10/26/09 4:24 AM EST
Well-rested Phillies prepared for Yankees
Defending champions know what it takes to win it all -- again
By David Gurian-Peck / MLB.com
A lineup topped by Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard dispatched a previously-surging opponent in a four-game National League Division Series. The Phillies breezed through the Dodgers in five games during the NL Championship Series. And thanks to Philadelphia's brutal efficiency, it has again earned a one-week hiatus before beginning the World Series.
But despite the same core and similar success, there's a different feel to this, the Phillies' second consecutive pennant run. Sure, there have been some important personnel moves -- Raul Ibanez, Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez all transitioned seamlessly to the defending champs.
More than anything, however, there has been a major attitudinal change: These Phillies, though no less hungry, are keenly aware of what winning feels like.
"We were here last year," Jayson Werth said after Game 5 on Wednesday, between puffs of his celebratory cigar. "We know what it takes. We know what we got to do. That's the bottom line.
"We got four games to win."
That swagger has led to some improbable late-inning events this October.
There was the seesaw battle in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Rockies. With sub-freezing temperatures and a seventh-inning lead already squandered, the Phillies pulled ahead on two singles, a sac bunt and a sac fly in the ninth. Closer Brad Lidge made life interesting by letting two runners reach before retiring Troy Tulowitzki to give Philadelphia a 2-1 series lead.
Compared to what would come next, that was nothing.
In Game 4, the Phillies allowed three runs in the bottom of the eighth, turning a one-run lead into a two-run deficit. They were down to their final strike against Colorado closer Huston Street, with a man on first, when Utley walked, Howard roped a two-run double to right to tie it and Werth singled to put the Phillies ahead for good.
"We always talk about it takes 27 outs to close out the game," manager Charlie Manuel has said. "I tell them to stay there until it's over."
And so it was again, this time against the Dodgers, who were so close to tying the NLCS at two games apiece. They had a one-run lead in Game 4 for closer Jonathan Broxton, who was firing away with 100-mph fastballs.
But with one out in the ninth, Broxton walked Matt Stairs on four pitches. His next pitch drilled catcher Carlos Ruiz. Just like that, the Phillies had a chance, with Rollins -- an excellent fastball hitter -- coming to the plate.
With his quick, compact stroke, Rollins met Broxton's 1-1 fastball and smacked it into the right-center-field gap. Both runners scored, and the Phillies piled on top of Rollins behind the third-base bag.
They had done it again.
"Not just the experience of last year, but the type of guys we have on our team really believe in themselves and are borderline extremely cocky that they're going to come back every single time," said Lidge, who himself has undergone an October resurgence.
Lidge had an NL-worst 7.21 ERA and a Major League-worst 11 blown saves during the regular season, losing his job twice. But in these playoffs, he has tossed four scoreless innings over five games. Lidge has successfully conferred all three save opportunities, and he recorded the win in that Game 4 shocker over Los Angeles. The bullpen, which was the Phillies' weakness all year long, has come into shape, with Chad Durbin, Scott Eyre, Chan Ho Park and Ryan Madson getting key outs in front of a now-sharp Lidge.
Not every game, of course, can be a gut-wrencher, decided in the final at-bat, and that's where Howard and Lee come in.
Howard was named NLCS MVP after going 5-for-15 (.333) with five runs scored, two home runs, eight RBIs, a .524 on-base percentage and a .933 slugging percentage against the Dodgers. Along the way, he set a Major League record with at least one RBI in eight consecutive games over one postseason.
Meanwhile, Lee has been a true ace, a role that Cole Hamels filled so successfully in 2008. Hamels is struggling to regain that touch -- he went 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA during the regular season and 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA during the postseason -- but Lee has supplanted him atop the Phillies' rotation.
The 30-year-old left-hander, whom Philadelphia acquired from the Indians in a surprise deal days before the Trade Deadline, has allowed two earned runs in 24 1/3 playoff innings -- good for a 0.74 ERA. He is 2-0 and has allowed just 17 baserunners, for a WHIP of 0.699. He fanned 10 in an 11-0, Game 3 victory over the Dodgers, tying Curt Schilling and Steve Carlton for the franchise postseason single-game strikeout record.
"I don't think I ever doubted myself," said Lee, who had never appeared in the postseason. "I always had confidence in myself and felt like I could pitch in a big game. But you never know until you get the opportunity. "
Because of the opportunities that they've had, the Phillies have that confidence from top to bottom -- from Victorino posting a 1.320 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against the Dodgers, to Ruiz, a lifetime .246 hitter, going 9-for-26 (.346) out of the No. 8 hole in the playoffs.
They are ready for whatever lies ahead.
Or, as Rollins said before the NLCS, "We're not afraid of anybody."
David Gurian-Peck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.