Last night, the Phillies patched together a 3-0 win on a solid start from Jeremy Hellickson, a Darin Ruf sac fly, a rushed Anthony Rendon throw, and a Chooch blast into the left field seats. The victory had a note of historical value, it turns out.
The Phillies (11-10) have a winning record for the first time beyond the first week of a season since May 4, 2014 (when they were 15-14).— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) April 28, 2016
These seasons since 2011 have been a blur of stuff we mostly didn't want to see in the first place. Thankfully, there are certain aspects, or "triggers," that can serve as distinguishing hallmarks between them. Today we won't be discussing the "Ty Wigginton/Mike Fontenot" year or the "Delmon Young/Laynce Nix" year. 2014 was the "Marlon Byrd/Grady Sizemore" year.
Now that the correct montage of baseball problems backed by haunted carnival music is playing in your head, let's begin.
It was three o'clock on a spring Sunday in Philadelphia. The world was not anticipating a fountain of gripping news to burst from this urban pocket of the earth, and it would not get one. What it would get is a 1-0 slog that was significant to probably about 40 people.
Somehow, it was Gio Gonzalez and the Nationals the Phillies faced on that day, too; as if Gonzalez is the sparkling sprite who comes to town when a team that believes in him hard enough is trying to crawl over the .500 mark. The 2014 Phillies were slowly speckling their schedule with all the single steps forward and two steps backward that populates a 73-89 season. They had scored 14 runs on opening day, but knocked in a combined four runs from April 13-16. They dropped eight of twelve in mid-April, then won eight of twelve from late April into May. They had no problem sweeping the Marlins, but only after being swept by the Brewers (and "no problem" is a bit of a stretch).
It was all very monotonous and frustrating, but expectations for the team were pretty much that they would attack the NL East like a tornado of aging bodies, with Ben Revere riding the crosswinds on a surf board and laughing; always laughing.
In their effort to have enough players, the Phillies signed a particularly 33-year-old starter over the winter named Roberto Hernandez. He would get the ball against the Nationals, who came into town with a 16-12 record, half a game behind the Mets in the NL East, pretending they weren't peeing their pants about not leading the league in everything, and probably not very afraid of Roberto Hernandez.
Nevertheless, Hernandez started off razor sharp, walking only two hitters in the game's first inning. The Nationals failed to capitalize, despite a Jayson Werth single to deep short, and that left it up to the Phillies to answer in the bottom half of the inning.
And then, it was time for a little of the old Chase and Jimmy razzle-dazzle.
Already, the Phillies were besting their betters, assuring that this game would have the violent back-and-forth run-scoring for which this rivalry is so widely known.
Two hours and forty five minutes later, nothing had changed.
Neither starter could settle into a 1-2-3 inning until Gonzalez set down Byrd, Ryan Howard, and Carlos Ruiz in the bottom of the fourth. From that point, both Gonzalez and Hernandez seemed to find their grooves, as the game cruised along in the way that baseball is known for not doing. It helped that Bryce Harper wasn't in the lineup, recovering from a thumb injury that had resulted from sliding thumb-first into third on a triple a week earlier. It also helped that the Nats' heavy weapons brigade couldn't get their bats on Hernandez's stuff, leaving Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, and Anthony Rendon to go a combined 1-for-10 on the day with a pair of walks.
And the Phillies, having established an early lead, could only exchange shocked, silent looks as they ran onto and off of the field, unsure of how to proceed. Jayson Nix was in the lineup that day, starting at third, and behind him in left was John Mayberry, neither of whom were hitting the .200 mark thus far. Howard was whiffing at Gonzalez's offerings all afternoon, and the game may not have had anything as far distinguishing characteristics go if not for the somehow-achieved end result and the Phillies logging two triples on the day, one from Rollins that led to the run and the other from Ben Revere.
Denard Span led off the eighth with a single, and got pushed to second on a sac bunt. Werth got an eventually blown chance to tie the game, but Ryne Sandberg, master of his craft, decided to crack open the bullpen. Hernandez was out after 7.1 innings of shut-out ball, giving way to Mike Adams and Antonio Bastardo,
My god, they've done it! Now it's just a matter of watching Philadelphia folk legend Jonathan Papelbon finish out the day! Huzzah, my friends! Huzzah!
And he would do it. A 93 mile an hour heater was enough to get Zach Walters swinging, and the day belonged to the Phillies. The starter going deep, allowing no runs, and ending in a Papelbon save may have reminded people of opening day 2012, when the Phillies were still defending division champions, and the expectation was that, sure, they could survive 1-0 victories all season long if their very expensive closer could consistently come on to shut things down. They did not.
On May 5, 2014, the Phillies would begin their latest four-day losing streak, dropping one hundred percent of that home-and-away four game set with the Blue Jays. Later that month, they'd break their own record with six consecutive losses, three to the Mets and three to the Nationals. You'll find many L's on the 2014 schedule, and even more the subsequent season. There's a reason this game was the last time the Phillies had a winning record.
However, this year, with the Phillies bursting up for air from below .500, they have proven one thing for certain: The past is over (as it always, by definition, is). Our new Roberto Hernandez is Jeremy Hellickson; the new Papelbon is Jeanmar Gomez; the Chase/Jimmy-powered offense is a Darin Ruf sac fly or something. But fortunately, it may be sooner than two years from now that the Phillies once again have more wins than losses.
Hell, it might even be tonight.