April-thru-September are about talent. We were direct witnesses of that in 2010, when the Phillies used a 25-man roster of superstars, revelations, and underachievers to overcome a mid-season swoon. As the injuries mounted, we took solace in the fact that this team was too talented not to regress to its true ability, its true record, its true destiny.
But October is not about talent. Talent helps. But October is about timing. It’s about blown calls and bloop hits and pressure-caused errors. Its about timely hitting and the ability to catch unluckily-placed line drives.
The 2010 Phillies were more talented than the 2010 Giants, but you already knew that. The Phillies had H2O, after all.
When this series started, the adoration of H2O was neglected by the simple fact that the Giants were the one team that was capable of taming the massive beast that was the Phillies three-man rotation.
The Giants don’t hit anyway. It didn’t matter if they were facing Roy Halladay or Roy Oswalt or Joe Blanton, San Francisco was a team built on pitching and singles-hitting. They needed a certain sequence of events to take place in order to win this series, and that sequence began immediately. Once it picked up steam, that was it.
I kid you not, before the NLCS, I said to my director at Comcast SportsNet – who happens to be an absolute die-hard, lifelong Giants fan – that all it would take was a random two-run homer from Cody Ross to change the complexion of this series.
I didn’t foresee Ross turning into a six-game superstar, but I did foresee a player of his caliber running into a homer and staking the Giants to a 2-0 lead that would not be relinquished. The Giants could not have beaten a Phillies team receiving production from Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino. But they could beat a struggling offense that they led from start-to-finish.
This is an empty feeling. It is empty because the better team did not win, as it did last October when the Phillies fell short to Damaso Marte and the Yankees.
The Giants were The Perfect Underdog – a team that faced less pressure despite having equal rotational talent. They benefited from strong performances from their studs and a bevy of couldn’t-be-placed-better-if-they-tried singles. The hitting was timely and the bullpen was strong. Javier Lopez was the MVP of the NLCS in my book, as he shut down the Phillies in six consecutive games – all in crucial situations. Utley and Howard faced Lopez twelve times and went 1-for-12.
This empty feeling is reminiscent of the way things used to feel in the early 2000s when the Phillies were good but not good enough. Specifically, this feels to me like the infamous Billy Wagner game of 2005 or the blown 8-2 eighth inning Braves game of 2007. You remember feelings like these because you know that you never want to feel them again.
It’s gonna suck waking up tomorrow and thinking about this immediately. But take solace in the fact that the Phillies will remain an elite team for several more years. Which brings us to the other pressing issue – the slow realization that Jayson Werth is gone.
Werth had a strong second half and an awesome postseason. Despite his RISP woes, his 2010 season was extremely impressive from an analytical standpoint, as he hit well home and away, vs. righties and lefties, vs. good pitching and bad pitching. As the weeks wore on, he only made himself more open-market money.
Werth will get a deal in the neighborhood of six years, $110MM. He was a tremendous threat in this lineup – a patient, calm, powerful righthanded bat that balanced the lineup and seemed to play his best baseball when Howard and Utley were NOT playing their best baseball.
I won’t expand any further on Werth right now because the issue at-hand is not his impending departure, but the Phillies disappointing end to the 2010 season. I wasn’t ready for this to end, and I know you weren’t either.
But that’s baseball. There is a reason no National League team has won three consecutive pennants in 66 years. You need the right factors to be on your side. Factors like timing and umpiring and batting average on balls in play luck. This year, the Giants had all three.
And that’s why The Perfect Underdog faces Cliff Lee in Game One of the World Series while we are left to wonder why Ryan Howard didn’t swing.