It was always somebody else, wasn’t it?
Somebody else …
… but not the Phillies.
Somebody else making the blockbuster trade. Somebody else raising a hand as the auctioneer went higher and higher.
Somebody else being bold and assertive. Somebody else landing the stud hoss.
Somebody else …
… but not the Phillies.
So we learned to do without, learned to suffer and learned to arise, searched for reasons to keep on believing, lived on little lies. Someday, we told ourselves. Some day. One day. Just-you-wait-and-see day. And we almost bought it.
So that — all that, all that despair and deprivation, all that angst and frustration — all that makes this moment all the sweeter. For Some Day is here at last. Actually, Some Day arrived a couple or three years back, we just didn’t recognize it. When it has taken you 97 years to win your first world title, you are understandably suspicious of things that seem too good to be true.
So, like hunting dogs locked on a scent, the Fightin’s fans circle and sniff, testing the wind, wondering what to make of all this.
They struggle and stutter to give voice to it, fearful they might create a jinx, and jinx, after all, is a Philadelphia birthright. In the 128th year of their existence, the Fightin’s are on a wild and giddy and freewheeling run and they wonder what it sounds like.
Perhaps something like this:
“D …” Oh, go ahead, say it, howl it:
But these are not your father’s Fightin’s. Or your grandfather’s. Or your great-grandfather’s. No, these Fightin’s do all the wheeling and dealing for which we yearned lo those many, many years ago.
They spend like sailors on shore leave and they round up mashers and bashers, speedsters and defenders, and now they are in the postseason for the fourth straight year, headed for a third straight National League pennant, a feat last accomplished half a dozen decades ago, and a third World Series appearance in a row, and with every reason to believe that, with so much of that incendiary talent signed to contract, the best may be yet to come. And if they were to achieve that, if this run were to last deeper into this decade, it would indeed then qualify them as:
There should be a shingle hanging over the Phils’ front door and it should read:
Proprietors: R. Halladay, R. Oswalt, C. Hamels.
Roy, Roy, and Cole. Aces Three.
They are at the core of all these geysers of optimism. They are the reason, more than any other, why the Fightin’s will win the World Series. Again.
Into their calloused hands they fit an object that is just over 5 ounces in weight and just under 3 inches in diameter, with red stitching all round. The very first time you pick one up, you say to yourself: Hey, this is meant to be thrown.
Yes, yes it is. And Roy, Roy, and Cole throw it with extreme prejudice.
No matter the debates, no matter the arguments, no matter the logic or the prejudice, every discussion about baseball ends with the same unshakable, unswayable, unanimous credo-pitching trumps all.
And in the postseason, its importance is magnified even more. Nothing in sports lasts as long as a regular baseball season, yet, ironically, its postseason can require not even one-tenth of that. All of which means it is not necessarily necessary to go more than three-deep in your starting rotation. This is an enormous, and likely decisive, edge for the Fightin’s, who in Roy, Roy, and Cole trot out lavish talent.
In the lexicon of baseball, they can each throw an intimidating fastball (Cheese or Heat), a mystifying breaking ball (Yakker or Uncle Charlie) and a beguiling changeup (Dead Fish).
Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt have been 20-game winners. It seems certain that Cole Hamels will be, too, and it is not only suspected but expected that all three could hit 20 in the same year.
Like, say, next year.
They push one another in what appears, at least, to be genuinely friendly competition. All that’s missing is the return of Cliff Lee. (Kidding, kidding … although when you think about it … )
Halladay is the bell cow, with a focus that could slice blue steel. He wraps himself in a cocoon of solitude and sees nothing else but the semaphore fingers of Carlos Ruiz. Doc and Chooch have locked themselves in more celebratory embraces than couples on Dancing With the Stars.
Oswalt had the challenge of coming to, and fitting in, with a new team in late July. His first outing was rough. He never lost after that. At 33, he has lost a bit from his fastball, but he has guile and wile and is able to adjust on the run. And when he is on, his ball goes in every direction but straight.
Hamels once was saddled with a cruel slur: Million-dollar arm, 10-cent head. But his evolution and maturation has been well-documented this year, and of the threesome he may have the best pure stuff. Like Roy and Roy, he prefers a fast-break pace — get the ball and throw it. There was a time when hitters stepping out was a way to slow him down and frustrate him. A nasty cutter on the ankles has been the most effective response.
After Halladay’s second no-hitter of the year, manager Charlie Manuel said, tongue-in-cheek: “I’m good when you throw no-hitters and shutouts. I’m a pretty good manager then … what do you think?”
We think you’re right.
Bill Lyon is the author of Deadlines and Overtimes: Collected Writings on Sports and Life. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.