It’s all ‘pagne and gain for NL East champs

Posted: September 30, 2007

The Phillies had celebrated inside their clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park long enough to have soaked everyone with beer and champagne when they decided they needed to change venues.

They wanted a bigger floor. They wanted to mingle.

"We're going outside!" Ryan Howard bellowed. "We're going outside! Come on! Let's go! We're going to yell at the fans!"

So the Phillies grabbed their champagne bottles and stuffed beers in their back pockets and headed out of the clubhouse, down the tunnel and onto the field, where they were greeted by thousands of fans, who had stayed in the stands to soak up the joyous atmosphere.

The Phillies had just clinched their first playoff berth since 1993 with a 6-1 victory over the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets' 8-1 loss to the Florida Marlins at Shea Stadium.

These Phillies, who were in first place for only the final three games of the season, made baseball history when they became the first team to overcome a seven-game deficit with 17 games to play to make the playoffs.

The Phillies will host the San Diego Padres or Colorado Rockies - who will play a one-game playoff today - in Games 1 and 2 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday and Thursday at Citizens Bank Park. Games 3 and 4 will be played on the road; Game 5, if needed, will be played Oct. 9 at the Bank.

"I'm at a loss for words," said closer Brett Myers, who struck out Wily Mo Peña looking to end the game. "I had to step off the mound [in the ninth inning] to let the fans soak in what was about to happen."

"There hasn't been a playoff game from this baseball team since 1993," said shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who might have cinched the NL most-valuable-player award with a big first-inning single and a two-out triple in the sixth. "It was all on us. We had the chemistry. We had the makeup. We had the talent. We had a beautiful park to do it in. But something was missing, and that was winning that big game on the last day of the season."

The Phillies had been eliminated from the playoffs on the final day of the season in 2005.

They had been eliminated on the second-to-last day of the season in 2006.

Not this time.

This time, they took care of business, overcoming a season full of twists and turns and ups and downs. The Phillies opened the season 4-11, the worst record in baseball, but had the best record in the league the rest of the way. They overcame injuries to Freddy Garcia, Jon Lieber, Tom Gordon, Chase Utley, Myers, Howard and others. They overcame a pitching staff whose 4.73 ERA is the second-highest of any NL playoff team.

But most important, they overcame the Mets.

Nobody thought they could.

"It was all up in the air," Rollins said. "It's been like that all year long. It was just a battle. Nothing has come easy, but I guess that wouldn't be the Philadelphia way if it did come easy."

The ballpark had an electric atmosphere before Jamie Moyer, who pitched beautifully for 51/3 innings, even threw a pitch. That's because the out-of-town scoreboard in right field showed the Marlins taking a 7-0 lead over the Mets in the top of the first inning.

The crowd roared with approval. The fans seemed to sense something special was about to happen.

Moyer worked a scoreless first inning, and Rollins took over from there. He singled to lead off. He stole second and third, then scored on Chase Utley's sacrifice fly to right field to make it 1-0. The Phils scored two more in the third for a 3-0 lead and two more in the sixth - including Rollins' two-out triple to right field, his 20th of the season - to pad their advantage to 5-1.

Howard homered in the seventh to complete the scoring.

Moyer allowed five hits and one unearned run. Rollins called it a championship performance. Gordon, J.C. Romero and Myers combined for 32/3 scoreless innings to put the game away.

Utley was asked what he felt when Myers struck out Peña. "Relieved," he said. "We battled a lot of adversity this year. Every single person on this team has contributed. It's an exciting win, but now we have to get focused for the postseason."

The Phillies are in the postseason. Can you believe it?

This isn't the script that teams typically follow.

Chris Coste knows about great stories. The catcher finished his autobiography this summer, which traces his improbable road to the majors. It is scheduled for a 2008 release, but he said he isn't ready to start writing another chapter.

"It's not the end of the story," he said. "It's the beginning of the end of the story. Because four weeks from now, we're going to have the same conversation, and that will be the end of the story."

Is a World Series title possible?

Hey, was this supposed to be possible 17 games ago?


Contact staff writer Todd Zolecki

at 215-854-4874 or tzolecki@phillynews.com.

Read his blog at http://go.philly.com/zozone.

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