Phillies could be fixture in Fall Classic
In 2008, Brad Lidge threw the final pitch of the season.
On Wednesday night, he merely witnessed it.
Lidge was watching from the visiting bullpen at Yankee Stadium when the Phillies’ one-year championship reign came to a close. He saw his team’s last stand: a 10-pitch encounter between Shane Victorino and Mariano Rivera, culminating in a routine ground ball to second base.
Victorino’s at-bat was skillful and steadfast. It was an admirable effort. Ultimately, it wasn’t good enough.
Kind of sums up these Phillies, doesn’t it?
The last time we witnessed the end of a World Series, Lidge was dropping to his knees at the nape of the mound at a raucous Citizens Bank Park. This year, he made the slow walk to the dugout as a mob of Yankees celebrated their 7-3, title-clinching victory in Game 6.
“I definitely stood out there for a sec and took it in,” Lidge said afterward. “You always want to be the team that’s doing that. But we got ours last year. We want to get another one.
“It’s a successful season, no question, but obviously the goal is to win. Because we won the whole thing last year, it seems like this is not quite where we want to be. We’re hungry to get that trophy back.”
Hunger was never an issue with this team. And even though the Phillies weren’t quite as talented as their World Series foe, they could have repeated as champions if they had been flawless (or something close to it) against New York.
They weren’t. A team batting average of .227, when paired with a 5.37 ERA, will not beat the New York Yankees.
Hideki Matsui owned Pedro Martinez on Wednesday night. Matsui finished with six RBIs in the game — tying a Series record — and won MVP honors.
Martinez allowed four earned runs in four innings. Count me among those who expected more.
“He got me — that’s it,” Martinez said.
Pedro spoke at a hasty news conference near a bank of elevators on the stadium’s service level. Not quite like Tuesday’s must-see event in front of the cameras.
On the obvious question of whether he will return next season, Martinez said he feels fine physically but must first discuss plans with his mother in the Dominican Republic. Martinez went on to explain that he had a “hard time breathing out there, with the weather and the chest pain and whatever, but that’s not an excuse.”
Martinez was 0-2 in the series. Cliff Lee was 2-0. Neither was in the Philadelphia rotation when the season started, which tells you a little about how this year unfolded for the Phillies.
They improvised as they went along, and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. deserves credit for that. But baseball has a way of rewarding the teams whose core players perform when it matters most. In that regard, the Yankees were far more deserving than the Phillies.
Lidge, last year’s perfect closer, appeared once in the Series. Entrusted with a tie in Game 4, he allowed three runs in the ninth inning and wasn’t heard from again.
Cole Hamels had one lousy start. His chance at redemption in Game 7 never came.
Jimmy Rollins hit .217. He couldn’t back up his pre-Series boast of a five-game Phillies victory.
Victorino hit .182. He misplayed Derek Jeter’s shallow liner into a single at what became a crucial moment on Wednesday night.
Ryan Howard hit .174. He had one RBI prior to his two-run homer in Game 6.
Not good enough.
“They got the hits,” Rollins said afterward. “We didn’t. Simple.”
“I give credit to some of the Yankees’ pitching, but it seemed like our offense, when we had to really get down and get the big hits, it seemed like we couldn’t do it,” Charlie Manuel said. “We kind of sputtered a little bit.”
Manuel sounded like most losing managers in his post-Series news conference. He said the Yankees deserved to win. He said the opponent “did things right” at the important moments. He said his guys “just didn’t play as good as we can.”
And he was correct on each of those points.
But the skipper also looked ahead, which I believe was very appropriate, because the Phillies should be very good next year.
In fact, it won’t surprise me if they play in the World Series again … against the same opponent.
Manuel, to his credit, admitted to having that aspiration.
“Our goal is to come back,” he said. “Hopefully, we play the Yankees again.”
Assuming that Martinez and Brett Myers depart as free agents — a distinct possibility — the Phillies’ current rotation would consist of Lee, Hamels, Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ and Jamie Moyer. That’s not bad. And there’s a good chance Amaro will add to that depth before Opening Day.
What was true in the ’09 World Series will probably hold in the ’10 regular season: The Phillies need the Hamels and Lidge of ’08 in order for the team to reach its full collective potential.
Manuel understands that. He talked about how the next couple years could be the franchise’s “heydays.” He has a very good team that needs a little tinkering, but the biggest improvements must come from the existing personnel.
“I know we can do better because, as I sit here tonight, I know Hamels is going to be better and I know Lidge is going to be better,” Manuel said. “I can tell you guys that. I know that. So, that’s going to make us better.”
Rollins admitted that the Yankees “were the better team in the series” but wouldn’t go beyond that. And really, did you expect that he would?
“Do I think we’re a better team? I really do,” he said. “They showed a lot of heart, a lot of grit. We drilled a couple guys. No one backed down. They executed. It’s all about who’s playing good at the time — not that we were playing bad. They were that much better.”
But the Yankees didn’t embarrass the Phillies or take away their hard-earned swagger. Rollins said he and his teammates “don’t plan on being anywhere else but here” at this time next year. That’s a bold statement, coming from the clubhouse of a team that just lost the World Series.
At one point, Rollins was asked if the Phillies’ chance at a dynasty was still alive.
“Definitely,” he said. “You’ve usually got to win two in a row. But San Antonio’s pretty good, winning every other year.”
If Rollins is right, and the Phillies are on the Tim Duncan Plan, we’ll watch them play in the cold again next year. At Yankee Stadium, I presume.