Sep 30, 2013, 2:40 PM EDT
And so the Phillies finish the 2013 MLB season with a 73-89 record, seventh worst in the NL, and a league-worst run differential that suggests they were somehow actually far crappier than even their miserable record would suggest. Hope that this team would end up as any more than this faded quickly after the All-Star break and was minimal even before that, and the team begins next season with far more question marks concerning their roster and their future outlook than, uh, any other form of punctuation.
A countdown of all the indignities inflicted upon the Phillies fanbase this year–the dropped fly balls, the blown saves, the countless moments of front-office ignominy–would be too long and depressing to relate (again) here, and there’s no real point in it. Instead, I would like to remember for posterity the few things that happened this year that actually might have brought a smile to the Philly Phaithful–the hot streaks, the dramatic wins, the moments of transcendent play that were all far too few and far between in 2013.
20 happy moments over a year isn’t a ton in a sport where you play 162 games per season. But for the most part, it was enough–enough to keep us tuned in, enough to keep us from totally abandoning ship and jumping on the Pirates’ bandwagon (at least until the post-season–go Buccos!) For those of you who had the foresight to give up back in April, here’s what they were.
20. Kyle Kendrick shuts out the Mets (Apr. 26). Easy to forget given the predictably uninspiring way he ended the season, but Kyle Kendrick actually started the season as the Phils’ most reliable starter, pitching like an All-Star for the first month-and-a-half (4-1, 2.97 ERA, nearly 4:1 K/BB ratio through eight starts). His finest moment was easily his blanking of the Mets at Citi Field, striking out five while letting up just three hits and a walk, in what would be the first W in a New York sweep. We knew it wouldn’t last, but it was a beautiful moment where we were able to dream that Kyle had somehow finally evolved into something more than a back-end innings eater.
19. ’90s nostalgia (Aug. 26). The 20th anniversary of the ’93 pennant-winning team, complete with appearances by Dutch, Wild Thing and the Krukker, was pretty fun. But ’90s Night probably wins for best theme night at CBP this year, thanks to giveaways featuring the Phanatic as the baby from Nirvana’s Nevermind cover, as well as the requisite funkdafied ’90s player intros and a whole lotta mullets.
18. Ben Revere’s season-ending hitting tear (July). After doing a whole lotta nothing for the Phils through the season’s first two months–minus one noteworthy play that we’ll talk about again later–Ben Revere finally came on for the Fightins in June, hitting safely in 14 straight games and reclaiming his leadoff spot in the batting order. He one-upped himself in July, racking multiple hits in seven out of 11 games, and raising his batting average over .300 for the season. Then, of course, he broke his foot and was lost for the season. Hoping you spare us the slow start and pick up where you left off next year, Ben.
17. Kevin Frandsen walks off against Mets, spares Phils third straight late-game collapse (Jun. 22). The Phillies’ bullpen–primarily once-perfect closer Jonathan Papelbon–had blown consecutive games against the Nats and Mets, when they were handed a 7-1 lead in the seventh inning against the Mets on the day of my birthday party. I remember watching in horror, thinking no, not again, not today as they proceeded to give the entire thing up in the seventh and ninth, allowing the Mets to knot the score at 7-7, before unlikely hero Kevin Frandsen saved the day with a leadoff blast in the bottom of the ninth. Thanks for preventing the bullpen from ruining my 27th, Kev.
16. J-Roll’s web gem allows the Phils to salvage some dignity against the Braves (Sept. 28). Speaking of Pap and blown saves, our closer nearly cost the Phils their only win in their last five tries by giving up a three-run blast in the bottom of the ninth against the Braves to allow them to creep within 5-4 of the Fightins. A single and a walk later, a sharply hit Chris Johnson grounder to the left side looked like a sure bet to tie the game up, until Jimmy Rollins–whose range wasn’t generally what it used to be this year–made a phenomenal diving stop and quick throw to first to nail a sliding Johnson and end the game. A Pyrrhic victory at best, but we didn’t have many victories of any kind this September, so we were grateful anyway.
15. Comeback win over the Cubs (Aug. 30). For the most part this season, when the Phils got down, they stayed down, but a rare actual comeback came in a fun Friday win over the Cubs at Wrigley. Chicago’s 5-0 lead was cut to 5-4 in an offensive flurry in the sixth, then to nil in the 7th with a Frandsen solo shot, and then in his last (only?) great moment as a Phillie, Michael Young gave the team the go-ahead with an RBI single in the ninth. Certainly happened the other way around plenty for the Phils in ’13, so it was nice to get one for the good guys.
14. Chase re-signed (Aug. 7). It took a lot of money to do it–possibly as much as $75 million over five years, if he hits all his plate-appearance benchmarks–but it was a rare bit of good news for the ’13 Phils to find out for sure that the franchise’s best player since Mike Schmidt would be sticking around for at least another couple years. Hard to say if he’ll be around for the whole five-year duration of his contract, but if we could get the kind of production we got from Chase this year (.284/.348/.475, his highest OPS+ since ’09) for even three years of that deal, it’d be hard to argue he wouldn’t be worth it.
13. Darin Ruf’s on-base streak (Jul-Aug). Watching Darin Ruf as an every day player for the Phils the second half of this season was certainly not without its frustrations, but it was a rare fun subplot for the post-All-Star squad to see him continue to stretch his career-starting on-base streak–through his first 36 career games, he had reached base safely at least once in every one of them. It ended with an 0-fer in Chicago, and it was much rougher sledding for Ruf after that–he hit just .232/.354/.378 in September–but between the on-base streak and his nine-homer August, it was more offensive production (and more of a reason to watch) than we get from most of the Fightins all season.
12. Cole Hamels goes the distance against Atlanta (Aug. 12). An up-and-down year for sure for Colbert, but an upswing was definitely started with his complete game victory–one ninth-inning run away from being a shutout–of the first-place Braves in August, in which he struck out nine and walked none. After a start to the season in which wins were pretty hard to come by, the Phils would win in Cole’s next six outings, improving his record to a still not-as-bad-as-it-looks 8-13, and proving that Hamels was still perfectly capable of living up to the ace billing (and ace-scale contract) he had with the Phillies.
11. Domonic Brown redeems Pap’s first blown save of the season (Jun. 17). Remember how Jonathan Paplebon was perfect through the season’s first two and a half months, giving up just four runs in 24 appearances and converting his first 13 save opportunities? Probably not, since he blew four of his next five chances, including a series-opener against Washington, in which Chad Tracy of all people laced a two-out, two-strike homer right to tie the game at 4-4. But Papelbon’s hide was saved by hits from Ben Revere, Jimmy Rollins and Dom Brown, the last of whom drove in the winning run with a single to center. The look of sheer elation on Pap’s face as he embraced the man who redeemed his blown save was not one often seen on the Fightins’ faces this season.
10. Kratz & Galvis homer to win it in the ninth (May 9). You need big bats to scrape runs off a closer with stuff as dynamite as the Reds’ Aroldis Chapman, and whose bats were bigger in baseball this year than Eric Kratz and Freddy Galvis? Well, pretty much everyone’s, but it was enough for the Phils on one unlikely day in May, where back-to-back solo shots from Freddy and ol’ Turkey Bacon were enough to turn the tables on the Cuban Missile and secure the 3-2 victory for Philly. You could say nearly every win for the Phils this season was unexpected, but this one moreso than most.
9. PHI-LAD, 16-1 (Jun. 28). Still pretty hard to believe this actually happened, but yes, that was the Phillies hanging 16 on the West-best Dodgers, with homers from Michael Young and John Mayberry Jr. and an unlikely six RBIs from Delmon Young, in what will sure go down as Delmon’s greatest game as a Phillie. The 16 runs was easily the most the team scored all year, and the 15-run difference for the game was especially stark considering they still ended up with a worse run differential on the season than the friggin’ Marlins. Winning by a lot is fun, turns out.
8. Chase finally responds to Mac’s letter (Sep. 3).
Only took him about four years. But then again, Chase was always a man who was careful with his words.
7. John Mayberry Jr.’s walk-off grand slam (Jun. 4). Anytime you can use the phrase “walk-off grand slam” for your side, that’s a pretty cool thing. JMJ got his in the bottom of the 11th against the Marlins–which, remarkably, was his second homer of the game after being inserted as a pinch hitter in the 10th inning. The slam was the first of Mayberry’s career, and one of the few truly positive moments the over-exposed backup outfielder had on the season. Walk-off grand slam, though…hard to beat that.
6. Sweeping the Braves at home (Sep. 6-8). More a moral victory than anything by that point, natch, but c’mon–three straight one-run victories over the best team in your division, two in late-game go-ahead style, in front of a fanbase that hasn’t had a ton to cheer about all year…you had to respect the showing. The fact that it was one of only three series sweeps the team managed over the entirety of 2013 makes it all the more noteworthy. And hey, if the Braves win one or more of those, they at least tie for the best record in the NL and maybe get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Take solace in the little things, guys.
5. The Ben Revere Catch (Apr. 15).
You could tell how good this catch was because even the guys on the Reds broadcast couldn’t stop running it back and waxing poetic about how it might end up as the year’s best. It may or may not have finished the season with that superlative honor, but it was certainly the web gem of the season for the Fightins, and one of the few times when Ben Revere actually lived up to his much-hyped and little-delivered defensive prowess. Another way you could tell how good this catch was–the fact that Revere was easily able to recover and double the man off first, who clearly thought to himself “no goddamn way is that thing not dropping.”
4. Cliff Lee’s final month (Sept). The numbers are just staggering: 39 IP, 8 ER, 54 K, 1 BB–the last two of which have never been done in conjunction over the course of a month by any other pitcher. And that’s not even including how Cliff went 3-4 with a triple at the plate against the Marlins over that stretch, setting all kinds of benchmarks for badassery in the process. While the rest of the Phils barely looked like they were trying in the season’s final weeks, Cliff Lee was making baseball history. We say again: If not for Clayton Kershaw’s once-in-a-decade season of dominance, you’re looking at your 2013 NL Cy Young winner right here.
3. Blowing out the Mets to move over .500 (Jul. 19). Ah, the season’s second half started out with such promise. After fighting the entire pre-All-Star Break to get to a winning record, the Phils finally managed to creep one game over .500 for the first time all season in their first game back, with a 13-8 immolation of the Mets in New York that was nowhere near as close as the final score indicated. Chase, Dom and Michael Young homered, and the Phils were leading by double digits by the end of the third inning. It seemed like good times forever for the Phillies, a portent that things in the season’s second half would be far smoother than the first. Then the Phils lost their next eight, and five of the six after that, and before you could say “Juan Lagares,” the season was over. We’ll always have the optimisim of that one inordinately hot night at CitiField, though.
2. Three consecutive walk-off wins for Ryne Sandberg (Aug. 21-23). In what was easily the lowest ebb of the Phillies’ season, after the incessant losing in late July and early August and the resultant firing of beloved long-time manager (and forever world f—ing champion) Charlie Manuel, a trio of consecutive walk-off wins against the Rockies and Diamondbacks managed to briefly restore some sense of momentum, and even a little fun to what was probably the most depressing franchise in the majors. Incredibly enough, it was very nearly four straight, as the Phils managed to fight back from 7-1 to tie the Diamondbacks in the eighth, then got about 27 chances to win it in walk-off fashion in the ninth and extras, before the Phils finally had to pitch Casper Wells for an inning and the Diamondbacks scored five for the win. Still, for a minute there, it seemed like the team had gotten some of its WFC mojo back–a most-welcome feeling, even as it was far too little and far too late.
1. The emergence of the Domonator (May-Jun). If you remember this Phillies season for one thing and one thing alone, let’s hope it’s for the span of late May to early June, where there was simply no hotter hitter on the planet than Domonic Brown. The potential long-promised from the Phillies’ 25-year-old outfielder took such a long time to consistently show itself that many understandably assumed it had just never existed in the first place. Then Dom hit ten homers in 11 games, taking the baseball world by storm and securing his first All-Star bid (though somehow, not a slot on the NL’s squad for the home run derby–thanks, David Wright and Michael Cuddyer). With the possible exception of watching LeSean McCoy juke his way out of a sure tackle, there was simply no sight in Philly sports this year more exciting then Dom squaring up on a ball on the outside corner for those couple of weeks.
Of course, it couldn’t last, and as NL scouting figured out how to stop feeding into Domonic’s hitting strengths (and as Dom was nicked up with a couple injuries), his power numbers sagged, and after going deep for the 27th time on August 14th against the Braves, Dom did not homer again all season, slugging just .314 for the month of September. But all we wanted to see this season was that it was there at all with Domonic, and if that impossibly hot stretch didn’t leave you convinced that there was still the potential for greatness with Dom, you sir or madam are one tough sell. I can’t wait to see him in the lineup again every day next year, wondering when next the Dom Bomb might go off.
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