CHICAGO — A week and a half ago, Bryan Colangelo was running the Sixers, the Eagles were invited to visit the White House, and the Phillies were rolling right along as one of the most pleasant surprises in the National League.
A lot can happen in a week and a half.
Nobody ever said a 10-game, 11-day odyssey to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago was going to be easy for the young Phillies. But as they packed their things here Thursday after another hard-luck defeat, 4-3 to the Cubs, they were left to reflect on a 3-7 trip in which they lost slugger Rhys Hoskins to a broken jaw, struggled to score, dealt with criticism from within their own clubhouse by veteran pitcher Jake Arrieta, and absorbed a pair of gut punches at Wrigley Field.
"This was not our best road trip, obviously," manager Gabe Kapler said before shifting his focus from the bottom line. "We proved that we can go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the National League."
That's the glass-is-half-full view, and it isn't without merit. In seven games against the Dodgers and Cubs — the teams that played for the NL pennant last season — the Phillies went 3-4. They had a chance to win almost every game, though, and actually outscored the two NL powerhouses, 28-27.
But if these games proved the Phillies can hang with the big boys, the outcomes indicated they still must learn to win. Instead, they were beaten on Jason Heyward's improbable grand slam Wednesday night and dropped a one-run decision on an overturned call at home plate Thursday.
The latter, which occurred in the Cubs' three-run fifth inning, involved Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp's moving to his left to pull down a strong throw from leftfielder Dylan Cozens. Knapp tagged Albert Almora Jr., who was called out by home-plate umpire Nick Mahrley.
But the Cubs contended that Knapp blocked the plate without possessing the ball, a violation of the rule that was implemented before the 2014 season. After a three-minute replay review, the call was reversed. It gave the Cubs a 4-1 lead and proved to be the winning run after Scott Kingery's sixth-inning double pulled the Phillies to within 4-3.
"For me, it's trying to make a tag, make a play," Knapp said when asked if he agreed with the call. "I think he's going to be safe either way. It's a play that's kind of up to the [replay] people in New York. I thought it was maybe too close to call."
Kapler said he understood the reversal, though he stopped short of agreeing with it. While Knapp did technically block the plate, he had little choice if he was going to catch the throw from Cozens.
"It's a very tough position for a catcher to be in," Kapler said. "I think [Knapp] did everything he could, everything in his power to play it fairly, and it just so happened that the determination was that he was blocking the plate. It was a judgment call."
Others in the Phillies clubhouse were less diplomatic. Righthander Nick Pivetta, for one, passive-aggressively voiced his disagreement.
"Baseball's changed," Pivetta said, declining to elaborate. "It's just changed."
Pivetta gave up four runs despite allowing few hard-hit balls. In the three-run fifth inning, the Cubs capitalized on four singles, a walk, a sacrifice fly, and a throwing error by Pivetta.
In many ways, it was a microcosm of the entire trip. The Phillies weren't outclassed, but ultimately, they were defeated.
"We belong," Pivetta said. "As a team, we're doing the right things. Sometimes things just happen in games. Just keep moving forward. We're competitors. We're a team."
The next week and a half doesn't get any easier, with the Phillies facing the Milwaukee Brewers, Colorado Rockies, and St. Louis Cardinals — all winning teams. A lot can happen during that time, but if anything, the Phillies believe the last week and a half will steel them for tougher games to come.