Phil Sheridan: Phils can learn lessons from Flyers

One game at a time: Brad Lidge and catcher Carlos Ruiz after closing out the Giants in Game 5 of the NLCS Thursday night.
One game at a time: Brad Lidge and catcher Carlos Ruiz after closing out the Giants in Game 5 of the NLCS Thursday night.
Posted: October 23, 2010

The sports couldn't be more different. Ice hockey is all fluid motion and line changes and goaltending. Baseball is all about the one-on-one matchups between pitchers and hitters, against a backdrop of day-in, day-out routine and constancy.

So maybe there's no parallel to be drawn between the Flyers' incredible comeback against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup playoffs and what the Phillies are attempting to do against the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series. But then, maybe there is.

As different as the games are, there is a thread that runs through these things. There is something about poise and attitude and confidence that applies regardless of the sport-specific nuances.

The Flyers did what they did in the clichéd one-game-at-a-time manner. After falling behind three games to none in a best-of-seven series, they just chipped away, period by period, shift by shift. History weighed heavily against them. Only three teams had ever come back from 0-3 in a seven-game series, in any sport.

Two of them were hockey teams. One – the Boston Red Sox – was a baseball team.

The Phillies were never in a hole that deep. They split the first two games of the NLCS at home. They lost two in San Francisco, which meant they faced elimination in Thursday night's Game 5.

The Flyers faced elimination in all four wins they put together against the Bruins in May. And, because of the NHL's format, they had to win Games 5 and 7 in Boston. The Phillies get to play Games 6 and 7, if they can force it, at home.

That is no small thing. To their credit, the Giants handled it better than most by winning Game 1 at Citizens Bank Park. With an excellent pitching performance from Tim Lincecum and a pair of home runs from Cody Ross, they silenced the crowd unlike any team since the 2007 Colorado Rockies.

By Game 2, order was restored. The Bank was rocking and the Phillies won easily, 6-1. As the pressure mounts, the air in the ballpark is going to get harder and harder for the Giants to breathe. It just is.

These Phillies also have one other enormous advantage the Flyers didn't have. Their sport is all about pitching, and they have two superior starters lined up for Games 6 and 7 this weekend. In the roughly equivalent position in their sport, goaltender, the Flyers had Brian Boucher stepping in for the injured Michael Leighton.

Roy Oswalt, who has been brilliant at home, and Cole Hamels are closer to Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy than to Leighton or Boucher.

The harder part to quantify is the atmosphere in the respective locker rooms. The Flyers were more confident than they had any reason to be as they came back from an 0-3 deficit against the Bruins.

The Phillies, meanwhile, have remained calmly determined and resolute, even as their bats went impotent in four of the first five games of the series. Their experience in three previous Octobers has given them a mature and level-headed perspective on their predicament.

"I didn't notice anything different in the clubhouse," right fielder Jayson Werth said after Game 5. "It was just another day in there. . . . We're a focused bunch and we've got some professional guys in there and some really good players. And we still know what we're doing."

"Nothing changed," center fielder Shane Victorino said. "There's no reason to panic. This is the game of baseball. This is what we did as kids and this is what we do now as our jobs. We're so lucky and so fortunate. We understand the position that we're in to play the game that we love."

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette's simple mantra – "Can we beat the Boston Bruins in this one game tonight?" – is virtually identical to Charlie Manuel's credo of coming to the ballpark every day and trying to win just one baseball game.

"All you can do is go out there and give your best," Victorino said. "You can't add any pressure to yourself in these ballgames. You take it one pitch, one inning, one out at a time. We have to find a way to win. That's what it's about."

All the clichés, all the little mental tricks really do help at times like this. The Phillies are finished if they lose one measly baseball game. Their big promising postseason with three ace pitchers will be fruitless.

But they don't see it that way. They can't.

The way they see it, they have already won 102 baseball games in 2010. They have to win just two more to go to the World Series. That is a terrific opportunity, a situation every team in baseball would sign on for at the start of spring training.

Can they beat the Giants twice? Well, sure. They already have.


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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