Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Of Course I'm Rooting For My Phillies . . .

. . . but four straight years of post-season play for the losing-est team in Major League Baseball history is evoking a different kind of feeling among their fans this October.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of sitting at the kitchen table with my mother and grandmother listening to the
Phillies on the radio. And more often than not, listening to the Phillies lose. My love of baseball was nurtured on those spring and summer evenings while my father was on shift work, and I had learned the finer points of the game -- from the suicide squeeze play to the art of bunting to when to intentionally walk a batter -- before I could read and write. I also learned that baseball "is only a game," as my mother would say with varying degrees of conviction, which was a damned good thing because the Phillies lost a lot, most famously in 1964 when they led the National League by six and a half games with 12 to play but managed to blow it.

In fact, the franchise made such a habit out of losing that it notched an American professional sports record 10,000 losses in 2007, which makes it all the more fitting that a year later the
Phillies won the World Series for only the third time in their 125-year history and for the first time since 1993.

By the time the 2009 season rolled around, long-suffering Phillies fans expected the franchise to be in World Series again, but when they fell to the Yankees in six games the disappointment was dismissed by the once rudest fans in baseball with high praise and an "there's always next season" shrug.

Indeed, the Phillies were expected to again go to the post season from the outset of the 2010 season, but a funny thing happened on the way to October -- injuries to seven of their eight position-player starters at one time or another, a season-ending injury to one starting pitcher, and some truly ugly losing streaks. But the Phillies rallied in September with the best record in baseball as their three pitching aces went undefeated and bench players continued to fill the big shoes of injured starters as they had all season. Oh, and every home game this season has been a sellout.

But beyond the stellar pitching and playing and a come-from-behind fortitude, the biggest keys to the Phillies' success are Charlie Manuel, who is hands down the best coach in baseball, and Ruben Amaro, who is hands down the best general manager.

When the Phillies open the National League Championship Series in Philadelphia tomorrow evening against the Cincinnati Reds, their fans will assume that a third straight World Series is in the cards. But if they don't come home with yet another championship, it'll be no big deal.

After all, it's only a game.

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