PHILADELPHIA -- All that experience, and what did it get the Phillies? Nothing. It got them nothing. Unless you buy the rationale that, well, golly the Phillies had the best record in baseball this season, and they made it to the National League Championship Series. So the experience paid off some!
Don't buy it, because all that experience didn't pay off, not even a little bit. This team wasn't put together to win the NL East. This team was put together to win the World Series -- to get there, at least -- and this team failed.
And this team was failed, most gallingly, by the most experienced Phillies of all.
The Phillies have this cool statistic, a stat they're proud of, a stat they trumpet prominently in their pregame media notes. The stat says that no franchise in baseball history has ever had the same five players start the same 39 consecutive postseason games -- until the Phillies did it this year. Who are the five guys? You know their names. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz.
So who failed the Phillies the most on Saturday in their season-ending, 3-2 loss in Game 6 against San Francisco?
You know their names. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz.
"Sometimes the way the game goes and the way you play, things happen," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
Or, in the case of the Phillies' most experienced players, things don't happen. Not good things, anyway.
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Howard, the biggest star of the group, was the biggest postseason flop. And here, probably, the law of averages caught up to him. Before this season, Howard had been a postseason superstar, driving in 27 runs over the past four postseasons, including a club-record 15 RBI in the 2009 playoffs and an MLB-record eight consecutive games with at least one RBI.
That's a lot of success. Baseball being baseball, Howard was due a lot of failure -- and it happened over the past week. You know that stat I just told you, that Howard has had 27 RBI in the past four postseasons? More impressive, that ranks second in all of baseball over the same time frame. And even more impressive, in a bizarre way, Howard didn't have a single RBI this postseason. None.
To cap that doughnut, Howard sprinkled this icing: He struck out to end the season, with the potential tying run at second base and the potential winning run at first. He struck out to the end game, and the season, and he struck out looking.
And then Howard sat in the clubhouse and stared needles through anyone who approached to talk to him. After a few minutes of that nonsense, Howard stopped pouting in public and disappeared to pout somewhere in private. Hey, I don't blame him. Pretty sure I'd be pouting too if I'd struck out 12 times in 22 at-bats in the NLCS. And that was another record for Howard, his 12 strikeouts tying the NLCS mark shared by Darryl Strawberry (1986) and John Shelby (1988).
The next-biggest Phillies star? Chase Utley, probably. And he was their next-biggest postseason flop, though he provided one of the most entertaining moments of the NLCS in the third inning Saturday after being hit by a pitch from Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez. The ball hit Utley high on the back, a pitch that would have looked intentional had it happened in June and not late October, and Utley's response was to jog serenely to first.
On his way, the ball bounced up into his path -- and Utley palmed it and tossed it toward the mound. Sanchez watched the ball land, then watched Utley take first, then said something stupid to Utley. Utley took one step toward the mound, seeking clarification on Sanchez's grievance, then dismissively waved him off and stepped back onto first.
Too late. Both dugouts emptied. Both bullpens emptied, too. Much milling ensued, but nothing of note happened, and the game continued. For Utley, it was another brutal game in the field. He had two more non-errors, plays that a better fielder would have made, but plays that weren't ruled errors -- giving him four such non-errors in the six-game NLCS. That's a staggering number.
The latest examples of non-errors, on top of Utley's two misplays during the San Francisco swing of the NLCS, came in the third when he couldn't stop Sanchez' leadoff single -- the Giants scored two runs that inning -- and the ninth when he came up empty trying to use his glove to scoop up, and throw out, Andres Torres on a bunt single.
On top of all those non-errors in the NLCS, Utley hit .182 with one RBI in six games.
Rollins? He was moved to the leadoff spot for Game 6, and he got on base twice, but he was unable to score what would have been an enormous run in the fifth when Howard, finally, managed a two-out hit. It was a double into the gap in left-center, and it rolled to the wall, but Rollins was held at third -- and like a good soldier, he stopped. The Phillies didn't score that inning. Rollins? He didn't score the entire NLCS. But he did strand Raul Ibanez at third to end the sixth inning.
Victorino? He hit .208 in the NLCS, stranded five runners in Game 6 and then made the most painful mental gaffe of the series -- getting doubled off second base when Carlos Ruiz hit a liner at Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff. It wasn't an example of a great defensive play by Huff, either. It was an example of a mental boner. Victorino was so far from second that Huff could have run the ball there. Instead he lobbed it, gently, for the out.
And poor Ruiz. He's the one who hit the line drive that became a double play, notching two outs with his final swing of a series in which he went 3 for 18 (.167). Sometimes the breaks are with you, and sometimes -- or every time, for the Phillies' five most experienced playoff vets during the 2010 NLCS -- they're not.