Beasts of the East

How sweet it is! Roy Halladay gets a champagne shower from Jayson Werth, who homered and drove in four runs. Halladay gave up just two hits in nine innings for his 21st victory.
How sweet it is! Roy Halladay gets a champagne shower from Jayson Werth, who homered and drove in four runs. Halladay gave up just two hits in nine innings for his 21st victory.

Phillies win 4th straight NL division title

Posted: September 28, 2010

WASHINGTON - The Phillies and their fans were as ready to burst as the thick black clouds that hovered over Nationals Park on Monday night.

The thousands of Philadelphians, gathered in joyful little red-and-white clusters, got noisier as the game progressed and as the reason they came south drew tantalizingly closer.

The Phillies, meanwhile, with Roy Halladay overwhelming the Nationals, raced through the game at an unusually swift pace, determined, it seemed, to complete their clincher before a predicted storm could rain on its parade.

Finally, 175 days after their season began in this same ballpark, with the same pitching mismatch and the same lofty ambitions that are now so oddly standard in Philadelphia, the Phillies and their fans got to let loose another torrent of emotion.

Their 8-0 victory over the Nationals, the 21st for Roy Halladay, who allowed just two hits, gave Philadelphia a fourth consecutive National League East title.

When it happened, and Danny Espinosa flailed at Halladay's 97th and final pitch, Phillies fans bounced wildly in the stands, waving rally towels they'd brought along, chanting for manager Charlie Manuel.

Phils players - for whom this ritual is becoming wonderfully familiar - leaped and hugged and joyfully piled atop the mound on a damp and muggy Washington night. Subdued at first, perhaps an indication that this was becoming old-hat, the partying picked up steam - and spray - once it shifted into the soon-soaked visitors clubhouse.

There, players wearing the gray NL East champion T-shirts and black hats, unloosed a waterfall of champagne - and later beer - on each other, on club officials who had made the trip, and on reporters.

Halladay, experiencing his first such festivity after 12 postseason-less years in Toronto, looked as if he'd been dunked in a pool. But, much as the ball that struck out Espinosa stayed in his hand until he gave it to a clubhouse worker for safekeeping, his smile lingered long into the night.

"I've seen it too much on TV," Halladay said. "It's everything it's cracked up to be."

The victory celebration - their eighth since their 2007 division title broke a 14-year postseason drought - wasn't as wild as those in 2007 or 2008 but, if nothing else, it injected some life into a ballpark that otherwise was as gloomy as the dark skies overhead.

The shutout win not only guaranteed Philadelphia another division title, but also the best record in the NL, meaning they will have home-field advantage in next week's NL division series - and beyond, should they advance.

"It's just amazing what this bunch has accomplished," said Jayson Werth, who homered, doubled and had four RBIs, but may not be back if there's a fifth straight next season. "And we're not satisfied yet. Not done yet."

This fourth division crown marked the most this franchise has won in succession. The Mike Schmidt-Steve Carlton Phils had won three straight from 1976 through 1978.

"It's been a long year," said Manuel, who stayed out of spray's way in his office. "And this is just the first step."

Halladay, who fulfilled his dream in his first season as a Phillie, seemed unconcerned about the threatening weather and not troubled much by a Washington lineup that was without Ryan Zimmerman. He sped through the Nats' lineup as if he were tossing batting practice, yielding singles to Wilson Ramos in the third and Adam Dunn in the eighth.

"That guy is a horse," Shane Victorino said. "He's been like that since the season started. Amazing."

It was just the latest chapter in the 21st-century transformation of what once was baseball's sorriest franchise. After sporadic postseason appearances in their first 110 years of existence, the Phillies now will be there for an unprecedented fourth straight October.

The Phillies fans, who provided the night's only noise, lingered long after the game, before marching out en masse, chanting "Let's go, Phillies!"

Those supporters displayed the kind of understandable swagger a new generation of Philadelphians possess.

A few thousand of them drove or took the train here. They seemed certain that the Phillies' celebration, delayed this weekend, would take place in this riverside stadium, just south of the glowing Capitol dome.

They roamed Nationals Park's corridors in their uniform tops and red caps, swaggering proudly, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the young Nationals and their near-empty stadium recalled what baseball had once been in Philadelphia.

"We win it tonight, baby," Jason Long of Newark, Del., shouted to a group of fellow Philadelphia fans behind the third-base dugout, 90 minutes before the start of Monday's game.

Long and many others had made the same journey and seen the same pitching mismatch (Halladay vs. Washington's John Lannan) that began this Phillies season.

They were part of a new generation who likely couldn't - or didn't want to - recall what Phillies baseball used to be like.

As they chanted "Let's go, Phillies," they weren't concerned that millions of their predecessors had spent fruitless lifetimes devoid of the dreams that animated them.

Many were too young to recall the fall-off-the-cliff shock of 1964, the stomach-grinding anguish of Black Friday 13 years later, the awful inevitability of Joe Carter's Game 6 homer in 1993.

In all likelihood, unless they'd spent time at the wall of fame out in Ashburn Alley, many probably never had heard of Gene Mauch or Manny Mota or Jim Fregosi.

Did they know the franchise that filled Citizens Bank Park 81 times this season had been the first to lose 10,000 games, had endured many weeks in many seasons when they couldn't draw 10,000 fans?

The Loss Generation, all those post-World War II Phils backers whose negative attitudes were shaped by 1964 and hardened by so much else before and after, are being transformed by the unprecedented sustained success of these Phillies.

But they haven't vanished entirely.

A couple of losses here, a couple of Braves victories in Atlanta and they might have resurfaced, griping on talk radio.

There are those who insist sports help define a city's character.

New Yorkers, they insist, are arrogant, in part, because the Yankees have won 27 World Series. Philadelphians are negative, in part, because the Phils have won two world championships in 127 seasons.

So who knows? A few more division titles, a pennant or two, maybe another World Series, and maybe Philadelphia will forget how to boo.


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.

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