Empire State of Mind

bring it.jpg

It’s not as though the city of Philadelphia expected anything less. After all, they were chanting “Bring on the Bronx” after the Phillies snatched up their second NLCS win in as many years before it was even official which American League team would be moving on to the next round with them.

A few days and a rain delay later the city could celebrate. The Philadelphia Phillies were going to be taking on the giant empire of Major League Baseball: The New York Yankees.

After the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 there was a sense of entitlement throughout the city of Philadelphia. After 28 years they had finally made it to the big show again and more importantly they had won it. They played (almost) every game in 2009 as if it was theirs for the taking. Keep in mind no one has repeated as World Champion since the Yankees of yore and more dramatically no National League team has repeated since the Cincinnati Reds circa the Bicentennial.

And the Phillies just shrugged it off. No big deal. It can be done again.

It was a roller coaster ride of a season, too. Even though the Fightins filtered onto one field or another 162 times and for the most part had their game faces on, they had their fair share of shake ups. Coming down to the last day of the season the Phillies never really had a handle on their pitchers. The starting rotation rotated their way in and out of the bullpen and on and off the disabled list. At one point Charlie & Ruben found themselves with literally eight start-worthy pitchers and only five slots. They had Cy Young award winners, a Rookie of the Year candidate, a World Series MVP and a Brad Lidge they couldn’t shake the sillies out of.

I can’t even remember how many times I saw J.C. Romero pitch and when exactly they took the ball from Chan Ho to hand to J.A. Happ. I don’t recall the day Park stopped acting out as a resident of the bull pen and blossomed into a stellar long relief guy. I had completely forgotten about Chooch being out for the first part of the season until just now. I remember Jamie Moyer’s reaction to being deleted from the rotation and the city full of fury that we did not get Roy Halladay. And where the heck did Pedro Martinez come from?

I remember Cliff Lee pitching us all stupid. That’s it. He got on the mound, he pitched and we sat there with our mouths hanging open. Roy Halladay who?

I remember Pedro Martinez going 130 pitches against the Mets that cast him off with an intense look of fury and passion in his eyes you only get with pitchers of his caliber. I remember Cole Hamels, last year’s NLCS and World Series MVP get bumped to third in the rotation. When Cole Hamels is your number three guy you know you really are a terrifying team to face.

I also remember defending how great a pitcher Blanton was, and still is, and how it’s such a shame he never seems to get the run support he needs to be a 20-win pitcher. Mark my word he may be in the same class as a Cliff Lee & Pedro Martinez one day – and not just taking turns on the mound with them.

We managed to get by almost without a scratch. Ibanez took some time to rest when he pulled his groin, and Myers and Moyer wound up needing surgery. But for the most part the heavy hitters stayed healthy – Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, Werth. And who knew about Chooch?

It’s funny to look back on the season now as one entity. There were so many unique parts that got the Phillies to where they stood last night – toe to toe with the New York Yankees in game one of the 2009 World Series.

We all knew it it: The Phillies HAD to beat the Yankees in the World Series to gain recognition for their talent. They may not be a 26-time World Series Championship franchise like the Bronx Bombers, they may not be as revered as the Red Sox or the Dodgers – but the Phillies held their own all season. They were consistently in the top five teams by win percentage for the entire six-month roller coaster ride. But why were they never looked at as GREAT? They had their ring after all, all shiny and new. But they won it by defeating the Tampa Bay Rays – an expansion team that had one miraculous season. Sure they had to beat the Dodgers to get to the biggest stage in baseball but they didn’t get to face an everyday heavy hitting team. It was looked at as an anomaly.

Even the Marlins have won a couple of times, right?

Charlie said in a press conference on Tuesday “We need to play the Yankees.” More interestingly the media bobble heads that were present asked “why?” Well, before Clifton’s brilliant performance last night almost every station you switched to had begrudgingly picked the Phillies to win, but were still openly cheering for the Yankees. And why wouldn’t you cheer for the Yankees? It just makes sense. Just like you’re supposed to cheer for the Lakers, the Cowboys and whoever the NHL puts on a pedestal. I’ve made my thoughts on the clear bias pretty well known on my Twitter feed lately (including one tweet made in very bad taste to @MLBPulse which was promptly deleted in shame and guilt and a nudge from Mark) so I’m not going to get into it again here. But I would just like to take a poll of who everyone USED to root for before they had to move to NYC for their big media job. I’m just wondering.

Anyway – the Phillies HAD to play the Yankees in the World Series to be taken seriously and they HAVE to beat them to be considered among the greats. God love John Kruk but we need more than one media figurehead standing up for our city. If the Phillies wound up playing Detroit, Minnesota or the Angels the story would probably have been very similar to last year. They most likely would have won (especially if Mike Scioscia continued with his managerial meltdowns) and the city would still be thrilled to have two titles under their belt in as many years. ESPN and Fox Sports may have given them credit for being the first NL team since the Reds to score back to back pennants. But it would have died down again and the Phillies would have to come back in 2010 swinging and vying for a THIRD title to prove themselves. It’s just the way it is.

capt_ws20010290317_world_series_phillies_yankees_baseball_ws200.jpgClifton Phifer Lee put on a hell of a show last night. The Yankees were stunned. The Phillies were giggling in the dugout (and on the field after a couple of those plays). The umps weren’t just handing wins away to whoever they felt like handing them to. Everyone came with their gloves on, and the Yankees left KO’d.

Tonight we see Pedro Martinez face “his daddy,” apparently, and AJ Burnet. I’m willing to bet we will see some offense tonight – how much and from which team, I’m not sure. What I do know is that if Derek Jeter continues to be the only Yankee showing up to the party and A-Rod gets whiffed all night again the mood will have officially been set for the rest of the series. I still stand by Phillies in 5, and I feel bad predicting that Saturday will be the day the Yankees see the light of victory, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be in Philly next Friday morning with the rest of you on Broad Street as the parade passes me by.


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