The Philadelphia Phillies were barely gripping frayed ropes as they dangled over the playoff cliff last night in the ninth inning. First, Chase Utley worked a two-out walk. Then, his long-time on-deck shadow Ryan Howard stepped to the plate, shrugged off his slump and hit a two-run home run that turned a potential 2-1 loss to the New York Mets into a 3-2 win.
Will Howard's heroics save the season, or simply push playoff hopes one day forward on the regular season schedule?
Passing two teams and catching the Cardinals?
The Phillies have thirteen games remaining in their season and are still four games behind the Cardinals in the National League Wild Card playoff race. Jumping over a Milwaukee Brewers team that appears to be gaining momentum, passing the Los Angeles Dodgers and catching the Cardinals seems nearly impossible.
Putting the other teams aside and purely focusing on St. Louis for a moment: The Cardinals play the Houston Astros four more times (once at home and three times on the road) and the Chicago Cubs three times (on the road) between now and September 26. During that same time frame, the Phillies play the Mets once (on the road), the Atlanta Braves three times (at home) and the Washington Nationals twice (at home).
I've stopped at that September date, because the Phillies have a current elimination number of 10. Unless the weather intervenes, the Phillies will have seven games remaining and the Cardinals will have six remaining games after September 26. I believe that it's exceedingly likely that Philadelphia's fans will have reached Day 1 in a two-step process when the sun rises on September 27.
Sensing the inevitable
Most Phillies' fans understand that two specific days are coming in the near future. They also know that Howard's home run wasn't the calm before the storm. It may have been one of the last feel-good moments of this Phillies' playoff era that is about to end.
Day 1 will arrive when people realize that all baseball math calculations offer no realistic hope. (Some souls may already be there.) Day 2 will arrive when the Phillies are officially eliminated from playoff contention. Of course there are some individuals who may smash both days into one.
The first day will be sobering. The second day will be devastating. Despite all sharp fans' hopes, the inability to reach the playoffs for the first time in six years will be deeply depressing.
No amount of preparation will make that reality easier to accept. Of course there is always next year, but that type of theoretical consolation prize won't feel good. In lieu of a still-possible miracle, dead October is dead ahead.
Sean O'Brien's professional writing career began in 1990, when he first began working in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system. He was a freelance sports writer for five years and is currently a Featured Contributor for Yahoo! Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @SeanyOB and read his daily Sports Blog: Insight.
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