Dateline: July 30, 2006.
The Philadelphia Phillies agree to send Bobby Abreu (198 HR, .301 career batting average) and Cory Lidle (41-25 career after the All-Star Break) to the New York Yankees for four minor leaguers, none of whom are top prospects, nor have any have seen a day in the major leagues.
By the ghost of William Penn, no wonder these Phillie fans are always pissed. Here they are, suffering a disappointing season, yes, but they were only 5 games out of the wildcard race, ahead of both the Atlanta Braves (their perennial nemesis) and the Florida Marlins. But the Braves have made aggressive moves to bolster their bullpen, the team's biggest weakness, and the Marlins have shrugged off popularly held notions that their two best players – Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis – were for sale, and even managed to get a mention in the endless Alfonso Soriano trade rumors floating around. The Florida Marlins – buyers? And the Phillies, despite having some of the most awe-inspiring bats in the National League with Abreu, Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, are done.
If I'm a Philly fan, I'm saying "Where's Santa Claus? I'm going to boo his ass something fierce! I'm gonna put a battery in his brain! Not a watch battery, mind you, not a D-cell, a freakin' Die Hard! I'm going out to my Durango and rip the (blankety blank) battery out of that no good piece of (blank) and plant it in the face of the next (blanking blank-hole) I see. Hell, we can use my wife's car for a while, if we have to. It ought to get us back and forth to my arraignment, anyways. And, I'm canceling my season tickets! AGAIN!"
The First "Phold" is the Hardest
Dateline: September 21, 1964.
The Phillies are six and a half games trip, flying in from Los Angeles the night before. For you kiddies out there, this was before the Wildcard. This was before finishing in second place was socially acceptable. This was before we had three divisions, even, which explains how the Cardinals, calling the Gateway to the West their home, were in the Eastern division of the NL on this date, looking up at Philadelphia and their commanding division lead with only 13 games left on the schedule.
The Phillies lost that day, 1-0, to Cincinnati, allowing the Reds to leapfrog the Cards into second place. Chico Ruiz scored the only run of the game on a steal of home base, according to the archived box score at Retrosheet.org. A hard fought game, but a loss. The Phillies lost the next day, too, and the day after that, as the Reds swept the series. The Cards couldn't gain much ground, though, and allowed the Giants to break into a tie for third place.
Milwaukee comes to town to play the Phils on September 24th. They win that game, 5-3, and it wasn't even as close as it sounds - all Braves early, with 3 cosmetic runs for Philadelphia in the 8th.
For the Phillies, who had finished dead last in the division from 1958-1961, and who at this point had never won a World Series, this was the Dream Season. They were riding two young up in the National League East, and coming home after a long ten-day road talents in Dick Allen (29 HR, 91 RBI, .318 BA) and Johnny Callison's career year (31 HR, 104 RBI), 22 and 25 years old, respectively, and the pitching arm of Jim Bunning, who threw 284 innings of 2.63 ERA ball. These aren't household names on the order of Mantle, Gibson, Rose and Musial, but they were the best talents this team had seen in a generation.
But the rest of the National League refused to let Philly enjoy that dream. The Braves pounded out three more wins for a four-game sweep, and the losing streak was now seven games for the suddenly second-place Philadelphia Phillies. There are only five games left to salvage the season. The Reds are now a game up, the Cards have won five in a row and are a mere halfgame behind. And the Phillies have to travel to St. Louis, to play a team that they have yet to take a series from in this 1964 season. And they have to match up against the dominating Bob Gibson, Curt Simmons, and Ray Sadecki, owners of a combined 53 wins so far, and somehow keep a lineup featuring Curt Flood, Lou Brock, Mike Shannon, Ken Boyer, Bill White and Tim McCarver from running rings around the basepaths.
Gibson dominates game 1, pitching into the ninth as the Cards win 5-1. The Phillies fall to third place in the division. Santa Claus is shaving off his beard, and dying his suit blue for this year's Christmas in the city of brotherly love.
Dennis Bennett, the Phillies' starter for game 2, gets roughed up for three runs in the first two innings, and gets the hook quickly. The game progresses tensely, as the Phils get back two runs on a two-out hit by Gus Triandos, the backup catcher, in the fourth. The Cards shut the door from there on out, though, and nail down a 4-2 win to move into a tie for first place. Only three games left now, and the Phils stand a game and a half back of the Cards, who have a game in hand. All hope of winning the division outright depends on winning this next game, with their ace, Jim Bunning, on the mound.
Bunning does not have his "A" game. After a 1-2-3 first, Bunning allows eight Redbirds hits from the second inning to the fourth, including a two-run home run to Tim McCarver, as the Cards put an 8-0 lead in what turns out to be an 8-4 win.
Santa Claus looks at his list of who has still managed to be nice, and wonders if he might just skip the Philadelphia area altogether this year.
With only two games left, and the Cardinals now two and a half games ahead, all the Phillies can do is win out and pray for a miracle. And it nearly came – the Phils beat the Reds in their game 161. The Cards lose games 160 (a stunning 1-0 defeat of Gibson) and 161 to the lowly New York Mets, worst team in the majors that year, and now are tied with the Reds atop the division. If St. Louis loses, and Philadelphia beats Cincy, they face a three-way tie for first place with the Phillies and the Reds!
Instead, Cincinnati falls to the Phils, and Philly fans everywhere pray for the Mets to win, an event that has possibly never happened, before or since, on this Earth. But it would not come. Curt Simmons and Bob Gibson, both pitching on extremely short rest and predating Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson's similar feat by nearly forty years, throw four and four-plus innings to ensure victory, 11-5 over the Metropolitans and the rest of the National League East.
Only Winning Heals What Time Cannot
For the Philadelphia Phillies, who are the longest-tenured team in professional sports (i.e. they've had the same name, and stayed in the same town all this time), and who started their franchise history with a Cubs-like 97- year streak of not winning championships, this was a painful, painful year. But Dick Allen would eventually be replaced by Mike Schmidt as the "best Phillie of the modern era," and a full generation after this epic collapse, Schmidt would eventually lead the team to a World Series win – and deliverance for this hard-bit bunch of fans. This was in 1980, just weeks before the Reagan era, and another uninterrupted streak of Phutility, would begin.
Now, like the Democrats, the Phillies are looking ahead to 2008 – when Chase Utley, now 27, Ryan Howard, now 25, and pitching phenom Cole Hamels, now 22, might all reach their primes together. High-salaried players like Abreu and Burrell are just ugly reminders of the failed run at the Braves of the past few years, and must be sold at any price.
This unfortunate fire sale may not compare to the devastation of the "Phold" of 1964, as it was called in the Philadelphia press, but it is still a gutpunch for Philly fans, one of so many that they've had to endure over the past 116 years.
EDITOR's NOTE: St. Louis Game Time is the official print publication of The Birdhouse. It can be purchased before all home games at the stadium and is also available by email subscription. For more content, visit www.StLouisGameTime.com.