Phil Sheridan: In this Series, the Phillies didn't play like champions

Posted: November 05, 2009

NEW YORK - The greatest 13-month stretch in Phillies history ended one night too soon for the simplest of reasons.

It takes more than one pitcher and one hitter to win a World Series against a team as good and as star-kissed as the New York Yankees. The brilliance of Cool Cliff Lee and Home Run Chase Utley could get the Phillies only half the wins required to successfully defend their 2008 title.

The Phillies made history last October, winning just the second title in the life of the franchise and thrilling a city that had gone a quarter-century without a championship parade. This time, they were bystanders. With the Yankees in their first season in a brand-new ballpark, their 27th World Series victory felt like manifest destiny.

"Are they better than we are?" manager Charlie Manuel said. "For this Series, they are. They got the trophy, we don't. We gave it up, now we've got to get it back."

As galling as that is for Philadelphia, this was not about the Phillies. They were the extras, not the stars of this film.

"Last year, we were the ones celebrating," Ryan Howard said. "Now we've seen what it's like on the other side."

Starting pitcher Pedro Martinez was a fitting symbol for these Phillies. He just didn't have it last night and, for the most part, the Phillies just didn't have it, either.

Howard was a week late for the Series, striking out a record 13 times, although he finally hit a too-little, too-late home run in the sixth inning last night.

Cole Hamels, the MVP of two series last year, was the most disappointing player of this tournament. It is amazing that the Phillies were able to win their division and advance through two playoff rounds without getting anything from Hamels.

Brad Lidge, last year's perfect closer, made just one appearance in this World Series and it was an unbridled disaster - the inning that convinced the Yankees this Series belonged to them.

In hindsight, Johnny Damon's first-to-third sprint in the ninth inning of Game 4 was the pivotal moment. The Phillies, desperate for the big hits that defined last year's postseason run, had finally gotten one. Pedro Feliz's game-tying home run in the eighth had everyone in Citizens Bank Park believing that the Phillies were about to work their magic.

Then Damon dunked a single to left, stole second and stunned everyone by continuing on to third base. Leaving the bag uncovered will go down as one of the biggest gaffes in baseball history. Lidge, reeling, hit Mark Teixeria and then surrendered backbreaking hits to Rodriguez and Posada.

That was the most glaring of the mistakes the Phillies made. The Yankees did what champions do. They made the Phillies pay every time.

Shane Victorino misplayed a Derek Jeter fly ball into a single with one out in the third last night. Four batters later, Hideki Matsui stroked a bases-loaded single to give the Yankees a 4-1 lead.

And then there was Manuel.

The manager pushed all the right buttons and flicked all the right switches in 2008. And he rode a pretty good hot streak through those series against Colorado and Los Angeles last month.

Manuel will be second-guessed quite a bit for some of his decisions in this Series, which is what happens when your team loses. There are some things he didn't try: pinch-hitting for Ben Francisco in the seventh last night, bringing in a lefty to face Matsui in the fourth, shuffling his lineup a bit in an effort to overcome Howard's withering slump.

Ultimately, the problems weren't so much the moves Manuel made or didn't make. The problems were with the options he had to choose from. The bullpen was terrible, the bench was weak. Other than Lee and Utley and Carlos Ruiz, everyone else didn't produce enough.

"We went through the playoffs and we played real good," Manuel said. "All of a sudden when we got to the Series, it seemed like our offense, when we really had to get the big hits and take command of the game, we couldn't do it. We sputtered a little bit."

Despite that, the Phillies took a 103-win Yankees team to Game 6.

Disappointment is understandable. These opportunities are precious and few, after all. It's hard not to look back at this Series and see how the Phillies might have won it.

"Obviously, it hurts," Howard said. "But I'm not disappointed. It hurts a little bit, but I think we can still be proud of what we accomplished."

Over 13 months, these Phillies won a title, brushed off the complacency that kneecaps many champions, returned to the postseason, and delivered two more clinching celebrations.

They are a great baseball team. They just didn't play like one against the Yankees, who did.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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