When we all watched the 2011 Philllies set a team record with 102 wins (despite an 8 - 11 swoon at the end of the season), we were all entitled with a sense of expectations that the Phillies should win every game. There were no games like today's match up of Sean O'Sullivan and Max Scherzer, where only in our fantasies will the Phillies win.
Wins came with an "of course" feel, though some were in more, rather than less, dramatic fashion. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee sucked the life out of opposing teams and the Phillies won with the inevitability of gravity.
It was great. I love 102 win seasons by the Phillies. Give me more, ok?
But none of those wins in 2011 felt as good as the win I saw in person last night on a cold, windy day in April in front of (allegedly) 23,740 fans.
My son and I had a personal "in person" losing streak of 6 games going. We bought tickets only because Cole Hamels was pitching, and we're worried we may not get to see him as a Phillie for much longer. We also brought my daughter, who was pretty excited to come to a game (a new partner in crime for us!).
From our cheap-o seats in Section 110, we were appalled at yet another display of offensive futility for poor Cole-Bear. We groaned as Wilson Ramos muscled a fly ball juuuuuuuust into the right field seats. Then the bullpen gacked up another run off Jeanmar Gomez. An 0 - 2 deficit seemed like an 0 - 20 deficit in a game where you can't score touchdowns.
Jake Diekman came in to strike out Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman and we were excited -- my son loves Diekman, and this was fun to see. Hamel's two hitter over 7 innings was another "good thing." We were consoling ourselves using the fun stuff we had seen - a number of well-hit balls by Howard as well as the good outing by Hamels, and Diekman doing Diekmanish stuff. But our expectations were pretty limited beyond those things.
We stayed into the eighth because, damnit, we are stayers. With one out, Utley lines a single. Howard comes up and *boom* the classic opposite field Howard drive. Where did that come from? Off a dude throwing GAS. I didn't know Howard could still get his bat on those balls. And that drive -- I swear to god that would have been out on anything but the cold spring night we had. As the ball bounces off the top of the wall, Utley cruises home, and Howard is at second with 1 out. He remains there about 3 seconds till the pinch runner comes in and Howard goes off to nice applause from the remaining fans - maybe 10,000 of them.
Well, that was nice, but there's no way this goes any further and Chooch, as if to prove that point, hits another grounder up the middle right to....TWO DUDES WHO BOTH MISS THE BALL!!!! PHILLIES TIE THE GAME!!!! It was high fives and hugs all around, and when Grady Sizemore poked a double to move Chooch to third, we were stoked -- 1 out, guys on second and third, and..*poof* it fizzles out.
Well, that was nice. At least we saw some nice plays and a comeback, but this team won't score again till next Friday, right?
Our expectations are so low right now. The Phillies have 1 starter would be in the Nationals' rotation, and maybe one position player who could start on their team. The bullpens match up better, but when will the Phillies ever get to use their good bullpen against the Nats? How can the Phillies ever win games against the Nats?
We've all projected the Phillies to be terrible. Like skunked, warm PBR from a can in August terrible. Even so, they will win something like 60 - 75 games. Somehow.
Like when the game is tied 2 - 2 and the Nationals' lead off hitter Michael Taylor is standing on second and is thrown out from left by the worst arm in baseball, Ben Revere. Taylor did not get a clean break, but Ben Revere. I mean, Ben Revere, people.
Then the Phillies come up against Tanner Roark, who is better than every other Phillies starter except Hamels, but who has been relegated to bullpen service for the Nationals. Carlos Ruiz strokes a single and then a LOOOONNNNGGGG DRIVE BY SIZEMORE TO THE WALL IN LEFT...and out. Ugh. WAIT! RUIZ IS TAKING SECOND! AWESOME! Chooch. The catcher. Freaking Carlos Ruiz takes second on a sac fly! WTF?
A runner (and a spry one for a catcher) is at second with one out! We've got something going here...and there's this kid at the plate. A kid who has had great at-bats tonight, but who has not recorded a single hit in the majors. Oduble Herrera, whose most-significant accomplishment lately was to be captured in the nude inadvertently during video of another player being interviewed, smokes a double between Ryan Zimmerman and the bag at first, probably ticketed for the corner and a sure win. The ball careens off the cutout and bounces right to Bryce Harper, whose arm might get Chooch....NOOOOOOOO.....SAFE!
PHIILLIES WIN! PHILLIES WIN! PHILLIES WIN! AND IT'S PANDEMONIUM IN THE INFIELD! HERRERA IS TACKLED AT SECOND! THE GAME IS OVER! THE GAME IS OVER!
We sang High Hopes with raw voices, hugged, and high fived some more, and left. My daughter (the 10 year old) remembered to grab the gloves my son and I had brought and forgotten under our seats in our excitement. She handed them to me on the concourse when we'd already left our seats, delirious with joy.
I have been to playoff games and regular season games. I've seen walkoffs by the Phillies. This was, hands down, the most fun I have had at a game with my kids. It was epic, and satisfying, and delightful in every way that baseball can be.
I've got no expectations anymore. It is so freeing. As JoeCatz mentioned in the recap thread, this season isn't about wins anyway. It's about watching players like Diekman come in and gun down Harper and Zimmerman to keep it close. Seeing Revere maybe improve his throws enough to be a better outfielder. Seeing Herrera work a 7+ pitch at bat. Seeing Herrera get a big hit to win a game. Those are the important things. The poor bunting and missed opportunities -- those were frustrating, but they'll keep working. Remember, this is the Summer of Endless Spring Training.
The fun things? Every time the Phillies inexplicably lost during 2011 and drove us insane? The Phillies get to do that to everyone else this year. They're playing with house money this season. There's no pressure, no stress. If they lose, meh. I expect them to. If they win? Baseba'al must be shining his face upon us.
There will be long, sustained periods of suck this summer. Looooong periods. But there will be giddy moments of delightful schadenfreude like last night. It felt soooooooooo good. And there will be more of them.