By Chris Murray
For the Sunday Sun
ABOVE PHOTO: Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, right, runs to celebrate with pitcher Roy Halladay, left, and catcher Carlos Ruiz after the Phillies defeated the Washington Nationals 8-0 to clinch the National League East on Monday, Sept. 27, 2010, in Washington.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Seemingly lost in all the hoopla surrounding Donovan McNabb’s return to Philadelphia as a member of the Washington Redskins was the news that the Philadelphia Phillies clinched their fourth straight National League Eastern Division title.
While the drama of the Eagles has been a never-ending story, your “Phightin” Phils have accomplished something in the last few years the Birds and the rest city’s teams haven’t and that’s to have a parade along Broad Street thanks to a World Championship win.
And thanks to the Phillies, the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection will be basking in the euphoria of yet another world championship before the crisp air of fall gives way to the cold winds of winter, complete with another loud celebration on Broad Street.
The 2010 Philllies have survived a gauntlet of injuries to its superstars and spending most of its time in second or third place to become arguably the best team in baseball and the odds-on favorite to win their second World Series in three years.
And that’s even with the possibility of facing the same New York Yankees squad that wrestled the title from them in 2009. The Phillies, as shortstop Jimmy Rollins once said, are the team to beat.
For one thing, the Phillies have the best starting rotation in baseball with its three-headed monster of Cy Young Award candidate Roy Halladay (21-10), Cole Hamels (12-11), and Roy Oswalt (13-13), whom the Phillies acquired from the Houston Astros in late July. At some point in their careers, all of those pitchers have been the aces of their respective staffs.
Halladay has been the Phillies work horse this season. He leads the National League in wins and innings pitched and has allowed the fewest walks. He is third in earned run average at 2.44. He pitched only the 27th perfect game in Major League history against the Florida Marlins back in May. Whenever he has pitched this season, the Phillies were always in a position to win. There’s no question he should win the National League’s Cy Young Award.
Hamels and Oswalt have been just as tough to hit during the second half of the season. Hamels has a 2.28 earned run average since the All-Star Break and is back to the form that earned him the Most Valuable Player Award in the 2008 World Series. Since joining the Phillies back on July 30, Oswalt has been lights out on the mound with a 7-1 record and a 1.65 ERA.
Engineering the trade for Oswalt might have been the most important move made by general manager Reuben Amaro Jr. On July 22, before Oswalt’s arrival, the Phillies were 48-45 and seven games out of first place in the National League East. They have played .600 baseball since.
While he isn’t at the form that enabled him to go a perfect 48 for 48 in save opportunities in 2008, closer Brad Lidge is pretty darn close. He has saved 22 out of his last 23 games—which was a far cry from the hit or miss pitcher he was last year.
But what makes this year’s squad more dangerous than usual is that the Phillies have learned how to win ball games even under the most difficult of circumstances. This year virtually every player in the Phillies starting lineup including the powerhouse troika of Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley has spent time on the disabled list.
But the Phillies were able to fill the void with the loss of players like Utley and Howard with players like Wilson Valdez, Mike Sweeney and up and coming outfielder Dominic Brown. Through all the injuries, the lineup changes, battings slumps, losing streaks and pursuit of first place, manager Charlie Manuel never panicked, never sounded the alarm and managed the Phillies through the season’s most difficult circumstances. He always seemed to push the right button, especially during the second half of the season. Since the All-Star Break, the Phillies have the best record in baseball at 48-24.
In September, the Phillies finished with a 21-6 record including an 11-game winning streak that help them surge ahead of the Atlanta Braves for the division title.
If Manuel does not win the National League Manager of the Year Award for managing the Phils through injuries and rebounding them third place to another postseason appearance, then there’s something wrong with folks doing the voting.
If there was an unsung hero for the Phillies when the team was going through is myriad of injuries, slumps and losing streaks, it was catcher Carlos Ruiz. Batting near the bottom of the Phillies lineup, Ruiz is batting .298 with 52 runs batted in and eight homeruns. “Chooch,” as he’s affectionately called by his teammates, always came with the big hit when you needed it even when guys like Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Howard were mired in slumps.
The Phillies are going to win the World Series because they have seemingly been to hell and back through their bizarre odyssey of slumps and injuries. They have the best pitching and an offense that can explode at any time. You have seven guys with at least 50 runs batted in and 15 home runs -including Howard who has 31 homers and 106 RBI.
The Phils will walk over their National League opponents and can match up with anybody in the American League whether it is the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers or Minnesota Twins.
Mark it down and find your spot, because there will be a big party along Broad Street in early November… and don’t forget to wear your brightest red.