Philly sports losses

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The most painful Philly sports losses of the decade

Tim Kelly
May 13, 2019 - 9:46 am

For the first time ever, Philadelphia will be able to say it won a Super Bowl in a given decade when the 2010s conclude at the end of this year. And yet, it will be hard to look back at this decade in Philadelphia sports and not think of losing.

Though they seem likely to post a winning record in 2019—and then some—the Phillies have just two winning seasons this decade, with the last coming in 2011. Regardless of how you felt about “The Process,” the Sixers lost a staggering 199 regular season games during a three-year stretch at the especially processy part of “The Process.”

Related: Sixers: 5 postgame reaction moments

But even in a decade that wasn’t short on regular season losses, a couple crushing postseason defeats stand out as the worst losses of the decade. Frankly, it’s hard to decide which one is the worst.

It would be hard to talk about the worst losses in Philadelphia sports this decade without mentioning two games that won’t top the list of worst losses, but certainly weren’t easy for fans to stomach.

The first of those two losses came on June 9, 2010, during overtime of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. A goal away from sending the series to a Game 7, Chicago Blackhawks right winger snuck the game (and series) winner past Flyers goalie Michael Leighton. Losing a series in overtime at home would have been enough to warrant consideration for this list, but there was confusion over whether the puck had even gone in the net. Even Doc Emrick, considered by many to be the best play-by-play announcer in sports, hesitated, as Kane’s goal didn’t set off the red light. It should have, though, as the Blackhawks quickly raced down the ice to celebrate winning the Stanley Cup Finals over the Flyers.

The second honorable mention came on Oct. 23, 2010 at Citizens Bank Park, when the eventual World Series Champion San Francisco Giants rode an eighth inning home run from Juan Uribe to a series-clinching victory. The loss concluded with Ryan Howard looking at strike three from Giants closer Brian Wilson, leaving runners stranded on first and second base.

Still, while the loss burned, a victory in Game 6 would have only guaranteed a Game 7. A very well-rested Cole Hamels likely would have gotten the ball in Game 7, but the Giants probably would have countered with Matt Cain, who had pitched seven shutout innings against the Phillies in Game 3 of the series. The Phillies had also won two consecutive National League pennants leading into 2010, making the Game 6 loss in the NLCS a bit of an easier pill to swallow.

The Eagles NFC Divisional Round loss to the New Orleans Saints this past January also at least needs to be mentioned in this conversation. Nick Foles vs. Carson Wentz debate be damned, the Eagles jumped out to a 14-0 lead over the Saints in the first quarter, only to see the lead evaporate and an Alshon Jeffery tip lead to a game-ending interception. It was the third time that the Eagles have lost to the duo of Drew Brees and Sean Payton in the playoffs.

All that said, the Saints were unquestionably the better of the two teams and a 14-point deficit for Brees in the Superdome is far from insurmountable. Foles had also led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title the previous season and it took the luckiest couple of bounces (and a career-altering call from Rickie Ricardo) in Philadelphia sports history for the Eagles to even advance to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.

That brings us to last night, when the sports devil perhaps came to collect his due after the double-doink. Forget a double-doink, Toronto Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard’s game-winning jump shot Sunday night clanked around the rim at least four times before going in. But when the dust settled, Joel Embiid was in tears and the Sixers chances of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals were dashed:

It’s bad enough for your season to end on a buzzer-beater. It’s even worse when that buzzer-beater is hit by an opposing player falling out of bounds and the ball bounces around the rim so much that the arena literally goes silent for half a second.

The other layer to the loss is that Jimmy Butler had just tied a game that the Sixers had trailed by four with less than a minute remaining. Had the Sixers lost a win-or-go-home game by a basket or two, that would have been sub-optimal. But the Sixers lost a game where they trailed by two baskets with less than a minute remaining, tied the game and then watched one of the more improbable game-winning shots in NBA history go in at their expense. Sub-optimal doesn’t even begin to describe the emotions of losing a game like that.

But for as crushing a defeat as the Sixers 92-90 loss to the Raptors was Sunday, it was only the second worst defeat a Philadelphia team has ever taken at the hands of a Toronto team in the postseason. And it was only the second most painful loss in Philadelphia sports this decade.

Ahead of the 2011 season, Cliff Lee took a smaller deal to return to the Phillies in free-agency, rather than re-signing with the Texas Rangers or joining the New York Yankees. Lee formed a super-rotation with future Hall of Famer Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Halladay, Lee and Hamels would all finish in the top five in National League Cy Young Award voting, leading the Phillies to a franchise-record 102 regular season wins.

The Phillies won Game 1 of the 2011 NLDS 11-6 over the St. Louis Cardinals. They defeated the Cardinals 3-2 at Busch Field in Game 3 of the series. Had Lee been able to hold a 4-0 lead in Game 2 of the NLDS, the Phillies would have swept the Cardinals and moved on to their fourth consecutive NLCS.

Instead, Lee failed to hold a four-run lead and the Phillies lost Game 2 of the NLCS 5-4. The Cardinals evened the series at two games a piece in Game 4, by defeating the Phillies 5-3. Still, Game 5 was at home and the Phillies had Halladay, at the height of his powers, set to take the mound. It was hard to feel overly panicked, even if a loss would eliminate the Phillies.

But the strangest thing happened in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS. Halladay labored through a 33-pitch first inning, with Rafael Furcal scoring the game’s first run after leading off the game with a triple. Remarkably, Halladay would still pitch eight innings, and the run that Furcal scored on a Skip Schumaker double in the top of the first inning was the only run he would allow.

The problem is, that was the only run that would be scored in the game.

Halladay was unquestionably the best pitcher of his era. But his former Toronto Blue Jays teammate Chris Carpenter (everything comes back to Toronto) won a National League Cy Young Award in 2005 and made three All-Star teams. And on Oct. 7, 2011, Carpenter was just a bit better than Halladay.

The Phillies certainly had their chances against Carpenter. Howard worked a 3-0 count to start the bottom of the seventh. Looking to ignite his offense, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel gave Howard the green light on 3-0. Howard got a pitch to hit, but instead hit a shallow fly ball that was caught in right field:

Despite an injury-riddled 2011 campaign, Chase Utley led off the ninth inning by scorching a ball that likely would have been a long home run in August. In October, though, it died on the warning track, with Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay making the catch:

For as difficult of an ending as the Sixers suffered through Sunday night, it was, at most, on par with how the Phillies season ended in 2011. Howard grounded out, but barely made it out of the batter’s box, as he tore his Achilles and the Cardinals celebrated on the field at Citizens Bank Park. Given what we know about how the Achilles injury derailed Howard’s career and that Halladay was never the same after Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, the pain meter tips in the favor of the Phillies.

There are other factors that separate the Phillies loss. The first is that in their quest to break the franchise record for regular season wins - a feat they achieved on the final day of the season - the Phillies knocked the division-rival Atlanta Braves out the playoffs, allowing the Cardinals to win the National League Wild Card. That shouldn’t have mattered, though, because unlike the Sixers, the Phillies were heavy favorites to win a championship. Had the Sixers defeated the Raptors, they would have been underdogs against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The hard part for Philadelphia sports fans to wrestle with is though the Sixers and Phillies lost these respective playoff games in heart-breaking fashion, history will view them as iconic games. Had the Cardinals defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 1-0 in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS or the Raptors defeated the Brooklyn Nets in the same manner, Philadelphia would have been able to enjoy two of the greatest sporting events this decade. Instead, Philadelphia sports fans will look to bury two of the worst defeats in the history of the city deep in the recesses of their collective minds.