If ever there was a game that so perfectly crystalized the Phillies 2012 season, it was Sunday night’s 8-7 soul-crushing loss to the Braves in Atlanta.
It was not merely a loss. It was a Greek tragedy. Shakespeare could have penned it.
It was one of those games you were actually glad wasn’t played during a season in which the Phillies were contending for something.
For 8 1/2 innings, things were going so smoothly. The Phils had taken an early 7-1 lead thanks to five first inning runs and two more in the third. Cole Hamels was absolutely cruising, pitching six effective innings. The bullpen had a 7-3 lead heading into the ninth. With a win, the Phils would have finished off a satisfying sweep of the Braves and at least allowed themselves to believe they still had an outside shot at the playoffs.
Surely, not even this year’s bullpen could blow a sure thing such as this.
Chipper Jones’ walk-off three-run blast off the Phils’ $50 million closer Jonathan Papelbon finished off a five-run ninth inning for the Braves, sending the remaining 350 or so Braves fans into an absolute frenzy.
Jones’ blast was preceded by a blunder courtesy of third baseman Kevin Frandsen, who has been a revelation since being promoted from AAA a few weeks ago. With two outs and the bases loaded, Frandsen allowed a three-hopper off the bat of Martin Prado to eat him alive, misplaying the ball for a two-run double. It was a grounder that should have ended the game.
Instead, it set the Braves up for Larry’s game-winning dinger.
To his credit, Frandsen faced the music afterwards and, when asked if the play was an easy one, said “The ball was floating there. It was on a tee.”
Perhaps he would have had more luck hitting it.
So, the loss does not rest entirely on the shoulders of Mr. Papelbon. But he bears a great amount of responsibility for it. While Papelbon certainly has not been bad this year, he has not been the dominant closer many were expecting when he signed the richest contract ever by a relief pitcher. Sunday was his fourth blown save of the year.
For the kind of money the Phillies are devoting to one pitcher who may only pitch 50 or 60 innings a year, they need him to be as automatic as possible. And while his 3.02 ERA is OK, I’m sure the Phils were expecting better.
Sunday night’s crusher should also put to bed any misguided thoughts Phils fans had of this team fighting for a last-minute wild card spot. While a win would have put the Phils in the conversation again at seven games back, this loss now keeps them eight games back with six teams to leapfrog. And for a team with a bullpen as unstable as the Phillies’, it just isn’t a realistic dream.
So, be glad that the Phillies aren’t in contention for anything. Because if they were, this is a game that would not only make you lose sleep, but also would make you try to keep other people from sleeping.
Don’t get me wrong, this stinks. But at least it’s not so horrible that you’re burning your Papelbon shirseys in anger.
Where It All Went Wrong
When Papelbon walked Michael Bourn with two outs and runners on first and second in the ninth. You could sense in the air that something was going to go wrong when that happened. That’s been the M.O. of the 2012 season, after all.
Most Attractive Play
In the first inning, when Ryan Howard smacked a two-run double to the opposite field off the left-handed Paul Maholm. It’s always great to see Howard go the opposite way off a lefty, even if it is Paul Maholm. If he could just do that a little bit more, we’d be talking about a .280 hitter instead of a .250 hitter. Either way, it’s great to see Ryan producing runs again at a prodigious clip. He now has 6 HRs and 27 RBIs in his last 26 games. That’ll do.
Larry Jones. Say what you want about the Frandsen play and Papelbon, but Larry hit a man’s fastball about 625 feet into right-center field for a game-winning home run at age 53. Or something like that. It was darn impressive. Seriously, why don’t you just retire already Larry? You contribute nothing to society. Just go away.
Frandsen and Papelbon. You know I always look for an excuse to throw Michael Martinez in this spot, too. But not this night.