Like Kings Who Want More
It's no stretch to argue that last night's Phillies-Red Sox game here in Philly was the biggest baseball game of the season to date. It's only June, of course, but still:
- The Phils entered with the best record in baseball.
- The Sox spent June leading the AL and entered the game just a half-game behind the Yankees for the second-best record in the game.
- Both teams had their best pitchers on the mound: Cliff Lee and Josh Beckett.
- Neither team's success is a surprise. The Yankees are hitting 6 or 7 home runs a night and the Giants have pitched themselves to 12 games over .500, but no one would be surprised to see Lee facing Beckett in a Game One come October. These two looked like the favorites in April, and they look like the favorites now, heading into June.
So: a big game against a big team. And the Phillies smoked them. They hit Beckett hard and Lee finished with his third consecutive complete-game shutout -- a two-hitter -- and a 0.22 ERA for the month of June. The Red Sox didn't even come close to scoring a run -- only one runner got as far as second base ("Darnell McDonald", whoever he is, with an 8th inning double) and none reached third.
What struck me, at the ballpark, sitting high in the nosebleeds down the third-base line, was the mood of the fans. There was no skittishness before the game. There was no griping after the Phils went down 1-2-3 in the first. There was no disappointment, only sincere applause, when Scutaro broke up Lee's no-hit bid in the 6th. After Lee closed the 5-0 win with a 1-2-3 ninth, there was no jubilation. Applause, cheering, high-fives and laughter all around, yes. But no jubilation. What permeated the park was a sense of satisfaction. That this outcome was expected. Of course the Phils won. They're the best team.
It's the difference between winning a million dollars in the lottery and earning a million dollars through hard work. You're happy either way, but one pops an ecstatic frenzy, the other completes a sense of deep satisfaction.
The 1993 Phillies were the lottery. The whole story felt on the verge of imminent collapse every Mitch Williams loading the bases with no outs and a one-run 9th lead step of the way.
When this team won the Series in 2008, Philly fans, delirious from the city-wide drought of major-sport championships after the fo-fo-fo '83 Sixers, treated it like a lottery win. But not no more. They expect the Phillies to win. They expect Cliff Lee to pitch complete-game shutouts. They expect to score four or five runs off Josh Beckett. Beckett might be the fourth starter if he were in Phillies pinstripes and Phillies fans know it.
Tom Verducci nailed it back in December 2009, when he called the Phillies the Yankees of the National League, "the king who wants more". The sort of team that takes the best pitching staff in the game and adds Cliff Lee. The Phillies' fans have caught up with the team.
Competitiveness is no longer enough. Waiting for good luck is no longer part of the plan. Only dominance will suffice. That's how the team carries itself, and it's how the fans now act.
Like I said, it's only June, and as I write this, two games remain in this series, the next one starting in just a few minutes. It's baseball. Anything can happen. But it's clear how Phillies fans expect this season to end.
Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images