Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The One That Got Away

This one stings. Kevin Millwood was cruising and the Phillies had touched Dontrelle Willis for three runs when the wheels came off in the bottom of the seventh. Millwood walked his first two batters of the night, and Jeff Conine followed with a line-drive homer to left. The Marlins tacked on a couple more runs, and though the Phils got one back in the top of the eighth, they went down in order in the ninth to conclude a 5-4 loss.

Florida now holds a two-game wild-card lead with five games remaining. The Phillies, meanwhile, will try to sleep tonight knowing that besides the very uphill climb they now face against the Fish, they also must deal with the sticky situation in National League Central, where the streaking Cubs rode Kerry Wood's shutout into first place over the Astros, who are getting pounded by the Giants as I write this.

It may be academic for the Phils. Watching the Marlins rampage through the last third of the game tonight was to see a team playing with no fear. They just have that look, whereas the Phillies, competing in a must-win game, could scratch out only seven hits and left their usual staggering number of men on base (16 tonight). While I will hope against hope for Philadelphia to take the next two, then sweep the Braves over the weekend, a more realistic assessment has Ed Wade already beginning to figure out what he needs to do to make the team better next year.

That may mean Larry Bowa's sacking; it surely means a more dependable closer than Jose Mesa. It also must mean a professional performance from Pat Burrell and the return of David Bell, whose nonpresence due to injury cannot be underestimated. Besides forcing Bowa to start Tomas Perez at third too often and besides depriving the clubhouse of a true leader, in a season when the team really could have used one, Bell's absence left a gaping hole in the 6-7 slots in the lineup. Jimmy Rollins as a No. 6 hitter just doesn't cut it.

It feels almost sacrilegious, a terrible violation of baseball's innate optimism, to be looking toward next season when so much can happen over the rest of the week. But tonight's game revealed a team that is spent, that has gone as far as it can go with the people currently in place. If I tell myself that often enough, perhaps it will ease the stabbing disappointment of a season that never really got rolling the way I and so many others thought it would.


Post a Comment

<< Home