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Within a minute of the St Louis Cardinals’ closeout win over the Phillies at The Bank in Game 5, Phillies fans were howling about the choke, sluggers’ poor hitting and one even got the lighter out to burn his early-order World Series tickets in frustration. And a few cursed that damn squirrel.
Yes, in the spirit of the Curse of the Billy Goat -- the legend in which the Chicago Cubs miss out on the World Series after a mishap with a man attempting to enter Wrigley Field holding his pet goat--- it seems that urban legends take new forms. During the bad omen that bridged Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, a squirrel somehow marked a two-game appearance in the NLDS, spanning two cities. And in the process, he put the Phillies out of the post-season.
This famous squirrel made his first series appearance in St Louis, Tuesday night, Oct 4, during the bottom of the sixth inning of Game 3 at Busch Stadium. He ran around for a few moments while Ryan Theriot (a former Cub, now a Cardinal) was at bat, but didn’t do much other than scurry away after looking toward home plate. Still the Phillies hung on to win, in a close 3-2 game, forcing the Cards to win two games in order to move on. Still, Mr Squirrel made his presence known. At least to baseball trend spotters and those who normally pay attention.
But that one appearance during the third game of the series wasn’t it.
Mr. Squirrel showed up again from four states away in Philadelphia for Game 4 the next day, Oct 5. This time the rodent jumped out from behind a dugout and ran down the baseline before giving a nod to St Louis’s Skip Schumacher who, this time, was at home plate.
Post-game reports claim that the Phillies’ trouble started here. Supposedly, pitcher Roy Oswalt was distracted by the squirrel so much that he complained to the umpire at home plate and petitioned him, unsuccessfully, to take an errant pitch back. Later, Oswalt would claim (in so many words) that this was the point at which it all went wrong.
During Game 5 no one saw the squirrel (that we know of) interrupt the game. But if the squirrel was as smart as he was disruptive, then by that time he should have been placing bets on the Cards to win the series, or sending his bookie to collect on them. After an opening run for the Cards in the 1st, the Phillies couldn’t stay on base much less score, as the Cards won 1-0 in Game 5 to crush Philly’s hope of another title.
Phire! Phire! (pic courtesy of Kevin Freeman)
So, does the presence of a squirrel for two games constitute a new curse for Phillies fans to fear? I doubt it. But it does demonstrate that even the best pitching staff in baseball, at the top of its game, can be set off-course for a few nights by a minor disturbance.
I suppose the major difference between The Curse of the Billy Goat and The Curse of the Philly Squirrel is that, in Philly’s case, the animal got into the stadium. Not sure what that means.
I’ve always maintained that had Steve Bartman, who was rescued by Wrigley Field ushers during Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, pulled the same trick in Philadelphia he would probably been burned alive in the parking lot. But I was kidding when I said that, Friends Back Home. So, please don’t set my house on fire.
But the truth is that nothing matters to a baseball team’s success other than pitchers pitching well, hitters hitting, supportive fans showing up, and having a manager who can manage egos and personalities well enough to squeeze out wins consistently over a long season. The rest is fluff, and Cubs fans know that as much as Phillies fans said it vocally Friday night.
Truly, it is frustrating when a rock solid team of hitters and the best pitching lineup don’t go all the way. But one consolation is that we get to see a team like the Cardinals, who won 23 of their last 32 games, pull it out on Closing Day and go deep, traversing the playoffs with a reconstructive fury, maybe a late renaissance.
Beyond that, we can't better explain it. Feel free to make up all the stories and urban legends you want.
Andy Frye writes about sports, fans and life here, and covers Chicago-area Top 20 prep football for ESPNChicago.com