I’m glad you’re here. I couldn’t sleep last night—had all these thoughts running through my head. I think I just need to hear them out loud.
Sorry about all the newspaper clippings and takeout containers and jars of... liquid.
[My phone buzzes. I throw it in a file cabinet and slam the drawer shut].
So. What was I saying? Right right right—the end of last night’s game got me thinking. After a loss like that, we ask a lot of questions. One of them is, “...why?”
Someone has to be able explain how the Phillies can lose a game in that way. And I think I can do it.
On August 21, 1949, the Phillies lost a baseball game 9-0 that they had only been losing 4-2. So where did those two runs go? [I take a long drag of a cigarette and flick it against the wall] Well, the first base umpire called one of Richie Ashburn’s catches a trap, and the fans began hurling garbage at him. Apparently unwilling to risk a pop bottle to the brain, the ump called the game and awarded the opposing Giants a 9-0 victory. This happened seventy-two years to the day from yesterday, and what Phillies season is most defined by a pitcher's élite performance being dragged down by a lifeless offense? That’s right, 1972.
Seeing the connection yet?
No? Ugh. Fine.
[I brush a bunch of papers and empty coffee cups off my desk and point at an old newspaper] So in 1972, as part of that “magical” season, Steve Carlton saw a fifteen-game win streak end with a 2-1 loss. The date of that game? That’s right, August 21.
[I point aggressively to an old calendar on the wall] Also? Fifty years to the day from yesterday, Connie Mack’s statue was moved to the corner of Broad and Pattison, where he was forced to watch the Phillies, the team that never wised up and left town forever like the A’s, for all eternity. I think we can both agree that the combination of Lefty’s resentment, Mack’s disgust, and the eternal punishment of Phillies fans for simply trying to hit a man in his head with a soda bottle, created malevolent forces that live on this date on the calendar—[I pull a map down from the ceiling that has black scribbles labeled ‘bad vibes’ over Philadelphia]—centralized right in our location.
What I’m saying is, the problem yesterday wasn’t that Aaron Nola can’t pitch in big spots, or that the offense is as formidable as some trash blowing across the infield, or that the backup catcher’s defense played too big a role, or any of the other many reasons suggested for the Phillies eating sh*t by the end of Saturday. The problem was that August 21st is clearly a cursed date in Phillies lore, as my research has proven without a shadow of a doubt.
[I fiddle with a coffeemaker that doesn’t seem to want to let go of the pot; I finally yank it hard enough that a few grounds splatter everywhere but I don’t seem to notice and pour myself a cup of very old coffee] That conclusion was only fortified by their performance today. A lot of people will tell you that Rhys Hoskins being back in the lineup and Kyle Gibson throwing eight innings of one-run ball made the most impact. I say the thing that made the most impact was that it was August 22.
Hoskins did put an undeniable charge in the offense, partially because of his general enthusiasm to be back on the field after a fight with his own groin, but also because he kept hitting home runs. He led off the fourth with one of them before Odubel Herrera knocked in two more runs with an RBI single. He hit the other one the next inning, a solo shot to make it 4-1.
J.T. Realmuto also homered, today; as did Herrera, who went 4-for-5 at the plate. As the TV broadcast noted, the Phillies had as many home runs today (4) as they’d had in their last six games combined. Amazing what a lineup can do when it doesn’t have a thousand screaming Phillies demons in its ears.
The Phillies built themselves a nice little 7-1 lead by the time the ninth inning rolled around. But if the offense was working, and if the starter had dominated (Gibson had retired fourteen batters in a row from the fourth inning to the end of his appearance), then what giant, stupid problem was going to go wrong?
That’s right, the bullpen. Bailey Falter relieved Gibson and managed to get two outs around two hits and a hit batsman that loaded the bases. Hector Neris replaced him and allowed a double to Austin Nola that cleared the bases, made it 7-4, and put the tying run in the on-deck circle. But Neris was able to fend off his own demons, separate from the Phillies ones, and struck out Trent Grisham to end it.
There, see? It all makes sense. An annual hex was the only thing between the Phillies and victory. Now, let’s assume there are no other cursed dates from Phillies history and the rest of this season will go pretty well!
What’s that you say? “Tomorrow is the anniversary of the time Terry Francona benched Scott Rolen on Scott Rolen T-shirt Day”?
[I inhale deeply on a cigarette again]
Just close the door on your way out. Sunlight warps the documents.
[My phone buzzes from inside the cabinet]