Last Saturday, Patrick Schuster entered the game to pitch for the Phillies. Jerad Eickhoff had just gone toe-to-toe with Max Scherzer and the Phillies offense had done its thing, scoring zero runs to keep things safely tied at 0-0 in the sixth. Luis Garcia had come in and allowed a run, sure, but maybe Freddy Galvis could muscle a pitch into a timely wind gust and keep this game in a real humiliating tie for the Nationals.
So, Schuster came in, like I said, in the eighth inning, and was tasked only with taking down Bryce Harper in a key spot. Not at first, mind you; the first thing he did was shoot a wild pitch past A.J. Ellis. But don’t worry, it was only Ben Revere on first base at the time - well, a dust cloud shaped like Ben Revere, anyway; the man himself was standing on second base, having probably just been there the whole time.
Schuster then walked Daniel Murphy and only then did he have the honor of facing Bryce Harper.
There was just generally an ominous vibe to the whole affair. Harper was 0-for-3 and hadn’t done anything but strike out all night. You could tell his frustration was building and he was going to either hit a home run or break his bat in half, skewer two innocent fans, and throw them into the sky. Fortunately for the two closest fans, Harper hit a three-run home run, which was just three runs more than the Phillies had planned on scoring that night.
Now, you can break down that loss to one bad pitch, or nine bad hitters, if you want, but it’s not fair to heap all sorts of criticism on Schuster. And nobody really did; they just sort of reported what happened and continued their lives until the next time they were asleep. That’s because it’s September and the Phillies are scuffling to not fall twenty games under .500, but also because Schuster - and Garcia, for that matter - don’t have worlds of expectation attached to them. They aren’t exactly the September call-ups we’d imagined in March.
I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure the Phillies don’t use "fans’ imaginations" to dictate roster moves, because if so they would have Mike Trout leading off by now and eight Phanatics hitting behind him. This became quite apparent when the year’s roster expansions were announced at the beginning of the month.
Phillies recalled OF Cody Asche, RHP Luis Garcia & RHP Phil Klein from Lehigh Valley.— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) September 10, 2016
What?! Is that some sort of new spelling for J.P. Crawford, Nick Williams, and Who the Hell Even Cares Just Get Those Prospects Up Here? Who cares if some of those guys haven’t played as well as we’d decided that they would be by now? Everyone knows the best way to develop prospects is to force them into the limelight before they’re ready and then make demands of them that they can’t possibly meet. These are the new, rebuilding, "Matt Klentak" Phillies, so let’s see something different. Crawford can ride his direwolf and Williams can mimic a fist fight with a mannequin dressed like Dave Brundage with comically large boxing gloves. Why were we looking at Darin Ruf again? What position does he even play at this point? Is he the IronPigs’ bench coach?
Look, Ruf and the other players we’ve seen before are all fine men. But their appearance here is far too familiar for the fan craving - some people might say "dangerously" or "slobberingly" - visible progress. Those same people might say that the whole farm system going to the playoffs feels like progress, or say that the overall plan is still in its early phases and does not yet require September promotions, or say "shut up," and "be more emotionally available for your family."
But other, better people would spit out their orange drink and point at Jorge Alfaro and Roman Quinn getting the call a few days after Ruf and the gang. Now that those two young future pieces are here, there’s some grease in the grease fire. No offense, everybody else, but these two are far closer to the fantasies we’d concocted in the spring—By now, the Phillies would be putting the finishing touches on a deeply mediocre season, in which the Phillies found their bearings often enough to spoil several key games against the Mets and Nationals, at least one of whom they keep out of the playoffs—and our reward for sticking it out as fans would be a glimpse into the future.
This may be a slimmer one than we’d envisioned, but look at them go!
— Marshall Harris (@mharrisCSN) September 13, 2016
Jorge Alfaro gets his first major league hit in first MLB at-bat.
(Ball travels 50 feet maybe?)
#Phillies lead it 2-1 after Cody Asche doubles off the right-center field wall and Odubel Herrera scores— Stephen Gross (@SteveGrossMCall) September 13, 2016
Besides, some of the guys we’d hoped to see in September, like Jake Thompson or Zach Eflin, already came up and donated their bodies to the cause.
So, you see? Things are pretty nice, even if the Phillies have lost ten of their last 13 games and Pete Mackanin is confident enough in their inability to win that he’s willing to risk public humiliation assuring us it won’t happen.
Finally, guys like Quinn and Alfaro and As—wait how did that Asche tweet get in there... damn it, he’s good at sneaking around. Look, you didn’t need 750 words to tell you about Quinn’s doubling, Alfaro’s speed or Asche’s craftiness. But here we are, at the end of them, feeling pretty good about these two guys joining the Phillies, getting us two roster spots closer to the "top-prospects only and also Mike Trout I guess" future that awaits us.