Phil Sheridan: Life goes on: Gloom now, but Phils' future still bright

GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says the Phils are "in a position to be one of the eight clubs to be playing at the end of the year every year."
GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says the Phils are "in a position to be one of the eight clubs to be playing at the end of the year every year."
Posted: November 06, 2009

Five postseason series in a row had ended with the Phillies spraying champagne in clubhouses from Milwaukee to Los Angeles to Denver to South Philadelphia. The ritual of donning swim goggles and dumping buckets of ice and water on teammates' heads, a novelty in 2008, had become almost routine by the time the Phillies won their second consecutive pennant.

So it felt very strange to step into the quiet of the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium as Wednesday night slipped into Thursday morning.

A knot of reporters had gathered around Cliff Lee, who had given the Phillies hope with two stellar pitching performances against the Yankees. Scott Eyre and Brett Myers were telling a couple of beat writers that they would like to return to the Phillies in 2010. Ryan Howard turned from his locker to face a couple dozen media types seeking an explanation for his record-setting 13 strikeouts.

The mood was somber, to be sure, but the players were not devastated by losing their championship to the Yankees. That may seem surprising to fans, who live and die with their favorite team, but it was typical of other runner-up locker rooms and clubhouses I've been in.

When Howard said he was "cool" with his performance, an anguished fan might take that to mean he didn't care. But the reality is that Howard wouldn't be anywhere near the player he has been if he couldn't shrug off adversity in this way. You strike out, you move on.

Players understand that competing at the highest level comes with the very real, very reasonable risk that you'll lose. The Yankees played better than the Phillies over a six-game stretch. It was no more complicated than that.

Before the Series started, general manager Ruben Amaro sat in the dugout at Citizens Bank Park and talked about the vagaries of postseason baseball.

"It's just a matter of the ball rolling right and executing," Amaro said. "It's not about the talent. All eight teams that were in the playoffs have the talent to win the World Series. It's really about which team is playing the best and which team has the ball roll right for them. Fortunately, for us, the ball has rolled right the past couple of years."

It rolled the Yankees' way this time around and that shouldn't have been a shock. The Yankees are the richest team in a sport without a salary cap, and they have assembled a roster of highly paid superstars. Just last off-season, Yankees GM Brian Cashman added CC Sabathia ($161 million), Mark Teixeira ($181 million) and A.J. Burnett ($82.5 million) to a payroll that already included Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Hideki Matsui.

There's a reason shortstop and oracle Jimmy Rollins cites the Yankees as the model for what he believes the Phillies can become - a franchise able and willing to spend what it takes to be competitive every year.

That is, after all, the best any GM, coach or manager can do. In describing the Phillies' philosophy, Amaro described exactly the approach that annoys fans of the Eagles.

"That has been the goal," Amaro said, "to get to the point where you're a contending club every year. We've put ourselves in a position to be one of the eight clubs to be playing at the end of the year every year. That's the goal. Clearly, you want to win the whole shebang, but the goal is to contend every year and be one of those eight. That puts you in position to get there."

The difference between the Phillies and the Eagles, of course, is that the baseball team cleared that final hurdle last year and won a championship. The Eagles' five appearances in the NFC championship game in this decade result from the very same approach Amaro described. They reached the Super Bowl just once, losing to the New England Patriots.

Checking that final item off the to-do list changes everything - for the organization, for the players, for the fans.

Yes, Howard was overmatched in this World Series, but he hit three home runs and earned a ring in his last World Series. And he has a reasonable expectation that there might be another World Series down the road.

Yes, Charlie Manuel might have handled a couple of situations differently, but he remains one of only two men to manage the Phillies to a championship.

Amaro took over as GM in the wake of the '08 title and made smart, aggressive moves to tweak the roster. The acquisitions of Lee, Raul Ibanez and Pedro Martinez were instrumental in the team's return to the World Series.

They didn't win. This time, the champagne sprayed in the other clubhouse. It is a measure of how good these Phillies have been that we were surprised by that.


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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