Too Little Too Late? Halladay, Papelbon Stepping Up As Leaders
No, this wasn’t the best weekend for the Phillies. Their 5-2 loss to the Marlins Sunday capped their fourth series sweep of the season. (Mets, Dodgers, Blue Jays.) They dipped to nine games below .500, the farthest they’ve fallen since 2006. Their 81-game start in 2012? Their worst since 1997. Reports have them, for the first time, seriously dangling Cole Hamels as trade bait. (Maybe a concession that they’re throwing in the towel, or that, to date, the team hasn’t given decision-makers any reason to think they shouldn’t.)
Better news? This — the lowest trough of the dynasty’s recent memory – gave us the loudest slivers of leadership we’ve seen, maybe ever.
Said Roy Halladay: “It’s up to us, it really is. We can tuck our tails, or we can fight. There’s a chance we fight and still come up short. But I’d rather do it that way, than admit defeat halfway through the year.”
Said Jonathan Papelbon: “I don’t think anybody in here is hanging their head, I think everybody in here is taking it as a challenge. When you’re in the face of adversity, your best comes out. And I think the guys in the clubhouse will respond in that way.”
You haven’t heard that all season. Nor have you over the last five years.
Granted, you haven’t had to, not with the Phillies winning and dominating and captivating as they did it.
Still, you’ve never seen that. Until now.
And as much as you’ve been thirsty for fun and excitement and competitiveness from your team, you’ve been just as parched for somebody to step up and assume something by way of a leadership role for falling short of giving it to you. Wanted it even during last year’s 37-second October, when the Phils were down and floundering but not yet out before Game 5 of the NLDS, and no one — not Jimmy Rollins or Halladay or Cliff Lee or Hamels or Shane Victorino or anybody — stood firmly and spoke like the mouthpiece the team so desperately needed.
A little late, but you’re getting that now, and from the seeming white knight of the pitching staff this team is built upon (Halladay, who, oh by the way, is shooting to come back just after the All-Star break) and the latest in a series of mid- or off-season acquisitions that, insofar as shouldering the leadership burden that should come with that kind of a payday (Papelbon).
Not so much from Manuel.
Said Manuel: “I mean, I’ve talked enough to our guys, if you wanna know the truth. I don’t know how much more I can say.”
You could argue that that’s strategic, that Manuel knowingly, actively, consciously slipped to the Phillies the age-old “I Just Don’t Even Know What To Say To You Anymore” parenting tactic, went all Phil Jackson and Jedi mind tricked someone, anyone to step up the way that Halladay and Papelbon eventually did. I’d disagree, and figure it’s more likely that Manuel’s either hurting for ideas just believes the front-office is hell-bent — not feeling out or floating, but vehemently determined — on dealing Hamels and sparking the beginning of the end of the dynasty and, effectively, his career in Philadelphia. (Though it’s pretty clear that Manuel, who’s only credential for the job is his ability to milk the best out of players — players like Victorino (who’s having his second-worst season as a Phillie) and Rollins (fourth-worst) — is also hurting for usefulness at this point.)
Whether it means anything? Tough to say. Despite the improbabilities that lay ahead — to get to 88 wins, what you’d figure a reasonable mark to squeak into this year’s expanded Wild Card format, the Phillies would have to maintain a pace throughout the second half that was two games better than their all-time franchise record-setting 102-win season a year ago — there are still 83 games left on the slate, and Ryan Howard and Halladay still on the comeback trail. Then again, the front office could just deal Hamels and make the entire point moot.
Still, for a team and fan base that need something — ANYTHING — by way of a reason to believe after that weekend, the Phillies gave you their best shots. Though that may be the best they’ve got.