PHILADELPHIA — Phillies rookie Darin Ruf lined a fastball to deep center field with the bases loaded Thursday night.
The ball rolled to the wall. All three runners scored. The crowd of 44,070 at Citizens Bank Park roared.
That sound was the last gasp of the 2012 Philadelphia baseball season.
The Washington Nationals beat the Phillies 7-3 in what was all but certainly Philadelphia’s final home game (the team’s final six games are in Miami and Washington). The Phillies (78-78) aren’t yet mathematically eliminated, but they’re all but assured of missing the playoffs for the first time in six years. Philadelphia finished below .500 (40-41) at home for the first time since 2000.
“At times it seems like (the season) has been long, but as I sit here today it feels like it’s been short,” manager Charlie Manuel said of the season before Thursday’s game. “It’s been quite an adventure. We’ve had a lot of things happen.”
The Phillies struggled with injuries. Chase Utley made his season debut June 27 and Ryan Howard on July 6. Ace pitcher Roy Halladay didn’t start a game in the month of June because of a sore shoulder. The Phillies began that month 27-25 but went 9-19 and never really recovered.
“It’s different,” Howard said. “It’s the first time I never had a spring training to get my work in. I tried to contribute the best I can. I’m looking forward to this offseason to come back 100 percent.”
But injuries weren’t the only reason for Philadelphia’s demise.
The Phillies played poorly. They committed 97 errors this season, the most since 2006 when they committed 104. That was also the last season Philadelphia missed the playoffs.
“This is the worst we played defense and as far as mental mistakes, we had a lot of them,” Manuel said.
Philadelphia batted just .234 against left-handed pitchers, which ranks 13th among the 16 National League teams.
“We don’t even have to go there,” Manuel said.
The Phillies have gone backwards each season since winning the World Series in 2008. They lost the 2009 World Series to the New York Yankees. The Phillies lost the 2010 National League Championship Series to the San Francisco Giants. The St. Louis Cardinals beat Philadelphia in the division series last year.
Is the Phillies’ core too old to reverse this trend?
Howard turns 33 Nov. 19. Utley and Jimmy Rollins will both be 34 when next season begins. The three combined to hit .247 with 285 hits and 229 strikeouts this season.
“There’s still (good) years left,” Manuel said. “I don’t think they’re too old. I think you at least have until you’re 35 or 36.”
But didn’t sound committed to the Phillies’ current roster. “We have to get better,” he said. “If the people we have can do that, that’s fine.”
The implication is that new players, outfielders in particular, might be necessary.
Howard said the Phillies would definitely be a 2013 contender. The Phillies have played 13 games over .500 (41-28) since the All-Star break.
“Guys are going to go home this offseason and get healthy,” he said. “We’ve had a rash of injuries. I think this (second-half) run shows what we’re capable of.”
Manuel did mention some positives about the season. Catchers Carlos Ruiz and Erik Kratz combined for nearly 100 RBIs.
Third baseman Kevin Frandsen showed he could be a solid utility player. Freddy Galvis played well at second base before he was suspended for 50 games for use of performance-enhancing drugs. Young relief pitchers Phillippe Aumont, Jacob Diekman, Josh Lindblom, B.J. Rosenberg and Jeremy Horst all can make hitters swing and miss late in games.
But the Phillies were built to play in October before a packed Citizens Bank Park with fans whipping rally towels over their heads, not to end their home schedule before a half-empty ballpark in September.
“When you look up, it’s disappointing,” Manuel said. “I’m not a second-place guy.”
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