It was hardly a milestone anyone in the Phillies’ clubhouse was interested in talking about, and who could blame them? After all, the 6-4 loss to the New York Mets on Friday night at Citizens Bank Park sewed up the first losing season for the franchise since 2002 (see Instant Replay).
That 2002 club went 80-81, but they fell out of it early, falling nearly 20 games out of first place by the trade deadline. When September rolled around, the Phillies knew big changes were looming. Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood joined the team in December and a new ballpark was nearly complete.
The 80-81 season was nothing but a minor blip as the Phillies focused on building a perennial contender.
These days, with a losing season wrapped up and nine games left to play, changes appear to be looming again. Only this time there is no Thome or Millwood to add to the roster. Instead, veterans like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon should be back in 2014. Young players like Cody Asche, Dom Brown and Darin Ruf will be in the mix, too.
Needless to say, there are no plans for a new stadium any time soon.
But in the subdued atmosphere in the Phillies’ clubhouse, no one knows what to expect. They just know things will be different.
“It’s all part of going through this,” interim manager Ryne Sandberg said after the loss. “Sometimes it takes a losing season to build and start the process, and with that a lot of these guys have had a chance to play and gain experience and that’s where you start the rebuilding process. I think there are a lot of good things that have been going on the last few weeks.”
Hamels had been one of the good things for the Phillies over the last few weeks. Though he was dealt a career-worst 14th loss on Friday night, the Phillies had won seven straight games the lefty started going into the game against the Mets and he had a 6-2 record with a 2.32 ERA in his last 14 outings.
In Friday’s game, Hamels found himself trying to recover from a three-run first inning in which Eric Young Jr. wreaked havoc on the base paths with a leadoff double and stolen base and David Wright clubbed a homer in his first plate appearance since Aug. 2.
Hamels battled after the first inning, racking up eight strikeouts without a walk in seven innings. But when the Mets got a runner on base with less than two outs against Hamels, they got the run in.
“It’s kind of a law of averages. There’s going to be days where your stuff’s unbelievable and they’re hitting you all over the ball park," Hamels explained, "and days that your stuff’s very suspect and you walk away with quite a few scoreless innings.
“You just have to give the other team credit for putting the bat on the ball and fighting because it doesn’t make it easy, especially this late in the season, it’s going to be a fight. Ultimately, what you want to see at this type of level is the competitiveness coming out from both sides. Still playing baseball like it means something.”
Hamels hasn’t played meaningless baseball at this point in the season, well … ever. Since becoming a piece in the Phillies’ rotation midway through the 2006 season, the Phillies have always been right in the mix for a playoff berth. However, with a losing season now on the resume, Hamels has to wonder if the Phillies can get back to being contenders again. After all, Hamels was one of those guys whose emergence pushed the Phillies over the top on the way to five straight division titles and two trips to the World Series.
Contenders in 2014?
“I hope so. I know we have a lot to work on and if it doesn’t fire you up and motivate you for the offseason, I don’t know what does,” Hamels said. “That’s what I’ll take into the offseason is trying to win and to do my job even better. Just having the pride knowing the fans and the organization want to see a winning team, and I want to be a part of it.”
In the meantime, the Phillies have to play this one out. They will get back at it against the Mets on Saturday night -- weather permitting -- when Tyler Cloyd (2-5, 5.06) takes on right-hander Dillon Gee (11-10, 3.47).