The second game against the Braves was another gut-wrencher. With the Phillies leading 1-0 in the top of the seventh, Dalrymple tipped Denis Menke's bat with his glove for a catcher's interference call, and it set up a two-run Braves rally. Then, with Philadelphia trailing 3-1 in the eighth, Callison tied the score with a two-run homer. Milwaukee got two in the top of the 10th, but Allen hit an inside-the-park homer to even the score again. Before the game Thomas had literally ripped the cast off his thumb so that he could play; in the 12th, a potential double-play ball bounced off his rusty glove, and the Braves went on to win 7-5.
In the next game the Phillies carried a 4-3 lead into the ninth, only to lose 6-4. By then, the notorious Philadelphia boo-birds were in full voice, and they really gave it to the Phils the following day when Bunning blew a 3-2 lead and the Braves won 14-8. That loss dropped Philadelphia out of first, a game behind the Reds and a half game in front of the Cardinals. The Phillies, their ears stinging, professed to be happy that they were getting away from Philadelphia for the last five games.
In the meantime, I, too, was sinking. Each night I would listen to the Phillies' games on a wonderful old brown Zenith, the console of which you flipped up to turn on the radio. I would listen to the faint and floating signal from WFIL in Philadelphia, and after each nighttime loss during the skid, I would flip the console back down, turn off the lights and lie awake forever. I came down the steps to breakfast slower and slower on the mornings after, and the bags under my eyes grew heavier and heavier.
By the time the Phils reached Cincinnati for their final series, they were 2½ games behind the Cardinals and no longer in command of their fate. The two final victories over the Reds, with Short and Bunning going on three days' rest, were only a last torturous tease. Sisler, who had taken over from the ailing Fred Hutchinson as the Cincinnati manager, told Hutchinson after the last game, "I'd rather be here—one thousand times—than in Mauch's shoes. That nightmare he went through for 10 days. He had the whole world locked up, and, piece by piece, it got away from him. How can he stand it?"
Actually, he stood it pretty well. "When the plane landed in Philadelphia," Rojas recalled at the reunion, "Gene got up and told us, 'I want to be the first one off. You guys didn't lose it. I lost it.' He was wrong. We couldn't have gotten as far as we did without him."
Why did the Phillies blow it? On a poetic level, they could be accused of angering the gods. On an August night on which Sandy Koufax was supposed to pitch for the Dodgers in Philadelphia, the Phils' front office called the game on the merest hint of rain. The game was rescheduled for Sept. 8, and on that night Thomas broke his thumb. "I don't get hurt, we win it all," Thomas would say 25 years later.
Or maybe the gods were punishing Phillies fans for their shoddy treatment of Allen, whom they booed unmercifully for his fielding blunders, even though it was his first season at third base. At one point that season Mauch asked, "How can anybody even shape his lips in the form of a boo when a player like Richie Allen comes to bat?"
Or maybe it was hubris, pure and simple. Buying those guns in Houston was a clear case of counting chickens before they hatched.
On a more practical level, there was Mauch's overuse of his two ace starters, a rotation that could have been called Bunning and Short and Hold the Fort. The missing person throughout those final days was righthander Culp. Depending on whom you talk to, Culp had either 1) a bad back or 2) a room in Mauch's doghouse. (At the reunion several players assumed Culp didn't show because of his enmity for Mauch. "But that's Ray's problem," said one.) Even if Culp couldn't pitch, Mauch displayed undue stubbornness in trotting Bunning and Short out there, two days after two days after two days.
"At the time, I thought Gene was doing the right thing with the pitchers," says Dalrymple. "The one thing I kept waiting for, though, was an explosion. He was so calm through the whole streak. We were looking for him to turn over another table." The year before, Mauch had upended a postgame spread of barbecued ribs in the visitors' clubhouse in Houston to wake up his club.