When Shane Victorino caught Ronnie Belliard's fly ball before running toward the infield at 11:47 last night, these Phillies delivered their 127-year-old franchise to an unprecedented moment: a second consecutive World Series appearance.
The 10-4 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 at Citizens Bank Park clinched the National League championship, and earned the Phils a meeting next week with either the New York Yankees or the Los Angeles Angels. The Phillies became the first NL team since the 1995-96 Atlanta Braves to win two straight pennants. Ryan Howard was named series Most Valuable Player.
The moment arrived despite Brad Lidge and the bullpen's bewildering regular season, and in part because of their resurgent October. It arrived after Jimmy Rollins vanished in the spring, returned in the summer, and finished a classic comeback in Game 4.
It arrived despite the awkward adolescence of Cole Hamels' career, which continued with a failed performance last night. It arrived because this self-assured collection of talented characters refused to be defined by shortcomings.
"Strong-willed" was how Jimmy Rollins described the team. "We don't have quitters. When Charlie [Manuel] had his meetings, he used some other words, but he said he didn't want quitters on his team."
After the win, the team began a locker room ritual - champagne, cigars, hugging and yelling, and dumping ice on one another - it has enjoyed three times in the last month.
Raul Ibanez was one of the happiest participants. He will play in his first World Series at the age of 37. Calm but deeply satisfied, Ibanez recalled watching the Phils' last playoff run from his home.
"A year ago I was watching this on TV, and now I'm a part of it," he said. "I watched it. It was unbelievable to have the energy jump out of the screen. It was more than usual."
The game itself last night was a romp, despite Hamels' disappointing performance. Manuel said before the game that the 25-year-old's command in the early innings would provide strong clues about his ultimate performance.
"It seems like he has trouble when the game starts," the manager said. "He'll be feeling for his command, the fastball will be up and out of the strike zone."
Last night, Hamels fell behind in the count to the first three batters, then allowed a solo home run to Andre Ethier. But former Phillie Vicente Padilla, known for his great talent and extreme unpredictability, quickly allowed his opponents to regroup. After getting two quick outs, Padilla wandered far from the strike zone, and did not return until he had lost the lead.
Walks issued to Chase Utley and Howard brought up Jayson Werth. Werth had just one hit in 14 at-bats in the series - although that hit was a booming first-inning homer in Game 3. His second success was even more meaningful: On a 3-2 offering from Padilla, Werth crushed a fastball well past the wall in right field. He earned two separate cheers: a curtain call that drew him from the dugout, and a full-throated standing ovation when he returned to the outfield before the next inning.
With the fans perhaps even more jazzed than at the outset, Hamels quickly shushed them again, allowing a leadoff home run to James Loney in the second. But Pedro Feliz countered with a solo homer in the bottom of the inning to make it 4-2.
Hamels responded with his only easy frame, which he finished by striking out Ethier on a dazzling change-up. The lefthander walked one batter in a scoreless fourth, but labored. By the end of the inning, Hamels had thrown 75 strenuous pitches.
His offense continued to offer generous support. Werth led off the bottom of the fourth with a single, and Ibanez knocked him in with a double to right-center. The offense rolled, but Hamels allowed the Dodgers constant reprieves. With one out in the fifth, pinch-hitter Orlando Hudson crushed a fastball for a solo homer down the left-field line. Rafael Furcal followed with a double, bringing Manuel out of the dugout and provoking relieved applause from many in the crowd.
J.A. Happ took over, walked a batter, and got Ethier to fly out. Managing aggressively, Manuel charged Chad Durbin with retiring Manny Ramirez with two on and two out. Durbin succeeded, holding the score at 6-3.
"I was aware of the situation in the game," Hamels said. "And I'm glad Charlie did take me out, because I wasn't going to help the team win."
Victorino's two-run homer in the sixth gave the Phils a five-run lead. After Werth bashed a solo shot in the seventh, a feeling of wild inevitability filled the ballpark, as fans sensed the arrival of an event they had yearned to witness.
Few in the stadium yearned for it more than Ibanez. Standing in the clubhouse with champagne dripping from his cap and television cameras pointed at his face, Ibanez said: "To actually be in this moment, talking about it, it's like a dream."EndText