Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Phillies Aren't Losers

In each of the last 5 seasons (2005-09), the Philadelphia Phillies have been, at the least, Playoff contenders.

In each of the last 4 seasons, the Phillies have pushed the Mets for the National League Eastern Division title.

In each of the last 3 sesaons, the Phillies have won the NL East -- the 1st 2 of those, being the beneficiaries of a "choke" while the Mets have been the victim of a "miracle," each team turning its own history on its head.

In each of the last 2 sesaons, the Phillies have won the NL Pennant.

Last season, the Phillies won the World Series. This season, they came within 2 wins of back-to-back World Championships.

John Madden (the coach-turned-broadcaster-turned-video game pitchman) likes to say that the biggest dropoff in sports is the difference between the winner and the loser of the Super Bowl. If you win the Super Bowl, you're the World Champions and you go down in history; if you lose the Super Bowl, you get ridiculed more than the 30 teams that didn't make it.

I'm not sure that's true. Seriously, who's gotten more ridiculed since February: The Arizona Cardinals (who have had a lot of ridicule in their time, but damn near won the Super Bowl last season), or the Detroit Lions?

The Phillies are not losers. They did not lose the World Series: They got beat by the better team. Probably the only better team in their sport.

Most of the Phillies walked away with their heads hanging for no reason but exhaustion. Most of them walked away with their reputations enhanced:

* Chase Utley, who became only the 2nd player to hit 5 home runs in a World Series. (The 1st, of course, was Mr. Reginald Martinez Jackson... again rocking the fedora, this time at the City Hall celebration.) He also made some big defensive plays.

* Cliff Lee, who handcuffed the Yankees in Game 1, dominating them like no pitcher has in World Series play since Sandy Koufax in 1963. Even Bob Gibson in 1964 (they did beat him in Game 2, if not in 5 or 7), Greg Maddux in 1996 (in Game 2 if not in Game 6), Randy Johnson in 2001 and Josh Beckett in 2003 didn't put the clamps on them like Lee did.

* Jayson Werth, who hit maybe the quietest 36 homers ever in the regular season, and woke people up with his shots in this Series.

* Ryan Howard, who set a new Series record with 13 strikeouts, but still got some big hits. After all, strikeouts don't cost you any more than any other kind of out, and only half as much as groundouts into double plays.

* Ryan Madson, who came in to relieve in the 9th in Game 5 and stopped the Phils' collapse from 8-2 at 8-6, prevented it from being yet another classic Philadelphia sports choke, and allowed the Fightin' Phils to keep Fightin' for another game.

Who on the Phillies, then, left with their reputations damaged? Only 3, that I can see, and not Brad Lidge, since his was already affected earlier in the Playoffs:

* Cole Hamels, who whined about wanting the season to be over. That's not good when it looks like you're going to be named the starting pitcher a potential Game 7. He spit the bit without even getting it into his mouth. Speaking of mouth...

* Pedro Martinez, for choking in postseason play again, and laughing about it, during his Game 2 exit if not in Game 6, where we found out the answer to the question of who's his daddy: Hideki Matsui.

* And Charlie Manuel, the manager who failed to learn the lesson of Grady Little: Better to take Pedro out a batter too soon than a batter too late, because that too late is far too late.

But Delaware Valley fans, from Scranton to Rehoboth, from Atlantic City to Lancaster, have nothing to be ashamed of. Your team is good, it is tough, it has spirit and drive, and it took a team like the 2009 Yankees to beat them. No shame in that.

Besides, the Phillies still make the Mets look bad. Not that they need help in that regard.

Still: Thank you, Phillies, for playing good, solid, entertaining baseball. I couldn't have asked for a worthier opponent in this World Series. And if the Yankees had lost to you, I wouldn't have liked it, but I could have lived with it.

Thankfully, I don't have to.

Besides, you're still the National League Champions. And if Met fans, Cardinal fans, Dodger fans and the rest don't like it, here's what you can do: Sit back, relax, eat a hoagie, or a Cheesesteak, or a pretzel, or a Tastykake, enjoy it, wash it down with a Yuengling... and watch 'em squirm from down below. The Pennant still takes the Broad Street Line down to Pattison. Ain't nothin' wrong with that.

And Eagles: Beat the damned Cowboys tomorrow! DALLAS SUCKS!

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