Eugoogly: The 2009 Philadelphia Phillies
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 5, 2009
The Philadelphia Phillies lost the World Series tonight. They fell to the New York Yankees in convincing, albeit not embarrassing, fashion, getting closed out in a Game Six in The Bronx. It’s fairly unfortuante, very sad, and maybe a little disappointing, but the tragedy of the situation has long passed. The Yankees did Phillies fans a mild favor by putting the game out of reach fairly early–getting the game to 7-1 by the fifth inning, and at least saving us the heartbreaking late-game histrionics that have come to characterize Phillies losses of late. You could argue that the series was over even before that, with closer Brad Lidge failing to hold a late Phillies rally to tie Game Four in Philadelphia, after which point the Yankees went up 3-1, unlikely to drop three straight (and two in their own ballpark). For those of us with even slightly pragmatic tendencies, the result here was not a surprise.
Personally, I was very well prepared to deal with this loss, just because I’m still getting over my relief that the Phillies won Game Five. To me, that was an important game to win, regardless of whether they eventually won the series or not, mostly for the following reasons:
- Taking the series to six games at least meant that they made it a longer series for the Yankees than the Rays did for them last year.
- Winning that game would mean the Yankees would get to celebrate in Philadelphia, having won all three games at Citizens Bank Park, no less.
- My Yankee fan co-worker smugly predicted a Yankees win in five from the get, and he would’ve been insufferable all off-season if he’d gotten it exactly right.
Still, I could’ve handled the loss–just not the way they were gearing up to lose it. Up 8-2 in the 8th inning, the pitching staff proceeded to give up four runs and let the tying run get to the plate (Mark Teixeira, regular-season AL home-run leader), before makeshift-closer Ryan Madson struck him out to seal the win. I don’t recall ever being so angry at the people on my television. If they had blown that game, I would have crawled under my covers and stayed there, comatose, for about a month. After living through that, I knew I could handle a Game Six loss with relative ease.
And ultimately, it’s hard not to feel that the best team won this series. I felt pretty strongly that the Phillies were the best team in the NL this year, and I felt pretty confident they’d end up with the pennant–as confident as you can feel about the relative crapshoot of the MLB playoffs, anyway–but the Yankees…well, they’re good. The Phillies’ lineup is ridiculously strong, but even there, tiny holes can be found. The leadoff guys don’t have great OBPs. The back of the lineup is relatively weak. The bench isn’t great. There’s no real reliable rotation anchor behind the #1 starter (Or there was, before the #2 turned out to be such a head case), and there’s no real shut-down lineup in the bullpen (Or there was, before the closer turned out to be such a head case…again). The Yankees, though? What’s the worst thing you can say about that team? That they don’t have a good fourth outfielder? That their back-up catcher doesn’t hit for power? It’s almost unfair.
Actually, scratch that–it’s the definition of unfair. Now, I’m not one of those guys that hems and haws about the Yankees shelling out more money than everyone else in the league–that’s the way baseball works, and so be it–and especially not with the Phils going over the 100 million mark themselves, a number that the likes of the Marlins and Athletics can only dream of. But the difference in finances between the two teams (209 mil for the Yanks this year, 111 mil for the Phils) is still somewhat staggering. With that kind of money going into an opposing team, you basically need something to go wrong for them–injuries, or clubhouse drama, or a prized signing who doesn’t pan out–to be able to play on their level. And minus a season-ending injury to Xavier Nady (Yeah, Xavier Nady, remember him?) early in the year, and the general failure of Chien-Ming Wang (Yeah, Chien-Ming Wang, remember him?) to return to form, everything went right for the Yanks this year. Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira all justified their contracts. Jeter, Posada and Matsui had bounce-back years. Swisher turned out to be a nice pickup. A-Rod returned from off-season surgery and off-season drama to resume his position as one of the game’s elite, and even developed a clutch streak in the process. Even Pettitte and Rivera put off the ravages of time one more year. Were the Phillies a great team? Absolutely. Could they have beaten the Yankees had a few breaks gone their way? It’s the playoffs, anything can happen. Am I saying the Yankees don’t deserve their World Series? No, they used their resources well this year, and means + execution generally = success. But I’m not going to lose too much sleep over losing to a team that far ahead of the pack, where almost everything went right for them–hell, they should win.
And you know what? Even without the ring, this season was a humongous success for the Phillies. Going back-to-back would’ve been amazing, but this is baseball–only one or two teams in an entire generation get to go back-to-back, and simply making the World Series two years in a row qualifies the team as something of a mini-dynasty. I feel the Phillies did baseball a huge service this year by A) Proving that last year’s winning team wasn’t a fluke, and B) Giving the league its first World Series in at least four or five years where it really feels like the best two teams were the ones that made it. Everyone loves underdogs in sports, and so do I, but every once in a while, you want to feel like the playoff system is credible enough that at least some of the time, the right two teams get in, and the right one wins. (And if you still think the Cardinals were better than the Phillies this year because they had two good hitters and two good pitchers..well, I just don’t know what to tell you).
Besides that, I enjoyed rooting for this team more than last year’s. There’s nothing like a championship season certainly, but there’s a swagger in cheering on returning champs that I found absolutely intoxicating–like the Phillies were finally playing with the big boys. The atmosphere surrounding the team was incalculably different, too, from the sellout string at CBP and the presence of fanbases in opposing ballparks, to the fact that not only was the team a buyer at the trade deadline, they made probably the biggest deal of the season by landing one of the best pitchers in baseball (and barely giving up anything in return). The Phillies were now one of baseball’s bullies, the kind of team that inspired “____ SUCKS!!” chants in rival ballparks and seething jealousy from the league’s have-nots. Seeing five of our guys on the All-Star Team–including the entire fucking outfield–I’m sorry, that’s just one of the coolest experiences you can enjoy as a sports fan. Even last year, that would’ve seemed somewhat absurd.
And just in terms of the people, I also preferred this team to last year’s. Pat Burrell, my least favorite guy on that ’08 team but a big middle-of-the-lineup guy, was replaced in left field with Raul Ibanez, and within about a month of hitting homers, making big catches, and melting us with his penetrating stare, Rauuuuuuul made us feel like Pat the Bat had been off the team for about a decade. Cole Hamels, always something of a pretty boy who felt too big for the city, saw his status in the rotation erode, as Pedro Martinez gave us tantalizing glimpses of how amazing he must’ve been to follow in his prime (even at 75% of what he once was, dude was simply electric), and J.A. Happ gave us hope for the future of the staff on the way to a likely Rookie of the Year award. And Cliff Lee…well, let’s just say that I can’t believe we’re lucky enough to get another year with the guy. With the minor exception of a painful week or two in June, this team was an absolute pleasure to root for all season, from the insane come-from-behind win against Atlanta in the opening series, through the 22-run game in Cincinnati, Jamie’s one-hitter in Florida, and right up to Chase going deep five times in the Series. It’s a special team, and one we should get at least a couple more quality years out of before folding up the tent.
So yeah, it would’ve been nice to win it all, and it’s certainly going to take a couple of days to get over (especially living in New York, where the celebrating of the Bad Guys Winning will be thoroughly unavoidable). But I shed no tears for the loss–this was one time when just getting there was pretty great in itself. I love this team and I can’t wait to do it all again next year. Now, how about those 76ers?