Over the last week, we’d count down the number. Eight. A win or two from the Phils, plus a loss or two from the Braves, and it got trimmed down. Four. Another win. Three. Then two.
Eventually, the Magic Number was down to one.
They returned to where it all started: Washington, D.C.
They sent their Ace to the hill to finish the job: Roy Halladay.
The goal was the same as it was on day one: Win the division, play in October.
In a season fraught with too many injuries, too many slumps, and not enough good days to outweigh the bad ones (and there were many bad ones), the Philadelphia Phillies stand, on day 157, as the National League East Champions for the fourth straight season, the final product of one of the gutsiest and talented teams in recent memory.
When the season kicked off with Doc’s gem in our nation’s capital, the playoffs seemed inevitable, a birthright for a team that made the last three seasons seem, in hindsight, absurdly easy. A team that boasted an incredible array of offensive prowess and a shiny new toy, Roy Halladay, Ruben Amaro’s Weapon of Choice after the disappointment that was 2009.
There was an explosive 5-1 start to the season, the result of an easy early schedule, but it was nonetheless just as indicative that the 2010 Phillies were arguably the most talented of the past four years.
But then something happened: they stopped hitting, exacerbated only by the neverending stream of injuries to the starting eight. Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino all succumbed to the injury bug, leaving the likes of Juan Castro and Dane Sardinha to man the shop while most of the team was playing the role of the infirmed.
Despite those injuries, they managed to put together just enough of a starting lineup to keep their heads above water, all the while the Atlanta Braves surged to the top of the division, fueled by improbable victories and the storybook last go-round for Bobby Cox.
The low point of the season was on July 21, following a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, when the Phils dropped to two games above the .500 mark and seven games south of the Braves in the division. They had lost six of seven to start the second half, and it reeked of something that the Phillies were all too familiar with: Failure. This wasn’t our year. Can’t win ‘em all. And so on and so on.
But that never stuck, not with this crew. They battled back in August and September, resurrecting the ghosts of comebacks past, doing the same old song and dance that they learned back in 2007 and perfected back in 2008. Their 18-10 August put them three games within the division lead, but it was their blistering September that made the difference, with a win on the seventh of the month that put them back atop the division after spending the entire summer fighting for their playoff lives.
So here they are, winners of the division for the fourth straight year, amid one of the most dominating runs by a Philadelphia sports team, anchored by the arms Roy and Cole and Roy and the bats of Chase and Ryan and Jayson.
As for the clinching game, it was sort of bland. It was an easy win for the Phillies, who took the lead on a Jayson Werth solo homer in the second inning game and never looked back. They added seven more over the course of the game, which was more than enough for Doc, who went to work on the same plot of dirt where he began his career with the Phillies, tossing a two hitter to punch the first playoff ticket in his 13 year career.
After Roy struck out Danny Espinosa to end it, the celebration began, except it was more of a formality than anything else. It had not the pomp and circumstance that usually surrounds these moments, but rather it was a muted joy, a subtle cheer for a team that knows that the season isn’t ending, but beginning; fully aware that the hardest work is in front of them, and this win tonight was merely a footnote in what is a very long season.
For most of the crew, it was routine. Bland. Like a great song that you’ve heard so many times that you know the words and beats, even without hearing the music. They’ve been here before and tasted the champagne. They know how this part goes. No big deal.
But for others, like Doc or Mike Sweeney, it was a baptism, an initiation into a fraternity with an exclusive guest list and no guarantees of future membership. For them, it was the end result of a career that has been spent toiling on mediocre clubs with no chance to crawl out of the cellar and into October. For them, this is the most important moment of their professional lives.
Even though the champagne stains are still in the carpet and the odor of cigars still present, the celebration is over. At least for now. They have but five games to collect their thoughts, rest up, and recharge their batteries before it begins all over again.
The Magic Number is now 11.
- 700 Level
- Crashburn Alley
- High Cheese
- House That Glanville Built
- Philadelphia Will Do
- Philled In
- Philly Gameday
- Philly Gossip
- Phoul Ballz
- The Good Phight
- The Insider
- The Zo Zone
- Where's Weems?
- Who Does He Play For?
- Zoo With Roy