Phillies show they’re even better this year
The Phillies were well into their celebration at Citizens Bank Park when the object of all the fuss — the Warren Giles Trophy, prize of the National League champion — made its way from the dugout, up a flight of stairs and into the home clubhouse.
A clubhouse worker, clad in Philadelphia red, was carrying the bounty. As he hurried past, I asked how much it weighed.
The guy smiled.
“Not as heavy as the real one,” he said.
He never broke stride. He didn’t stop to chat. He was too busy working after the Phillies beat the Dodgers 10-4 to win the NLCS and earn a return visit to the World Series.
Some baseball teams may claim to have a unified philosophy, right down to the anonymous guys who work behind the scenes. Well, I am here to tell you that Jimmy Rollins — the unofficial team spokesman — couldn’t have articulated the Phillies’ postseason vision any better than that.
Rollins and friends know how heavy the real one is. And they don’t intend to stop until they get their hands on the World Series trophy.
“We’ve come a long way, man,” said right fielder Jayson Werth, after smashing two home runs in the Game 5 rout.
“Here we are again. I don’t have a whole lot more to say, other than, ‘We’ve got four more games to win.'”
Oh, don’t interpret Werth’s remarks as some indication that the Phillies were reserved in celebrating their second consecutive NL title. They were not. There was champagne, there was beer, and there was a plume of cigar smoke near the dugout thicker than the steam in Manny’s shower.
Werth said he and his teammates are “where we need to be,” and he was right. They are the best team in the NL. That wasn’t so obvious one week ago, when some people looked at the Dodgers’ league-best win total and major league-best ERA and figured they could topple the defending champs.
The doubters — and I’m including myself in that group — should have known better.
We should have realized that Cliff Lee was a certifiable postseason ace.
We should have realized that NLCS MVP Ryan Howard and the rest of Charlie Manuel’s mashers would help the Phillies win two substandard Cole Hamels starts.
We should have realized that Brad Lidge, with a healed-up knee and newly-installed cutter, would return to form when it mattered most.
We should have realized that the Phillies went 93-69 and won a third straight NL East title despite Lidge’s struggles, despite injuries to Brett Myers and Jamie Moyer, despite a subpar regular season for Rollins.
The Phillies were luckier in 2008. But they are better in 2009. And maybe their trials had something to do with that.
“It was a lot tougher, that’s for sure,” pitching coach Rich Dubee said. “We were running around with a bull’s-eye on our chest. With the injuries we had, losing key people, it shows how complete of a team we are.”
This team has an identity — which is a credit to ownership, to the front office, to Manuel and his coaches, to the core of homegrown players. And general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., in his first year on the job, added the right pieces.
Lee. Ben Francisco. Pedro Martinez. Raul Ibanez. Chan Ho Park. They didn’t win rings last year, but they are contributing now.
The Phillies are a scarier team now than they were one year ago, and it’s not hard to find the supporting evidence. Check the respective routes to the World Series. This year’s Rockies were better than last year’s Brewers. This year’s Dodgers were better than last year’s Dodgers.
And Philadelphia beat them all.
“As I’m sitting here, I know we can win the World Series again,” Manuel said late Wednesday. “But things have to be right for us. Plus, we’ve got to play the best.”
I don’t know if the Phillies are going to win the World Series. They are probably going to play the Yankees, and the Yankees have their best team since 2000 or thereabouts.
Even though they are the defending world champions, even though they needed only five games to eliminate the NL’s best regular-season team, the Phillies will likely enter their next series as the underdog. Strange but true.
If it is New York — and let’s face it, that’s very likely — the Phillies will face a deficit in payroll, raw talent and power arms in the rotation. But they really play well together. That matters in October. When the manager of a defeated team talks about “the presence that they have,” as Joe Torre did late Wednesday, that’s a sure sign of a very special team.
“We gave them a fight,” Torre said. “They just wouldn’t back down. They kept going. They are certainly a better team.”
Are they perfect? Hardly. Hamels, still not himself, didn’t stick around long enough Wednesday to qualify for the win. And if you believe the speculation, star second baseman Chase Utley is injured for a second straight year.
The bruises are adding up. Rollins limped through the celebration, the result of being hit by a Clayton Kershaw pitch on Wednesday. Shane Victorino split from the on-field celebration early and put a large ice pack on his left elbow, near where he was hit by a pitch.
But I think Utley, Rollins and Victorino will find a way to get on the field for the next series. Just a guess.
As Wednesday’s celebration wound down, I encountered Rollins in the clubhouse, with the hitch in his step and champagne soaking his clothes.
I asked if this playoff run was more impressive than the last, because of the obstacles that weren’t there in 2008. He offered his answer without hesitation.
“Know what would impress me?” he asked. “Winning another World Series.”
He must have heard that one from the clubhouse guy.