We can all act like we knew it was coming, but secretly we all hoped it would last forever. Through April and into May, it was difficult not to see all of the media regarding the Phillies as a "surprise team" and the NL East as "not a festering baseball cesspool, for which the sport should be embarrassed and damned." Disheveled experts showing up in town in wrinkled suits with briefcases full of files, warning of "run differential" were summarily rounded up and disappeared.
"The Phillies are fun," we kept saying. "Look at them, running around out there, winning way too many one-run games than seems possible. Look at Andres Blanco, howling at everyone."
The team was deemed watchable, and we all tuned in. Somewhere around late May, when people were starting to gather their families around the TV and make Phillies games a nightly celebration again, the losses we were warned of began to pile up, as did the inquiries from out-of-town authorities on the whereabouts of baseball experts last seen within our city limits.
But by then, it was too late. We were already watching.
Braves 7, Phillies 1
Seven games over .500, with the Braves to play for the next three days? Nothing wrong with this picture, people thought as they whistled on the way home from work. For the past few years, watching the Phillies at night became an extension of the work day, as the punchless team lost meaningless games and contributed to our routine frustrations. This team, though - even though everyone said to stop claiming they would fix everything - was going to fix everything.
Hmm? Freddie Freeman hit two home runs off Aaron Nola, our star young pitcher? That's no problem, everybody loses eventually. Nola will recover and Freeman will go back to eating buckets of fish heads in the subbasement. It doesn't matter that the Phillies couldn't score one run off Matt Wisler. It doesn't matter that the Braves could lose a baseball game to some trash that blew onto the field. These Phillies aren't just fun and good - they're resilient. Presumably.
Phillies record: 24-18
Braves 2, Phillies 0
All right, time to get up, go to work, wait until after lunch, and then scramble out of a window to escape to the afternoon Phillies game. Maybe throw a nod of solidarity to all of your fellow co-workers who are simultaneously scrambling out of their own windows for the same reason. Or is the building on fire? How about that; with these Phillies on the brain, you didn't even notice a fire had started.
It was up to Adam Morgan this time to be the stopper the Phillies needed to beat the worst team in the league. Allowing the Braves to score twice should count as stopping them, when you consider how many runs an offense should be able to score on a pitching staff of an 11-30, last place team.
Today, that number of runs was zero. The Phillies scored zero runs. Only two of hitters got to touch a base, and the tean went 0-for-0 with runners in scoring position. Meanwhile, Braves catcher Chase d'Arnaud had three hits, equaling his hit total for 2015. Maybe there's still time to crawl back into the window at work and hope nobody even noticed you left? Oh, right. The fire.
Phillies record: 24-19
Phillies 5, Braves 0
See, baseball expert from out of town who "just wants to use the phone?" I told you the Phillies were fine. Do not-fine teams bounce back from shut-out losses with shut-out wins? I didn't think so. Maybe think about that next time your car breaks down outside my house.
Phillies record: 25-19
Tigers 5, Phillies 4
And now, off to Michigan, where the Tigers are an actual .500 team at 22-22. That must be so terrible, to watch such a terrifically average team be boring all over the place. We may not have the best team in the 2016 Phillies, but they sure are a fun team! I mean, I didn't feel like it was very fun to lose a series to the Braves, but what do I know? Other than everything the Phillies have done wrong and everything they should do fix all of their problems.
And look at that, we're right back on track. Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, and Cameron Rupp all had multi-hit games tonight. And it was a one-run game? Well, I don't even need to check the actual score to know the Phillies must have won. They just don't lose one-run games anymore, and with the offense actually working, there's no way this ended in anything but a deeply satisfying W.
Phillies record: 25-20
Tigers 3, Phillies 1
Heh, heh. Guess I... Guess I should have checked the box score before I announced last night's game a victory. Did I ever look the fool at work the today, touting the 5-4 loss as a "big win."
"This team is going places," I told everyone.
"No one is talking about that," said a weirdly nervous co-worker. "Is it true that you started all those fires?"
"You fair weather fans crack me up," I chuckled as the fire inspector's stern gaze found me. "Looks like I'll be watching tonight's game on my own! If there's one starter who can stop the Tigers from homering all night, it's 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson."
Phillies record: 25-21
Phillies 8, Tigers 5
"And you were worried!" I laughed. "Odubel Herrera with another three-hit game! Aaron Nola goes six strong innings! Pretty soon, this will be a team that scores eight runs all the time!" I explained to the empty chair that a baseball expert had easily escaped from without me noticing hours ago.
Phillies record: 26-21
Cubs 6, Phillies 2
I'll be honest, this weekend was sort of a blur. With all of the Cubs touching home plate and fire inspectors pounding on the door, it was tough to keep track of which baseball team won how many games. But even Cesar Hernandez was able to log two hits in this single nine-inning period, so I assume the score up there is wrong.
Phillies record: 26-22
Cubs 4, Phillies 1
Boy, we're really running out of real estate above .500 here. Sort of makes all the silencing of baseball experts and fires set to get out of work not seem like a good idea. What even is run differential, anyway? Should we have taken that seriously? Is it a problem that can be solved by setting a fire?
Phillies record: 26-23
Cubs 7, Phillies 2
Phillies record: 26-24
Nationals 4, Phillies 3
Sooner or later, we all have to face the music. Some of us have to learn that our success was not sustainable, whether that success be in baseball or getting away with felonies. The losses/authorities gathering outside of our homes are indicators that, while baseball can be fun, and it might still be, there's always that risk that what you put into the sport emotionally may not be returned to you.
Now let's all flee to our hastily-constructed panic rooms that may or may not be at all effective and wait this losing streak out.
Nationals 5, Phillies 1
If only there was some sort of calculable figure to indicate the number of runs the Phillies score vs. the number of runs they allow, which would indicate how sustainable a team's success really is. I feel like if we had been focusing on that number, instead of all the hard-fought, potentially lucky, BABIP-riddled victories, perhaps we would have been able to have a more realistic take on the 2016 Phillies, and not gotten more excited and interested than we have been about this team in years. If only we could have been bored and pessimistic the way baseball experts told us to be, maybe it wouldn't be so upsetting that the Phillies are now just some other .500 team trying to scrape and claw into a made-up Wild Card spot.
Maybe come up with a statistic like that for next season, baseball experts, instead of all this "run differential" nonsense.
Phillies record: 26-26
So there you have it. All we could to is watch and bitch constantly as the Phillies face-planted and plummeted out of the NL East standings over the course of about a week and a half.
Let this be a lesson to all the kids out there: Never believe in anything. It's all lies. Your parents will tuck you in at night and claim everything is okay, but you know that in the living room, they're holding each other and weeping as Cesar Hernandez bunts into a double play.
"We were right!" the baseball experts will cry in the streets, somehow even more wrinkled and disheveled than before. "The run differential, and such! You people didn't listen! Reap what you sow! Reap what you sow!"