Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Phillies Are Going to the NLCS!

Yipee! Yee-hah! Yahoo!

The Phillies beat Milwaukee, 6-2, this afternoon to take their NLDS series and head to the NLCS for the first time since 1993. My mother, who is in her 70's, called after the game to remind me that in her lifetime, the Phillies have been in only 3 World Series. Yes, she's a native Philadelphian, as am I, so there are no "Got Titles?" t-shirts in anyone's wardrobe.

Baseball's a funny game, isn't it? Last night, the Phillies stunk the joint out in Milwaukee. They didn't hit with runners in scoring position, Charlie Manuel whiffed by leaving Scott Eyre in to start the eighth and by not starting Greg Dobbs, and Jamie Moyer had trouble finding the strike zone. Still, they battled, and they were in the game until the end. Had pinch-hitter Matt Stairs homered with one man on late in the game, the Phillies would have tied it. Instead, they lost, the Brewers' bullpen pitched well again, and the home team survived to fight another day. Needless to say, perpetually disappointed Phillies' fans -- or at least some of them -- were left wondering whether their team would drop two straight in Milwaukee and come home to play a Series-clinching game with CC Sabathia on the mound for the Brewers.

Their worries were overblown. Jimmy Rollins sent a message with a home run on the first pitch of the game. By the third, the Phillies were up 5-0, thanks to a Pat Burrell home run. (Burrell hit a second dinger later in the game). Ironically, Burrell hit his two homers in a game where Jeff Suppan started for the Brewers; it was a great post-season for the Cards several years ago that yielded a 4-year, $42 million overpayment for the junk-throwing righty. Burrell, in all likelihood, added $10 million to the free-agent contract he'll get from someone (but not the Phillies) after the season. Burrell is 32, and I was thinking a few weeks ago that he'd get a three-year, $30 million deal from someone. With this performance, he may be looking at 4 years and $48 million, perhaps from San Francisco, which overpaid for then-Phillies CF Aaron Rowand last year (5 years, $60 million). Burrell is from Northern California, and the Giants can make it a habit of paying too much for former Phillies on the downside of their careers.

Joe Blanton pitched great for the Phillies, to the great delight of the fans, who were skeptical about how he would perform in the post-season (hint: he outpitched fan favorite Jamie Moyer). "Lights-out" Lidge was lights out again, and the Phillies now go on to face Manny Ramirez and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. It goes without saying that the Phillies will somehow be the underdog despite having the better record and that the Lords of Baseball and executives at Fox (and Lord help TBS, whose announcing crews displayed all of the passion of Mister Rogers reading an infomercial for adult incontinence aids), who would delight in a Boston-Los Angeles Series (dollar signs and ratings would be dancing in their eyes, but the Phillies also populate one of the nation's largest media markets).

Had I told you that the Phillies would have won in 4 without much production from Ryan Howard (fair at best) and Chase Utley (utterly disappointing, causing me to suspect that he has a sports hernia or damage hip and is in great pain), would you have believed me? I don't think so, but, then again, had I told you that they would have won in four despite their not hitting much and the starting pitchers for the most part pitching great baseball, well, you might have.

This was a great day for Phillies' fans, as they now can celebrate their team's first appearance in a league championship series since 1993, when the fans inexplicably chanted the idiotic song "Whoot There it Is" at anything momentous in the Vet and the team's leaders were referred to as "Macho Row", an actually, and retrospectively, almost unappealing group of players who could hit in the clutch and pitch well enough to win. Today's team, I submit, is better, and, also, thankfully, classier.

The Brewers were gritty all year and showed a lot of inner toughness in winning the Wild Card and surviving the front office's flaky move of canning the manager with twelve games to go. The Mets also were very worthy opponents for the Phillies, and both teams brought out the best in Charlie Manuel's crew. The next series should be a great one.

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