The Philadelphia Phillies have haunted the Atlanta Braves for about 12 months. Last year, Phillies fans like myself rejoiced in how Philadelphia finished off Atlanta's stunning September collapse - though we paid for it when the St. Louis Cardinals took the Braves' place. Yet in this September, the Braves have finally gotten a very fitting measure of revenge.
The Phillies eliminated the Braves from last year's postseason chase, but this year, Atlanta has practically returned the favor. Philadelphia wasn't technically eliminated from wild card contention with its two losses to Atlanta this past weekend. But for all intents and purpose, the Braves were the ones who finished the Phillies off this time around.
With their 2-1 victory over the Phillies on Sept. 23, the Braves put themselves on the brink of finally clinching a playoff berth. Meanwhile, Philadelphia dropped five games behind St. Louis for the second wild-card spot with nine games to play. At this point, it is now only a matter of time before the Phillies are mathematically eliminated.
We all thought it would happen a lot sooner, but the Phillies' hot September start fueled some hope again. However, the Braves delivered the death blow by shellacking Roy Halladay on Sept. 22 and outdueling Cliff Lee on Sept. 23. Even if the Phillies won those two games, they still would have been three games back of the Cardinals and still been a playoff long shot - but they could have pretended otherwise for a while longer.
Now this is impossible, thanks to a Braves team that waited a whole year for this kind of payback. Of course, Atlanta blew the 2011 wild card for more reasons than those final three losses to Philadelphia - just as the 2012 Phillies blew their season for more reasons than these two losses to the Braves. But just as the 2011 Phillies put the Braves out of their inevitable misery, the 2012 Braves have done the same to their rivals in return.
However, this isn't the first time the Braves shattered the Phillies' hopes this month. On Sept. 2 , Philadelphia was on the verge of a weekend sweep over Atlanta, which could have really sent the Phillies on their way and set the Braves up for another collapse. But instead, Jonathan Papelbon blew a four-run lead in the ninth and gave the Phillies an even smaller margin for error - while the Braves haven't really sweated things out since.
Now Atlanta is cruising to the postseason like it was expected to do last season, and even has a shot at catching the Washington Nationals for the NL East title. What's more, the Braves have found time to destroy the Phillies for good on their way to the playoffs, just as the Phillies did to them 12 months ago - albeit under different circumstances.
Yet Philadelphia crashed down to Earth last October after finishing Atlanta off, which should provide some warning to the Braves this October. But if the Braves could rebound from their awful ending last year, maybe the Phillies can do the same as well in 2013.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.
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