Phil Sheridan: For Phils, reaching playoffs only half the battle

Phillies ace Roy Halladay leaves a workout at Bright House Field in his hot rod.
Phillies ace Roy Halladay leaves a workout at Bright House Field in his hot rod. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 19, 2012

Two weeks ago, as the New York Giants were celebrating their second Super Bowl title in five years, the impulse was to look for lessons the Eagles might learn from Eli Manning and his mates.

As the first pitches of the long baseball season are thrown in Clearwater, let's ask what the Phillies can learn. Not from the Giants, but from Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots.

That lesson goes something like this: History happens to some people. It is made by others. Like the Patriots of the 2000s, the Phillies got off to a great history-making start. Somehow, though, over the last few years, they've let other teams make the history at their expense.

The New York Yankees, the San Francisco Giants, the St. Louis Cardinals. They aren't just the last three World Series winners. They're teams that ran over the Phillies on their own paths to glory.

It has now been seven years since the Patriots beat the Eagles for their third Super Bowl title in four seasons. In the interim, the Patriots have won at least 10 games every season. They have been a contending team every year – a remarkable feat in the NFL. They put together a 16-0 regular season in 2007 and had a 27-5 record over the last two regular seasons.

They have gotten back to the Super Bowl twice. The Giants made history at their expense twice.

Similarly, the Phillies have put together a terrific string of regular seasons. They have won the National League East five times in a row. They have made October baseball a welcome new tradition in Philadelphia. Last year, they provided countless hours of pleasure and entertainment while drawing 3.68 million fans and winning a franchise-record 102 regular-season games.

So there are no complaints. It has been a wonderful ride. And we will always have 2008, no matter what this team is able to achieve while its current window remains propped open.

But the devastated look on Tom Brady's face was a stark reminder that these windows do close eventually and that these opportunities to make history and build legacies are precious.

That is the backdrop against which these Phillies will play in 2012 and for as long as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, and Jimmy Rollins remain at their core. They achieved the ultimate goal fairly early on in their journey. And that is terrific. But some team or other wins the title every year. The special teams, the ones recognized by history, win two or three.

These Phillies already have established themselves as more than one-hit wonders. Returning to the World Series in 2009 and to the National League Championship Series in 2010 and to the postseason in 2011 - that required consistency and continued desire, and, to be honest, the fan-given millions to keep adding elite players to the mix.

The truth is that, once the postseason tournament begins in any sport, there is no guarantee that the most talented or winningest team will prevail. Upsets happen, which is one reason sports are worth our attention in the first place. The Phillies have done well to get themselves into that tournament five years in a row. There is every expectation that 2012 will be the sixth.

There are some worries. The defining image from last October - Howard lying in a heap along the first-base line as the Cardinals celebrated - was more than symbolic. Howard will miss the start of this season as he recovers from a torn Achilles tendon. As with Utley last year, there will be the waiting for his return and then the wondering about the injury's impact on his game.

Utley's knees, Rollins' legs, Placido Polanco's various aches and pains, the hole in left field - these are legitimate concerns that could undermine this team.

Ah, but the antidote, once again, will be the pitching. Hamels, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee provide a safety net under everything else. And general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has reconfigured the bullpen, adding not just star-caliber closer Jonathan Papelbon but a group of veteran arms that should provide some stability.

Amaro has also remade the bench, adding old pal Jim Thome, Ty Wigginton, and Laynce Nix. They should give manager Charlie Manuel more flexibility during the regular season, but, like the bullpen, you suspect the underlying plan is to create a team better suited to October.

Like Halladay and Lee, Thome has already checked most of the boxes on his career wish list. The last, glaring exception is that championship ring. The Phillies have a healthy mix of guys hungry for that first taste of glory and guys who should be more than ready for another.

After being on the wrong side as history was made for three Octobers, the Phillies owe it to themselves to make some more of their own. The fans won't mind, either.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or @Sheridanscribe on Twitter. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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