The three-day invasion of Citizens Bank Park by fans who have endured the lifelong burden of front-running with the most successful franchise in baseball history came to a blessed end on Wednesday evening.
It actually wasn't all that bad a stretch, a little annoying maybe, but at least the ballpark was alive, and Phillies fans did have the option of buying those tickets themselves. Now that school is out and the team still has a winning record, perhaps they'll buy a few more. It's hard to tell right now.
Choosing to wait and see where the Phillies are headed is understandable. Their offense, which was supposed to be a strength, has been maddeningly hit and miss, literally. Their bullpen has been a mess because of injuries and inconsistencies. And it's also fair to suspect the fan base hasn't fully bought in to a manager who has elevated new-age gibberish to an art form.
"We are in a very encouraged space with Hector," Gabe Kapler said before Wednesday's game, imparting the current status of closer Hector Neris. Of course, Neris has been so wonderful this season he was occupying space in Allentown just a few days ago, and that was slightly less encouraging. But you have to give Kapler credit for being relentlessly upbeat, even though the team has played sub-.500 ball for more than a month.
"We're developing and getting better every day," Kapler said.
The three games against the Yankees should help the process, even though the visitors did take the series. Just playing against a team with one of the best records in baseball is instructive for a young team that is trying to find its way. Wednesday's game, which the Phils won 3-0, was a tribute to the values of good starting pitching (Zach Eflin) and a three-run home run (Rhys Hoskins). Nothing new there, although the Phils haven't had the combination often enough.
"I can compare the two teams because I've been with both of them," said bench coach Rob Thomson, in his first season with the Phillies after 10 years as bench and third-base coach for the Yankees. "They are very similar in being very talented and mentally tough. You play some games that aren't as well-played as you want, but the next day you forget about them. The Yankees were that same way last year. Last year, they were very fortunate to end up just one game away from the World Series, so that group has a lot more experience. I can see this [Phillies] group headed in that direction."
The recent team-building approaches available to the Yankees and the Phillies weren't the same. The Phils were in a far deeper trough when they started their climb back toward respectability. But when the Yankees hit the trade deadline in 2016 with a .500 record and a future that needed rebooting, the team stripped down with a number of trades and made room for their young prospects to arrive and grow. It wasn't that dissimilar an approach from the one taken by the Phillies.
"The Yankees brought those kids up to play every day and that's kind of where we are right now," Thomson said. "And having the second half of that year in 2016 really benefitted them in 2017. I'm going to be really interested in seeing this group in Philly in the second half of the season, because they've only had a half-season together themselves."
It helped that the Yankees happened to have a player like Aaron Judge in the pipeline, but talent isn't what has held back the Phillies, according to Kapler.
"From a talent perspective, I think we can go toe-to-toe with anybody. From an experience perspective, we certainly can't," Kapler said. "Seranthony Dominguez. Does he have an arm like (Aroldis) Chapman and (Dellin) Betances? Yes. Does he have their experience and track record of success? Not yet. (We have) developing versions of the players that are over there."
Not overtly perhaps, because the Phillies major-leaguers, too, they studied the guys over there the past three games and measured themselves against them. The Yankees are a fine standard to use, in that regard.
"We talk about it a lot. How do you go about your business? How do you play the game?" Thomson said. "You come out and watch a team like the Yankees, and we'll see Boston pretty soon. You watch how they go about their business and keep grinding. I think it benefits these guys a lot."
"Every experience our guys have is a good teacher," Kapler said. "We have all these 25-year-olds on the roster and this may be the best team we've gone up against. You can make that case."