The Philadelphia Phillies cemented a full decade without postseason play before their final game of 2021, but were dealt two final blows on the last day of the season.
First, they lost Game 162 to the Miami Marlins, who finished the season fourth in the NL East, with a 67-95 record. It is largely thanks to the Phillies’ struggles in Miami that the Marlins avoided a 100-loss season.
Then, in the ninth inning of the Red Sox game against the Phillies’ other division rivals, the Washington Nationals, former Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta made a rare relief appearance. He pitched a scoreless, hitless final frame to propel his new team to their first Wild Card game in franchise history.
The Phillies, meanwhile, have never made a Wild Card berth, neither in the original format nor the current expanded one-game form.
Nick Pivetta’s success with the Red Sox is a harsh reminder of Phillies’ failures
Pivetta made his big-league debut with the Phillies in 2017 and posted a 5.34 ERA over his three full seasons with the club. Sporting a 15.88 ERA through three games in 2020, the Phillies happily traded him and pitching prospect Connor Seabold to the Red Sox in exchange for relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree.
The trade soured almost immediately. Pivetta made two excellent starts for the Sox in 2020, while Workman posted a 6.92 ERA in red pinstripes. Hembree fared even worse, a 12.54 ERA over 11 appearances that only totaled 9 1/3 innings. Both were sent into free agency without a second look.
Workman even returned to the Red Sox for 19 games this season, and still pitched better back in Boston than he had in Philadelphia.
The Sox won 11 of Pivetta’s first 12 starts, and his decidedly-okay 4.53 ERA masks many excellent starts this season. He threw 6 2/3 no-hit innings against the now-division champion Tampa Bay Rays, had a 10-strikeout shutout start against the Oakland A’s on July 4, and allowed two earned runs or less in 15 of his 31 games.
So, while the Phillies celebrate a decade of disenchantment after their Golden Era, the Red Sox will be in the playoffs once again. Since the Phillies’ last division title in 2011, the Red Sox have four AL East division titles, two AL pennants, and a pair of World Series trophies. Now they can add their first modern Wild Card berth to that list.
This is not to say the Phillies don’t have positive takeaways from this season. They finished above-.500 for the first time since 2011 and were blessed with a Cy Young-worthy season from Zack Wheeler and an NL MVP-caliber season from Bryce Harper. There is a lot to build on this offseason, but for now, the sting of Pivetta’s performance lingers.
When the Phillies came to Fenway earlier this season, Pivetta offered a not-so-subtly-biting commentary on the difference between his current and former teams, saying:
"“The biggest difference is I learned how to be a part of a baseball club that has an understanding of how to win.”"
It’s even truer now than it was then.