Coolstandings.com gives the Phillies a 96.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. The Phillies, with 15 games to go, are three games up on the division and 3 1/2 up in the Wild Card. I feel comfortable talking playoffs without fear of jinxng the works. And when I talk about them, I feel something I haven’t felt in a long time–genuine, unbridled excitement.
When I was younger, I had this notion that falling in love would be about the emotional highs. That what keeps you coming back is the feeling that you can’t exist without the object of your affection, that he/she makes you feel a way that no one or nothing else ever could. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been disabused of this notion, but after I left middle school and stopped watching so many Hugh Grant movies, I will say that there’s more to it than that, and that while the movie-worthy moments of euphoria exist and are important, that’s not what defines love.
I’ve compared romantic love to being a Phillies fan before, but rather than repeat myself, I’ll just tell you that I’ve had four moments, as a Phillies fan, that fall under the category of euphoria: the Brett Myers glove toss at the end of the 2007 season, the Victorino-and-Stairs home runs in the 2008 NLCS, and the last out of the World Series that same year.
As great a ride as the 2007 and 2008 playoffs were, 2009, at least for me, was almost completely joyless. Maybe winning a World Series took the shine off the whole thing, or maybe starting to write about the Phillies on a regular basis reduced the sheer wonder of the experience. But I have another theory.
This year started with the acquisition of a new star, Roy Halladay, who generated more buzz than any new player I can remember (including Cliff Lee–I don’t seem to recall anyone wanting to go to the zoo with him). Then there was Domonic Brown, by my estimation the most-hyped prospect in Philly sports since Eric Lindros. Cole Hamels and, to a certain degree, Brad Lidge rediscovered themselves. Roy Oswalt showed up, almost out of nowhere, and immediately started kicking ass and taking names.
Not only were there energizing new faces, but this team had to overcome obstacles neither the 2008 nor 2009 team had to face. Every single starter has battled injuries, a hellacious slump, or both. The Braves, long dormant, turned back into a dominant force and a legitimate threat to retake the division. Given all that’s happened, standing here, on September16, with a 96.5 percent chance of making the playoffs is a minor miracle.
But it’s not just the fresh faces and adversity overcome that make this team more compelling. The Phillies have played the third-most extra-inning games in baseball. They’re 26-15 in one-run games, best in the majors. Halladay pitched a perfect game. They came back from seven runs down in the ninth inning against the Dodgers. All of you know these things. They are, in short, dramatic.
Our emotional reactions–humor, fear, anger, excitement–come from a discrepancy between our expectations and the true state of the world. I couldn’t get worked up about last year’s team because in 2009, the Phillies met expectations exactly.
In 2009, the Phillies were the defending division champion, and de facto favorites to repeat. They did. They were the best team in the NL on paper, and as such, expected to get back to the World Series. They did. And once they got back to the World Series, they were a decided underdog, expected to lose to New York. And they did. There was no mystery, no drama. Just an inexorable march toward a predictable destiny–successful defense of the NL pennant and a loss to a superior team in the World Series.
This year is not like that. With all we’ve been through as fans, and all they’ve been through as a team this year, good and bad, any playoff run exceeds expectations. And going into this October, anything could happen. The Phillies could get swept by the Reds and their wood-chipper of a pitching staff in the first round. Or they could take out the Yankees in a thrilling seven-game World Series. Or anything in between–I honestly couldn’t tell you.
This October, there are no expectations. This October, all bets are off. This October brings the promise of the unknown and the allure of the unexpected. And win or lose, I’m expecting one hell of a ride.