There's an old saying that goes something like, "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you lose the game." I think that's right. Let's say that's right.
How you lose the game. On many nights, the how can be just as important as the loss itself. The question for people in Philadelphia is simple: Is it better to lose a heartbreaker or get completely blown out?
The Phillies provided the heartbreak on Wednesday. Cliff Lee had one of the best pitching performances in his career, hurling 10 shutout innings against the Giants while giving up seven hits and striking out seven with no walks on just 102 pitches. Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out that Lee is the first pitcher since 2000 to throw 10 innings and the first Phillie to throw 10 scoreless since fellow lefty Steve Carlton did it in 1981.
Lee told reporters he tried to stay in the game when his place in the batting order came up in the top of the 11th, but with one out and a man on third, he was pulled in favor of Jim Thome, who struck out after the Giants countered with lefty Javier Lopez. John Mayberry then pinch hit for Juan Pierre and grounded out to end the inning.
In truth, Lee may have been the best option at the plate as well as the mound.
Antonio Bastardo was given the ball in the 11th and looked to be out of a jam with a potential double-play ground ball to third, but the ball was booted by Ty Wigginton to extend the inning. Melky Cabrera then singled in the game-winning run for the Giants.
Bay Area elation begat Brotherly Love heartbreak.
Is losing 1-0 on an 11th-inning walk-off worse than getting blown out by an archrival?
The Flyers went into Game 4 of their first-round playoff matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins with a three-game lead and all the momentum after Sunday's blowout victory. Fans were bringing brooms to the Wells Fargo Center, fully expecting a Flyers sweep (Note: If you bring a broom to a game, you should be forced to use that broom to sweep up the concourse when your team loses).
In a back-and-forth first period, the Flyers had 3-2 lead with four minutes to play after scoring back-to-back goals in less than a minute. Then things went horribly wrong.
Pittsburgh scored two more goals in the first to take a 4-3 lead into the locker room. Thursday morning, fans were still wondering when the Flyers will come back onto the ice.
Philadelphia gave up five goals in the second period, three of which came on the power play. Sure, the Flyers only gave up one goal in the third, but that made it TEN goals in the game.
Ten goals. The Flyers gave up 10 goals to a team completely on the ropes. That's not heartbreaking, it's demoralizing.
Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky each surrendered five goals on 18 shots apiece. The Penguins scored five goals on just 16 second-period shots, making the case the Flyers might have been better served playing the entire second period without a goalie at all.
Having said that, it wasn't like an extra skater on the ice would have helped much, as the defense just seemed to stop marking any shooters at all. It's hard to blame either goalie when the other team is using him for target practice. (Note: I know in target practice, the object is to hit the target and shooters are consciously trying to avoid hitting the goalie, but just go with me.)
The big question on Thursday—and presumably much of the sports talk radio chatter in Philly—is trying to figure out which loss was worse.
The Flyers loss is terrible because it gives the Penguins hope going back home for Game 5. After two amazing comeback wins for Philadelphia in the first two games, the Flyers dominated Game 3 at home. Game 4 should have been a victory lap, but now the Penguins have hope, belief and a nothing-to-lose attitude.
Still, for fans, the game was ostensibly over halfway through the game and, despite the recent comebacks, it was certainly out of reach after the second intermission. Fans had plenty of time to wrap their heads around the loss and look forward to a 3-1 series lead, which, all things considered, is still pretty great.
The Phillies loss, while just the 12th game of a long season, is probably worse. No, it's definitely worse. A heartbreaking loss is always tougher to swallow than a blowout because up until the game actually ends, your team still has the chance to pull out the win.
To compound the issues for Philadelphia, a loss like Wednesday night's served to shine a giant light on the problems with the Phillies this season. They cannot score runs. An extra-innings shutout is the worst kind of heartbreak.
The Phillies are third to last in the entire league in runs scored, scoring two or fewer runs in seven of the 12 games this season.
The bench was supposed to be an improvement over last year, but it can't be when guys like Wigginton and Laynce Nix have to play almost every day, making Thome one of the team's top pinch-hit options off the bench, rather than the glorified coach and great clubhouse presence he was primarily brought in to be.
The starting pitching in Philadelphia has been great, but somehow that made Wednesday's loss even worse. To waste one of the great pitching performances in team history with zero runs—thanks in large part to Matt Cain's great outing for San Francisco—is terrible.
When the day was done, the Flyers still had a 3-1 advantage in the playoffs. The Phillies are a last-place team. It's still very early in the season, but Phillies fans aren't used to that kind of heartache. That has to be worse.