MILWAUKEE - Now we know what it takes to make Chase Utley smile.
The gritty second baseman's game face disintegrated in a flood of joy and champagne today as the Phillies celebrated their first playoff series win since 1993. It was a smile of accomplishment and of happiness, but also relief, as this group of Phillies shrugged off the weight of the franchise's mostly unhappy history to defeat the Milwaukee Brewers in four games.
Speaking of history, the Phillies will play their ancient foes, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the National League Championship Series. Game 1 of the teams' fourth NLCS meeting will be Thursday at Citizens Bank Park.
"There's a reason to [smile]," Utley said through the din of a spirited clubhouse celebration. A few minutes earlier, "for the first time in my life," Utley volunteered to do a live shot with Comcast SportsNet.
For the homegrown nucleus of this team - Utley and Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell, Cole Hamels and Brett Myers - reaching the NLCS marks a major milestone. Having grown up in this organization together through mostly futile years, they have lived in the shadow of the 1980 world champions and the beloved 1993 World Series club.
Now it is their time. Now they can write their own chapters in the book of Schmidt and Carlton, of Dykstra and Schilling.
"This team has a lot of heart," Myers said. "To be the first team to go this far since '93, it's huge. We're going to try to put '93 in the past where it should be. We're going to try to take it a little further and actually win this whole thing."
Rollins, who led off the game with a towering home run to right field, has been this team's oracle. He predicted 100 wins for these Phillies, a number he realized was still attainable. After all, he never said "in the regular season."
"We can get to 103," Rollins said. "That's the number."
It would take eight more wins, of course, to get to 103: four against the Dodgers and four more in the World Series.
The Phillies' 95th victory was a perfect example of what they will have to do to beat a Dodgers team that exploded offensively to sweep the Chicago Cubs in the division series. They will have to continue pitching well, but they will also have to hit the ball. They did just that today, blasting four home runs - two by Burrell, one by Rollins, and one by Jayson Werth. It was the kind of game this lineup hadn't produced in its six previous playoff games, going back to last year.
"We started out the season and everybody knew we were going to maul everybody," general manager Pat Gillick said. "We were going to win on offense. But we've really been a little bit different. We've really kind of gone to a playoff-type team. We're pitching- and defense-oriented."
Dallas Green, the manager of that 1980 team, seemed eager for some company in the franchise's tiny pantheon of champions.
"I'm tired of that," Green said. "I hope Charlie [Manuel] gets the job done. In terms of personnel and the way they play the game, [this team is] very competitive with the '80s guys. You've got a lot of similarities in power and defense. They have good pitching. And they have a lot of heart, which should carry them through."
That heart beat louder today than it did in the previous evening's Game 3 loss. Given the history, it was fair to wonder whether the Phillies would play tight and find themselves facing Brewers ace CC Sabathia in a winner-take-all Game 5.
"It felt a little sluggish [Saturday]," Myers said. "Today, I got to the ballpark and the music was blasting. I felt like it was going to be a good day today."
Rollins carried that pregame energy into his first at-bat, driving a 3-2 pitch from Jeff Suppan into the seats and hushing 44,000 fans with 88,000 Thundersticks.
"My favorite thing is silence on the road," Rollins said.
Burrell's three-run homer followed. It joined a list of moments from this series that will live on in the memories of Philadelphia fans: Hamels' Game 1 brilliance, Shane Victorino's Game 2 grand slam, Myers' epic at-bat against Sabathia.
It is with such moments that a team writes its own story on the cracked parchment of the faded past.
"Step one was getting out of the Vet and getting somewhere we could erase all the wrongdoing and history that happened there," Rollins said. "We were always playing where the 1980 squad won the World Series. I told Larry Bowa that was the house that they built. Across the street is going to be the house that we built."
New history will be created in that house this week. And who knows? If Chase Utley can smile for the cameras, anything is possible.