So there he was, a year later, bat in hand, two outs in the ninth his team needing a run to keep its season alive.
Fate is cruel, but watching Ryan Howard writhing in pain along the first base line as the St. Louis Cardinals celebrated this latest bitter end to a promising Phillies season was, in a word, inhumane.
Howard grounded out to end last night’s deciding Game 5, a 1-0 Cardinals victory that underlined the dark fears that lay underneath their 102 win regular season.
This time though, he was far from the only culprit. The Phillies managed just three hits playing in their home park, where they had recorded more victories than any other team this season, but just one in three times this postseason.
The Phillies threw almost $50 million of pitching at the St. Louis Cardinals in this series, a number that equals just about half the money the wild-card team that beat it paid its entire 25-man squad. They gave them a big dose of Roy Halladay and a smaller dose of Cliff Lee, but as the Yankees learned the other day and the Red Sox learned in September, money doesn’t always buy you happiness.
Combined, the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies spent a half-billion dollars to try and win a world championship that will now be decided by four teams whose combined payrolls lay well short of that. You have to go 10 teams down to find the highest remaining payroll in these playoffs, the Detroit Tigers. And right behind them, you will find the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals advanced not just because they hit, but because their overlooked staff matched the Phillies famous staff, made the Phillies lineup so dormant that the two loudest innings of the game began with a hit batsmen and a dropped third strike.
In fairness, St. Louis sent its own big-dollar pitcher out against the Phillies last night and, unlike Halladay, Chris Carpenter found his groove immediately. After watching Halladay succumb to his season-long Achilles – a first-inning run – Carpenter used just 10 pitches to retire the Phillies in order.
Despite 46,530 desperately pleading for something that resembled 2008, or even 2009, that’s the way it went for most of this excruciatingly frustrating night. The Phillies went down in order in the first, the third, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh and the ninth. Only in the fourth did they advance a runner to third, Hunter Pence scurrying to third on Shane Victorino’s second hit of the night. Raul Ibanez sent Lance Berkman to the base of the rightfield wall, and that was the best of it.
So now what? Trades? More free agents? Another hitting coach? Does the manager feel some heat after the hands-off policy that followed that 2008 season?
The Phillies have given us some interesting winters since then. This one looks to be even more so.