Opinion

The Phillies enter St. Louis with a curse to lift



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Yes, that’s Raul Ibanez. I will explain.

The St. Louis stupid Cardinals. Spinners of magic spells that somehow find them in contention nearly every season, the Cards have been – at least since 2011 – a major thorn in the sides of our beloved Philadelphia Phillies.

We all remember that terrible five-game National League Division Series in 2011, the one that ended it all for us. We had one last Ryan Howard moment in Game 1. We had Cliff Lee indefinably blowing it while surrounded by a silent crowd in Game 2. We had The Ben Francisco Game in Game 3. We had the stupid no-good Rally Squirrel in Game 4. Then we had Chris Carpenter silencing the Phillies bats despite Roy Halladay’s equally wonderful performance in Game 5, coupled with the End Of Ryan Howard As We Knew Him.

That series felt like the gods turning against us after far too many years of being too good in Philadelphia. And since then, we’ve had … well, you know what we’ve had.

But I think there’s a reason all of this happened.

On Sept. 17, 2011, the Phillies were up 3-2 on the Cardinals heading into the eighth inning. The Phils were three outs from winning the NL East for the fifth consecutive season, but instead of just coasting to the ninth, the Phils poured it on the poor Cards bullpen, capping it off with a Raul Ibanez grand slam. The Phils sealed the division, but the slaughtering was unnecessary.

The Phils went on to lose eight straight before deciding to win four in a row to close the season. And that last win allowed the Cardinals to sneak into the postseason. You know what happened next.

Every year the Phillies visit St. Louis, and for some reason, most of those series are four-game affairs. (This year’s is four games, of course.) The Phils don’t play well in St. Louis, at least since 2013. One reason: they’ve been bad. Another reason: Stupid St. Louis.

I theorize that the Phils season typically hinges on the big series in St. Louis. If they play well against the Cards, there is hope. But if they don’t play well against the Cardinals (which is almost all the time), maybe we should move on for the rest of the season. And it’s because of that stupid … let’s say … The Curse of Raul Ibanez.

The Curse by Year

2012: This is the one deceiving year, because the Phils weren’t yet abjectly terrible. They went 3-1 in St. Louis from May 24-27. They were 25-24 at that time. The rest of the way they went one game under .500. Not great. Not bad. Just average. This is deceiving.

2013: In 2013 the St. Louis series came much later than usual (July 23-25). The Phils had lost two of three to the Mets and were trying desperately to stay in the wild card race at 49-50 when they entered Busch Stadium II.

It didn’t work out well, as the Phils were swept by St. Louis in convincing fashion. The sweep included an 11-3 loss in which John Lannan and J.C. Ramirez combined to allow nine runs, which isn’t very good. And it turned out to be the end of the line for the Phillies, as they went 24-36 for the remainder of the season after leaving St. Louis.

This is truly how it works in St. Louis for the Phillies.

2014: The St. Louis series came later than usual in 2014 – between June 19 and 22 – and the Phils were hanging on for dear life when they came in at 32-38. They took the first two in St. Louis convincingly, thanks to good pitching from David Buchanan and A.J. Burnett. Then they dropped the final two. They finished the season going 39-49.

2015: The Phillies visited St. Louis in late April, earlier than usual during this atrocious season. They entered the four-game set at 7-12, bad but still in scratching distance of .500. As per usual, they lost three of four in St. Louis and never rebounded. Then came white flags and Ryne Sandberg walking out.

2016: After a dramatic three-game sweep of the eventual American League champion Indians, the Phillies walked into St. Louis on May 3 with a 15-10 record, tied for the fifth-best record in baseball with Boston and Pittsburgh. The Cardinals proceeded to take three of four from the Phils, including a walkoff on May 4, in which Jeanmar Gomez walked Kolten Wong, gave up a double to Matt Adams, intentionally walked Aldemys Diaz, and gave up singles to Stephen Piscotty and Matt Holliday. Ah, Jeanmar Gomez.

The Phils rebounded slightly after that terrible series, going 8-3 in their following 11, but that was against Miami, Atlanta and Cincinnati. The St. Louis series proved the Phils couldn’t dance with a more formidable opponent after a lucky first month.

2017: The Phillies were already bad heading into the June 9-11 series in St. Louis, sitting at a baseball-worst 21-37. They were swept by the Cardinals in a three-game set that included a 7-0 shutout by Carlos Martinez. Nick Pivetta surrendered four runs off four hits and four walks in that game.

Maybe 2017 is a sign that the Phils can see their way out of this curse, that maybe the Cardinals don’t exactly control their fortunes.

Either way, this four-game set is important. And now, with the Phillies coming into St. Louis as good as they’ve been since 2011, we need to respond. Somehow, someway, the Phillies must lift the Curse of Raul Ibanez for good. A walkoff … a reverse Rally Squirrel … who knows … it just has to happen.

 

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