“That’s about as hard as I’ve been through,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said last night, following a brutal 8-7 loss at the hands of the Mets. “We played a really good eight innings, and it was just the top of the ninth that beat us.”
It’s hard to tell why exactly Girardi chose to mention those eight good innings. A baseball game is nine innings long, after all. One way to hear it is that Girardi mentioned the eight good innings as an explanation for why this particular loss was so awful. It’s that much more painful to lose a game when victory was already within your grasp.
The other way to interpret Girardi’s comment is as an excuse, as if he’s trying to say, “at least the Phillies were a better team for 89% of the game!” Many who interpreted his words in this way were angry, and who could blame them? Last night’s loss was as infuriating as they get, and no one wants to think about eight good innings after a disastrous ninth.
So if you have no interest in hearing about those eight good innings, I sympathize. I really do. But if that’s the case, I suggest you stop reading now, because... well...
No one wants to hear excuses from the manager or the players after a bad loss. It doesn’t serve any purpose. But as a fan and a writer, I do want to think about the positives. I need to think about the positives so I can stay invested in this team for the next 136 games. And it’s not like there weren’t any positives to talk about.
Joe Girardi was right: the Phillies were the better team for eight innings. In a single game, that doesn’t matter at all. But over the course of a long season, it absolutely matters. Teams that are capable of playing good baseball will win ballgames. Last night, the Phillies proved that they’re still capable of playing high-level, competitive baseball against their toughest division foe.
It didn’t work out for them on this particular night, but if the Phillies can play that well for 8 innings in the future, they are going to win most of those games.
The offense was strong and nearly everyone in the starting lineup contributed in one way or another. Aaron Nola pitched what was arguably his best game of the season. Those are the things that need to go right in order for the Phillies to succeed in 2022. 7-run collapses in the ninth inning are rare, even for the worst teams. The Phillies are unlikely to have another loss this bad. But if Aaron Nola and the bats can keep producing like they did yesterday, the Phillies are going to win plenty more games.
I hated last night’s game. Yet as counterintuitive as it sounds, I’m more optimistic about the Phillies today than I was at the same time yesterday. Even though they lost in a terrible fashion, they played their best baseball since the Rockies series, and against a much better opponent too.
The Phillies only lost last night because of two relievers: James Norwood and Corey Knebel. Norwood is a fringe major leaguer who won’t get all that many chances to pitch for the Phillies. Corey Knebel had an uncharacteristically bad performance at a really bad time. He’s been so good this year that his ERA still sits at 3.27 after allowing 3 runs in .2 IP last night.
The ninth inning yesterday was rough, there’s no two ways about it. However, I still believe in Corey Knebel, and I don’t believe we’ll have to rely on James Norwood much longer.
So, while I completely understand any and all Phillies fans who have no patience for optimism right now, I’m choosing to see the good in last night’s game. It’s the only way I can keep writing about this team for five more months.
The offense looked good, Aaron Nola looked good, Corey Knebel won’t usually be that bad, and James Norwood shouldn’t get any more chances to be that bad.
Last night’s game may have been the worst loss of the season, but it was also much more promising than many of the losses that came before it. I’m not giving up on this team quite yet.