Sometime during the early evening hours on Saturday night, after the crowd at Citizens Bank Park had been standing for several minutes and the Phillies had taken a 4-3 lead, I started yelling at Tony LaRussa. Well, I wasn’t really yelling at him, I was just offering advice. It was smug, and fueled by the adrenaline of Ryan Howard’s upper deck home run. Speaking to my friend as if he were the Cardinals’ manager I said, “Take him out, Tony. Take him out now. If you don’t, Raul is going to go deep.” Three pitches later Ibanez had homered, the crowd had found a new level of insanity, and the Phillies were suddenly up 6-3. You watch enough baseball and I believe you learn to feel the momentum. I know a guy who calls far too many home runs for it to be just a fluke.
No matter how anyone does it, though, it always makes for a good story. The Phillies took the lead, and you knew the game was over. Ahead by three with Halladay settled in? Forget about it. I guess how often I tell that story in the future will probably depend on how the rest of these playoffs unfold. When Cliff Lee couldn’t hold a four-run lead on Sunday, the type of lead that is supposed to be insurmountable with the Phillies’ pitching staff, the NLDS picture got a lot more cloudy.
And, speaking of momentum, the game Sunday night didn’t feel right to me as soon as St. Louis scored their first three runs. An inning earlier, Ryan Howard had been up with two men on-base and sent a shot the other way that from my first base perspective looked like it had a chance to leave the stadium. It would have put the Phillies up 7-0, and for all intents and purposes, up 2-0 in the series. But, the ball came down on the track, curse my poor perspective, and a few minutes later the bottom of Cardinals’ lineup was bleeding Cliff Lee out with a series of tiny incisions. The fact that it was Theriot, and John Jay, and then later the “up-to-that-point hitless” David Craig made Lee’s failure all the more puzzling.
Of course the manner of the loss, blowing the lead, makes the fans feel worse than they likely should, given the series is tied 1-1, and the Phillies still have Cole Hamels on deck. That’s the beauty of this rotation. They still haven’t gotten a real shutdown performance, but now they may need one from Hamels to nose back ahead. I don’t think we have to be any more worried about the Cardinals than we already were. Albert Pujols hasn’t looked superhuman, the Cardinals starters have struggled, and their bullpen has balanced one rough outing with a great performance last night. All along we knew the Phillies were going to have to pitch to get this thing done, and that’s still the story. Send the next ace out there Tuesday, and hope to give him enough support to win the game.
The Eagles are a whole other story. During the 4th quarter of the Eagles game I started getting a lot of texts. They were similar in nature. “This is comical.” “This is so bad, it’s funny.” “This is hysterical. I hope they lose.” Of course, no one actually thought it was funny. That’s just the type of thing you can say when there are still 12 games left in the season and delusional sports fans behavior requires you to still believe there is a chance for the Eagles even if outwardly you are saying otherwise. Also, I’m not sure anyone really thought the Eagles were going to lose until Maclin fumbled that ball. Sure, it was going to be an embarrassing win, but it was going to be a win nonetheless. The fact that it turned into perhaps the worst regular season loss in the Andy Reid era is still a little hard to believe, though if you looked around the NFL, it was hardly the only blown game.
I think the worst part about the Eagles 1-3 season is that they’ve run a con on the fans. Fans are gullible, they want to be optimistic at their simplest level, and the Eagles exploited that with their flashy off-season. The fact that they ignored core deficiencies, ignored the fact that they couldn’t really protect Vick toward the end of last year was all swept up in wave of free-agent signings. I don’t know the signings have been busts, there are times when Jason Babin is all over the place for example, but they haven’t done a thing to address what handicapped the 2010 Eagles. They still can’t tackle, they still can’t protect Vick, and they still can’t stop anyone, with the slight caveat of their defense occasionally looks good when the pass rush gets to the quarterback.
Of course, this is all Andy Reid’s mess. It’s been his to claim for some time, and now I’m afraid he looks more incompetent than ever. The Castillo hiring, the redundancy of their offensive issues, the horrific drafting, it all has to come back to Andy. And, if the Eagles are truly on the verge of a disastrous season, something in that 6-10 vein, it’s going to end up being a test of loyalty. The fans loyalty, their willingness to max-out Eagles revenue regardless of product in the Andy Reid era vs. Banner and Lurie’s seemingly unflappable allegiance to Andy Reid. Would Eagles fans ever not sell out the Linc? Or would Lurie ever get rid of Reid? Which is more likely?
Of course, the lone upside of all this is that the Eagles may be one Michael Vick injury away from joining the Andrew Luck race. Their schedule is certainly difficult enough. If the Vikings could ever figure out how to win a game or two…who knows.