Phillies

Where does Bryce Harper stand on Gabe Kapler's future? Is Aaron Nola done for the season?

Where does Bryce Harper stand on Gabe Kapler's future? Is Aaron Nola done for the season?

WASHINGTON — The Phillies can’t even die peacefully.

Several hours after their dim postseason hopes were extinguished in a loss in the first game of a doubleheader against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday afternoon, the Phils blew an early three-run lead and lost the nightcap, 6-5.

With the victory, the Nats sewed up one of two NL wild-card spots. The Nats became the ninth team in big-league history to be 12 games under .500 at one point in the season — they started 19-31 — and make the postseason.

While the Nationals surged this season, the Phillies nosedived.

The Phils were 11 games above .500 and 3½ games up in the NL East on May 29. The Phils lost 16 of their next 22 to fall 6½ games back in the race.

With five games to play in the season, the Phillies are 79-78. They need at least a 3-2 finish to have their first winning season since 2011.

In what might (should?) have been his last start of the season, Aaron Nola threw a season-high 115 pitches and loaded the bases in the sixth inning on a two-out walk of pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick. The Phillies’ dugout was furious with home plate umpire Stu Scheurwater over the walk, alleging that two strikes were missed during the at-bat.

“Man, did Nola earn a better result,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He executed his pitches against Kendrick.”

"I thought they were strikes," Nola said of the two close pitches.

After the walk to Kendrick, Kapler brought in sinkerballer Jared Hughes to face Trea Turner with the bases loaded. Turner clubbed an 0-1 pitch for a grand slam to give the Nats a 6-4 lead. Bryce Harper pounded a mammoth solo homer in the seventh to make it a one-run game, but the Phils never got any closer.

A sizable contingent of Phillies front-office officials, including owner John Middleton, club president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak, was on hand for the doubleheader and the team's elimination from contention. Middleton is not happy with the way the season went and is seeking answers from the folks who run his team. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for those meetings.

One of the big questions being pondered is Kapler’s future.

What would Harper say if his opinion on Kapler was sought?

“I think that’s a conversation that if it needs to be had, then it will be had,” he said. “But at this point, he’s our manager and I think all of the guys in this clubhouse back him with what he does every single day as a manager. The staff that we do have with Rob Thomson, and Paco (Figueroa), Dusty (Wathan) and everyone on down. If that conversation needs to be had, that’s way over my head. There’s guys above me that make those decisions. If we do need to have that conversation, I’ll be all ears.”

The Phillies built their early lead on a three-run homer by Brad Miller in the first inning against Max Scherzer. Miller actually got Scherzer twice in the game.

It will be interesting to see if Nola makes another start this season. His 5 2/3 innings increased his season total to 202 1/3 over 34 starts. The right-hander is wrapping up the first year of a four-year, $45 million contract. He is the foundation of the pitching staff. With the team out of contention, there is no reason for him to start the season finale Sunday against Miami — especially now that he’s racked up a 6.51 ERA in five starts this month and the Phillies have gone winless in his last seven.

Kapler was noncommittal on whether Nola would start again or shut down for the season.

“We'll talk about that,” he said. “We'll have that conversation.”

Nola said he wasn’t sure what would happen the rest of the way. Asked if it would be wise to make another start, he said, “I don’t know. I haven’t talked to any of them yet.”

Being eliminated from contention in the afternoon and watching the Nationals celebrate a postseason berth at night wasn’t the way Harper dreamed it when he bolted Washington for Philadelphia and $330 million during spring training.

“They’re a good team,” Harper said. “They’ve been playing really well down the stretch and as a club they’ve done a good job in the last couple of months to put themselves in the driver’s seat to get into that wild-card game. They’re going to be tough to beat.

“We just have got to be better. We have to do what we can to get better as a team.”

Harper is confident the Phillies will get better. He’s going to be around for another 12 years.

“In spring training I said I don’t know if it’s going to be this year or next year or the next,” he said. “It takes time to build something special. As a team and an organization, (the Phillies) have been there. They were there in ‘08 and ‘09 and they built it up to be the team that they were with trades and things like that. I think this franchise is going to do that.”

And what is the Phillies’ biggest offseason need?

“I’ll let you guys know in about five days after the end of the year,” Harper said.



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Ricky Bottalico recalls the last time Major League Baseball shut down

Ricky Bottalico recalls the last time Major League Baseball shut down

Prior to the indefinite suspension of the 2020 season, the last time Major League Baseball completely shut down was September 2001. No games were played for a full week following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

NBC Sports Philadelphia Phillies analyst Ricky Bottalico was in his second stint as a Phillies reliever in 2001. He shared his recollections of that unique experience, beginning with the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. 

"We were in Atlanta to play the Braves and one thing I remember was getting phone calls in the morning to turn on the TV," Bottalico said. "We're baseball players so we're not necessarily up at 8:30 in the morning. You turn on your TV, you see what's going on and then the panic strikes. When is this going to affect us? Is this coming here? Atlanta has a heavy dose of planes coming in and out every day, do we have to do something different? We didn't have answers, at least in the first 24 hours we didn't have any answers. We all congregated in the hotel lobby and tried to get a better idea of exactly what was going on. At some point that morning you knew it was terrorist attacks." 

Bottalico and his teammates knew they weren't playing baseball that night. But the plan for the rest of the week was unclear. 

"As the days went on we got a feel for 'Ok we're not playing this series, we have a series in Cincinnati coming up, what are we going to do here?'" Bottalico remembers. "If anyone knows Larry Bowa, he's not real patient. Larry was like 'Come on get on the buses, we're going (to Cincinnati)'. Doug Glanville and myself were the (MLBPA) player reps at the time and we were in contact with our union. They were telling us most likely we're not playing the next series so if you're going to take a bus make sure you wait for us to tell you where to go. Well Bowa didn't want to wait, so we end up taking a bus to Cincinnati. Three hours after we started our trip we found out that series was cancelled. We were heading northwest to Cincinnati so we couldn't really turn back towards Philadelphia. 

"I remember getting into Cincinnati late at night and they told us they had a plane (to Philadelphia) for us the next morning. This was four days after 9/11. We went to the airport that morning, got on a charter jet, and nobody said a word on that flight. You could've heard a pin drop. Obviously it was a tense situation."

But unlike this present day scenario, Bottalico and the rest of the Phillies knew the 2001 season would resume at some point in the not too distant future. 

"We knew we were going to play," Bottalico said. "We knew this wasn't going to hold us back from playing for the whole season. We eventually got word that we were starting back up (the next week). I think from a player's standpoint then, we felt responsible to try to help get the nation back on its feet, be a distraction from what was going on in every day life. 

"We had to play again. There wasn't any danger of planes flying into stadiums, so we ended up playing and I think it helped America heal a little bit."  

Uncertain Times

The 2001 Phillies wanted to play again to help provide a sense of normalcy. But the week away from baseball was unnerving, especially that bus ride to Cincinnati.  

"I had a young daughter who was with the grandparents in Connecticut so it was scary in that sense," Bottalico admits. "My wife at the time was on the road trip. We had other wives on the trip who were pregnant so that was kind of scary. They're six or seven months pregnant at that point and you're talking about a 10 or 11 hour bus ride to Cincinnati. It was tough for them."

Some players were still trying to come to grips with what exactly the country was going through. 

"There were a lot of guys who were in disbelief," Bottalico said. "You're on a bus for 11 hours trying to figure out in your mind what could happen and what should happen. In my case obviously thinking about my daughter who was with her grandparents. It was a trying time. But after a few days of that, we felt an obligation to get back on the field."

First Game Back

The Phillies resumed their season on Monday, Sept. 17. They welcomed the first place Braves to town for a four-game series at Veterans Stadium. The Phillies entered that series just 3.5 games behind Atlanta in the NL East standings. 

But that first game back was about far more than baseball. 

"The greatest thing I remember from that night was the guy who had the American flag and he was walking around the whole stadium," Bottalico recalled. "That pretty much went on for that whole series. The guy with the American flag just kept walking around, and the chants of 'USA! USA! USA!'. It made you proud to be in that stadium that night. 

"There was an unbelievable tribute video which still plays in my mind because right at the end of it they showed a Jimmy Rollins at-bat and he starts running and as he rounds first base it transforms into a Little League kid running to second base. And the kid gets to second base and they pan out and behind second base its a shot of the New York City skyline with the World Trade Center towers. At that point there couldn't have been a dry eye in the stadium. 

"To be completely honest whether you won or lost that night, and it was odd because it was the Braves and it was the team we were chasing in the division, but it didn't matter what team you were on. I think everybody was just proud to be on that field."

The Phillies beat the Braves 5-2 that night behind a pair of Scott Rolen home runs off of Greg Maddux. 

Division Race

The Phillies won three of four against the Braves in that series to pull within a game and a half of the division lead. But the Phillies went 5-7 over their next 12 games and ultimately finished two games behind the Braves in the NL East.

Of course, Bottalico understands why the 2001 season was halted for a week following 9/11. But he wonders if things might have ended differently if the season would have played out without the delay. 

"I just remember being extremely fired up for that series in Atlanta (that was postponed)," Bottalico said. "We had an off day before the Tuesday that was 9/11 and I remember going in there and we were fired up, ready to play those guys. We didn't have the greatest pitching staff but I think going into that series we really felt like we had a shot. 

"I know we beat them up a little bit when they came to Veterans Stadium the following week after the break. But then we knew in the back of our minds that we had to go back to Atlanta (to make up the postponed series) at the end of the year. So things definitely changed a little bit. 

"We lost some adrenaline as that week unfolded. We had it early on when we first came back but we sputtered at times towards the end. We stayed right on their heels but I just really believe if things would have gone a little differently maybe the season would have ended a little differently."

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Forgotten Phillies opening day starters of the last 30 years

Forgotten Phillies opening day starters of the last 30 years

Steve Carlton, Terry Mulholland, Curt Schilling, Roy Halladay. There are certain eras of Phillies baseball over the last 40 years when you knew who was going to have the honor of being named opening day starter before spring training even started. This year, Aaron Nola was poised to take the ball for his third straight opening-day start. 

Since Carlton’s incredible run of starting 14 out of 15 openers, there have been 15 pitchers tabbed to start the season off for the Phillies but not all were household names. Here’s a look back at some of the pitchers you may have forgotten got the nod in Game 1 of 162.

2005-06: Jon Lieber

Lieber had a couple of pretty good seasons with the Cubs early in the 2000s, was an All-Star in ’01 when he won 20 games and started three straight Opening Days for them. But after having Tommy John surgery, he signed with the Yankees, missed all of ’03 and then bounced back with a solid 2004, good enough for the Phillies to sign him.

He won that '05 opener for the Phillies and had a pretty good campaign, winning 17 games and leading the NL in starts. He pitched another two unremarkable years for the Phils, going 12-17 with a 4.87 ERA.

2001/02: Omar Daal/Robert Person

Lumping these two together because it was a transition time for the Phillies. In the midst of their seventh straight sub-.500 finish, the Phillies traded ace Curt Schilling in July of 2000 to Arizona for four players, one of which was Daal. The lefty ended up losing 19 games in 2000, one game short of becoming the first pitcher in 20 years to lose 20. But that was good enough to earn (?) him the opening day start in 2001, the first with Larry Bowa as manager. Daal had a better year, going 13-7, but did have a 4.46 ERA.

Person also had a very solid season, going 15-7 with a 4.19 ERA. That got him the start in the 2002 opener, but he never found the same success on the mound as he did in ’01. At the plate, however, he had one of the more memorable days for a Phillies pitcher this century in a June game vs. Montreal. He hit a grand slam and a 3-run homer, going 3 for 4 with seven RBI.

2000: Andy Ashby

Ashby had come up in the Phillies system in the late '80s and actually made his MLB debut for the club in 1991. He was drafted by the Rockies in the expansion draft and ended up in San Diego, where he flourished. He was a two-time all-star, started a couple of openers and helped lead the Padres to the NL title in 1998.

When the Phillies traded three prospects for Ashby before 2000, they thought it gave them a legit 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation to go along with Schilling (who missed the beginning of 2000 due to injury). However, that didn’t work out. After going 4-7 with a 5.68 ERA, Ashby was traded during the All-Star break to the Braves for Bruce Chen.

1996: Sid Fernandez

Did you even remember Sid Fernandez was a Phillie? From 1994 through 1999, Schilling started five of six opening days for the Phils. When he started ’96 on the DL, in stepped Fernandez for the opening day honor. “El Sid” had some really good seasons with the vaunted Mets staff of the '80s, making a couple of All-Star games and helping them win a World Series.

Almost a decade later, he signed with the Phillies for the second half of the ’95 season and did well, posting a 3.34 ERA and going 6-1. He wasn’t as effective in ’96, which basically ended his career (he pitched one game for Houston the next season).

1990: Bruce Ruffin

Remembered more for his Chris Berman-given nickname, Bruce “Two Minutes For” Ruffin’s career started with a bang. He went 9-4 with a 2.46 ERA for the Phillies in 1986. But it kind of went downhill from there. Over the next five years with the club, he never finished above .500 and had only one year with an ERA below 4.00. But he got the opening day start in 1990 because someone had to. Partly because…

1989: Floyd Youmans

Maybe the original “new guy” that got the nod for the Phillies, Floyd Youmans had a promising start to his career in Montreal. He started the opener in ’87 at the age of 23, but injuries and a suspension derailed his time there. Before the 1989 season, the Phillies got him in a trade for Kevin Gross. Youmans started only 10 games for the Phillies in what was his final MLB season.

1987-1988: Shane Rawley

Rawley actually had a few good years with the Phils. He made the All-Star team in 1986 and won 17 games with a 3.54 ERA. In ’85, he won 13 with a 3.31. So when it came time to replace Carlton for Opening Day, the torch was passed to Rawley.

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