It seems as if the 2008 playoffs were so long ago. That 2009 run to the World Series feels like a distant memory.
Here in 2012, there is a much different feeling. And it ain’t a good one.
For the first time since Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, and for the first time overall since 2000, the Phils finished the season with a home record under .500. At 40-41, the home field advantage the Phils have enjoyed for the last 12 years was simply not there this year.
In fact, though, the Phils’ home field advantage has been slipping away for years now. And the slippage has been especially noticeable in big playoff games.
In 2008, they won every single home game in the playoffs, and in 2009, their only home loss in the NL playoffs was to the Colorado Rockies in Game 2 of the NLDS.
However, starting in the 2009 World Series against the Yankees, the magic of Citizens Bank Park started to wane.
They lost Game 3 (that’s the game where Cole Hamels couldn’t protect a three-run lead and A-Rod had his TV replay home run), and Game 4 (the Johnny Damon Game) that year.
In 2010, Roy Halladay opened the playoffs with a no-hitter at home and the Phils beat the Reds in Game 2. But the Giants took Game 1 of the NLCS from the Phils and Halladay, and the Phils closed things out with a heartbreaking loss in Game 6.
And finally in 2011, Cliff Lee blew a four-run lead to the Cardinals in Game 2 of the NLDS and Halladay was outdueled by Chris Carpenter in the deciding Game 5.
However, it’s probably not the park. This home-run haven simply doesn’t play to the strength of the team right now. Whereas the Phils used to be a team that was filled with bashers and home run hitters that used the stadium’s friendly dimensions to their advantage, they’ve become a more pitching-centric team the last few seasons.
The Phils’ lack of offense at home has been especially noticeable over the last few years.
“I wish we could have done better,” manager Charlie Manuel said, speaking about the team’s home record. “I wish we could have gone where we wanted to go. That’s baseball and that’s how it goes. That means we’ve got to keep trying harder.”
And try harder they will. One of the guys hoping to lead that charge in 2013 is Darin Ruf, who made his third straight start in left field for the Phillies, providing all the offense the team would muster. He laced a full count, bases loaded, two out double that cleared the bases, giving the Phils an early 3-1 lead against 21-game winner Gio Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, as you know, was a former Phils farmhand, acquired from the White Sox in the deal that sent Jim Thome to Chicago before the 2006 season. Gonzalez played one season at AA Reading where he went 7-12 with a 4.66 ERA in 27 starts, and then was dealt before the 2007 season as part of the ill-fated Freddy Garcia trade.
Um, mulligan! Crap, that doesn’t work in baseball, does it?
Gonzalez, after a shaky first two innings, settled down and gave Nats’ manager Davey Johnson six effective frames in notching his 21st win of the season.
On the other side of the bump, Phils’ starter Tyler Cloyd continued to show why most Major League talent evaluators were skeptical of his otherworldly 2012 season at LeHigh Valley. The right-hander gave up six earned runs on six hits in just five innings of work, raising his ERA to 4.91. The Nationals hit three home runs off Floyd, including an ungodly shot to center field off the bat of Michael Morse, who hit two home runs in the game. His second one may have been the farthest opposite-field home run in the history of the ballpark by a right-handed hitter.
Still, there was at least one positive takeaway for the Phillies and that was the play of Ruf in this series. He went 5-11 with a double, home run and 5 RBIs in the three games against the NL East leaders.
“He looks like a hitter. He thinks he can hit. That’s a big part about it, too,” Manuel said about Ruf after the game. “If you like to hit and think you can hit and you’re determined to hit and you’ve got a goal and you set your goal high and things like that, it seems like he’s got all that.”
Ruf isn’t going to be guaranteed a spot in left field simply because he has a good last week of the season. But what he has done is show that maybe all those home runs he hit in Reading weren’t a fluke.,
At the very least, he offers a legitimate reason for excitement for next season.
As for the 2012 campaign, the lights have gone down at Citizens Bank Park for the last time this year.
For the first time since 2007, there will be no playoff games here. The sell-out streak is over.
Hopefully, 2013 will bring some of that magic back.