JAMIE MOYER gazed again at the huge ring on his finger, his words once again chopping through the emotions it evoked. Eleven solid minutes of choked-up words and raw-nerved feelings in the Phillies' media room after yesterday's ring ceremony had been followed by this impromptu session with television reporters outside of it, extending into the start of Game 3 of the 162-game schedule.
"We're not the first team that has ever done this," he had said moments earlier. "Many other teams have done this. I really haven't thought about this aspect of it. All right, what do you do? How do you move on? It will be interesting to see, to talk to some players who have done this."
Elevated behind him, a television provided the sobering reality of his words. Braves catcher Brian McCann had launched another first-inning home run, this one curling inside of the rightfield foul pole, and the Phillies were once again chasing a lead before even coming to bat.
Seven innings later, after Phillies newcomer Raul Ibanez had briefly tied it with a two-run second-inning bomb, the Phillies were looking down the barrel of a 10-3 deficit and a third home loss to start their 2009 championship defense. Much of Citizens Bank Park's upper tier had already emptied, having retired from the brisk, Octoberlike day to the park's restaurants, bars, or even their own warm cars.
Three games, three excited crowds, three nights of brake lights backed up prematurely beyond the centerfield fence.
"We played 2 1/2 games," manager Charlie Manuel said. "And we hadn't done much right . . . "
And then, Chase Utley looped a one-out popup fortuitously between three fielders in short centerfield. Ryan Howard took a 2-2 pitch off his shoulder blade. Braves reliever Eric O'Flaherty was replaced by Peter Moylan, who was eventually replaced by Blaine Boyer, who was then replaced by Jorge Campillo.
After 2 1/2 games of establishing themselves as legitimate 2009 contenders, the Braves underlined how they lost 90 games last season. Their relievers walked in four of the Phillies' eight runs that inning, twice without registering a strike. Five walks in all, not to mention plunking Howard.
In winning 12-11, the Phillies also underlined something, something about what it took to finally get over the hump in 2008. They accepted those walks as if studded with diamonds. They did not chase pitches, they did not take foolish chances.
"As a group, you never see anybody here down," Ibanez observed afterward. "You see the opposite. You see guys pulling for each other and expecting good things to happen.
"There's a difference between wanting things to happen and expecting things to happen. The feeling I get from this clubhouse is that they expect things to happen."
That's all from 2008. That's all forged from winning big games in a variety of manners, of treating every at-bat as a potential flame, an ignition switch. You can talk, and should, about the big home runs hit by Matt Stairs and Shane Victorino in the postseason, but the Phillies beat the Rays for the world championship with RBI grounders up the middle and little squibbers down the third-base line and bloops like the one Utley dropped to get that seventh inning started.
"I've been really impressed with how professional they are," Ibanez said. "I knew there were great players on the team. But I've been really impressed with their approach."
By the end, every position player who started reached base. Ibanez, who was 2-for-3 with a walk, was the only one to leave the park. In his second at-bat that inning, Howard knocked in the go-ahead run on a groundout with a little squibber to the right side.
"We did what we needed to do," said Victorino, who had his first two hits of 2009 yesterday. "We battled. And again, we played 27 outs. And I think that's what made today so positive. We get our rings, then we battle back from 10-3 to win.
"Not to say we stole this one . . . But we kind of did."
Victorino was standing amid a crowd of reporters, spinning his ring around a righthand finger, talking about how nice it would be to match it up with one on his left. The rings were everywhere in the locker room afterward, a scene unimaginable just a few innings before. After 2 1/2 games that induced boos and early departures from their not-so-faithful, the Phillies had reminded us all how they came to get those rings in the first place.
"If we can find a way to win like that," Victorino said, "we're gonna be fun again to watch." *
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