Cards are on table for Phillies BASEBALL

June 28, 1993|By Bill Lyon | Bill Lyon,Philadelphia Inquirer

PITTSBURGH -- For the first time, The Enchanted Season has come to a fork in the road.

For the first time, for the Philadelphia Phillies, for whom every move has been the right one, for whom showers of magic dust are a daily bathing ritual, peril looms.

They lost the kind of game yesterday they routinely win, lost it in extra innings, lost it in brilliant sunshine, lost it after losing three leads, lost it after stranding runners at third four times.

They lost the kind of game that leaves the clubhouse mute as a tomb, the only sound the mocking clack of bats being racked and packed.

And the St. Louis Cardinals, who probably couldn't pass a rabies test right now, won again, although beating the New York Mets these days should only count for half a game.

So now, after a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, for the first time since The Enchanted Season began three months ago, the Phillies are confronted with a reasonable facsimile of jeopardy.

Now they play four in a row against their nearest pursuer, in his yard.

It may be exactly what they need.

Because if they are as good as their record says, if they are as good as they think they are, then they should welcome this series.

They should welcome it eagerly, as a chance to validate themselves, as a chance to squash all hope in their division, as a chance to destroy their closest competition and cow the rest of the NL East into unconditional surrender.

By the weekend, they could begin setting up their pitching rotation for the playoffs.

Or they could be in flames.

And if they happen to get swept, then the alarmists, the doomsayers who have been waiting for a collapse, can thumb through their yellowed files and dredge up 1964.

xTC But more than anything else, the Phillies should take perspective with them to St. Louis.

The Enchanted Season is not even half done. The magic number still holds at 82. All this represents is a series that finally holds the promise of some excitement in a race that hasn't been a race since the first week.

And it is not as though they face withering pressure. They need do nothing more dramatic or heroic than win two games.

That would preserve their lead, which represents just more than one week's worth of wins, and keep them four weeks over .500.

"Oh, I think we can do it. Definitely," said Ruben Amaro, the latest Phillie to shower in magic dust during The Enchanted Season.

Called up from the minors, Amaro was an unending spool of highlights during his weekend in Pittsburgh. In all, he reached base 10 times in the three games against the Pirates -- eight hits, two walks. The only time he was retired in five at-bats yesterday was when he gave himself up to sacrifice Lenny Dykstra to third.

That was in the 10th inning, and sure enough, Dykstra then scored on Pete Incaviglia's splintered-bat sacrifice fly. But Mitch Williams gloriously self-destructed in relief, and Amaro's weekend of joy had a crimp put in it.

Amaro had a similar tornadic start last spring filling in for the injured Dykstra, prompting a flurry of reminiscences about his days as 14-year-old bat boy for the 1980 Phillies, the last Phillies -- team to enjoy an Enchanted Season.

Amaro said he was struck immediately by the difference in clubhouse atmosphere between last year's Phillies, losers of 90, and this Enchanted Season team.

"If feels different," he said. "This clubhouse feels different than last year's. It feels like these guys know they can win, that they always have a chance in every game. That's worth something."

Yes, it is. It might be worth a run a game some games.

When the Phillies lose, they genuinely are surprised. When they lose two in a row, which they have now done, they are struck almost dumb.

They wasted their usual splendid starting pitching in this series. After Tommy Greene was shelled, Curt Schilling yielded only three runs and Terry Mulholland only two. But the team that leads the league in scoring totaled only five runs Saturday and yesterday.

They tried to win one on the cheap yesterday, resting John Kruk and Darren Daulton, with Dave Hollins still out of the lineup.

And at that they almost won.

Amaro fouled off a couple of 3-2 pitches and then tomahawked ball four into the right-field corner for an RBI triple, and Todd Pratt, who catches about twice a month, singled in another. But twice the Pirates nicked Mulholland for two-out runs.

And Williams couldn't preserve what would have been a sweet 3-2 win in 10. Manfully, he was there to be grilled afterward, however, and while he was in the midst of berating himself for throwing pitches that he described as "stupid," Incaviglia muscled through the crowd and reached in to pat the back of Williams' neck.

"Forget about it," he told Williams. "It's over and done with."

Sage advice, certainly, and definitely applicable in the Phillies' current circumstances. The worst thing they could lug with them to St. Louis would be yesterday's loss.

Besides, they should be flattered. The Pirates played, and Jim Leyland managed, as though these were the playoffs.

"They look," Leyland mused of the Phillies, "like they're having one of those seasons."

He is in a position to know, having come off three consecutive Enchanted Seasons.

Now the Phillies have the chance to reaffirm that this is, indeed, The Enchanted Season.

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