The boys of summer and fall

Chase Utley connects for the first of his two homers, a three-run shot in the first inning.

In a year when not much else has gone right, the Phillies gave their fans another thrilling ride.

This year brought a tanking economy, job losses, a city budget on the brink of collapse, a swine flu epidemic, and a transit strike to boot. A winning baseball team doesn’t erase any of that, but it sure helped our outlook on life.

The Phillies’ season ended, of course, Wednesday night, when they lost to the Yankees in Game 6 of the World Series. Losing to New York has a special sting, but the Yankees earned their victory. They played with confidence and didn’t squander opportunities.

In spite of losing the World Series crown, these Phillies provided memories that will linger. For example, there’s the way the crowd in the left-field bleachers paid homage to newcomer Raul Ibanez after each home run.

Or Jimmy Rollins winning Game 4 against the Dodgers with a two-out hit in the ninth inning. Cliff Lee nonchalantly catching a pop-up on the mound while mowing down the Yankees in Game 1. Chase Utley blasting a record-tying five home runs in the World Series. That’s enough good memories to last us through the winter.

And there’s every reason to believe the team will be back in contention next year, as manager Charlie Manuel promised. Among the key players returning next year are Lee, Utley, Ryan Howard, Rollins, Ibanez, Jayson Werth, and Shane Victorino.

Any other team would take that nucleus to build a winner. Check that. Any other team would be happy to start with Lee and Utley alone.

Professional sports franchises are businesses, and the Phillies organization deserves the thanks of this community for creating another success. The owners, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., and the employees helped to put a team on the field that fans could be proud of. In the long and often dismal history of Philadelphia pro sports teams, that’s no small achievement.

So the team’s journey didn’t end this time in a sun-splashed parade down Broad Street. (Mayor Nutter said the city wouldn’t have paid for it, anyway.) But the Phillies gave their fans much to appreciate.
Here’s to the boys of summer who played all the way into November.