ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 28: Alex Gonzalez #2 of the Atlanta Braves leaves the dugout after the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field on September 28, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
If there is one takeaway from last night’s epic events, other than “baseball is the greatest sport in the history of civilization,” it’s this: losing really, really sucks. I hope you were sitting down when you read that.
Really, it’s not fun, at all. The old adage goes “it’s not about whether you win or lose, but how you play the game,” and there is certainly some wisdom in there, because you can take something away from a losing effort even if you fought tooth and nail, and on the other hand, a victory can feel hollow and unearned if it was simply handed to you. Just because the outcome is one way, doesn’t mean the journey to that point has to follow suit. Sometimes the process is more meaningful.
The concept of losing is something that most Philadelphians are familiar with, what with having been saddled with more losing teams than winning ones, and, with the exception of the 2008 Phillies, not one championship since the 80s. In fact, not one franchise has been better at losing than the Phillies, who were the first team to 10,000 losses, so to say that we are intimate with the art of not winning would be an understatement.
That said, what we witnessed on Thursday night in Baltimore and Atlanta was an exercise in losing, and a painful reminder to how sports, and baseball in particular, can sap the life from a team, a city, and its fans. Like I wrote about yesterday, baseball is a marathon. It takes an incredible amount of attention and dedication, and usually, more stress than it’s worth, but sometimes, the payoff is absolutely worth it.
But sometimes, that loyalty to one’s team doesn’t pay off. It’s tossed aside like so many pieces of trash, and with it, the past six months of rooting and nail biting and counting down of magic numbers. And thus begins the long wait until next season.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and one that is not made any easier for the fans of the Red Sox and Braves, who witnessed, first hand, their team squander leads that most considered to be bulletproof. For them, the way the game was played is meaningless. It’s all about whether they won or lost.
As someone who got to see his favorite team be on the other end of that sort of heartbreak in 2007, when the Phillies unseated the New York Mets on the final day of the season, I can appreciate the position that the fans of the losing teams find themselves in, because, as awe-inspiring as it was to win under those circumstances, it’s ten times as devastating to come as far as they have, only to have the rug pulled out from underneath.
Baseball can be the most rewarding thing in the world, and it can be a cold and harsh mistress, and sometimes it can be both at the same time. The Braves and Red Sox witnessed the fury of baseball and it’s penchant for the dramatic last night, while the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals got to bask in its rewarding glory.
How does this relate to the Phillies? It wasn't too long ago that both the Braves and Red Sox were locks for the postseason, and in the blink of an eye, they got it taken away from them. While those teams had their own faults that led to their inevitable destruction, that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen to anyone else.
The Phillies are on their way to playing in their fifth straight National League Division Series, as they head towards their third World Series berth in the last five years. It’s been a pretty amazing run of success, and it’s one that absolutely should not be taken for granted. Because like snowflakes, success is fleeting. It’s a thing of beauty at the time, but when it’s gone, it’s a pile of mush. A pile of heartbreaking, cold mush, and all you can do is wait until the next one comes along.