Some playoff losses hurt more than others

Some playoff losses hurt more than others

Amaro knows Phillies need Howard healthy

January 6, 2014, 6:00 am
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Ryan Howard tore his Achilles tendon on the the final out of the 2011 NLDS. Howard has played in less than half the Phillies' games since. (AP)

Roy Halladay pitched eight innings of one-run ball in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, but the Phillies fell to the Cardinals, 1-0. Halladay is now retired and, after the loss, was never the same. (AP)

Saturday night marked the first outdoor pro sports playoff game in South Philadelphia in more than two years, and it got us to thinking about the previous one.

On Oct. 7, 2011, the Phillies’ 102-win season ended in a 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series.

While the disappointment that came with the Eagles’ 26-24 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night will linger for a while, it probably won’t be as acute as the disappointment felt by the Phillies and their fans three Octobers ago.

The Eagles are a team on the rise with a bright future. Saturday night’s loss, while disappointing, might just be a springboard to January jubilation a year from now. That thought – along with the inspiring bonus of an unexpected division championship -- should be a quick salve on the hurt of Saturday night.

The pain felt from the Phillies’ playoff loss in October 2011 still gnaws.

And it should.

Think about it. In 2011, the Phillies had a huge payroll in the neighborhood of $170 million, the largest in the National League that season. They had a dream team starting pitching staff that included Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. They won a franchise-record 102 games -- even after losing eight in a row after clinching a fifth straight NL East title.

Blame it on whatever you want -- Lee’s inability to hold a lead in Game 2, a goofy squirrel, the offense, Shane Victorino missing a cutoff man, Skip Schumaker, the wind not blowing drives by Raul Ibanez and Chase Utley out of the park -- but the Phillies will always rue the day they did not cash in on all the good that they had in 2011.

Exacerbating the feeling of regret is the fact that it all has been downhill since for the Phillies. Two Octobers with no playoffs. A losing record this past season for the first time since 2002. A dreary winter of patching an aging roster like an old inner tube. Low expectations for the coming season.

That Game 5 loss to St. Louis changed two great careers. As the Cardinals danced in triumph on the infield at Citizens Bank Park, Ryan Howard sat on the first-base line and clutched his left leg after his Achilles tendon ruptured on his and his team’s last desperate swing of the season.

Howard has not been the same since.

Roy Halladay, who went 19-6 with a 2.35 ERA and finished second in the NL Cy Young voting that season, pitched eight innings of one-run ball that night, good enough to win on most nights, but not that night, not with his old friend Chris Carpenter going the distance and shutting down a Phillies’ offense that had gone cold.

Halladay was never the same pitcher after that night.

“It was really hard to get physically where I wanted to be after that point,” he acknowledged last month. “I didn’t realize it at that point, but looking back, that was the last season I was able to compete at the level I wanted to.”

Halladay pitched two more seasons and had a 5.15 ERA in 38 starts in 2012 and 2013. Unable to continue his career because of back and shoulder injuries, he retired last month at age 36.

On the day he retired, Halladay was asked about Game 5 against the Cardinals, and more than two years later disappointment could still be heard in his voice.

“Yeah, I really did,” he said when asked whether he left part of his body and soul on the mound that night. “That was hard to overcome, very tough to swallow. I know the fans and the organization felt the same way.

“It wasn’t an ideal way to end. A game like that takes a lot out of you.”

Early in his career, Halladay wanted everything to happen in a hurry. He became stressed when it didn’t and that hurt his performance. With age, maturity and the guidance of the late Harvey Dorfman, a noted sports psychologist, Halladay learned to appreciate and enjoy the journey, and he often talked about that during his time with the Phillies.

So even through the fog of disappointment, he was still able to find some room in his heart to appreciate Game 5, even if part of him still felt the wound.

“It was still one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had,” he said last month. “To pitch in a game like that and go up against an old friend with the best teammates I’ve ever had …”

His voice trailed off.

He didn’t need to say more.

The close of the Eagles’ season means spring training is not far away.

Expectations are not high for the 2014 Phillies. But they weren’t high for the Eagles, either, and they managed to give everybody a pretty good show, even if it ended in a playoff disappointment that will linger for a while, though not as long as some others.