Philadelphia Phillies

“It’s always better to write joy”

A semi-wise man once wrote, on this website no less, that it’s always better to write joy.  And so while I had every intention of writing about the bewildering circus that has become the Eagles early 2009 season, the Phillies clinching the NL East tonight in convincing fashion has me switching topics.  Why ponder the season of an infuriating  franchise when you can celebrate the victory of a champion?

Of the past three NL East division championships, it seems like this one has been the biggest grind.  The season started with two straight losses at home to the Atlanta Braves and talk of a post-World Series hangover.  If not for the dreadful Nationals and Padres, April would have been a disastrous month.

On May 30th, the Phillies beat the Nationals 9-6, the Mets lost to Florida 7-3 and the Phillies moved into first place for good.  So while there were no late season heroics (and historic Mets collapses) this time around, when the final out was recorded on September 30th against the Astros, a huge sigh of relief swept across the Philadelphia area.

It’s amazing that a team that has been front-running for 136 straight days has played like a team that has mucked and grinded throughout the summer and early into fall.

Every time you turned around this year, something else was wrong with the team.  An ace that pitched like a fourth starter.  A leadoff hitter that couldn’t get on base until July.  Relief pitchers getting injured by the dozen.  A closer that lead the league in blown saves.  A collective inability to hit with runners in scoring position for extended stretches of time.   Every position player went through a prolonged slump at some point in the season.

In fact, if you looked at all the negatives of the season, there’s no reason that the Phillies should even be in contention.   And yet, here we are, 2009 National East Division Champs.  A few days to rest the starters, set up the rotation, and make a run at another World Series trophy.

And while all the players will talk about perseverance and teamwork, the biggest reason for this third straight division championship is Charlie Manuel.  Could any other manager have handled Jimmy Rollins’ early season meltdown?  While everyone was writing off Jimmy, Charlie sat him down a few games, pushed the right buttons and got J-Roll back on track.  If it was up to the sports radio idiots, Jimmy would have been traded to the Expos for a bag of peanuts.

And while his unwavering (and perhaps misguided) confidence in Brad Lidge may have cost the team at least a half dozen wins this year, Charlie made a move tonight that proves why he is the leader of men.   With a healthy lead and 2 outs in the ninth, Charlie called on Lidge to deliver the last out of the night and clinch the division.   Lidge responded with a one pitch groundout to first.

A tremendous move by a tremendous manager.  The nightmare hanging over every Phillies fan is Lidge blowing a pivotal game in the playoffs.  But with that simple move from Charlie, there’s hope.  There’s hope that Lidge will regain his confidence.  There’s hope that Lidge will repay the gesture and dig deep this postseason and get back to the form of 2008.   And while it’s unlikely that Lidge will be the guy this year, something tells me that Charlie pushed the right button here.   Something tells me to be optimistic.

For those of us who went through all the decades of futility (save 1993), three straight division championships is something none of us could imagine.  But it’s ok to be greedy folks.  It’s ok to think about the run we went on last year and think about the new heroes that will shape our memories of this playoff run.  Perhaps it’ll be Ben Francisco playing the Matt Stairs role.  Perhaps it’ll be Cliff Lee playing the Cole Hamels role.    Perhaps it’ll be Madson playing the Lidge role.

And while Vegas and the pundits have already installed the New York Yankees as the 2009 Champs, it’s ok to think about another parade down Broad street.  With the way the Phillies have played this year and the bullpen woes, it is unlikely.  But that’s pessimism and analysis for another day.

Tonight, the champagne is flowing in the clubhouse, HK is singing High Hopes, and I’m full of joy.

By Vin

Vin is a Philly boy who shouldn't be invited into your house because he'll judge you on your book and music collection. He owns Dawkins, Utley, Iverson, and Lindros jerseys, which is all you really need to know about him. He can be reached at [email protected]

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