Just about the time Giant’s closer Brian Wilson’s filthy slide piece locked up Ryan Howard’s knees to end Game 6 of the NLCS, and the Philadelphia Phillies season, a collective expletive could be discerned from distances far from Citizen’s Bank Park.
A muddled collective of steaming profanity rung out across the Delaware Valley, up 95 and 76 to the Blue Route, out 422 to the more affordable real estate of the proverbial sticks, up to Bucks County and anywhere that Phillies red rules the roost. Mired between those words was an inkling of fear that has been confirmed by every pundit and prognosticator that has written or spoken a word of the season’s demise since. It’s as if Philadelphia has forgotten all too quickly how horrid it was to be a fan of this organization just a short five seasons ago. And those who remember those torturous days cower in anxiety over an ill-conceived anticipation of their return.
For those shivering masses preparing to face the long winter with a frozen tear still stuck to your cheekbones, I implore you to lead your lives in full confidence that there will be another day where you’ll smile again. The Phillies will win another division next year. They will be at the precipice of another title. They will continue to provide you with summers where dinners are hurriedly prepared before the first pitch, where you’re tired as hell at work because you stayed up to watch them on the West Coast, where you’re following the standings during the June swoon and wondering how the hell they’re going to get out of it this time! They will be back. And I’ll tell you why.
There are two types of teams that win World Series Championships: a.) dominant and unbeatable teams, and b.) teams that catch lightning in a bottle. Phillies fans watched their lauded lineup scrape by in the playoffs with a .215 average. They cat-called and cast dispersions upon much of the same group that had just two years earlier handed Philly its first title of any kind in 25 years. Utley must be hurt, they said. Howard can’t get a hit in a big situation, they said. Rollins can’t find his swing, they said. But did anyone forget to tell these folks that this was the year of the pitcher, and that both staffs the Phils faced in the postseason featured tough, young arms with nothing to lose?
There was no team that fell into the Group A Dominant category this year. There was no As or Big Red Machine of the 70s, no Bronx Bombers of the late 90s. The current Yankees starting staff had more holes than just about anyone’s political plan to get the economy out of the hopper. San Fran’s lineup (a whooping .237 for a postseason batting average by the way) was a hodge-podge of misfits picked up off several team’s scrap heaps. The Reds and Rays young guns were not ready to shine under the big lights (or throw strikes anyway). The Braves lineup featured four guys that weren’t starters at the beginning of the season. So, of course, with the big three of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, Phils fans expected that if the lineup could muster up just an inkling of what they’d shown us for three previous seasons, there would be no way they could lose.
Hence the disappointment when those scrappy Giants kept finding the right time to get that one big hit, while the Phillies left man after man on base against a young Giants staff that weren’t bothered by the big stage. But why all the fear in the off-season that the window is closing?
Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Carlos Ruiz will all be between 30-32 years of age by the start of next season. Why is that old? The injuries suffered by Utley, Rollins and Howard this year were not a subject of age.
Rollin’s needs to work harder to prepare his body in the off-season. I think he has gotten that message. He has said he would like to play 8 more seasons. With 1,714 hits and a wasted season behind him, don’t think for a second that he won’t work harder to stay on the field when 8 seasons at a doable 160 hits per season puts him at the Hall of Fame clinching 3,000-hit mark.
Utley is simply a gamer, and you get used to him spending a little time watching each season because he plays the game like it’s an X-Games event.
I would think Howard, who probably has the video of that slider looped on a projection screened in his home, needs no more motivation than that last AB to have him ready for 2011. And for all those Howard bashers who say he never gets the big hit, why was he left stranded three times in that series with lead-off doubles while the score was tied or the deficit was one run? Is it his fault that he led off so much? Could the reason he went RBI-less in the 15 postseason games be that there was rarely ever anyone on in front of him? He was the only Phillie to hit over .300 in the postseason.
To Jason Werth: thank you. Now go your way and earn that paycheck you’re undoubtedly getting from the Yanks, Red Sox, Cubs or Angels. Your early career injuries left you without the big payday until now, at age 31, and you deserve the right to go and get it. The organization can only spend so much. In all the years where we whined that they didn’t want to win, we had the right to complain in situations like this. Not now. Not when the Phillies consistently go out and get whatever is needed to put themselves in the best position to win. It just doesn’t come to fruition all the time. Nothing in life does.
Dominic Brown will be ready to go. All pages must turn and without some youth in the system, the outlook two or three years down the road may be bleak. Ben Fransisco is ready too. He’ll be in there a lot more next year to spell Raul Ibanez against lefthanders. Scared of platoons? Remember Milt Thompson and Pete Incaviglia? Remember Jim Eisenreich and Wes Chamberlain? Remember the merry-go-round of Burrell, Victorino, Werth and Jenkins just two years ago?
The bullpen stinks you say? Brad Lidge should have proven he’s learned how to pitch without throwing 95 to you by now. Ryan Madson, despite Juan Uribe’s slapped CBP homer, is one of the best right-handed set up men in baseball. There is youth in Antonio Bastardo and Scott Mathieson (who could be the closer in waiting). They will need to go out and get left-handed help, but do you really believe they won’t do that?
Concerned about the starting staff? The Big Three are all back. The Phillies didn’t lose in any of Joe Blanton’s final 13 starts, and Kendrick will be pushed hard by Vance Worley and Andrew Carpenter for the five spot. Really though, should the five spot be that important with the lineup that still lurks to protect it?
Take one big step back from the ledge Philadelphia. We habitually don’t deal with disappointment well, but there are still HIGH HOPES on the horizon.