10/22/09 3:30 AM EST
Current squad is best in Phillies history
Back-to-back NL pennants cement team's legacy
The clock was ticking toward midnight Wednesday and the Phillies were once again headed to the World Series, the National League pennant safely in their possession.
In this new baseball era of open sharing, after quickly pulling on red championship jerseys over their uniforms, the players remained on the field so the huge Citizens Bank Park crowd could enjoy the boisterous moment.
The champagne dousing and cigar smoking would come later in the clubhouse.
It was 29 years ago Wednesday night that Tug McGraw threw a pitch to Kansas City's Willie Wilson, who swung and missed. Philadelphia had its first World Series championship.
The second World Series title didn't come again until last year, and by winning the 2009 pennant, the Phillies have become the first National League team since the 1995-96 Atlanta Braves to repeat.
So, is this the best Philadelphia Phillies team ever?
I say yes.
The argument might be that this one needs to win the World Series to be called best, but I don't think so.
It's achieved something no other Phillies team has -- win the NL pennant and go to the World Series in back-to-back years. And I've covered virtually every Phillies team since 1958.
Back so soon?
|2000||Yankees||Lost to Diamondbacks|
|1995||Braves||Lost to Yankees|
|1992||Blue Jays||Defeated Phillies|
|1989||A's||Lost to Reds|
|1970||Orioles||Lost to Pirates|
This team is about as complete, from top to bottom, as one can be. It's much stronger than the 2008 edition and should match up well with either the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Angels in the World Series, which begins Wednesday in the American League city.
The Phillies won four of five games against the Dodgers, who had the best record in the NL. They split two games in L.A., then won three straight easily in the best-of-seven series against the Dodgers for the second straight year. They outscored the Dodgers, 35-16.
The Los Angeles bullpen was supposed to put the Philadelphia bats to sleep, but in the end it was the Phillies' bullpen which made the difference.
Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who won four of five World Series titles beginning in 1996 with the Yankees, says the Phillies have improved in a year.
"They're certainly a better team," he said as he prepared for the long flight back to Los Angeles. "Getting to the World Series two years in a row is not easy to do. We gave them a fight, but they just wouldn't back down."
I think it is safe to say if the Phillies add another World Series title, they have a chance to be called a dynasty, if not the best team of this decade.
They've won three consecutive NL East titles, the 2008 World Series and are in a position to be the first NL team to win the Series in back-to-back years since the 1975-76 Cincinnati Reds.
I mentioned to Jayson Werth, who blasted two homers Wednesday night, how difficult it is to repeat.
"I don't know about that," he said. "All I can say is we're going to take it one pitch at a time, one game at a time, play hard and do the little things it takes to win ballgames -- what we've been doing all year. We've got four more games to win. That's the bottom line."
Mention to Shane Victorino how complete this team is and he agrees, but says staying focused through the World Series is on everyone's mind.
"We have to play the game we play well -- work hard and be ourselves," he said. "Whatever comes our way, we'll be ready. We all pull for each other. It starts with our manager [Charlie Manuel]. He lets us play. Every night somebody steps up. We have our superstars, but ultimately we just go out there and try to win ballgames as a team."
The Phillies have switch-hitters in Jimmy Rollins and Victorino at the top of the batting order, but there's power throughout the lineup -- even from the seventh and eighth hitters.
MVP Ryan Howard says from the beginning of Spring Training, "we were capable of getting back to this point. It was just a matter of us playing our game and we're back. It was so special to be able to share this tonight with our fans. This really hasn't hit me yet, but to [win back-to-back pennants] with this group of guys, it makes it that much more fun."
Cliff Lee, who's become the Phillies ace since being obtained from Cleveland in July, says his new teammates compare favorably with the best American League teams, including the Yankees.
"This offense is pretty powerful," he said. "The American League supposedly is a slugging league, but our lineup matches right up with any of those teams. We like a challenge."
As an aside, if the Yankees win the AL pennant, Lee will be opposed in the first game by his close friend CC Sabathia.
"We've remained in contact," said Lee. "I've been pulling for him every step of the way. But if we have to match up, that will be the first time I'm not pulling for him. He's a class act. I highly respect him as a person and a player."
Manuel knows only what people tell him about previous Phillies teams, including the 1980 champions.
"I know there are some teams in the American League that are definitely very offensive-minded," he said. "But I think that we can play with them, but I think our offense has got to be clicking like our speed and power."
Mention this is the best Phillies team ever and Manuel shakes his head.
Knowing him as well as I do, he won't subscribe to that because there's another hurdle ahead.
One game at a time, he keeps saying. And don't look back, just take care of today's game.
That philosophy has led the Phillies to back-to-back pennants and my belief it's the best team in franchise history.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.