From "Galaxy of the National League" lithograph, 1888. (G. H. Hastings/Library of Congress)

The 1888 Phillies were riding high. Their preseason City Series against the Athletics had included a win, despite the Phillies’ own manager being “in doubt about the make-up of his nine until the game began.”

You couldn’t blame him, really. His second baseman was violently ill, his right fielder twisted his ankle just before the game started, and the Phillies only had one pitcher available all day, a young kid who appeared rattled by the supportive applause the crowd gave him and walked the first batter he faced on four wild pitches. 

Nevertheless! The Phillies beat the A’s 8-2, holding them to only four hits. These weren’t some hideous early 1880s Phillies squads. This was a ~new~ era. The Phillies won games now — sometimes a bunch of them, in a row. Now, with a fresh new slate in front of them, it was time to capitalize on the previous year’s success. 

The 1887 team had closed out the season in third place, which sounds pretty good, but back then anything less than second got you sent to the salt mines. Still, they’d put together a record of 75-48-5, and had managed to end the year winning eleven consecutive road games.

It was a franchise record until 1976, when the Phillies won 13 road games in a row. And now, with this week’s sweep of the Rays at Tropicana Field, the milestone could once again be passed. 

The 2023 Phillies secured their 12th consecutive victory as a visiting team in Tampa, and with three more road games before the All-Star break, they have the chance to make some franchise history.

Step 1: Get swept at home?

Once the 1888 regular season got underway, the Phillies got to work disappointing everyone. They were swept over four games at home by the Braves, getting outscored 23-8 in front of what the Philadelphia Times called a “sad and cheerless crowd.”

No one could blame them. Usually the ritual abuse at the Philadelphia Baseball Grounds was contained to the game itself, but the cold rain had been spitting on spectators throughout the whole series as sharp gusts of early spring wind slapped them across the face. 

No one’s ever in the mood to get swept, but Philadelphia was laying it on pretty thick. 

Then, it was off to New York, where the Phillies were in danger of not just starting the year 0-5, but of losing their road win streak from 1887. Since all four losses to the Braves had happened in their own stadium, they could still win 12 games in a row on the road. Hoo…ray?

The Phillies headed up to the Polo Grounds to meet the Giants, who’d already had a weird start to the season: They’d shut out the Nationals on opening day, gotten bashed by them 10-3 the next day, saw game three end in a 1-1 tie, and then dropped a bucket of runs on Washington to win a 19-15 slugfest. The Phillies coming to town was a good chance for them to stabilize and regroup. 

But, as is the case any time someone has expected stability when the Phillies come to town, the Giants did not find it. 

Eking out that 12th road win

Upwards of 12,000 people showed up at the ballpark, including a band playing merry jaunts and “many ladies to urge the Giants to greater effort,” per reporting at the time. 

They all got to watch New York shortstop John Ward commit three errors that led to three Phillies runs. Not to be outdone, the Phillies committed three errors in the sixth, loading the bases for the Giants with only one out, but managed to escape with a double play. Dan Casey pitched well as the Phillies starter, holding the Giants to four hits (and only two of them well-struck). 

But, you know what they say: “In baseball, you’re only ever three hits, a wild throw to the plate, an error, and another terrible throw away from trouble.” The Phillies learned this lesson, quite specifically, in the eighth, when the Giants tied the game at 3-3. However, in the ninth, one of Ward’s errors put two runners on base for Phillies catcher Deacon Maguire, who doubled in both of them and delivered a 5-3 win.

“The Phillies always did make trouble for the New Yorkers,” read the one newspaper. “And it looks very much as though they would do it again this year.”

It was the first time the Giants were beaten in their home opener by a National League team. The Phillies, meanwhile, were said to have been very close to figuring it out. Just four more guys had to come off the sick list and they’d be right as rain, wrote one reporter. 

They lost to the Giants the next day. The streak was over at 12. It was time to address some facts: They’d lost five of their first six games and had their fun novelty from the previous year cut down. A disappointment? Not really. They did win a dozen road games in a row. 

Can you imagine — a promising Phillies team with high expectations starting a season 1-5. What a time to be alive.

Justin Klugh has been a Phillies fan since Mariano Duncan's Mother's Day grand slam. He is a columnist and features writer for Baseball Prospectus, and has written for The Inquirer, Baltimore Magazine,...