"I'm not saying we didn't play good, because I thought we played good," Bowa said. "But obviously it wasn't good enough. We started believing the hype. You've got to go out and do it."
After 1977, the heat on those Phillies was like a laser, focused and destructive. It took another playoff disappointment in 1978, and then the arrival of Pete Rose in 1979 - and then a humbling 1979 season - and then the elevation of Dallas Green as manager to push them over the top in 1980.
These Phillies are different, true, because they already have won. At the same time, both their payroll and their accumulation of starting pitching have been unprecedented for this franchise, and expectations have risen accordingly. And the trajectory is unmistakable: from winning the World Series in 2008, to losing the World Series in 2009, to losing the league championship series in 2010, to losing a division series in 2011.
The clock ticks, louder.
The heat increases.
"No question," Bowa said. "There should be. There should be a lot of heat. But I think they have the personnel. They have the talent that it shouldn't bother them. The pitching staff, and the core group of players, they've got a good team. It's going to be hard to beat them."
You build this great starting staff and you don't expect Cliff Lee to blow a 4-0 lead in Game 2 against the Cardinals at home. You assemble an expensive veteran lineup and you don't expect a group-wide meltdown. It cannot be forgotten that it was not just one thing, that many hands made the offseason longer for the Phils.
Bowa, now a television analyst, still seems shocked.
"If somebody said they were going to be eliminated," he said, stopping himself for a second. "I do the MLB [Network and] I said, 'There's no way. They're going to the World Series.' Once you get to the World Series, anything can happen. But with that staff, I was shocked. I guess the game that shocked me was when Cliff Lee lost the 4-0 lead.
"When the expectations are high like that, there's a lot more heat on you."
This group's traditional response to hard times, to slow starts, to the pressure of a dwindling calendar, has been to ignore the public fretting and play its best when the games really mattered in the regular season. Last year, they were so comfortably ahead in the NL East for the entire summer - on the way to a 102-win season that would have been even better if not for an unscheduled mid-September vacation - that it almost didn't seem normal.
Every year is different, true enough. But Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are not going to be together forever and everyone knows it. The era of good feelings at Citizens Bank Park might not survive another disappointment.
"I don't think it will [affect them], I really don't," Bowa said. "I know it doesn't affect Jimmy [Rollins]. Jimmy doesn't care about that. In fact, Jimmy likes that . . . That stuff doesn't bother those guys. I really believe that. I just think they're too good to be denied 2 years in a row . . .
"I just think that these guys, they're not young kids. They understand what's going on. The core group of guys that are up there now, they're probably at the back end of their careers but they still have a lot left.
"I'll go out on a limb again: I'd be shocked if they don't get to the World Series just because of the pitching staff," he said.
Most people think the push-back from within the division will be greater in 2012 than it was last year. It might help, in an odd way. A legitimate pennant race might just give the Phillies something to focus on besides the gargantuan expectations piled above their heads.
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