A smattering of applause greeted Pete Mackanin as he strode to home plate Sunday afternoon with the 162nd lineup card of this forgettable Phillies season. The cheers spread across a half-filled Citizens Bank Park. Then, the Phillies dugout emptied to show its appreciation for Mackanin, the caretaker of this baseball team during its teardown and subsequent rebuild.
“I almost started crying,” Mackanin said. “I didn’t want to cry. It was really special. It meant a lot to me.”
The last curtain call of an 11-0 Phillies win over New York was reserved for Nick Williams. He is a 24-year-old rookie who loves to swing the bat and possesses boundless potential. He zipped around the bases in the eighth inning for a three-run, inside-the-park home run, the exclamation point on his rookie season.
The symbolism overflowed on this day, as two eras intersected. The Phillies have lost 286 games in the last three seasons. They have used 107 different players — some stopgaps, some failed prospects, and others possible pieces for a brighter future.
As the players scattered Sunday night, they exchanged quick hugs and handed boxes to clubhouse attendants who wielded packing-tape guns. It did not feel like the Phillies lost 96 games in their six months together. They did.
“I think we’ll be a big surprise rather than what people think,” Williams said. “These guys want to play and they want to win. That’s something that’s going on right now, and we’re going to keep it going.”
They might not contend in 2018. They might not even be a .500 club. But the expectations will be different; the roster will be younger from the start, with a new manager and greater influence extending from the front office. Wins and losses will matter more.
These Phillies, despite a lack of stable pitching, were 38-38 in their final 76 games. They scored their most runs in a season since 2011. They allowed their fewest runs in a season since 2014. They were 39-37 against the National League East, one of the worst divisions in baseball.
And they finished with the third-worst record in baseball.
Cameron Rupp, a 29-year-old catcher who started on opening day but was reduced to third-string by September, grabbed a microphone before the season finale. He thanked those inside the ballpark.
“There’s been ups and downs,” Rupp said. “You guys got to see Aaron Nola every five days, throwing gems. And then, Rhys Hoskins. He did something that no other rookie’s ever done in baseball before. That’s pretty impressive. You guys got to see some real good baseball. We really appreciate all of the support. We’ll see you next year.”
It is difficult to know who will survive a winter roster purge. Just three names in Mackanin’s first batting order, back in April in Cincinnati, remained in the final one. Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez, two loyal middle infielders during the lowest moments of this franchise’s gutting, are trade bait. The pitching staff is muddled. The Phillies have a blank payroll slate, so the transactions could be creative.
When the Phillies reconvene in Clearwater, Fla., next spring, it will be Hoskins’ team. And Nola’s. Maybe J.P. Crawford’s. And, eventually, Scott Kingery’s.
“You can tell just by the talent that’s in the room,” Hoskins said. “The time that I was up here, I think we played some pretty exciting baseball. At times, we either pitched and didn’t hit, or hit and didn’t pitch. That’s baseball. But I think it’s pretty special when we did both, and I think that’s pretty apparent.”
Every player who started Game 162 scored a run. That included holdovers such as Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco, who were inconsistent but finished strong. They could be complementary parts of the next great Phillies team. Or not.
“Some of the players who were with us from the beginning showed improvement, and with the emergence of a couple of the young guys, it gave us a spurt of energy and a more positive attitude,” Mackanin said. “Looking toward the future you combine those two things there’s a lot things we can feel good about going into next year.”
Mackanin acknowledged the pregame cheers by tipping his hat. The 66-year-old baseball lifer said it was his first curtain call since Little League.
“I’ll remember it forever,” Mackanin said.
The Phillies formed a receiving line in front of the dugout. The deposed manager shook every hand. Some have a future here. Most do not. But those who stick will remember what it tasted like, when the transfer of power to the young nucleus began.