WE ARE Red Sox Nation now. We count our consecutive sellouts, bid up the prices for the most modest seats in the place, analyze, dissect and distress over a team that somehow, despite numerous cracks in its armor, entered their game against the Dodgers with the best record in the major leagues, and finished the night with a four-game lead over its nearest pursuer.
Somehow, that is the stuff that gets buried, buried underneath the anxiety of an uncertain future. Chase Utley playing his fourth day in a row? Too much, too soon? Brad Lidge is having his elbow examined? Again?
Jimmy's just bruised, not broken?
Is Cliff Lee ailing? Ten strikeouts, seven shutout innings.
And on it goes.
Last night's 3-1 victory over the Dodgers marked the 34th time these Phillies have scored three or fewer runs. They had one stretch of nine straight games, from May 14 to 22, in which they scored three or fewer. There are few, if any, easy innings these days, the game's balance teetering on an inning, an at-bat, even a pitch as often as not.
Sweat and fret. The tying run on base, the go-ahead, or winning run at the plate. Every inning, it seems. On most teams, this would put an uneasy burden on the bullpen, the penalty to be paid when arms go dead later in the season. Phillies fans above a certain age can chapter and verse the ill-advised deal that Ed Wade made with the Mets in 2001, acquiring Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook at the trade deadline. Cook and Wendell had appeared in more than 90 games for the low-scoring Mets, and their respective breakdowns came quickly.
But the Phillies are not most teams. Four of their five starters are capable of pitching complete games. Roy Halladay has pitched into the seventh in 12 of his 13 starts, finishing the eighth inning in six of them. Lee has pitched into the seventh inning in nine of his 12 starts. Cole Hamels has pitched into the seventh inning in nine of 12 starts.
You know who has replaced Chad Durbin on this club? Halladay, Hamels, Lee. And occasionally tonight's starter, Roy Oswalt.
Is that a recipe for disaster later? Or success? "Giants baseball: Torture" - broadcaster Duane Kiper coined that for his offensively challenged club around this time last year, and it became a tongue-in-cheek rallying cry on San Francisco's improbable road to a world championship. The difference, of course, is that San Francisco's lineup was a piecemeal assemblage of other team's castoffs, from Aubrey Huff to Cody Ross and, of course, Pat Burrell.
The Phillies are not, of course. They have many of the same players who combined to score 892 runs in 2007, the first of their four consecutive division championships. But they are older versions of those models, more susceptible to injury. And the promise of their unbridled youth has diluted into doubt, as their flaws are exposed and in some cases, seem incurable.
"You go down our lineup, there has been some changes in recent years," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We're all swingers now. We used to talk about how many pitches this guy would take in an at-bat and we had some guys who would walk. Especially in the middle of our lineup from the three-hole down to the six-hole, they took their base on balls. We had 400 walks from four guys there. That's 400 base hits."
No one could look worse striking out than Burrell. No one took longer to strike out than Jayson Werth. Burrell, though, averaged more than 100 walks in his last four seasons with the team, including 102 in his last season. Werth, of course, wore out pitchers by falling behind, fouling off their strikeout pitches, and extending at-bats. He averaged 86.5 walks over his final two seasons as a Phillie.
"I don't have the answer when we chase bad balls," Manuel said. "When we get up in the count 2-0 and swing at a ball out of the strike zone and things like that.
"What it comes to, especially when you get ahead in the count, is plate discipline. But at the same time they got to the big leagues hitting that way and we're at a point in time now where most of our core players have been playing 5, 10 years and it's hard to change that."
Which means what? Grin and bear it? At times Manuel suggests just that, at other times he makes it sound like there's still enough of 2007 in this team to turn Citizens Bank Park into a fifth-inning festival again. Big runs. Big fun.
We're so spoiled these days that first place and the best record in baseball seems, at times, so, so, yada yada yada.
"I feel like it's going to come around," Manuel said.
"I'm waiting, though."
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