For me it happened on July 22, a Thursday. I was sitting in traffic on my way to work. The sun was out.
That was the day I gave up on the Phillies and left them for dead.
They had just lost three in a row to the Cardinals, and six of seven coming out of the All-Star break. They were seven games behind the first-place Braves. They were a game behind the Mets.
Injuries were piling up. Their two-month, team-wide hitting slump, despite a few flashes of life, was reaching historic proportions. Jayson Werth was becoming a liability. The bullpen looked like the worst in baseball, and the pain of the Cliff Lee trade deepened with every passing day.
On my weekly podcast early that evening, I boldly predicted that the Phillies would not make the playoffs. I said the Cardinals were the team to beat in the National League and predicted that St. Louis would go to the World Series and possibly win it.
These days, of course, I'm feeling pretty stupid, guilty and embarrassed about my lapse of faith in July. I'm a punk and a bastard, I admit it. On the other hand, I know I'm not alone.
Be honest, fellow Philadelphia fan, when did you give up on our Fightin' Phils?
It was probably around the same time I did.
That week after the All-Star break was do-or-die. Even today, I believe that if the Phillies had dropped another two or three games in a row at that time, they would have been cooked. They would have been out of first place by double digits, out of the wild-card race by nearly as much, and it would have changed the mentality of the team and the front office in relation to this season.
When I made my bold prediction, I did qualify it with one caveat (at least I think I did, or I tell myself I did). My words were something to the effect of, "If there are no major changes, I predict the Phillies will not make the playoffs."
If there are no major changes.
But, it turned out, there were major changes. Two, in fact, including on that very day, July 22. Because Ruben Amaro saw, just like you and I saw, that the Phillies' season was on life support. He saw that they were merely a step or two away from falling out of contention, kind of like the Los Angeles Angels did at some point this year.
The Angels, recently the class of the American League West, fumbled around and flirted with failure a little too long, until one day they looked up and Texas had the division signed, sealed, and delivered. That could have been the Phillies in relation to the Braves.
Instead, Amaro fired hitting coach Milt Thompson. Charlie Manuel got on board and claimed responsibility for it, for added effect. It happened after the fourth game of that Cardinals series, a game the Phillies won. Not that the Phils' lack of production could really all be blamed on Thompson, but it sent a message—wake up, get with it, because nobody is irreplaceable.
Suddenly, the Phillies started hitting again. They rattled off eight straight wins, and won 13 of their next 15. They cut the Braves' lead from seven games to two. Along the way, the other major change happened. They got Roy Oswalt. It didn't make up for the Lee deal, but it sure eased the anguish, because it gave the Phillies one of the best rotations in the sport. Amaro had gone from hero to zero and then back to hero.
The team was reinvigorated. The bench picked up the slack in the wake of injuries. In came Mike Sweeney. Up came Domonic Brown. The bullpen started coming around. And on and on...
Now the Phillies are in the wild-card lead with their sights firmly set on the division crown. July 22 is beginning to seem like a long time ago.
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