Phillies, behind Halladay, clinch a playoff spot

A job well done: Starter Roy Halladay shakes hands with catcher Carlos Ruiz after his shutout against the Astros.
A job well done: Starter Roy Halladay shakes hands with catcher Carlos Ruiz after his shutout against the Astros. (BOB LEVEY / Getty Images)
Posted: September 15, 2011

HOUSTON - In the middle of the afternoon inside a domed Texas stadium, the Phillies clinched a postseason berth guaranteed long before Wednesday. They shook hands behind the mound, retreated to a clubhouse where rock music played like a whisper, and hastily dressed for a bus scheduled to leave 59 minutes after Roy Halladay struck out Jose Altuve.

The champagne and beer showers are reserved for a division title, and only the wild card was assured with Wednesday's 1-0 victory over the Astros. The Phillies are the first team in baseball to punch a ticket to October, but that is far from the stated goal.

What a novelty that must be to some, like Halladay, who never tasted the playoffs in his first 12 seasons. He was on the mound last September when the division was clinched. He beamed, called life "funner," and cracked open the first champagne bottle.

This time, he iced his prized right arm and completed his 40-minute workout in the bowels of Minute Maid Park after a shutout. It was but another day in a magical season.

"That's the beauty of being here," Halladay said. "We expect to win, and you get converted to that quickly."

Or maybe manager Charlie Manuel said it best: "We want the World Series."

The manager sipped on a Diet Coke in the visiting manager's office and celebrated his own way. He said he'll wake up Thursday morning with one thought: "Win that first game of the doubleheader." He bestowed the honor of team MVP upon his boss, Ruben Amaro Jr., because he "stepped up and bought those pitchers for us." He said there was no pressure on him to deliver the postseason even with a stacked roster because "I got an ego bigger than Houston."

Oh yes, National League baseball in Philadelphia has never been better.

Never before has a baseball team in this city qualified for the postseason five straight years. (Not even Connie Mack's A's did it.) The playoff guarantee came in Game 146, which set a new franchise mark for earliest clinch. The 1915 Phillies qualified for the playoffs after their 148th game.

"It's definitely weird to be the first team in," Shane Victorino said, and he spoke for an entire fan base of the losingest franchise in professional sports.

The magic number to seal a fifth straight NL East title is four. The best record in baseball will fall soon after that. All of it should occur at Citizens Bank Park during a 10-game, eight-day homestand.

Wednesday's win was like so many of the other 94 this season. Four pitches into the game, the Phillies had a lead. Victorino doubled, and Placido Polanco singled. Then the offensive coma commenced.

The Phillies swung as if they had a flight to catch and a doubleheader to play the next day, because they did. At least they left Texas with one win, all thanks to Halladay. He notched his first shutout of the season and lowered his ERA to a minuscule 2.34.

Houston loaded the bases with no outs in the second inning, but Halladay induced two grounders to escape. Over 2 hours, 6 minutes, Halladay baffled the youthful Astros with off-speed pitches.

He was on the podium in a Clearwater, Fla., cafeteria in February when the Phillies unveiled their aces. He was in the clubhouse when Brad Lidge declared this a "World Series or bust" season in March.

There is work to do.

"Of course we're not happy," Victorino said. "We're never happy just getting into the playoffs. Most teams, there might be some kind of celebration. But with us, we know what our goal is, and that's to go to the World Series."

That pursuit officially begins 16 days from now in South Philadelphia.


When To Go

Tickets from the game originally scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 28, will be honored for the first game of the Phillies' Thursday doubleheader against the Florida Marlins, at 2:35 p.m. Tickets for the game originally scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 27, will be honored for the nightcap, at 7:35 p.m.


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com or @magelb on Twitter.

 

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