It took nearly 4 1/2 hours, and that did not count the rare 20-minute fallen-net delay or the untimed umpire-had-to-leave-after-being-hit-in-the-facemask delay, but the Phillies left scorching hot Citizens Bank Park early Sunday evening as a mildly hot baseball team. Their 12-6 win over the Washington Nationals gave them a series victory as well as their third win in four games.
The Phillies’ back-to-back wins were their first since May 11 and 12 when they also took two in a row from the Nationals. And here’s something else: With their 28th win, the Phillies are guaranteed to have as many victories after 60 games this season as they did last season. Of course, 60 games formed the season a year ago and 28 wins were not enough to get the Phillies into a playoff field that included eight of the National League’s 15 teams.
That’s probably a big reason there were only 15,108 fans in attendance despite the fact that Citizens Bank Park can now be open at full capacity. It was by far the smallest Sunday crowd in the ballpark’s 17-year history if you exclude pandemic restrictions.
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Philadelphia, do the Phillies have an attendance problem?
In the midst of talking about his return from the injured list Saturday, Bryce Harper mentioned that he was excited about the notion of playing in front of full-capacity crowds again at Citizens Bank Park.
Now, he must be wondering when that is actually going to happen.
For the first time since 2019, the ballpark was open to full capacity Friday night, but only 15,030 showed up despite a premier pitching matchup between Phillies ace Zack Wheeler and Washington’s three-time Cy Young Award winner, Max Scherzer.
During Harper’s return the next day, the crowd grew slightly to 16,118, which was still a record low for the ballpark on a Saturday. There was no typical giveaway item Sunday, which tends to draw more fans, and the 76ers were playing the first game of their second-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks across the street at the Wells Fargo Center, but the crowd of 15,108 still had to be disappointing for the Phillies.
The three-game attendance of 46,256 was a figure the Phillies nearly drew nightly during their 257-game sellout streak that lasted from July 7, 2009 through Aug. 5, 2012.
It’s fair to wonder if we will ever see those halcyon days again at Citizens Bank Park, but the Phillies have to be hoping that the new norm will not look anything like what we saw over the weekend. If it is, they might have to change their nickname to the Marlins.
“I don’t really think much of it,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I’ve got to tell you, after last year it would be nice if we had one person in the stands, right? Originally I think it was June 11 [actually June 12] we were scheduled to open to 100% and people made plans. I don’t really know. I love the people we have in the stands.
“And I think for every team when you play better, the more people come out. But our country has been through a lot and people have been through a lot, so let me tell you, I’m appreciative of everyone who comes out.”
The Phillies, according to The Athletic, are one of 11 MLB teams back open at full capacity. The Atlanta Braves were the first team from the National League East to open at capacity, and in 20 games, they have averaged 30,961 fans at Truist Park.
Eleven other teams are scheduled to open to capacity before the end of the month, and three others will join them in early July. The Athletic story lists Tampa Bay, Seattle, Toronto, the Yankees and the Mets as the only teams that have yet to schedule a date for a return to full capacity.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, baseball attendance had declined every year since 2016, according to Forbes. The Phillies’ attendance dipped below 2 million for the first time in Citizens Bank Park history in 2015, and remained under that mark through the 2017 season. Attendance surpassed 2 million again in 2018 and shot up to 2.7 million in 2019 after the team signed Harper and traded for catcher J.T. Realmuto.
With the Yankees coming to town Saturday and Sunday, the Phillies should see substantial crowds this weekend at the ballpark. The last time the Yankees came to Citizens Bank Park when fans were allowed to attend in 2018, all three games drew at least 42,000.
Realmuto, who knows what it is like to play in front of sparse crowds from his time with the Marlins in Miami, said it is incumbent on the players to convince the fans that the Phillies are a team worth coming to see.
“Yeah, absolutely,” the catcher said. “If you don’t like it, you’ve got to play better, right? If the fans aren’t showing up, put a better product on the field. That’s on us to play better, win more ballgames, and the fans will show up when we do that.”
The Phillies’ win over the Nationals Sunday was a hot mess that needed to be stopped, and apparently the netting that surrounded the field agreed. Thanks to director of field operations Mike Boekholder and a long list of others, play resumed after just a 20-minute delay.
Reserve infielder Nick Maton was optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley after Sunday’s game, and that’s a possible precursor to the return of shortstop Didi Gregorius from the injured list.
The large majority of MLB teams have reached the 85% vaccination threshold that allows for the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions inside and outside the clubhouse, but the Phillies are not one of them. Girardi is vaccinated, but believes getting the shot should be a personal decision.
A memo from the office of commissioner Rob Manfred warned that umpires will soon begin checking for the use of foreign substances by pitchers. Harper and Realmuto explained why it badly needs to happen.
The mystery of Spencer Howard’s lack of stamina continued to unfold Saturday when the rookie right-hander once again lost his velocity in the third inning against the Nationals.
Today: The Phillies are off.
Tomorrow: Aaron Nola pitches series opener vs. Atlanta’s Drew Smyly, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Zach Eflin faces Tucker Davidson, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Zack Wheeler goes against Ian Anderson in series finale with Braves, 1:05 p.m.
Saturday: New York Yankees come to town for the start of a two-game series, 4:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
On this date in 1950, Richie Ashburn started in center field and went 2-for-4 with an RBI in the Phillies’ 4-0 win against the Reds in Cincinnati. That turned out to be the start of a franchise-record 730-game playing streak for Ashburn. During his streak, Ashburn hit .316 with a .392 on-base average and struck out only 173 times in 3,337 plate appearances. He also had 124 doubles, 38 triples and 9 home runs.
Ashburn’s streak, which ended when an injury prevented him from playing the first two games of the 1955 season, remains the 14th longest in baseball history, and it is also still the team record.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: Thanks for the Extra Innings reporting. Being 1,200 miles away, I look forward to it. Anyway, I was wondering, doesn’t it seem like the past several years the Phils have had an inordinate injury situation? Is it one of the worst stretches or am I just overreacting? — Michael R., via email
Answer: Thank you for the kind words, Michael, and we’re happy to keep you close to your hometown team from such a great distance. The Phillies have had their fair share of injuries the last couple of years. The late-season injuries last year to Rhys Hoskins and Harper proved costly as they tried to end their playoff drought, and injuries this season to Harper, Realmuto and Gregorius have left the offense sputtering.
But look at a team such as the New York Mets, who are without Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo and J.D. Davis but still managed to split four games in San Diego, and it’s difficult to feel too sorry for the Phillies.