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Cliff Lee Signing Signals Phillies Are and Will Remain an Elite Organization

The Philadelphia Phillies surprised the baseball world, and perhaps even themselves, when they snatched Cliff Lee on the free agent market a couple weeks ago. 

Not only did the signing seemingly come out of nowhere due to the stealth negotiations, but they undercut the New York Yankees in the process. Ever since Lee appeared headed to test the market, the big money has been on the Yankees to land him for the same reason— big money. 

The Yankees have deep pockets and a long history of paying top dollar to get the players they desire the most. A-Rod, Mark Texeira, CC Sabathia, Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Dave Winfield, Goose Gossage, and Andy Pettite are just some of the big name, big dollar signings. 

And, if the Bronx Bombers couldn’t entice Sabathia’s ex-Cleveland Indians buddy to sign, the Texas Rangers were poised to offer up the necessary dollars and years to keep the hurler that led them to their first World Series in October. Additionally, Lee loved his brief tenure with the Rangers, the team possessed the talent to win, and Arlington was relatively close to his home. 

Just days earlier, the Phillies lost their own free agent, Jayson Werth, to the Washington Nationals and a monster contract.  

Although they hated to see him go, the Phillies already possessed a payroll that stretched way beyond the limits most would imagine just a year or two ago. They seemed to be in a holding pattern with their salary budget, still trying to get comfortable with what they already had on the books. 

Then, suddenly, word crept out that the Phillies might be a mystery team in the hunt for Lee’s services. In the coming hours, speculation turned to rumor and then to news. 

The Phillies had reached an agreement with Lee pending the customary physical examination as well as the requisite dotting of the i’s and crossing of the t’s.   

With the move, the Phillies had assembled a starting rotation of historic proportions and suddenly went from top contender to the favorites for 2011. 

It was a leap that most long-term Phillies fans could have never imagined. 

Heck, just a year ago, the team dealt Lee away when they acquired Roy Halladay— and even if they wanted to replenish the farm system, most everyone knew the key driver was economics.  

The Lee signing also sent a bright signal that the Phillies have officially become a “big market” team after operating as a “small market” team for virtually all of its 127-year existence. 

The Phillies have ascended to the level of the Yankees and Boston Red Sox- two teams that annually set their sights on winning a championship and make the financial commitment to support that goal. 

And, like those teams, the Phillies appear poised to remain in that stratosphere for the foreseeable future. 

Some could view the situation as a temporary phenomenon that will change as high priced players start to roll-off the payroll, but here are five reasons that the Phils are here to stay for awhile. 

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Money Aside, All Lose with Jayson Werth’s Departure from the Phillies

Yesterday, conjecture became reality.

After months of speculation that Jayson Werth would leave the Phillies when his contract expired, it became official when the Washington Nationals signed him to a mega-deal.

Most everyone would agree that the terms of the contract widely exceeded expectations.

Even the Nationals GM Mike Rizzo admitted as much by implying that the 7-year, $126 million deal had to be inflated to attract a high profile free agent due to the team’s less than stellar track record. 

Beyond the obvious financial windfall benefiting Werth and his agent Scott Boras, all parties involved seem to lose at some level.

Although the Phillies abundance of remaining talent, headed by the Big Three, will still position them as strong contenders in 2011, the team is clearly worse off without Werth. 

It is apparent to most all observers that the club loses its one big, right-handed power bat to break up its lefty sluggers. More peripherally, though, they lose the type of patient hitter that runs up pitch counts and on base percentage.  

And, for Phillies fans who suffered through watching the Bobby Abreu era, Werth’s defensive range, aggressive baserunning and all out hustle were highly valued.

In fact, these qualities along with his work ethic make him the type of player that Philly fans embracealthough not now that he has jumped ship. 

In anticipation of “J-Dub’s” exit, most pundits and fans have envisioned replacing him with a platoon scenario.

Names such as Ben Francisco, John Mayberry Jr, Matt Diaz, and Jeff Francouer have surfaced to pair with left-handed rookie phenom Domonic Brown.

Unfortunately, none of them possess Werth’s combination of speed, range, arm, or gamer mentalitylet alone batting capabilities.  

Besides securing a five-tool player, the Nationals lose on many fronts with this deal.

Even if they can shrug off the scorn from most every other GM and team owner around baseball for raising the bar by handing a 31-year old player with a history of injury a seven-year contract at an average annual salary of $18 million, they still have issues. 

Should Werth’s production start to fade as he moves out of his prime, their return on investment will nose dive.

Even worse, if the injury bug returns, it could happen sooner. 

Part of Rizzo’s rationale for overspending right now is that his club needed to acquire the type of centerpiece necessary to build a winner and signal to other players around the league that Washington has a bright future. 

This seems particularly risky considering that Werth never played that role in Philly.

The free spirited right fielder resided more in the supporting cast behind big name stars such as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge, and Cole Hamels.

This is not to say that Werth is incapable of stepping up to be “The Man,” but placing a nine figure bet on that happening makes a former, round, Philadelphia hoops star’s gambling look like child’s play.    

Lastly, the Nats have been accumulating some nice young talent, but still appear to be a year or two away from serious contention.

The return of Stephen Strasburg from Tommy John surgery and the development of fellow phenom Bryce Harper seem to point to 2012 or 2013 as the season for Washington to emerge from the bottom feeder depths.  

The signing of Werth does not quite align with that timeline. 

And, importantly, despite now being financially set for life, Werth loses a lot by inking this contract. The next seven years will likely never rival the fun and excitement that he experienced while in red pinstripes. 

It all starts with the chemistry in the clubhouse, created by a rare mix of talented, selfless, and winning ballplayers. The Phillies have the intangibles to go with the skills that translates into an enjoyable environment and ultimately success. 

As for today’s Natsnot so much. 

When he steps out of the clubhouse onto the field, it is highly unlikely that Werth will experience the same electric atmosphere that was a constant throughout his stay in Philly. 

Philadelphia’s NL-leading attendance last season was more than double the numbers in Washington.

Nat’s fans occupied 53.9 percent of the stadium each game, while Phillies fans over-stuffed Citizen’s Bank Park at 103.5 percent of capacity. 

Perhaps an even more important difference can be found in the DNA of each set of fans.

Washington fans don’t exactly come to mind when terms like “passionate,” “knowledgeable,” and “vocal” are thrown around the baseball world— but are almost synonymous with those residing in the City of Brotherly Love.  

Werth’s switch of red uniforms also brings a ramped up set of expectations and pressure. It remains to be seen how he will respond to it, but history suggests that those two elements often rob some of the joy of playing a kids game as your everyday occupation. 

Wrapped around all of this is the fact that the Phillies are still built to win now.

No matter how much money is sitting in a bank account or portfolio, winning is always a lot more fun.  

Washington might have a bright future. But, if the Phillies can figure out how to patch the gaping hole left by his departure, it may be a tortuous couple years for Werth watching his former teammates strive for historic excellence. 

Some have reacted to Werth’s contract with anger and disdain, incensed that he would choose money over winning.

Although it is disappointing to see one of my favorite and most admired Phillies players leave town, it is virtually impossible to begrudge him accepting a deal the magnitude that was offered. 

If recent reports have been true, the Nationals offer was three or four years longer and $62-78 million greater than what Ruben Amaro extended to Werth. 

That goes way beyond the range of a hometown discount and vaults into the category of “an offer that can’t be refused.”

Its sad, but true that Werth is no longer a Philly and is now a National. As a result, it will be a little bit less fun for Phillies fans when they head to the park next season.  

And, I suspect, the same will hold true for Werth—perhaps even more-so.   

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Philadelphia Phillies: An Open Letter to Jayson Werth and Ruben Amaro

Dear Jayson and Ruben,

As you well know, the past few years have been a very special time for the Philadelphia Phillies and their loyal fanbase.  

Four division titles, three trips to the NLCS, two National League Pennants, and a World Series ring is the type of remarkable success that has not been common place in this city.

Every game is a playoff atmosphere with standing room only crowds filling arguably the best venue in all of sports. 

Baseball pundits and fans have debated whether this is the best era in team history—or even in Philly sports altogether. The “dynasty” word was being tossed around pretty freely, but regrettably has been shelved for now with the Phillies premature postseason exit this year. 

I think you could both agree that the Phillies still have some unfinished business. 

Ruben, it surely won’t help the cause if Jayson is wearing a different uniform next season.

Some argue that top prospect Domonic Brown is waiting in the wings, and that this is part of baseball’s natural order.  Although he showed some flashes, Brown’s three-month tour with the big club highlighted that he’s probably not quite ready for prime time. 

And importantly, he swings from the left-side. After the way the Giants lined up lefties in the NLCS to shut down the Phillies left leaning lineup, tipping the scales further in that direction clearly wouldn’t improve the team’s championship aspirations. 

Left field in 2012 sounds just about right. 

A lineup with Brown replacing Jayson in 2011 would likely have Charlie Manuel asking for volunteers to move to the right-side to balance things out like a US Airways Express flight attendant.  

Besides providing an important right-handed threat amongst the left-handed sluggers, Jayson contributes to winning in so many other ways.  

His athleticism, instincts and rocket-launcher arm make him one of the best right-fielders in baseball. He gets on base a lot, and then possesses the speed, aggressiveness, and hustle to freely move around them.  

Did I mention that Jayson is the National League’s all-time postseason leader in home runs? For a team setting its annual goal to win it all, isn’t having proven big game performers critically important? 

He is a true gamer whose total contributions sometimes only show up on the stat sheets in the win column. Additionally, keying in on a non-Sabermetric stat, he ranks very high in “cool” factor 

Jayson had it right when he said a few weeks ago, “Why mess with a winning formula?”

And, Jayson, it is very doubtful that you can replicate the electric atmosphere of Citizen’s Bank Park, not to mention the tremendous camaraderie and chemistry with your teammates.  

Speaking of the baseball stadium, wouldn’t you agree that it is pretty much ideal for a player of your skills?

You are a perfect fit for this club and this city. And they are a perfect fit for you. 

Why would you want to mess with a winning formula? Why not choose to remain as a key component of something very special that will be recognized in this town for generations to come?

You will be financially set for life with your next contract— here or elsewhere. Why accept anything less than the ideal situation— namely Philadelphia. 

I suspect the past few years have been among, if not the best times in your life. Why walk away from more of the same for a little extra money?

Wouldn’t you miss all your close friends in The Bank’s right field bleachers? Why risk a case of writer’s cramp sending out postcards to stay in touch?

Let’s face it, Ruben and Jayson, you need each other. And, Phillies teammates and fans need you to need each other.

So, how can we work this out? 

Jayson, although it might not be in your agent’s DNA, perhaps you could whisper in his ear to negotiate nicely with the Phillies because they are like family. Tell him that RAJ didn’t really intend to make you look bad when he mentioned that RISP stuff. 

After all, didn’t the Phillies take a risk on you when others wouldn’t and then provide the perfect surroundings for you to flourish? That sounds like family to me.   

And, how about telling that agent you’re up for a hometown discount?  

Ruben, think about how difficult it would be to fill the gaping hole in the lineup and in right when it comes time to negotiate. 

Remember, too, there’s nothing wrong with being creative. A trade here, a future expiring contract there, a deferred payment here, an advertising rate bump there— and you might be able to sell it up the line.  

Consider also that Jayson had something to do with those 100-plus consecutive sellouts. Fans are willing to pay to see winning teams, especially those comprised of winning, likable players with a work ethic. 

He’s not going to come cheap, but isn’t he worth it? (Or, if you prefer, Werth it?) Proven five-tool players are hard to come by— lets not let him go the way of Cliff Lee.  

Surely, seeing the Giants players dancing on the field last week has to make both of you want to take another crack at getting it right next year. Heck, a few more rings could fit on those hands, so why stop there?

Can’t we do this together? Lets finish business the way it was intended. 


Best Regards,


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Philadelphia Phillies’ Best Team Ever Heads Home for a Long, Cold Winter

Without the benefit of a Farmer’s Almanac or sophisticated meteorological computer modeling, it is clear that it will be a long, cold winter in Philadelphia.  

The San Francisco Giants ensured that when they defeated the Philadelphia Phillies last night, wresting away the National League Pennant that the Phillies had held for two years.  Regrettably, the Phillies helped the Giants’ cause, continuing their trend of failing to generate runs in the postseason.  

Last season’s playoffs star hitter Ryan Howard stood frozen, unable to pull the trigger on a Brian Wilson 3-2 cutter that barely touched the bottom edge of the strike zone. After a pregnant pause that suspended an entire fanbase, home plate umpire Tom Hallion rung up Howard to end the Phillies’ two-year NL reign. 

That strikeout, which left two runners stranded, will be replayed for generations to come. It aptly symbolizes the Phillies’ disappointing 2010 postseason performance. 

Despite their high profile and seemingly high power offense, the Phillies simply could not push runs across the plate. They could not come through with big hits or even score runners from third. All they needed to do was put a ball in play, and they failed. 

The night started with great promise, as the Phillies seemed to finally find their missing mojo. Chase Utley’s ringing double into the right field corner and Jayson Werth’s warning track sacrifice fly gave them a 2-0 lead in the first.  

Then, it was radio silence the rest of the way. The Phillies reverted back to 2010 form, unable to push another run across the dish with the entire season on the line.

The first inning evoked deja vu that hearkened back to the 2008 and 2009 championship teams. It appeared as if the bats had broken out of their slumber and the Phillies were primed to play to expectations. 

2010 postseason reality quickly kicked back in, however, when a “shoulda-woulda-coulda” top half of the third allowed the Giants to even the score. Utley whiffed on grounder that appeared within his reach. Shane Victorino couldn’t quite hang on to make a Willie Mays-esque catch. Placido Polanco threw away a swinging bunt.  

Then, a promising bottom half of the inning began with a walk and yet another hit batter. After Utley flipped the ball back to the mound after it drilled him just below the neck, Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez went ballistic. 

Isn’t the batter who took the heater in the spine the one entitled to be annoyed? 

Sanchez’s actions touched off a bench-clearing scrum that allowed valuable time for Jeremy Affeldt to get loose in the pen. After the field cleared, Bruce Bochy replaced the rattled Sanchez with Affeldt, who promptly extinguished the rally.  

The Giants’ hurlers worked themselves into trouble over the balance of the game, but Phillies hitters could never cash in.

The Phillies seemed ready to break through with two outs in the fifth, when Howard lined a double to left center with Rollins on first. Third base coach Sam Perlozzo somewhat shockingly held Rollins on what would have been a close play–one in which the speedy shortstop typically crosses the plate with the certainty of death and taxes.   

In the sixth, the Phils were knocking on the door again when Raul Ibanez doubled to left and was moved over by a Carlos Ruiz bunt. After working a 2-0 count, pinch hitter Ben Francisco missed a couple hittable pitches before taking a called third strike. The looping curve ball seemed to be high and wide, but as Howard discovered later, with two strikes, swinging at anything close was advisable in this game. 

After both teams took turns leaving men on base for a long stretch, Juan Uribe jumped on Ryan Madson’s first pitch fastball with two outs in the eighth and lofted a high fly ball to right that had just enough carry to reach the seats. The Citizens Bank Park crowd was suddenly silenced as the Giants took a 3-2 lead. 

Bochy called on Thursday’s losing pitcher Tim Lincecum. After surrendering singles to Victorino and Ibanez with one out, his night was done. Brian Wilson trotted in with his crazed closer act and got extremely lucky when Carlos Ruiz lined into a double play. 

Brad Lidge loaded the bases in the ninth but got Wilson to bounce out to maintain the one run deficit. The stage was set for one last ditch effort to rally to keep the Phillies season alive. 

With one out, Rollins walked, but it was erased on Polanco’s fielder’s choice.  Utley worked another walk, putting the Phillies 2010 season into the hands of their cleanup hitter, who had yet to record an RBI in either playoff series. 

Howard lingered in disbelief after being rung up, while Wilson celebrated himself with his contrived signature ritual. Giants players rushed to the center of the field to celebrate their large upset and a trip to the “Fall Classic.” 

The winningest team in baseball, the odds-on favorite and the Phillies’ most talented team ever, had fallen short of its goal and expectations. 

A season so full of promise was prematurely over. A marvelously talented and highly appealing team was exiting the big stage before the final act.  

All that remains is a cruel winter of wondering what went wrong and what could have been for the Phillies players, coaches, front office, and fans.

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2010 NLCS: Opportunity Knocks for Philadelphia Phillies To Prove Greatness

A mark of a great team is its ability to overcome adversity to achieve success. The 2010 Philadelphia Phillies have surely faced an ample portion of challenges this season with a disabled list transaction report that reads like an MLB “Who’s Who” list. 

The team has already proved to be tremendously resilient by turning a 48-46 midseason record into the best record in baseball (97-65) with a remarkable 49-19 finish.

While many were contemplating writing off the season as a year of bad fortune, the entire Phillies organization remained resolute in their capabilities and optimistic for a successful outcome. No one panicked, no one baled. 

After trailing the Atlanta Braves by seven games just a couple months earlier, the Phillies won the NL Eastern Division going away. Their season ending tally of 97 wins and a rare as Halley’s Comet NL All-Star game victory gave them home field advantage throughout the postseason.  

With the “Big Three” anchoring perhaps the best lineup in baseball, oddsmakers pegged them as the favorites to win it all heading into the October tourney that spills into November for each league’s best team.

Although they looked a little rusty in spots, the Phillies quickly dispensed the Cincinnati Reds 3-0 in the NLDS. As further validation to the oddsmakers, the “Big Three” produced a historic no-hitter in the opener and a brilliant five-hit shutout in the series clincher. 

The team’s next destination was a third consecutive trip to the NLCS, this time to face the upstart San Francisco Giants

Somewhat surprisingly, that trip found them in a 3-1 hole after four games and facing the possibility of a winter of wondering what could have been. The Phillies were on the brink of elimination.  

It has turned into a potential microcosm of their whole season.  Of course, for that to happen, the Phillies would need to battle back to win the NLCS.  

On Thursday night, the Phillies took one large step in that direction. A 4-2 victory over two-time defending Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum in enemy territory kept them alive and restored home field advantage. 

Somewhat fitting to their seasonal journey, the Phillies’ ace of aces, Roy Halladay suffered a groin pull early in the contest and clearly did not display his typical dominating stuff. Also, fittingly, he battled his way through to maintain a narrow 3-2 lead after six innings.

And, perhaps keeping with the script, Jimmy Rollins finally seemed to shake off a lingering hamstring injury that has compromised his running ability through the playoffs. In the seventh inning, seeing J Roll steal second and third base had to hearten his teammates and Phillies fans alike. 

The bullpen came up big with some of its best work all season over the final three innings. Additionally, Jayson Werth provided a huge insurance run with an opposite field homer in the ninth. 

Earlier in the game, Werth gunned down Phillies nemesis Cody Ross at third with a Dave Parkeresque frozen rope from right. Besides helping Halladay escape a jam, the play may have taken a little edge off Cody’s magic over the Phillies.  

Of course, two more large challenges remain if the Phillies want to be the first National League team in 66 years to appear in three consecutive World Series. 

Tonight, Roy Oswalt takes the hill in hope of advancing the team to Game 7. A revved-up Citizen’s Bank Park crowd will be there to offer ample encouragement. 

Should the Phillies win, 2008 postseason hero Cole Hamels is waiting in the wings for Sunday. By then, the electricity at “The Bank” might be enough to power the entire tri-state area.

Meanwhile, Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers will be looking on, awaiting their 2010 World Series opponent. 

The stage is set.  Opportunity knocks for the Phillies to show their true greatness. 

After fighting their way through adversity all season, a similar course in the postseason would provide further evidence that this is truly a great team. Coming back from a 3-1 NLCS deficit to prevail would only serve to enhance the argument. 

It won’t be easy facing a Giants team with its own talented pitching staff and a seemingly unending arsenal of interchangeable parts. Importantly, they also possess a belief that they can win.  

With due respect to the Giants, the Phillies also possess that same belief. This Phillies team is, in fact, a truly special club—and this weekend could go a long way towards demonstrating that further.

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Playing Philadelphia Phillies Manager: Four Moves for NLCS Game 4 and Beyond

Phillies’ skipper Charlie Manuel has played things pretty much straight up over the past two postseasons and has two NL Pennants and a World Series ring to show for it. With his team finding itself down two games to one and the next two contests in AT&T Park, the time is right to veer from previous course. 

San Franciso Giants manager Bruce Bochy adjusted his lineup for Game 3 and it paid large dividends. 

Moving certified Phillies killer Cody Ross up to the five hole put him in position to drive in the games first, and ultimate winning run. The line single to left plated non prototypical leadoff hitter Edgar Renteria, who had started the rally.  

And, former Phil Aaron Rowand got his first start of the postseason in place of Andres Torres, who has provided nothing offensively other than a breeze from his empty whiffs. Rowand, of course, responded with a double and later scored to extend the Giants lead to 3-0. 

Any notion that Jimmy Rollins might have kick started the Phillies offense with his bases loaded double on Sunday night was quickly dismissed with another moribund postseason showing. 

Yes, Matt Cain is pretty good, but the Phillies have owned him prior to his two-hit, no run work over seven innings yesterday. He was 0-3 with a 6.23 ERA against the Phillies coming into the game. 

Cain, Javier Lopez, and the anti-Beach Boy Brian Wilson combined to shutout the Phillies on three hits. They seemingly alternated between striking out Phillies hitters and getting them to hit routine ground balls to second baseman Freddy Sanchez.  

The time has come for Manuel to change things up to perhaps trigger a spark or avoid digging a bigger hole. Here are four suggestions for tonight’s game that could make a difference. 

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Baseball Postseason: The 10 Key Factors That Will Determine the 2010 NLCS

The 2010 National League Championship has some compelling story lines. 

The Philadelphia Phillies seek to be the first team in 66 years to win three consecutive NL Championships. They also look to move one step closer to staking their place amongst baseball’s greatest teams.

While Philly concentrates on continuing its current era’s success, the San Francisco Giants are looking to bring the Bay City it’s first World Series Championship. 

Since each team clinched early in the week, most of the talk has centered on the series marquee match-up of starting pitchers— and for good reason. Each club sports a “Big Three” unrivaled by any other teams in baseball.  

Tomorrow night’s opening game pitching match-up is being billed as the best ever in NLCS history— and for good reason. Besides a dramatic contrast in style, “Doc” versus “The Freak” should provide tremendous theatre to kick-off the NLCS.

Surely these two pitchers and their starting staff cohorts will play a key role in the series, but the outcome will be influenced by many other key factors. 

Also looking a little beyond the bright spotlight that will surround the Citizens Bank Park mound tomorrow evening, here are the 10 key factors that will determine the 2010 NLCS:

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NLCS 2010: For the Philadelphia Phillies Postseason, It’s as Easy as 1-2-3

On a few different fronts, it’s as easy as “1-2-3” for the Philadelphia Phillies this postseason. 

Last night, of course, the Phillies dispensed the upstart Cincinnati Reds 1-2-3 in the NLDS. The series sweep was of historic significance as it was the first ever in the postseason for the 127-year old organization— at least on the winning end. 

And the Phillies plan for the 2010 postseason revolves around the rock solid 1-2-3 foundation provided by “The Big Three” trio of ace starters. Cole Hamels fulfilled his part of the plan almost to perfection (a term that cannot be used gratuitously with Roy Halladay on the staff) by tossing a low-stress, high-gloss five-hit shutout in last evening’s clincher. 

Although Phillies players engaged in the customary series-clinching champagne celebration, they did so in a manner that suggested they had been there before, and still have places to go. 

Wrapping up the division series was but step one in their 1-2-3 postseason formula. Next on the agenda is achieving a similar outcome in the NLCS and then the World Series. 

From the outset of last night’s game until the final 95-mph heater that set Scott Rolen down swinging to end the game, Hamels displayed his unwavering determination to execute on those plans. 

In contrast to last season’s postseason, “Hollywood” brought a Halladay-like focus to wrap up the series last evening. When asked about his performance, Hamels made it abundantly clear that the NLDS victory was but one step towards the team’s goal of bringing another World Series Championship to Philly. 

That type of attitude and pitching performance has to be unnerving to the rest of the postseason field. 

After Shane Victorino made a terrific running catch of a Brandon Phillips liner in the first, Hamels never seemed to break a sweat as he suffocated the Reds’ high-powered offense. 

When Phillips started the home ninth with a base hit to awaken the Great American Ballpark crowd and provide a sense of hope, Hollywood coolly induced soon-to-be-MVP Joey Votto to ground into a tailor-made double play. 

Suddenly, it was as if a huge wet blanket had been dropped from the gaudy orange “Conan” blimp hovering above the stadium. 

Hamels’ mid-90’s fastball, low-90’s cutter, nose-diving change-up, and occasional hook had Reds hitters flailing and guessing all night. Never did he allow a free pass or more than one baserunner in an inning, while racking up nine strikeouts.

The Phillies offense remained somewhat in hibernation as it managed but two runs of support for their ace lefty. One run was again donated by the unexpectedly generous Reds defense, and the other came by virtue of a Chase Utley bomb into the right-center field bleachers. 

Besides the superior pitching of Halladay, Hamels, and the bullpen, the Phillies’ edge in postseason experience proved to be a large difference in this series. Not to take anything away from an excellent Phillies team, but the Reds were perhaps a little tight. 

Similar to the Phillies in 2007, Cincinnati got a taste of the postseason and appears to have a very bright future. They have a young core of talent that should provide strong offense, defense and pitching over the next few seasons—much like this now-seasoned Philly team. 

In this series, though, the Phillies took care of business 1-2-3 to accomplish step one of their postseason plan. 

With the champagne cobwebs mostly cleared from their heads today, it’s now time for the Phillies to focus on step two. 

They will take the wise course of one step at a time, but the big celebration will wait until the postseason plan becomes a matter of 1-2-3.  

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Philadelphia Phillies Prove Turnabout Is Fair Play with 7-4 NLDS Win

Conventional wisdom heading into last night’s game seemed to suggest that Roy Halladay’s historic Game 1 masterpiece might have provided a devastating psychological edge in the Phillies-Reds NLDS series. 

The thinking was that the Reds might be demoralized to the point of believing they had no chance in the series, especially as they were staring at the back two-thirds of “The Big Three.” And, conversely, the Phillies would be brimming with the necessary confidence and energy to overwhelm their rivals.

Brandon Phillips put a quick end to that notion, clubbing a 2-1 offering from Roy Oswalt into the left field bleachers to open the game.  One swing of the bat, and the mood seemed to change, both in the Reds dugout and throughout the stadium. 

Suddenly, “The Bank” was quiet and so were the Phillies. 

It was as if Halladay’s no-hitter had counted for more than a single win. Both the players and the crowd seemed flat. 

Cincinnati proceeded to build its lead over the first five innings. A pair of Chase Utley throwing errors provided one run, Phillips’ double was the catalyst for another, and Jay Bruce’s thunderbolt into the second deck made it 4-0.

In contrast to Halladay, Oswalt struggled from start to finish, and never really settled in. His command was off, and he was largely unable to locate his curve anywhere near the strike zone, bouncing many in the dirt. 

Consequently, Reds hitters could narrow their focus to jump on anything straight. To Oswalt’s credit, he battled and kept the game close.  

The Reds appeared to be playing loose, while the Phillies looked tight.    

Oddly, everything then seemed to reverse itself at the contest’s mid-point. The game served as a great testimonial to the clichés about playing all nine innings and never giving up. 

The early-game heroes suddenly became the goats. And one of the Phillies players who appeared headed to a post-game of answering difficult questions transformed into the catalyst for victory. 

With some generosity by their opponents, the Phillies began scratching their way back into the contest in the bottom half of the fifth. 

Gold Glove second-sacker Phillips, who was a triple away from the cycle after his first three plate appearances, booted a ball to prolong the inning. Then seven-time Gold Glove winner and Philly fan favorite Scott Rolen booted another ground ball to load the bases. 

Up stepped Utley, whose game resume included a fly out and strikeout to go along with his two errors. 

The Phillies second baseman began his atonement by ripping a liner to right to cut the lead to 4-2. 

In the sixth, a pair of walks wrapped around two hit batters narrowed the lead to 4-3. It was a painful and scary run, as Arthur Rhodes drilled Carlos Ruiz in the knee cap and 6′ 8″ rookie Logan Ondrusek beaned Ben Francisco in the head. 

The turnabout was completed in a wild home half of the seventh inning. And, keeping with the plot, it was Utley who set it all in motion. 

Facing rookie flamethrower Aroldis Chapman, replete with a gaudy diamond necklace signifying his large free agent contract, Utley took a 100-mph fastball and an 88-mph slider for strikes. 

Apparently in keeping with the Reds game plan to move hitters off the plate, and perhaps intimidate them, Chapman’s 101-mph fastball at Utley’s head backfired when it was ruled to have grazed his hand. Baseball’s consummate gamer had found a way on base. 

After Howard was blown away by three triple-digit heaters, Jayson Werth hit a chopper to third, and Utley hustled to beat the attempt to force him at second. 

Next, Jimmy Rollins lined a ball to right that Bruce apparently lost in the lights for a two-base error. Utley frantically raced home, and Werth followed when Phillips dropped the relay throw for another error. 

The Phillies plated another run with the aid of a Raul Ibanez hit to exit the seventh with a 6-4 advantage. They extended it to 7-4 in the eighth when Utley singled, stole second, and scored on Werth’s base hit. 

Meanwhile, the Phillies bullpen maintained focus on firing balls in the strike zone and shutting down the Reds high-powered offense. Jose Contreras, Ryan Madson, and then Brad Lidge all worked scoreless frames to nail down the win. 

Baseball fans had just witnessed an amazing plot twist like few they had seen before. The Phillies had just proved that turnabout is fair play when it comes to baseball’s postseason. 

Early appearances were deceiving, as perhaps the expected Phillies confidence and experience ultimately prevailed—while a surprisingly loose Reds team seemingly became a bundle of nerves, befitting a club making its first postseason appearance in 15 seasons. 

Chase Utley went full circle, from goat to hero, to provide real-time vindication. Roy Oswalt will have to wait for his next start.

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Phillies Roy Halladay’s NLDS No-Hitter Particularly Thrilled GM Ruben Amaro

Was that Phillies GM Ruben Amaro in the middle of the celebratory pile-up on the Citizens Bank Park infield Wednesday night after Roy Halladay‘s no-hitter? 

If so, who could blame him?  

Front office personnel joining on-field celebrations is a bit unconventional, but Amaro had to be particularly pleased with Halladay’s first postseason performance. 

Actually, he must have been downright jubilant. 

Halladay had been the apple of Amaro’s eye for quite some time. After a lengthy flirtation to swing a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays to bring him to Philly during the 2009 season, Amaro decided to go in a different direction. 

Of course, the new course of action brought last year’s postseason hero to town in the form of Cliff Lee. The “Plan B” deal was lauded as brilliance on RAJ’s part and sent the Phillies to a second-straight World Series. 

Amaro received similar acclaim when he finally pried Halladay away from Toronto last December. Some lamented that he parted with a couple “untouchable” prospects, but who could really take issue with adding arguably the best pitcher in baseball to an already powerful team?

The glow of excitement surrounding a Halladay-Lee starting duo quickly faded when the other shoe dropped.

Amaro shuffled Lee to Seattle to “replenish the farm system.”

Needless to say, Amaro took considerable heat. And, when the Phillies struggled and fell to third place, seven games off the pace, the climate got hotter.

Criticisms resurfaced about dealing Lee. When the Phillies toyed with re-acquiring the beloved lefty and he was then dealt to Texas for seemingly more than what the Phillies had received, the winter trade that sent him packing was looking like a colossal error.    

Since that time, a few things have changed. 

First, Amaro continued his fixation with acquiring other team’s staff aces. As the trade deadline was approaching in late July, the Phillies GM pulled off another blockbuster deal to land Astros hurler Roy Oswalt. 

Meanwhile, 2008 postseason hero Cole Hamels returned to form after a seeming championship hangover that lasted throughout all of 2009 and spilled over into the outset of this season. 

“H2O” was born.   

Next, Halladay displayed the reason for Amaro’s infatuation as he put together what appears to be a Cy Young campaign. He wrapped the bow on the package with a division clinching two-hit shutout. 

Down the stretch, “The Big Three” earned its name on merit.

The only test left was to perform well on baseball’s big stage. Halladay was unproven in that regard, having never previously reached the playoffs in his hallowed career. 

By the time Amaro settled in to watch Halladay’s opening pitch on Wednesday, he was surely aware that Lee had just produced another sparkling effort to run his postseason record to 5-0 with a microscopic 1.52 ERA.  

Should Halladay have faltered, a 21-10 regular season would quickly be old news. And, the game was no lay-up as he faced the National League’s most prolific offense in 2010. 

Halladay did not let his suitor and biggest supporter down. In fact, he rewarded him with one of the greatest postseason performances of all-time. 

The tall, deeply intense right-hander mixed a seemingly unending array of pitches on his way to a “no-no.” 

Halladay’s dominance spanned from beginning to end, with just one walk being the only thing keeping him from the perfection that he had achieved earlier in the year. 

He painted the edges of the strike zone with darting fastballs, diving curve balls, and free falling change-ups—as well as a myriad of other hybrid permutations. 

When catcher Carlos Ruiz pounced on a swinging bunt and gunned a throw to Ryan Howard from his knees, the masterpiece was complete. 

A celebratory scrum ensued as Phillies players piled onto their new postseason hero. 

Halladay had now answered all the questions and validated the Phillies affection— in a huge way. 

The only question that now remains: Was that Ruben Amaro on the pile? 

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