Updated: 8:26 p.m.
And so it ends.
With a whimper.
The Phillies’ hugely disappointing 2019 season ended in a 4-3 loss to the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon.
Before the game, Bryce Harper, whose signing in March fueled optimism and expectations not seen since the days of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, addressed the crowd of 31,805. He thanked the fans for their support, expressed his belief in the organization and the city and said, “We will reign again.” The Phillies then began to plug the final game of the season with a cast of relief pitchers. Two of them gave up three home runs before the game was three innings old. Brad Miller got the Phils on the board with a solo homer in the bottom of the third and added a two-run shot in the seventh.
But the Phils got no closer.
In a season where they came up dreadfully short, they came up short one last time when Andrew Knapp struck out with two men on base to end the game.
The Phillies’ ninth loss in the last 12 games and 16th this month denied them a winning record, which at the outset of the season seemed like the most minimal of expectations. They finished 81-81. They have not had a winning season since 2011.
Change seems to be a-brewin’ for this team. Pitching coach Chris Young is likely to be a casualty. Manager Gabe Kapler could also go. His future has been a huge topic of discussion among organization leaders for weeks and the team’s drop from wild-card contention and poor finish did not help his cause.
In two seasons on the job, Kapler is 161-163.
The Phillies were in first place in the NL East for a good period of time in both of Kapler’s seasons at the helm. The 2018 Phillies were 15 games over .500 and leading the NL East on Aug. 7. They collapsed and went 16-33 down the stretch to finish under .500.
The 2019 Phillies were 11 games over .500 and 3½ up in the division on May 30. Less than a month later, they were 6½ games back in the division.
The Phillies finished in fourth place in the NL East, not what anyone envisioned when the team acquired All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto in February and signed Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract a few weeks later.
“Obviously from a team standpoint, it was a disappointing year for us,” Realmuto said. “We had a lot of expectations and we didn't live up to them. We didn't play as well as we thought we could have. There was a lot of injuries that held us back, but we could have done more as a team to play a little bit better and stay in the hunt a little longer. But all in all, I loved this group of guys we played with this year. Everybody played really hard, fought through a lot of adversity. We stayed in the playoff hunt for a long time with not too much stuff going our way. So there is something to be said for that. But we just didn't get the job done.”
Through the final weeks of the season, as the team faded from contention and his job status became more of an issue, Kapler clenched his jaw and talked about scratching and clawing until the last out of the season.
When that last out came, he remained in the dugout and hugged every player. He received a handshake from owner John Middleton, the man who in the coming days will have final say on his future with the club. Later, in his postgame news conference, Kapler became emotional.
“I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more proud of a group of men like these guys,” he said. “We didn’t get the job done. But it wasn’t for lack of effort. And it wasn’t for lack of character and it wasn’t for lack of grit. I’m truly proud of every one of those guys. I could talk about each of them individually, but that would take a really long time.”
Kapler said the emotion had nothing to do with his uncertain job status.
“The emotion is being proud of our players,” he said. “As a manager, this year I was blessed with high character, high quality, players and men. What you’re seeing right now, emotionally, is me feeling the power of that.”
Kapler talks to general manager Matt Klentak every day. But as Sunday night’s postgame news conference broke up, Kapler had not yet been informed whether he would be back next year or let go with a year left on his contract.
“That's not something we've talked about,” he said. “It's definitely not a conversation I need to have right now in this room. It's a private conversation. My job is to focus on managing the Phillies even after Game 162 and I will do that to the best of my ability.”
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