Last season, when the Phillies clinched the National League East on the last day of the season, it seemed a slew of storylines were wrapped up. Jimmy Rollins hit his 20th triple to secure his place in history and his MVP status. Ryan Howard crushed his last home run of the season. Jamie Moyer brought his childhood favorite team to the postseason with a gutsy performance. And Brett Myers came full circle, ending the season with a strikeout after starting the season as the ace.
In his blog, Daily News writer David Murphy said a lot of storylines were neatly tied up this time, too. He refered to Rollins redeeming himself to the fans he once cast aside by making one of the most important defensive plays in Phillies history. He refered to guys such as Geoff Jenkins finally reaching the postseason for the first time in his long career. Yes, in some ways a few stories were neatly closed with the second-straight division title. But to me, the story is just beginning.
Suddenly we have a team that has won two consecutive division crowns. In this day of baseball parity, that feat doesn’t happen much. In the last three years, only the Cardinals (2005-06), Cubs (2007-08) and Angels (2007-08) have won back-to-back division titles. The foundation of Howard-Utley-Hamels-Myers-Rollins now has a good bit of experience dealing with the postseason. Focus on yesterday’s celebration seemed to be on the greater goal: Winning the World Series. It was a little more subdued, a little more workmanlike.
This team has been very workmanlike. Whereas last season’s Phillies were a thrill a minute, a bout of nerves, a test of wills, this 2008 team gets the job done. They get leads, they hold leads, they close the deal. If they get down early, they might come back in the middle of the game off worse pitching. Then they hold leads, they close the deal. Compare this season to last, and you won’t see as many incredible comebacks and jaw-dropping sequences. It’s just not how this team rolls.
Yesterday’s game illustrated that workmanlike mantra. The offense took the lead with sac flies and smart baserunning. When Jayson Werth muffed a fly ball for a run, he took it back with a quick home run. Jamie Moyer had a gritty, strong, veteran’s start and gave the ball to the bullpen after six. They held it, despite all the nailbiting moments. And an insurance run quelled our fears, but was absolutely necessary. Brad Lidge, though close to losing it, secured the save. Another workmanlike game.
This team got it done because they needed to, because they said they would. When Jimmy Rollins spilled out the “F” word, he backed it up by saying the Phils would turn on the burners late to capture the crown. Shoot, he was right. While we criticized Ryan Howard, he made us shut up with a legendary September. When we cursed Brett Myers for failing, he turned it around to become a top-shelf starter. When we chastised Chase Utley and accused him of injury, he put together a very good season (his average climbed to .292 in a year where it was hard for anyone to eclipse .300). Looking back, they did their jobs, they were true to their word.
We liked to hate this team. For sure, this was a love-hate relationship, not the love-love relationship that we had with the 2007 brand. That team provided thrills and exhilarating highs. This team made us tear our hair out. “Why aren’t they better?” “Why do they look so lethargic?” Ha. Now we have a 91-win team, a team that undoubtedly is one of the best in baseball, and absolutely championship-caliber. We needed that love-hate relationship. Love-love relationships result in first-round exits, memories of the climaxes that came too soon. Yes, Sept. 30, 2007 will always be the highest of that season’s highs. Rollins’ triple to etch his name in the history books; Howard’s home run (and halting before 200 K) to complete another amazing season; Moyer bringing home the bacon for his favorite childhood team; Myers recording the first and last outs of the season — all those moments wrapped up the ’07 campaign nicely.
But while some stories came to a nice close yesterday, there are still a few stories yet to hit their climaxes. There’s Howard cementing an MVP campaign, Utley proving his clutch, Hamels climbing to the next level, Rollins becoming the franchise’s greatest leader. Those are the stories that were made for an October epic.