The Phillies have just made it to the World Series for the second season in a row and the Philadelphia area is once again erupting in joy. Last year we were starved for a championship, having waited for over twenty years for them to win it all again. This time we are just enjoying the ride.
We are amazed at this team, their chemistry and how well they work together. They are all leaders in their own right but foremost team players. There is not a "me first" egomaniac among them. They exemplify the philosophy preached by their manager, Charlie Manuel, of team work, living in the moment, not getting too high or too low and knowing that even when times are tough they can bounce back. They proved that again and again throughout the season leading the National League with 43 come-from-behind victories.
The life lessons to be learned from this bunch are patience, perseverance, hard work, faith in each other and a will to win.
Manuel, who admits he manages with his gut, not the book, sets the tone for the team. What is amazing about this season is that they won one more game this year than last (94) while having their closer (Brad Lidge, who was perfect last season with 48 saves), blow 11 saves and his set up man, Ryan Madson blow 6 when he filled in for an injured Lidge. They just found other ways to win. They had the highest number of homers and RBIs in the National League. They are also an excellent defensive team.
The manager kept a positive, supportive attitude toward his beleaguered closer, never losing faith in him and now Lidge is 3 for 3 in saves in the playoffs with a 0.00 ERA and one win. This may be the comeback story of the playoffs.
Manuel was also very patient in coaxing his lead off man, shortstop, Jimmy Rollins back to form after a slow spring and early summer offensively. He rested him for four straight games and J-Roll started hitting again and getting on base. Not coincidentally, around the same time the Phillies began a winning streak that carried them to the Eastern Division title. Rollins was also the hero in game four of the NLCS, knocking in two runs with a double to beat the Dodgers in the bottom of the ninth with two outs.
Charlie is like a father/uncle figure to J-Roll and the other players. With all of the injuries to his pitching staff and bullpen, it would have been easy to get discouraged and go into a slump. But that is not the style of Charlie Manuel and the World Champions.
They perform as a unit. Each has an appropriate role to play and when one falters another picks up his teammates. It is interesting to note that for the entire playoff run Manuel had used the same lineup in the same order for each game while Joe Torre of the Los Angeles Dodgers was constantly shuffling his players around.
Ryan Howard deserves the NLCS MPV he won for being a clutch RBI man. And when the other teams intentionally walked him, they had to contend with Jason Werth who clobbered two home runs in the game five clincher. The bottom of the order (Ibanez, Feliz and Ruiz) came through for the Phils this series as well as the top five (Rollins, Victorino, Utley, Howard, Werth.) What a great batting lineup! They hit even better this post season than last, especially with men on base. Seems they are stronger, more confident, and bolder than ever.
The Phillie's new GM Ruben Amaro Jr. deserves a lot of credit for making some great mid-season moves in acquiring reserve outfielder Ben Francisco and two former Cy Young Award winners, Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez who both have pitched brilliantly in this playoff run. This has proven to be crucial because last year's hero, Cole Hamels has been struggling. We are sure he will come around though, with Charlie's encouragement and watchful eye.
The one area of concern during the regular season, the bullpen (now consisting of Park, Durbin, Eyre, Happ, Blanton, Madson, Bastardo and Lidge) has pulled it together for these two championship series and actually out-pitched the Dodgers' relievers who were thought to be the stronger relief corp. J.A. Happ has been terrific this season, having made a strong case for Rookie of the Year honors.
Determination, patience, perseverance, hard work, confidence, boldness, faith, support and team work are the life lessons the Phillies and Manuel can teach us. I can't wait for the World Series! The team has dedicated this season to Harry Kalas, their legendary broadcaster who passed away last April. I can hear and see him in my mind singing that classic song "High Hopes" (that they play every winning home game on the Phanavision) and I know he is watching, smiling, and cheering on this amazing team.