Phillies Finish Off Dodgers
Thursday, October 16, 2008
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 15 -- The Philadelphia Phillies don't like new things, and that is a virtue, the precondition for their latest tale of endurance, where the same old trumped the latest, greatest.
Again Wednesday night, they finished off another playoff foe that was riding on borrowed shoulders; the Brewers had CC, the Dodgers had Manny. And the Phillies? They have a team, a real team, fully formed the day the season began, and still standing months later as baseball's testament to sameness.
For the Phillies, only the destination is new. They're heading to the World Series for the first time in 15 years, lifted Wednesday night in Game 5 by an emphatic 5-1 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers and, supported, as always, by the pillars of their season: Consistency, meat-and-potatoes productivity from their big boys, a steady belief that what got them this far can get them further still.
In an NLCS that ended with all the drama of a dress rehearsal -- Jimmy Rollins led off the game with a homer, and ace Cole Hamels settled into shutdown mode before the glitterati took their seats -- the Dodgers were exposed as passé. Starter Chad Billingsley faltered again, leaving to boos after 2 2/3 innings in which he yielded three runs and never found his fastball. In the fifth, Los Angeles shortstop Rafael Furcal committed three errors, two on one play, all part of a mortifying meltdown that gave the Phillies a 5-0 lead and all but ensured that the visitors could celebrate free and easy.
That celebration rewarded the rarest sort of organizational belief, because never, before now, did the Phillies qualify as chosen front-runners. They didn't inject their team midseason with a superstar, as did Los Angeles (Manny Ramírez), Milwaukee (CC Sabathia) and Chicago (Rich Harden). Other than a July 29 minor league call-up of third baseman Mike Cervenak, the Phillies spent the days nearest the trading deadline in silence. Instead, they simply continued with what they had.
The eight position players who started Opening Day all started Wednesday night. Consistency underpinned everything. Four of their pitchers started 30 games. Five players received at least 500 at-bats. Their closer never botched a save opportunity. In five of the season's six full months, they played at least .550 ball. After April 24, they remained in first or second in their division, never more than four games up, never more than 3 1/2 down. Behind that steadiness, the Phillies hid.
"I think the organization has done a good job gathering the type of players that it takes to win," Hamels said. "All they had to do was let us go out there and do our jobs and be ourselves. This year, we knew we had that confidence going into spring training. And we were able to do it month by month and series by series."
It is fitting, then, that to capture the National League championship, the Phillies relied on their regulars. Rollins, who began the night just 2 for 17 in this series, swatted Billingsley's eighth pitch of the evening just over the fence in right -- a moment that raised the curtain on the 24-year-old righty's ineffectiveness.
In the third, Billingsley walked three batters, two of whom scored, and threw a wild pitch before leaving the clean-up work to Chan Ho Park. Two innings later, with Greg Maddux throwing, the Phillies capitalized on hits from Jayson Werth and Ryan Howard when Furcal started aiming his throws at the sprinkler heads.
The Philadelphia lead that formed was left to Hamels to protect, and few in the sport right now offer better security. Now 3-0 with a 1.64 ERA in three starts this postseason, Hamels, 24, never let the Dodgers escape from his chokehold.
Manager Charlie Manuel had gambled by refusing to hurry Hamels into Game 4 on short rest -- Hamels hadn't done so all season, so why change now, Manuel reasoned -- and here, the well-rested lefty validated that strategy, allowing just five hits.
Only in the seventh did Hamels even permit the crowd to start clapping because, suddenly, he looked tired -- he walked two in a row, his pitch count trekking past 100, and there he was, linguini-thin, huffing and puffing, left in to face one final batter, pinch hitter Jeff Kent. Hamels fell behind 2-1, but then came back hard, with two called strikes, and when Kent watched the final one go by, inevitability was all the closer.
"This is the third step," Manuel said. "We've got one more big step, and then we're going to take a grand parade."
Philadelphia's postseason rampage represents a breakthrough that even those in its front office couldn't be certain that the current nucleus could manage. In five consecutive seasons before this one, the Phillies finished with between 85 and 89 wins. They had reached a plateau. They entered spring training with the familiar core group -- Rollins, Howard, Chase Utley, Hamels and Pat Burrell -- and a feeling that more might be necessary.
Wednesday night, in a soaking clubhouse, General Manager Pat Gillick thought back to the trading deadline. He had wanted Sabathia. He wanted Ramírez. He made cursory phone calls inquiring about both.
"We just didn't have the players" to trade, Gillick said.
And so ready or not, Philadelphia proceeded as is. Gillick in mid-August acquired pitcher Joe Blanton from Oakland, a meek counter to Milwaukee's Sabathia deal, but other than that, he left the burden of October to the nucleus.
"And you know what?" Philadelphia Chairman Bill Giles was saying after this one. "Rollins. Howard. Utley. Burrell. It makes you feel kind of better we did it that way."