Don't make too much of Giants-Phillies rematch

The Phillies and Giants meet tonight for the first time since last year's NLCS. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)
The Phillies and Giants meet tonight for the first time since last year's NLCS. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)
Posted: July 26, 2011

ON THE DOOR-step of the dog days of August, coming off back-to-back series against two of the National League's mangier teams, holding a comfortable division lead, even the team with the best record in baseball can use a little picker-upper from time to time.

Especially after a listless, 5-4 loss to the last-place Padres yesterday. And doggone if Schedule Santa isn't about to deliver a gift, just a day after the Phillies held their Christmas-in-July promotion.

The San Francisco Giants are in town for a three-game series beginning tonight at Citizens Bank Park. And that should spice things up a little.

It's a showdown between first-place teams. It will be the first time they've met since last Oct. 23, when Giants closer Brian Wilson caught Ryan Howard looking at a called third strike, looked at the sky, crossed his arms and then joined in the celebration after San Francisco upset the Phillies in the National League Championship Series. The Giants went on to win the World Series, putting the defending champion's bull's-eye on their back. And because Giants manager Bruce Bochy may or may not, depending on who you believe, have upset the Phillies by using Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee for more than an inning each in the All-Star Game 2 weeks ago while holstering his own starting pitchers who were in Phoenix.

All this will give the scriveners and the talking heads and the chattering classes and the assorted new-media chroniclers of the sport plenty to chew on for the next few days. The presence of ESPN tomorrow night and an MLB Network doubleheader Thursday - a live-from-the-field edition of "Intentional Talk" followed by a national telecast with Bob Costas and Jim Kaat - also are telltale signs that this represents a little more than the usual blah, blah, blah.

It will be interesting. It will be fun.

But that's all it will be. Just watch. After the final out Thursday night, neither team will rush the field, form a dogpile on the mound, whoop and holler, act as if they've clinched anything. Because they haven't. Duh.

In a lot of ways, it's easier for players to keep this all in perspective because, ultimately, they win or they lose. The rest of us are just spectators. Some may live vicariously through the team but have no control over the outcome. Even by refusing to budge from their spot on the couch if the Phillies have a rally going. Even by wearing lucky shirts or socks. Even by putting on ninth-inning rally caps. That can be frustrating.

The players also have been schooled to have short memories, learning early on that dwelling on the past has no value at all. If they gave it their best, that's all they can do.

"I made the last out in the [2009] World Series," centerfielder Shane Victorino pointed out. "I don't sleep on it. I have to put it behind me and move on. If I sat there and worried about every out I made, I'd be a wreck."

Victorino was jokingly asked if he wouldn't at least be tempted to kick Giants outfielder Cody Ross in the shin since Ross batted .350 with three homers and five RBI against the Phillies in the postseason and was named the NLCS MVP. He seemed slightly taken aback that anybody would even consider such a thing.

"I talk to Cody Ross all the time," he said. "As much as I'm mad at him for having the series that he did, I don't look at him any different. We talk. I talked to him about coming to my [Shane Victorino Foundation for the benefit of underprivileged children golf] event in Hawaii."

He added that he had texted former teammate Aaron Rowand to congratulate him after the Giants won it all. Because for the athletes, once the game's over, it's over.

It's everybody else who makes a regular-season series seem like a Texas Steel Cage Death Match because of what happened in the past or a preview of the postseason because of what could possibly transpire in the future. Remember when the Red Sox visited in June?

"Getting revenge in these three games has nothing to do with what happens in October. If we win it all, that's when I get my revenge," Victorino said. "Revenge would be bringing the [World Series] trophy back to Philly. That's how I approach it."

Another clue that the Phillies don't consider this a must-win situation is that they arranged their rotation out of the All-Star break in such a way that neither Roy Halladay nor Cliff Lee will face the Giants this week, while they'll see both Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.

Of course the Phillies want to beat the Giants this week. They want to beat the Pirates next weekend. They want to win every game, no matter who they're playing.

So what happens the next 3 nights won't make up for what happened last season, doesn't predict what could happen this fall. But it still should be a blast to watch, which counts for a lot, too.

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