The fascinating thing about the Phillies team isn't just the victories they have racked up over the last three seasons, it is the way they have established themselves as perhaps the most un-Philadelphian team in Philadelphia sports history.
For one of the few times in this city's less-than-illustrious postseason history, South Philly is home to a team that thrives under the weight of the baggage that is a requisite part of playing here.
For the past three years, they have wearily endured the questions of a public and media jaded by years of big-stage let-downs.
Aren't you concerned about the slow April start? About not being able to win at home? About Jimmy Rollins hitting under .200? About Ryan Howard's strikeouts? About Chase Utley's poor throws to first? About the struggles with runners in scoring position? About Brad Lidge? About the bullpen in general? About your reliance on home runs?
The entire time, they assured us that all was well, that this team was a different team, that when the red light clicked on and the towels started waving, they would perform. They would not run into the Panthers or Buccaneers or Cardinals or Red Wings or Lakers or Blue Jays or, for that matter, the Raiders in Week 6.
And if there was any doubt heading into last night, Jimmy Rollins eliminated it with the most clutch performance of his career: a two-out, two-run double that lifted the excitement level of this postseason to almost impossible heights.
Quite simply, this team is different:
In six of their eight playoff games, the game has ended with the winning or tying run at the plate.
Five of their eight playoff games have been decided by one run.
In three of their six playoff wins, the Phillies have scored the winning run in their final at-bat.
The Phillies have out-scored the Dodgers 8-4 in the eighth and ninth innings.
They out-scored the Rockies 5-4 in the eighth and ninth innings.
In this NLCS, the eventual winning runs were scored in the eighth or ninth innings in three of the four games.
Two play-off storylines:
1) Re-inventing the wheel: The Phillies have started both of their postseason series with no defined closer and two potential starting pitchers available for relief work. Somehow, it has worked. Although it is tough to label the handling of lefty J.A. Happ and righty Joe Blanton a success -- Happ has faced four batters as a reliever, allowing one hit and two walks, while Blanton has allowed two runs on four hits in 3 2/3 innings of relief -- the decision to start Pedro Martinez in Game 2 in L.A. proved to be a smart move.
And while Phillies relievers have allowed eight runs in 17 1/3 innings while allowing opponents to hit .303, manager Charlie Manuel has somehow made the ninth inning work. Brad Lidge has allowed one hit and three walks while striking out three in three scoreless innings, twice recording all three outs in the ninth in save situations, and twice teaming with Scott Eyre, once in a save and once in last night's eventual victory.
2) Unlikely heroes: Carlos Ruiz hit .255 during the regular season, the second-lowest batting average among Phillies' regulars. Jimmy Rollins hit .250, the lowest batting average. Lidge blew 11 saves, most among NL relievers, and posted a 7.21 ERA, highest among NL relievers.
Fast forward to today: Ruiz is hitting .391 with a .533 on base percentage, the highest marks among any major league hitter whose team is still alive in the playoffs. He has scored nine runs in eight postseason games, including the game-winner last night on Rollins' walk-off double. Rollins, meanwhile, is hitting just .237 in the playoffs, but his single up the middle off of Houston Street in Game 4 of the NLDS set up the Phillies' series-clinching rally, and his double last night gave him the defining postseason moment that his Phillies career had been lacking.
And what about Lidge? Six of the eight "closers" who entered the playoffs have blown at least one save. The exceptions? The Yankees' Mariano Rivera, and Lidge, who leads all relievers with three saves and last night picked up the victory after striking out Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in the top of the ninth.
Why? Because we can:
Cliff Lee vs. Yankees
4/16/09 - @ NYY - W, 10-2 - 6.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO, 1 HR, 115 pitches
5/29/09 - v NYY - L, 3-1 - 6.0 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO, 0 HR, 112 pitches
5/07/08 - @ NYY - W, 3-0 - 7.0 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 SO, 0 HR, 107 pitches
6/15/06 - @ NYY - W, 8-4 - 6.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO, 3 HR, 97 pitches
7/06/06 - v NYY - L, 10-4 - 6.0 IP,10 H, 7 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO, 1 HR, 100 pitches
Cole Hamels vs. Yankees
5/24/09 - @ NYY - W, 4-3 - 6.0 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 SO, 1 HR, 109 pitches
6/21/07 - v NYY - L, 5-0 - 7.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 S0, 0 HR, 103 pitches
J.A. Happ vs. Yankees
5/23/09 - @ NYY - L, 5-4 - 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 SO, 1 HR, 75 pitches
Joe Blanton vs. Yankees
6/12/08 - v NYY - L, 4-1 - 6.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO, 1 HR, 118 pitches
4/14/08 - v NYY - L, 4-3 - 6.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO, 1 HR, 110 pitches
Pedro Martinez vs. Yankees
6/27/08 - v NYY - L, 9-0 - 5.2 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 5 BB, 4 SO, 0 HR, 106 pitches
5/20/06 - v NYY - L, 5-4 - 7.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 SO, 0 HR, 102 pitches