Phillies want a shot at the Yankees

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 23, 2009

PHILADELPHIA -- Perhaps it was just the champagne talking, but in their victorious clubhouse in the wee hours of Thursday morning, the Philadelphia Phillies, their second straight trip to the World Series secured only an hour or so earlier, ignored one of baseball's strict rules of decorum: Never speak about your next playoff opponent until you know for certain who it is.

"Bring on A-Rod and the Yankees!" blurted lefty Scott Eyre, soaked from head to toe in champagne and beer. "Oops. I mean, if they win."

Decorum, be damned. The Phillies, who earned their World Series berth by vanquishing the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday night, want the New York Yankees next. And they are not shy about it.

When it was pointed out to Pedro Martínez, the Phillies' veteran right-hander and legendary postseason figure, that he has a long history with the Yankees -- dating from the Yankees-Red Sox wars of the first half of this decade, when Martínez was Boston's ace -- Martínez's face grew stern.

"No," he corrected, looking as if he might body-slam an aging bench coach at any moment. "They have a long history with me."

Never mind the fact the Yankees still need one more win over the Los Angeles Angels -- whom they lead 3-2 in the ALCS -- in order to advance. To hear the Phillies talk, it was both fait accompli and fate itself that a Phillies-Yankees duel should occur.

"Everybody dreams of playing in Yankee Stadium in the World Series," lefty Cole Hamels said. Catching himself, he added: "If we get to play them, great. If we get to play the Angels, that's great, too."

"They've got more championships than anyone," said first baseman Ryan Howard, in a similar blurt-and-catch. "But right now, that series isn't over."

Why would the Phillies so obviously wish for a matchup with the undisputed Best Team in Baseball -- winner of 103 regular season games in the sport's toughest division, owner of the game's most expensive and star-studded roster, basher of more home runs and scorer of more runs than any other team in baseball?

Pardon the armchair psychoanalysis, but perhaps the Phillies, despite their 2008 World Series title and their 18-5 record in the playoffs since last year, still feel as if they are lacking validation in the eyes of the rest of the nation. Their victory in last year's World Series, after all, came against the Tampa Bay Rays, a franchise that had never had an above-.500 season, let alone a previous playoff appearance, before making their surprising run to the AL pennant.

"I don't think it was the matchup that people expected to see or wanted to see," Howard said of the 2008 World Series. "But that doesn't matter. You have to respect whoever's there at the end, and whoever wins."

"Everybody knows about the Yankees and Red Sox, all those great players," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "We want that here -- to be able to say, 'I was able to play with the best of my [era].' That's the only way you can be remembered for being great."

Or perhaps it is simply that the Phillies, with good reason, are feeling invulnerable and unbeatable -- entering Thursday's Angels-Yankees game, they were leading all playoff teams in runs, hits, extra-base hits, walks and OPS -- and see no downside to going up against the best team in the AL, with all the baseball-watching world as witnesses.

"It would be a lot of fun," closer Brad Lidge said. "I would really enjoy that matchup. You're talking about two incredible lineups, and two great pitching staffs as well."

Philadelphia's Cliff Lee and New York's CC Sabathia, ace lefties who 15 months ago were teammates on the Cleveland Indians, are good friends who could be facing each other in Game 1 of the World Series, Wednesday at Yankee Stadium -- where the Phillies won two of three games during an interleague series in May -- provided the Yankees prevail over the Angels and aren't extended to seven games.

Both pitchers have admitted there has been a running text-message conversation between them recently regarding the possibility of a head-to-head battle on the sport's biggest stage.

"We've always stayed in touch and I always pull for him," Lee said. "Of course, if we faced each other, things would be very different."

As the late innings of Wednesday night's borderline-blowout played out, the dominant chant of Phillies fans throughout the series -- "Beat L.A.!" -- suddenly faded out, replaced by a new one, an old Fenway Park standby.

"Yankees [stink]!" the fans chanted, their voices gaining intensity with each repetition, as if they had been waiting a long time to let it out.

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