ON THE TWO most gorgeous days and nights of 2011, the Russian Winter set in with brutal, unrelenting, emotional cold masquerading as warmth.
Black Friday 2 was followed by Nightmare Sunday.
It was the worst weekend in Philly sports history, a massive unmasking, the possible beginning of the end of one era of excellence and more irrefutable evidence that Andy Reid's Eagles reign could be approaching a time that is no longer his.
The punchless Phillies' shattering, 1-0, Game 5 NLDS loss to the Cardinals at the sullen Bank segued into another defeathering of the shockingly bad Eagles.
A week after Charlie Manuel's team was installed as a prohibitive favorite to advance to and win the World Series and a month after Reid's free agent-littered squad was dubbed a "Dream Team" by backup quarterback Vince Young, only one local pro sports team has a chance to deliver a 2011 title.
That would be an expansion MLS soccer team, the Union.
Because the Stanley Cup finals usually end in June, there is plenty of time to assess the Flyers. The Sixers? Looks like they won't be inflicting another season of midpack NBA hoops on us any time soon. Thank David Stern for small gifts.
So let's turn to the gaping wound that will gush Phillies blood for months to come.
And let's hit the worst news - even for his legion of haters - from the jump. The ruptured Achilles' tendon Ryan Howard suffered while bouncing into the final out of the imploded postseason is a catastrophic injury. He faces major surgery to repair the body's largest weight-bearing tendon, weeks and weeks either in a full cast or a heavy, rigid, boot that will give him a little more freedom and help prevent atrophy and muscle loss as he goes through months on crutches. While recovery times depend on the individual and the course of rehabilitation, 6 months is ballpark time before an athlete can begin weight-bearing activity. Nine months is an optimistic target for a major league baseball player's return to the lineup.
So, while the big orthopedic brains chart a course aimed at repairing and rehabbing the Achilles' of the most prolific run producer in franchise history, get used to the idea that the Phillies' offense in 2012 will bear little likeness to Charlie Manuel's preferred method of spurning the bunt, hit-and-run, squeeze and the kind of adventurous baserunning that got Chase Utley in trouble.
Don't make the automatic assumption John Mayberry will surface as the pro-tem first baseman. Utley has started 22 games at first during his big-league career. It is probably his best position. The most surprising aspect of his unexpectedly rapid return from patellar tendinitis was his running speed. The guy hadn't lost a step and remained an outstanding baserunner.
So, if Chase can tweak whatever other unknown conditions have compromised his power, he should be in the first-base conversation. Mayberry would be more than adequate there. But he represents more pressing value in left, whether in a platoon should Raul Ibanez be offered a contract at a reduced rate, or if Dom Brown can play his way out of a fraud label.
I am intrigued by the mention of the athletic Mayberry perhaps being worked at third base. If that is indeed a possibility, he should be off to winter ball. Mayberry played in the Mexican Winter League in 2009.
J-Roll seemed to say an informal goodbye, both by dissing the fans for losing their lungs when his teammates bats turned mute, and for his vanishing act after the 1-0 loss. Even Howard faced the discordant music, standing one-legged with an Achilles' tendon that had rolled up his left calf like a window shade.
The best shortstop in Phillies history, the face of the franchise for a number of seasons, should receive a courtesy offer from general manager Ruben Amaro. But it won't be what J-Roll can get from a team close to his Oakland home, even if it's less money than he seeks. Rookie glove Freddy Galvis? Ace bench glove Wilson Valdez? There won't be a lot of errors at short. Or second.
But third is a big problem if Placido Polanco, owed $6.5 million next year, comes out of a surgery as power-starved as he was. Lack of power in the infield in general could be a huge problem.
By the time agent Scott Boras is through, Ryan Madson's changeup will be a more devastating pitch than Mariano Rivera's cutter. The Phillies have in-house closer candidates to stock the front end and it will be a shopper's market for closers.
The Phils won't pick up Roy Oswalt's $16 million, 2012 option. He has a $2 million buyout. But don't say goodbye to Joe Blanton. If healthy, he is the No. 5 starter behind Vance Worley.
Brad Lidge's $12.5 million will come off the books, but Cole Hamels - headed for a left elbow cleanout job - will be trolling for a huge contract.
Psychologically, you might think it is time to blow up this postseason double-dropper. After World Series loss, NLCS loss and NLDS loss, what loss is next? Missing the wild card?
In April, I picked the Red Sox to beat the Phillies in the World Series. That was before Hunter Pence.
But the Red Sox stayed home, as did the Yankees, the world champion Giants, the Angels, the Twins and the Braves.
At least the Phillies will be surrounded by good company around the hot stove as the Russian Winter deepens.