not theology, but we must concede that it often comes quite close; we can thank our friend Leibniz for casting some light on this mysterious function. We can thank Kyle Kendrick – of all people! – for getting us on the subject in the first place.