In defeat, we become lonely once again. A smattering of nine men, each marooned on their own island of freshly raked dirt and close-cut grass. In an instant, the shine has worn off – the angelic glow of the stadium lights has turned to a harsh glare, the gleeful cheering of the masses into cold blue seats, and the collective anticipation of a city holding its breath has now dissipated with a resigned sigh.
One week was all it took for the Phillies to rouse this city to its feet, one week of pure excellence to summon the fanbase’s spirit, yet in one abysmal afternoon it was over. However, Sunday’s putrid 13-1 defeat to the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks is not what matters heading into tonight’s three-game set against the Marlins. What matters is what the Phillies’ nine-game win streak gave them.
No, it did not increase their position in the divisional standings from third place, but the streak did give them a .500 record – without which the current discussions around the team might be revolving around selling instead of buying at the trade deadline. It gave them direction under interim Manager Rob Thompson – only the third MLB manager since at least 1900 to win each of his first eight career games. Most importantly, it gave them a feeling, a spark of possibility that maybe in fact this strange experiment could actually pan out.
You could see it last Friday night when the team took the field after a five-run outburst in the bottom of the 2nd inning against the Diamondbacks – a jubilant gathering in front of the dugout, each teammate waiting to bask in the celebration before taking the field. For a moment, these players weren’t lonely any more. Although played with a team, baseball may be the most solitary sport of them all – while you act alone, your performance impacts the entire team – every error and misstep is magnified in relation to the success of your teammates. In a sense, you’re fighting for others without actually fighting with them.
Baseball’s solitude is what makes moments like Friday night’s 2nd-inning celebration so special – they unify a disparate group of men fighting to win in a game rigged to fail. It was a by-product of a contagious charisma that had taken hold of the ball club, a feeling that the city has been begging to feel since they first felt it on Opening Day.
Since the advent of the Moneyball era, numerous studies have been done trying to determine the secret to team chemistry – a component that in baseball seems to directly impact success more so than any other sport. What no one has been able to figure out is what makes a team, like the previously scuffling Phillies, suddenly turn it on? How does an equation that hasn’t worked all season suddenly work all too well?
The answer cannot be found in rows and rows of endless numbers nor can it be seen in the faces that populate the clubhouse – the secret to team chemistry lies between what we can analyze and what we will never know. What we do know, however, is that chemistry, that charisma, although begot from the act of winning, cannot be generated from within the team, but it can only come over the ball club. It’s as natural as the electricity in a summer night’s sky – it can only be felt and not manufactured.
That mere fact that the Phillies have felt that spark, regardless of their .500 record or position in the division breeds hope. A nine-game win streak isn’t built to last – that’s the beauty of it. At best it’s indicative of a larger trend and at worst a fleeting moment of electricity in the midst of a low-wattage season from a high-output team. It’ll be up to the players, who have now felt that spark and know what they’re capable of, to continue to power that current for the rest of the season.
Featured Image: Tim Nwachukwu / Getty