Phillies may have been the better team but they failed in the clutch

Posted: October 24, 2010

In April 1906, a powerful earthquake devastated the Bay Area, reducing much of San Francisco to rubble. The fires that broke out as a result might have been even more devastating. The inferno raged for days and burned through huge sections of the city. When it was over, the town was a charred, smoldering mess - a blackened patch of scorched earth that left the survivors shocked and shattered as they tried to figure out what happened and how to move forward.

More than a century later, the Phillies and their fans are experiencing their own unexpected disaster. The plans for a third straight trip to the World Series, along with the hope of hosting another Broad Street parade, abruptly went up in flames on Saturday night. Philadelphia's dreams were torched and turned to ashes when, once more, the Phillies failed to extinguish the inexplicably hot Giants. Philadelphia lost Game 6, 3-2, thanks in large part to Juan Uribe, who hit a soul-crushing eighth-inning home run into the right field stands to secure the National League Championship for the Giants.

There will be no celebration in Philadelphia this year. No talk of dynasty, either. That is the stark reality - one Phillies fans will have to live with for quite some time. You have to wonder how long the disappointment will linger.

When the Phillies fell to the New York Yankees in the Fall Classic a season ago, it was deeply frustrating. And yet the defeat didn't necessarily depress the fan base because there was a sense that, however hated, the Evil Empire had fielded the better team. They were the favorites and the Fightin's were the underdogs despite being the defending champs. Not to mention that the Phillies scrapped and fought and turned in the sort of all-out effort we've come to expect.

It was different this time around. The Phils managed the most regular-season wins in baseball this year. They were considered the favorites to win it all. They entered the postseason with a formidable rotation that was supposedly unmatched, along with an experienced lineup that always seemed to play its best baseball during pressure situations. But with the exception of a few flashes here and there, that wasn't how it went against the Giants.

Earlier in the series, Cole Hamels was asked about the team's reputation for playing well when it matters most.

"I guess the reason they call us the Fightin' Phillies is because we play until the very last out of the very last game," Hamels said. "That's what we're definitely going to do."

Charlie Manuel was equally confident before Game 6: "We're going to get to [Game 7]. I don't want to say if we get there, because we are going to get there."

But that's not what happened. The Giants, to their credit, knocked off what had been the top National League club for more than two years. But the Phils ended up losing the series just as much as San Francisco won it. The Giants played well, and the starting pitching was excellent. But aside from Buster Posey, the roster - from Cody Ross to Pat Burrell to Aaron Rowand - is still largely an assembly of castoffs and journeymen.

"I think those type of things, the guys with makeup, can get overlooked," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "When you put together a club, hopefully you have guys who are unified. You have that chemistry . . . If you look at their tools, they may not grade out all that well, but they find a way to win."

That last part is true enough, yet you get the feeling that the Phils of old would have mashed them without much trouble. Trouble is, these Phils don't do much mashing anymore.

For much of the NLCS, the Phillies failed to produce during the most critical junctures. Manuel pointed out that the team is getting older and hasn't hit the way it once did. It was something people overlooked or explained away all season long. Now, it's impossible to excuse - particularly after the Phils scored just two runs in the crucial Game 6 and Ryan Howard made the final out with the bat sitting idle on his shoulder.

"When you've come this far and you've worked so hard to get this far, you just - I mean, only one team's going to win it all but you can't believe it when it's not you," Brad Lidge said.

In sports, the flip side to tragedy is triumph. When the Giants advanced to the World Series Saturday night, they celebrated on the same mound where Lidge and the Phillies once delivered the town's first title in 25 long years. Citizen's Bank Park became eerily quiet. You could see and hear the Giants joy. It was like watching a replay of 2008, only recast with different people. They were wearing gray and black instead of red and white. It was an odd thing to witness, and not all that pleasant.


Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813 or gonzalez@phillynews.com

Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/gonzophilly

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