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Dejected Phils look to long offseason
The pennant had been lost for nearly 20 minutes, and still Ryan Howard sat at his locker in full uniform, as if holding out hope that he would be summoned back to the batter’s box on a technicality. But there are no appeals on a night like this.
Finally, he bent over and untied his cleats. Right, then left. He was quiet. He was probably thinking about the night’s final pitch — the one he took for a called third strike, ending the Phillies’ season and maybe so much more.
Three weeks ago, Philadelphia was a trendy pick to win the World Series.
The pitching was great. The lineup was primed. The Phillies looked unstoppable.
But the rally towels went limp at 11:38 p.m. on Saturday. The San Francisco Giants and their cast of castoffs — Torres? Burrell? Ross? Uribe? — strode into South Philly and pantsed the Phanatic.
The score: 3-2. The series: 4-2. The Giants were better than the Phillies — if by the barest of margins — when it mattered most.
Good luck getting a champion to admit that.
“I thought the pitch was down,” Howard said of the 3-2 cutter from Brian Wilson that was both borderline and too close to take. “He (umpire Tom Hallion) kind of paused before he made the call. It’s a tough way to end a season. If you’re going to call it, call it. Don’t hesitate and then make the call. … You can’t go back. You can’t reverse it. You’ve got to live with it.”
Check the replay?
“I haven’t,” he said. “I was there. I saw it firsthand. I’m not going to go watch the video, because it’s not going to change anything. He made the call. You’ve got to live with it.”
Note the identical sentence in both of the Howard quotes: You’ve got to live with it. That was the prevailing sentiment in the quiet, professional Phillies clubhouse at the close of their two-year reign atop the National League.
The Phillies seemed to view the 2010 season as a scourge that afflicted them, rather than something that was within their control. Yes, there were injuries. Yes, there was underperformance. But great teams transcend that.
And the Phillies aren’t as great as they used to be. That was evident in this series. Their players played. Their pitchers pitched. The Giants beat them, anyway.
“We deserved this because we pitched really well,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. “Everyone says Philly didn’t hit. They didn’t hit because we pitched well. That’s why we won. It’s our time.”
The 2008 Phillies, the team that stole hearts and won a title, would be playing Game 7 of the National League Championship Series Sunday night at Citizens Bank Park. They were too gritty to fail. They also had better versions of Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.
Two years ago, the Phillies pulverized imperiled pitching staffs. This time, Rocky whiffed when the Giant was woozy.
Now Juan Uribe’s eighth-inning home run has a place in the pantheon of pennant-winning shots. It will live on highlight reels as long as baseball is played. We will remember how it made the San Francisco dugout look like a classroom of kids who had been told there would be no school tomorrow.
But this game was decided in the third inning, when Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez reached the end of a performance fit for the Appy League. Sanchez plunked Utley, who oddly flipped the ball back toward the mound.
Clemens/Piazza, in reverse. The dugouts and bullpens emptied, but nothing much happened.
Of greater importance, separate from the melee, Giants manager Bruce Bochy had decided to remove Sanchez from a 2-2 game. The bullpen would need to get 21 outs. Bochy wasn’t going to have many rested relievers for Game 7, but that didn’t seem to bother him. He wanted to win now. The move was bold, desperate, and precisely the sort of thing that should have sent a cackle through the Phillies’ dugout.
Philadelphia already had runners on first and second. There were none out.
The time was ripe to hang a crooked number on the scoreboard and save the date for a winner-take-all Sunday.
“Could have been, yeah,” Howard acknowledged. “We didn’t get it done. I didn’t get it done. We didn’t get it done.”
The failure was all too predictable, based on how the Philly lineup hit throughout the series. A .178 batting average with men in scoring position is rarely good enough to win in October. Most amazing: Howard, who has driven home almost 700 runs over the past five seasons, did not have an RBI in this postseason. (“It happened,” he said with a shrug.)
On Saturday morning, the Phillies’ hopes for an uninterrupted dynasty were very much alive. On Saturday night, they were not.
Charlie Manuel’s guys could have become the first NL team since 1944 to win three consecutive pennants. Even if they return to the World Series next year, they won’t have a chance at that history until 2013. By then, Raul Ibanez will be 41, Placido Polanco will be 38, Utley, Rollins and Carlos Ruiz will be 34.
The Phillies should be a playoff team in 2011. They have their core players, even if Werth departs as a free agent. They have Cole Hamels, who righted himself after a suspect 2009. They have the Roys — Halladay and Oswalt.
“We’re going to be around for a few years,” Victorino insisted.
But the gap that existed two years ago between Philadelphia and the rest of the NL has closed considerably. Philly fans had begun to adopt the baseball hubris commonly found in Boston and the Bronx. In 2008, they witnessed a world championship. In 2009, a pennant. But they were humbled on Saturday night, left to shuffle home as if filing out of a church service.
History threw these Phillies a curveball, and the response was a buckled pair of knees. Like Howard said: You’ve got to live with it.
If Philly is lucky, the torment will last for only one year.
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