Phillies proved their doubters wrong

Pinch-hitter Geoff Jenkins scores go-ahead run in sixth inning in Game 5.
Pinch-hitter Geoff Jenkins scores go-ahead run in sixth inning in Game 5.
Posted: October 31, 2008

AFTER 3 DAYS of chilling precipitation, Citizens Bank Park suddenly was awash in a warm, wet rain.

Every Phillie cried a little, it seemed, upon beating the Rays in the World Series. They were tears of, as shortstop Jimmy Rollins said, "Relief."

Maybe what made it so sweet is that so few of them should have been there. Even the pedigreed ones, at some point, might have been abandoned.

Consider the heroes from the Wednesday continuation of what began Monday as Game 5: Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero, Geoff Jenkins, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Pat Burrell, Pedro Feliz.

Lidge came to the Phillies via trade with Houston in November. He came with baggage: A repaired knee and, more significantly, a nightmarish 2 years of struggle as an Astro following a playoff home run given up to Albert Pujols.

He saved his 48th game in 48 tries Wednesday night. He knew he had regained his top form by the end of last season, but there was the knee, and the new ballpark - sometimes a pitcher's worst enemy - and a new team. Halfway through the season, Lidge knew he belonged on this Island of Misfit Toys. Forsaking what might have been a much greater windfall, he signed a 3-year extension in July.

"I felt removed from the 2005 thing all year, really," Lidge said.

That's why he signed the extension.

"It's the guys here,'' he said. "As soon as I came here and started playing with these guys, I knew they were winners."

He saw what few others saw.

Romero scrapped through four outs in the seventh and eighth innings of Game 5, quite a climb from where he was in mid-June of last year. Boston released him. Every team passed on picking up Romero on waivers. The Phillies signed him to a minor league deal, hoping he would stop walking batters.

Newly aggressive, Romero dominated through the rest of 2007, signed for 3 more years, and saved Wednesday's game as much as Lidge did.

At least Romero had recent success from which to draw. Jenkins' disappointing first year as a Phillie had him buried on the bench instead of platooning in rightfield.

His "leadoff" double led to the go-ahead run in the sixth inning (he was the first batter of the continuation). Talk about lumber slumber: Jenkins hadn't gotten a hit to help the Phillies win since July 18, in Florida (homer, 2 RBI in 4-2 win).

Shane Victorino moved Eric Bruntlett from second to third with a groundout to second in the seventh inning. Bruntlett would score the winning run on Feliz' single, but the Flyin' Hawaiian might never have gotten that chance, either. A star as high as Double A, he twice was a Rule 5 draftee left unprotected by the Dodgers. Both times the drafting team - first San Diego, then the Phillies - were sufficiently unimpressed with him that they offered him back.

The first time, the Dodgers took him back. The second time, they let the Phillies keep him if they wanted him. They did, and, in 2005, he was the player of the year in the Triple A International League; made the big-league squad the next spring, and replaced reviled rightfielder Bobby Abreu after Abreu's trade to the Yankees; hit .281 as the everyday rightfielder in 2007 and, this season, was the everyday centerfielder, always improving.

At least Victorino had something of a future. The Dodgers cut Werth after the 2006 season, convinced his left wrist issues would never clear up. Werth wasn't sure, either. After missing the 2006 season he planned on seeking a Division I football scholarship if things didn't work out in 2007.

Instead, at the suggestion of a neighbor back in his native Illinois, Werth sought another opinion. He saw a specialist at the Mayo Clinic, got his wrist fixed, got signed by the Phillies - general manager Pat Gillick originally drafted him as an Oriole - played his way into 255 at-bats and was the planned platoon mate with Jenkins this season. Then, he played his way into the starting spot by himself. Wednesday, his bloop single scored Jenkins' go-ahead run and gave him a .444 Series average, best on the team.

The Phillies wound up needing more than that, and got it from Pat the Bat. They didn't get it from Alfonso Soriano or Aramis Ramirez or Manny Ramirez or Adrian Beltre or Carlos Lee, all possible lineup replacements seen as upgrades via trade or free agency as the Phillies entered the 2006 offseason.

Burrell had agreed to waive his no-trade clause for certain teams. The Phillies offered Soriano the moon, but the Cubs threw in the stars, and he landed in Chicago. Burrell responded with a fine 2007, helped carry the team for the first half of 2008, got big hits in the first two rounds of the playoffs and, after an 0-for-13 start in the World Series, laced a double to start the seventh and jogged off for pinch-runner Bruntlett, his contract with the Phillies completed if the Phillies clinched the game.

After Victorino's groundout to second and Feliz' single to center, it turned out they had done just that. Feliz, of course, was signed in the offseason to be the full-time third baseman but his typical .249 year at the plate relegated him to platoon duty . . . with Greg Dobbs.

The rewriting of Dobbs' story often omits the reality that Randall Simon and Karim Garcia were the top candidates to be the lefthanded bat off the bench coming out of spring training in 2007. Dobbs - another ghost from Gillick's travels - was a waiver claim from Seattle in January of 2007.

He was Roy Hobbs in spring training. He didn't name his bat, but, with a Redford-like easy smile and good looks, he beat out both veterans for that roster spot, hit .272 in 324 at-bats and, in 2008, hit his way into the lineup against righthanded starters. His pinch-hitting prowess might actually have cost him a start or two.

At 30, having spent at least parts of six seasons in the minors, after missing most of 2003 with a ruptured left Achilles' tendon, signed as an undrafted player out of the University of Oklahoma, he was the best pinch-hitter in the majors this year. He embodies the Phillies' resilient nature.

"Look around," he said, gesturing to the clubhouse lockers. "There are so many guys here people didn't believe in. In here, we believe. We never think we're going to lose a game."

You can go right down the roster, almost.

Starting catcher Carlos Ruiz is a converted infielder who the Phillies, the previous two seasons, decided was too raw for the majors, so they signed Sal Fasano in 2006 and Rod Barajas in 2007 - both of whom they forsook by August.

Ruiz became the everyday starter during the Phillies' September run, then hit .375 in the Series.

Before the Phillies started winning more with him, Ruiz had been splitting time with Chris Coste, who, in 2006 and 2007, believed he had made the major league roster out of spring training but both years was sent to Triple A. He was called up during both seasons, and his 2006 debut gave him an ending for his book that recounts his rocky path to the bigs: "The 33-Year-Old Rookie."

The list goes on.

Jamie Moyer, 45, considered retiring during and after each of the last three seasons, and it looked like it might be time after he lost Game 3 of both the Division Series and Championship Series. Then came his 6 1/3 strong innings in Game 3 on Saturday, an appearance that made him the second-oldest player to participate in a World Series game.

Brett Myers had youth, but lacked seasoning. He was sent to the bullpen in 2007 in hopes of better fulfilling his promise as a 1999 first-round pick, returned to the rotation in 2008 against his preference, foundered through the season's first 3 months, went to the minors for a month then helped the Phillies surge into the playoffs with a 7-2 run in his first 11 games back, then won his first two postseason starts.

And don't forget: Ryan Howard was trade bait when Jim Thome was healthy in 2003 and 2004 and before the season in 2005.

World Series and NLCS MVP Cole Hamels, a chancy first-rounder out of high school in 2002, was supposedly too fragile to last a whole season. At 24, healthy all year, his 262 2/3 innings (including the playoffs) were, by far, the most in the majors.

Matt Stairs, 40, was contemplating retirement as a Blue Jay when the Phillies traded for him Aug. 31 . . . and he hit the game-winning, pinch-hit homer in Game 4 of the NLCS.

He and Moyer have, perhaps, the greatest appreciation for the biggest overachiever of them all.

Charlie Manuel was hired before the 2005 season as Larry Bowa's replacement, a move seen as a mollification of Thome, then the team's most significant player and, forever, Manuels protégé. Manuel was fired in 2002 by a rebuilding Cleveland organization, the organization in which he grew as a coach and manager. The Phillies' hiring of him as a special assistant after they signed Thome in the 2002 offseason also was seen as a tip of the cap to Big Jim.

Charmingly folksy but consistently doubted, Manuel was chosen over Jim Leyland, who talked his way into a candidacy for the job. Manuel managed as a lame duck in 2007 but, after guiding a patchwork team to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years, he became un-fireable.

Now, he's fireproof.

"Wherever I go, whatever I do from now on, I'll always be known as a winner," Manuel said.

So will his misfit team.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|