The Philadelphia Phillies sent their ace of aces—their Ace of Spades, if you will—to the hill last night after the previous night’s frustrating 12-inning loss. The winning pitcher responded by yielding only two hits in six innings of work as his team won 9-0.
Good news for Phillies fans, right? Think again.
Not on this night. It was former Phillies left-hander Randy Wolf (someone the Phils usually rough up) who shut the home team down, as his Brewers were giving the great Roy Halladay a rare, horrible night at the office.
In some ways, the result was as appropriate as it was difficult to digest for Phillies fans. Please follow my logic.
The game was played on the second evening of the Jewish holiday of Passover, which is known as the Second Seder Night. In essence, a Seder is a long dinner and service that can last as long as a Major League baseball doubleheader; take my word for it.
One of the highlights of Passover is the youngest child present singing a traditional song called the Four Questions, that begins with the iconic (to some): Why is this night different from all other nights?
Speaking of Passover, one of MLB’s brightest Jewish stars, Ryan Braun, shined for the Brewers. The sweet-swinging left-fielder went 2-3 with a homer, an RBI, three runs and two bases on balls.
Not known for his defense, Braun also made the key defensive play of the night, robbing shortstop Jimmy Rollins of what looked to be a two-run double when the Brewers held a still narrow 2-0 lead in the bottom of the third.
Before we get to my own Four Questions, here is a bonus query: Why wasn’t Ryan Braun tied up at a Seder as some of us were? It would have helped the Phillies cause immensely.
So, why (and how) was this night different from all other nights?
1) On all other nights, the Phillies bounce back from losses with a win of their own: What happened on this night?
Even the most fervent Phillies fan did not expect their favorite team to never have a losing streak in 2011. Did they?
The Phillies had not lost as many as two straight in their previous 15 games prior to the ugly 9-0 defeat. Not only do they now have a losing streak, but the loss means that they will now drop a series for the first time.
With their vaunted pitching staff, the Phillies—who start Ace of Hearts, Cliff Lee, in this afternoon’s matinee—don’t figure to go on too many extended losing streaks. The 162-game grind dictates, however, that there will be losing streaks and lost series along the way.
2) On all other nights, Roy “Doc” Halladay dominates; what happened on this night?
In his short Cy Young-winning tenure with the Phillies, Halladay has suffered through very few outings in which he did not look like one of the very best pitchers on the planet. It was very un-Doc-like to see him give up 10 hits and six runs (all earned) while walking two and only fanning three in 6.2 innings of work.
The strangest event of the night was seeing Halladay taken out of the game in the middle of an inning. Reliever David Herndon did not help Doc’s stats by surrendering a three-run homer to third baseman Casey McGehee; two of those runs were charged to Doc.
How rare was it to see Halladay pulled in the middle of the seventh inning? According to David Murphy of the Philadelphia Daily News, this marked only the fourth time in his last 69 starts (including about half of those starts in a Blue Jays uniform) that this has occurred.
So, what happened? He’s human; even the best will throw in a few clunkers among their 33 or so starts.
3) On all other nights, the Phillies offense explodes; why were they unable to do anything last night?
Perhaps, this question should be re-worded.
The offense, which surely had some question marks heading into this season (no Jayson Werth; where’s Chase Utley?), is scuffling for runs and extra-base hits right now. They certainly have not looked particularly potent in their last seven games.
And with all deference to Randy Wolf, who pitched well in earning his second win, one expects more than two hits against an average pitcher and a bullpen that does not include Mariano Rivera and Brian Wilson.
There was much concern that the 2011 Phillies attack would more resemble “Judy” than “Punch.” With apologies to my female readers, that does appear to be the case right now.
The Phillies have never been known for playing small ball, but there may have been a positive sign or two to be found in last night’s otherwise anemic attack. Jimmy Rollins bunted for a base hit; now that’s different. And the men in red pinstripes also coaxed four walks while only fanning five times. They also executed a double steal in that (unlucky) bottom of the third.
4) In all other seasons, Chase Utley plays second and bats third; when are you coming back, Chase?
Yes, the Phillies had a pretty good record without Utley in their lineup last year, and their 10-6 record does project to 101 wins. But let’s not kid ourselves. As terrific as Wilson Valdez has been as a stop-gap replacement, the Phillies miss Utley’s bat and leadership.
For a good projection of Utley’s possible return, please see http://bleacherreport.com/articles/670463-philadelphia-phillies-notes-chase-utely-eyes-return-brad-lidge-healing-more
Nobody knows whether we’ll see Utley back by the end of May, but his return will allow Rollins to return to another position in the lineup (although one can still debate where he would be most effective) and Valdez to return to his role as super-sub.
The pitching is good enough to keep the team in games and in the thick of the pennant race without him, but it is hard to believe that the Phillies are not missing their best all-around player.
In the final analysis, even Chase Utley would not have made a difference on a different kind of night at Citizens Bank Park.
And yes, to complete the holiday analogy, one might say that Roy Halladay was serving up some matzo balls last night that Braun and his teammates were not missing.
One might also say that this, too, will Passover. Oy!
For more information on Matt Goldberg’s new books, as well as writing, speaking and interview requests, please e-mail: email@example.com or contact him via his Bleacher Report homepage.