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The Phillies waved the white flag over one thousand days ago

In baseball, hopelessness can settle in quickly. But as we’ve learned watching the Phillies since June 16, 2015, things can change pretty fast, too.

On June 16, 2015, the Orioles clowned the Phillies, 19-3, in a game nobody liked watching and nobody likes remembering. Manny Machado homered off Jerome Williams to lead off a six-run bottom of the first, and from then on, Baltimore scored in every inning but the seventh.

This game is notable not just for the plethora of dirty innings it supplies, but because it led to a moment that some could argue stands alone as rock bottom for this franchise among a stretch of bad years. Reexamine this sequence of events that happened that night, and consider whether anything else you’ve witnessed or blocked out from 2012-17 even comes close:

  • In the bottom of the sixth, Justin De Fratus gives up a lead-off home run to Chris Parmelee to make it 15-3.
  • De Fratus is replaced by Elvis Araujo.
  • Araujo gives up a single and Carlos Ruiz gets called for catcher interference.
  • Machado hits an RBI single. 16-3.
  • Travis Snider hits an RBI double that’s only an RBI double because of an error. 17-3.
  • The Phillies offense can’t get going in the top of the seventh.
  • Jeff Francoeur comes into pitch.

So, there’s a position player pitching at this point, which is typically when baseball turns from a sport into performance art. A wider audience tunes in to see just how surreal this game will get after transcending into positional chaos: Will a relief pitcher get to hit? Will a catcher play third base? These are the things we look forward to in baseball: People standing in places we don’t normally see them stand.

Eventually, the Phillies wanted to take Francoeur out of the game, even though he did retire the Orioles in order in the seventh. In the eighth, he gave up a lead-off home run to 2018 Phillies spring training invitee Ryan Flaherty, allowed another run on a sac fly by former Phillies outfielder Jimmy Paredes, and it was time to get the bullpen on the phone.

I said, it was time to get the bullpen on the phone.




No, the phones were not working. Not only was Francoeur unable to leave the game, but the Phillies’ back-up plan resulted in a moment of such narrative perfection that, had it been written in a work of fiction, would have been deemed too on-the-nose.

The year now, as you may have noticed, is 2018. These events happened 1,016 days ago, and, on the eve of the 2018 Phillies season, they seem prescient to point out, because I go back to them a lot: The futility, desperation, and hopelessness of a team that couldn’t get its offense or pitching to work, let alone the phones.

But it serves as a reminder of how much can change in the culture of a professional sports franchise in a short amount of time. Nothing about the Phillies in that moment looked good: the offense, the defense, the pitching staff, the coaching staff, the facilities. The minor leagues didn’t offer very much solace and the future looked worse than grim: Boring. Inescapable. Unchanged.

Ryne Sandberg knew it. That’s why he quit seven games later.

Today, one look around the clubhouse would offer a lot of unfamiliar faces. The lineups between that night and the one projected for opening day tomorrow are linked by a few names, but not the ones that bum you out:

The 22-44 Phillies on June 16, 2015:

  1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
  2. Odubel Herrera, CF
  3. Maikel Franco, 3B
  4. Ryan Howard, DH
  5. Chase Utley, 1B
  6. Domonic Brown, RF
  7. Cody Asche, LF
  8. Carlos Ruiz, C
  9. Freddy Galvis, SS
  10. Jerome Williams, P

The 0-0 Phillies on March 29, 2018:

  1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
  2. Carlos Santana, 1B
  3. Odubel Herrera, CF
  4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
  5. Nick Williams, RF
  6. Maikel Franco, 3B
  7. Jorge Alfaro, C
  8. Aaron Nola, P
  9. J.P. Crawford, SS

The Phillies now have a scattershot of talent across the roster—the projected lineup doesn’t even include Scott Kingery, who will be in Philadelphia on opening day against all theories to the contrary. Indeed, the outfield is overcrowded with players fans want to see, the infield is overcrowded with players fans want to see, and Gabe Kapler as a first-year manager has calculations to do every night to see which exciting talent to place where based on various match-ups.

It’s quite the flip side from the moment, a mere 1,016 days ago, that, given its ineptitude, was probably one of the few times the Phillies were mentioned by national media outlets during the 2015 season. In the time that has passed, the Phillies have seen a lot of players come and go—just look at the number of guys who have been with the Phillies in various capacities who were on the Orioles that night in 2015: Flaherty, Parades, David Lough, and Tommy Hunter; not to mention Andy MacPhail, who was hired as the Phillies’ team president two weeks after this debacle. As I stated, Ryne Sandberg would quit seven games later. Chase Utley was traded to the Dodgers on August 20. After it was announced that Pete Mackanin, Sandberg’s replacement, would not return in 2018, Bob Mclure, clutcher of the infamous towel, was told to “explore other employment opportunities.”

Many would say the true turning point of the post-2011 Phillies would be getting Ryan Howard’s contract off the books, but the sight of McClure, flailing that white towel in surrender to just about everything, will stand alone as a moment of the Phillies scraping the bottom of baseball. Even if things don’t go right; if the Phillies wind up hornswoggled by the mischievous Kingery twins, if Kapler turns out to be a whirring smoothie blender of a manager, if Franco’s acceptable spring doesn’t translate into a remotely acceptable summer for the third time in a row, at least we have this moment: One in which it feels like, with the future still unknown, there’s at least the chance that now, the phones are probably working.