Brad Lidge's season, defined so far by bewildering disappointment, now contains a moment of unqualified joy.
The Phillies' closer, near the end of a year in which he has suffered 11 blown saves, entered tonight's game with two out in the ninth. He threw one pitch, a fastball to Lance Berkman. The Houston slugger bounced it to first baseman Ryan Howard, who ran to the bag for an out.
With that, an event that had long seemed inevitable arrived later than expected. But it arrived nonetheless, snuffing the anxiety caused by a shrinking divisional lead in the last week.
The Phils defeated the Astros 10-3, minutes after clinching their third consecutive National League East title. As Lidge threw his warm-up pitches, the second-place Atlanta Braves lost to Florida, sealing the division for Philadelphia.
"It's really weird right now," Lidge said later, while friend Chad Durbin sneaked up behind to pour a cold bottle of champagne on the closer's head. "For some reason, it feels like the whole year has been going well, even though it hasn't."
The locker room - indeed, everyone at Citizens Bank Park - released an intense, expectant energy that had hovered throughout the evening. As the Phils sprinted from the dugout before the first inning, the collective cheer from the stands was as hearty as it has been since opening night, when manager Charlie Manuel hoisted the championship flag.
That energy increased significantly after the game. After the standard spraying of beer and champagne in the locker room, the players ran down the tunnel to the dugout and out onto the field.
Fans behind the first-base dugout saw their shortstop and began chanting "J-Roll! J-Roll!" while Jimmy Rollins waved.
"It has been rougher this year," Rollins said, of a season in which he rebounded from a career-worst slump. "Just the fact that everyone was gunning for us. We stood up to the test in the regular season, and we'll stand up to the test in the postseason."
Many Phillies poured champagne on the sign in left field honoring Harry Kalas, the broadcaster who died of a heart attack in the broadcast booth at Nationals Park in Washington on April 15.
Minutes later, Jayson Werth, cigar hanging from his mouth and goggles covering his eyes, walked toward the home dugout. Fans responded with a roar, and one tossed Werth an oversize boxing glove with a Phillies insignia on it; Werth slipped his hand in the glove and raised it in the air.
"I want to say you get used to this, but every one is different and special," he said soon after. "We are going to enjoy this moment, but know where we still have to go."
Lidge, for one, believes that he will yet experience success this season. "We're about to get on a roll," he said. "I'm about to do what I do best."
His fellow relievers, who form a close and supportive group, gathered in the bullpen for a toast.
Asked how it felt to see Lidge close a clinching game after his difficult year, Durbin said: "It felt natural. The last time I saw all those towels waving, he was out there."
Manuel, the man who sent Lidge to the mound for his reassuring moment, was absent during the celebration. Standing in front of the desk in his office while younger men jumped and yelled and hugged in the other room, Manuel said quietly:
"This celebration is for them. They are the ones who got it done. . . . I'll celebrate when we win the big one."