AS THE FINAL seconds ticked off Monday night and Eagles players slithered into the portals of an already drained out Lincoln Financial Field, there was one comforting thought:
It can't get any worse than this.
Seven straight losses, the latest a 30-22 defeat by a team with a worse record than yours. Andy Reid a lame duck. Still no hockey in sight. Claude Giroux nursing a mysterious neck injury. Andrew Bynum out indefinitely. The Phillies mediocre. The Sixers mediocre.
The Eagles fourth-down-and-forever from even making it to mediocre.
Fumbles. Penalties. No Shady. No DeSean now, too. The quarterback of the future repeatedly throwing it to the other team at a rate that made his predecessor seem responsible in comparison.
How could it get any worse?
And then Tuesday, it did. Within hours of the Eagles' announcement that they had released Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin, Major League Baseball announced that Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz would miss the first 25 games of the 2013 season because of amphetamine use, reportedly Adderall.
While amphetamines are not steroids, they have been used since the days of Mickey Mantle to aid performance and are on baseball's banned substance list.
Ruiz, a 7-year major league veteran, knows this. Or should.
"I am sincerely regretful for my mistake in taking a prohibited stimulant," Ruiz said in a statement. "I apologize to my teammates, the Phillies organization and the Philadelphia fans. I will serve the imposed 25-game suspension to begin the season, and I look forward to returning to the field and working toward bringing a championship back to Philadelphia in 2013."
Used to treat those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Adderall is an amphetamine that improves performance and stamina. College students obtain it illegally to use during exam time. In 2011, 105 ballplayers received prescriptions to use the drug and received exemptions to use it, but baseball tightened things up last season by requiring a more stringent review of exemption requests.
Ruiz had received no such exemption. But it might explain why he did not wear down this year as in the past, and why he recorded a career season in which he doubled 32 times, hit 16 home runs, knocked in 68 runs and hit .325, with a .394 on-base percentage and a .540 slugging percentage.
Those numbers, and his gritty play behind the plate, made him a cult figure among excitement-starved fans at Citizens Bank Park last summer. Although he has been the team's regular catcher since 2009, fans learned more about Ruiz and his hardscrabble beginnings this season than all of past seasons combined. He was a beacon in the disappointing 2012 season, and one big reason to believe in a 2013 rebound.
An hour earlier, the Eagles pulled off what seemed impossible the night before. They added another shocking episode to the truly endless reality show that is this franchise. Hours after Andy Reid again accepted blame in his day-after news conference for everything gone wrong this autumn short of Hurricane Sandy, the Eagles announced they had pink-slipped Babin so they "could give more playing time to some of the younger guys in the defensive line rotation."
Honest to God, that's what Reid's issued statement said. Remember how second-round pick Vinny Curry wasn't good enough to even be activated? Turns out, it was all Babin's fault.
Reid disputes weekly that his players have given up. And any slightly rational soul who saw Brent Celek bounce up after being pummeled across the middle Monday night or watched Kurt Coleman run himself in and out of plays all night long should concede that, for the most part, he is right.
But Babin? He was the the poster child for several things that went wrong with this team this season, starting with the grossly overrated defensive line coach who coaxed his signing here in the first place.
Reid already has fired one defensive coach, and jettisoning Jim Washburn at this point would create only more turmoil, not less. Who would be the line coach? What system would they play? From a season-salvaging standpoint, it hardly matters, but if you're using these last five games as any sort of talent evaluation for next year, continuity would seem to be important.
Anyway, you probably wondered Monday night what might keep your interest in this final dreadful month. And before 24 hours had passed, you had your answer. Tuesday, Babin; Wednesday, who? Tuesday, Chooch; Wednesday . . . let's not go there yet.
Come back, hockey. Get well, Andrew. Get well, Claude. Come back real soon, OK, Mr. Gruden?
They say it's always darkest before the dawn, and maybe that's true. But hell, does anyone around here even have a flashlight?
On Twitter: @samdonnellon