Charlie Manuel was angry.
The Phillies had just beaten the Nats 2-0 at Nationals Park, thanks to a thoroughly dominating performance by Phils’ starter Kyle Kendrick, who went seven innings, giving up just four hits and no runs.
And yet, the Nationals were acting like they had won the game. They were acting like it was their night. They were acting like they were the most awesomest team in the whole world.
Of course, there was a reason why the Nats were acting like last night’s loss to the Phils was no big deal.
Because it wasn’t.
Thanks to the Pirates’ defeat of the Braves in Pittsburgh, which ended just before the ninth inning of the Nats-Phils game, the Nationals played that final inning knowing they had just wrapped up the franchise’s first NL East title since 1981, when the team was located in another country and called les Expos.
In other words, the Phillies at that point, didn’t matter.
And even more maddening, their celebration was just a visual confirmation that there was a new top dog in the division.
“It made me mad, yeah, yes it did,” Manuel said about the Nats taking the NL East crown from the Phils. “I’m a bad loser. Nobody should be a good loser. I’m a bad loser and I always will be. I’ve been mad for three or four weeks. It just hadn’t been coming out.”
Charlie’s anger is not only not understandable, it’s also quite petty.
In fact, it’s pretty stupid to be angry, because the Phillies have no one but themselves, and a little bad luck, to blame for where they are.
The high road Manuel should have taken would have been to say, “The Nationals were the better team this year and deserve everything they’re earned tonight. My hat’s off to ‘em.”
His anger, to me, seemed like a child’s anger when a parent says they can’t have something they want.
Still, Manuel and the Phils at least managed to keep the Nationals from celebrating on the field.
By winning the game 2-0, the Phillies were the ones able to stand out on the field afterwards and shake each others’ hands. There was no leaping into the air by a Nats pitcher in exultation of recording the final, clinching out. There was no pileup at the pitcher’s mound as players danced around and put on oversized T-shirts and hats.
Yes, there were fireworks, but the celebration on the field was muted by the Phils’ victory. They at least deprived Washington of that.
“Not letting them celebrate on the field was kind of nice,” Kyle Kendrick said.
Of course, a victory by the Nats would have been poetic justice. After all, the Phillies had clinched the NL East three times in five years against Washington, in 2007, 2008 and 2010. Still, Nationals players didn’t seem to mind losing if it meant winning a bigger victory.
“The way it happened tonight doesn’t really matter,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman. “We put ourselves in that position to have the luxury of having the other team have to play perfect baseball. We played a great 159, 160 games to get to that point, and we should be commended for that.”
And in that point, Zimmerman is correct. The Major League season is a marathon, and the Nats played terrific baseball all year, forcing the Braves to be perfect in order to take the division away from them in the final days.
So while the Nats celebrate and prepare for whoever wins the NL Wild Card play-in game, the Phillies will allow their win/loss last night to fester. And hopefully, it’ll act as motivation for a team that has perhaps felt as if these division crowns were owed to them.
“The only thing we can hang our hat on is come back next season and win,” Manuel said.
Of course, lost in all the hullabaloo of the Nats’ psuedo-victory and Charlie’s anger was another terrific performance by the presumed #5 starter in 2013, Kyle Kendrick.
Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki noted this interesting number regarding Kendrick. If you remove Kendrick’s first start of the season in which he gave up seven runs in three innings to Arizona, the right-hander has posted a 3.53 ERA in his following 24 starts.
The other terrific sign in last night’s game was the continued emergence of left fielder Darin Ruf, who accounted for all the Phils’ offense last night with a second inning, two-run triple that almost killed Bryce Harper. Ruf’s play since his call-up has certainly opened the eyes of his enraged manager.
“I like [Ruf],” Manuel said. “He’s got some pizzazz in his bat. He’s a hitter. He’s not ever going to be real fast, but if he hits like he did in the minor leagues, that will carry him. He’s hit in the minor leagues. He deserves a chance in the major leagues. That’s what getting a chance is – when you hit.”
And understanding it’s a small sample size and that Major League pitchers haven’t been able to really do any reconnaissance work on him, Ruf’s .333/.345/.593 slash line is nothing but encouraging.
With the win last night, the Phillies moved to 81-79, guaranteeing themselves at least a .500 record for the season, something that seemed virtually impossible just after the All-Star break, when they were 14 games under.
So, some good signs heading towards 2013, even as the Nats danced all over the Phils’ graves on Monday night.