At least now they know.
The uncertainty surrounding Roy Halladay was, metaphorically speaking, like a bone spur fraying the fabric of the Phillies' 2013 season. It is the kind of uncertainty that had a devastating impact on the two previous Phillies seasons.
Two years ago, it was Chase Utley's mysterious spring-training disappearance. Last year, it was Utley and Halladay and Ryan Howard.
It isn't easy for a team when a key player is unavailable because of injury. It is much harder when the missing player's status is shrouded in mystery. There is a corrosive effect on a team when it is in limbo, unsure when or whether a star player is returning.
For the last 15 months or so, the Phillies haven't known what was going on with their two-time Cy Young Award winner. Halladay didn't seem right in spring training last year, and he did some time on the disabled list with what was described as an injury to his upper back. He was supposed to be back to normal when he returned to Clearwater, Fla., this spring, but it quickly became apparent this was going to be a new normal for Halladay.
As of Wednesday afternoon, we know that Halladay has been pitching - likely for "years," he said - while his right shoulder was slowly being destroyed by a bone spur. Halladay will have the spur removed and his shoulder cleaned out during an arthroscopic procedure in the next week or so.
When Halladay described the diagnosis as "very good news," that was a measure of just how desperate things had become. As if that trapped-animal look in his eyes during his last two outings, both disasters, wasn't enough.
"I don't feel as lost as before," Halladay said in San Francisco.
The trick now is for the Phillies to avoid that lost feeling themselves. The absence of Halladay actually will make that easier than the presence of Halladay. Instead of wondering what's up with him and enduring the on-field results of his physical deterioration every fifth day, the Phillies can get on with their own new normal.
It isn't that grim.
This is a team with two $25-million-a-year starting pitchers, two former National League MVPs, and the top-paid closer in baseball. It is a team with a third starter, Kyle Kendrick, pitching better than the big-money guys. It is a team with Utley playing his best baseball in several years.
So the loss of Halladay does not sink the Phillies. It just means that some of these guys are going to have to row a little harder.
If they are capable of that, maybe they will get Halladay back for a meaningful stretch drive, even a postseason.
If they aren't capable, or willing, then Halladay wouldn't have made much difference, anyway.
The real takeaway from Wednesday's news is, or should be, how fleeting their careers are. Utley and Howard have had near-death experiences, baseball-wise, thanks to their injuries. Michael Young has been exiled from the team he spent his career with. Carlos Ruiz has had to sit out a suspension for violating MLB's drug policy.
There is no excuse for the sense you get from this team that there will be limitless opportunities to win another World Series. Seeing Halladay come face-to-face with athletic mortality should shatter that illusion once and for all.
"I would love to try to come back and win a World Series," Halladay said. "That's the ultimate goal. That's why I'm playing. . . . Nobody wants to go out on a bad note. Ideally, you want to go out as a world champion. But some of those things aren't in your control."
That's the point. That thing is still in the control of players such as Utley and Howard and Jimmy Rollins, of pitchers such as Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. They will be where Halladay is soon enough. Until then, they get precious few chances to attain that "ultimate goal."
This season still counts as one of those chances. The Phillies can overcome their mediocre start by simply playing the way they are capable of playing. They showed that by going to San Francisco and winning a series against the Giants.
We finally have some clarity on Halladay. Now maybe we can get some on his teammates.