The Philadelphia Phillies have inspired fans like myself to write their obituaries more than once this year. But we held back when the Phillies finally started winning this month and rose up the wild card standings. However, we were just about ready to finally lay Philadelphia to rest on Sept. 19, as it was one out away from falling five games back of the St. Louis Cardinals.
After three humiliating losses to the Houston Astros last weekend, the Phillies might not have been able to afford losing just once to the New York Mets. Yet New York held Philadelphia down for more than eight innings on Sept. 19 - but it wasn't for nine full innings. And it was Ryan Howard - who once made September heroics an annual thing - who staved off the Phillies' execution for one more night.
With two outs in the ninth, the Phillies faced a 2-1 deficit and only had one hit after Jimmy Rollins' leadoff homer. But just as Philadelphia started the game with a bang, it ended it with one as well when Howard blasted a two-run homer to steal a 3-2 win. What's more, it kept the Phillies from falling into their grave for good - at least on this night.
Although the Astros couldn't stop beating the Phillies days ago, they have conveniently forgotten how to win again while facing the Cardinals. After St. Louis beat Houston again on Sept. 19, it stood to take a five-game lead over Philadelphia once New York finished it off. And given how the Phillies had absolutely no offense after their first at-bat, a Mets win seemed inevitable.
A five-game wild card deficit with 13 games left to go wouldn't have automatically eliminated the Phillies - but realistically, it probably would have. Even after Howard saved the season, it still leaves Philadelphia with a four-game deficit with 13 games left, which isn't that much better. But if the Phillies carry that momentum into their makeup game against the Mets on Sept. 20, it can help them before their next do-or-die series with the Atlanta Braves this weekend.
Every game is do-or-die at this moment for the Phillies, so the playoffs have already started. They would have pretty much ended if not for Howard's blast, which will go down in Philadelphia history if it triggers an improbable final run. Yet if the Phillies need another last-minute homer and get shut down for about eight innings again soon, it will be a waste of their latest - and perhaps last - second chance.
Philadelphia did start its five-year postseason run in 2007 with an unlikely comeback over New York, as it erased another big late deficit in the standings. But the Phillies only had to overtake the Mets in the NL East, whereas now they must jump over the Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Milwaukee Brewers in just two weeks.
One or two more losses in the next several days may end that dream - but at least the Phillies can still stay in dreamland for another day.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.
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