One more step

Is it just me, or did this feel almost anti-climactic? Not in a bad way, for sure. But with the way the Phillies pounded the Dodgers into submission to advance to the World Series for the second straight year, and fresh off a dramatic walk-off win in Game 4, Wednesday night's clincher felt, well, different.

Onne year and five days ago, the story was the newness of it all, the aforementioned split second of realization -- Holy hell, we're going to the World Series -- carrying well into the next morning. Last night? Last night was something different. Last night was a prize fighter that had already withstood the best his opponent had to offer, had already endured the 35 degree chill of Denver and the 90 degree heat of Los Angeles and the three-run rally by the Rockies in Game 4 of the NLDS and the flame-throwing closer protecting a two-out lead in Game 4 of the NLCS.

Want to know what Wednesday night felt like? It felt like an encore, a victory lap, one last exhibition of brutish strength in the form of a 10-4 victory over a team that looked as if it knew it was beaten. Yes, the Phillies are going to their second straight World Series, the first time a National League team can make that claim since 1996, when the World Champion Atlanta Braves defeated the Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS. Yes, they are the first team in franchise history to achive such a feat, leaving little doubt that the finest era in Phillies baseball exists in the present. Yes, the champagne still smelled sweet, and the party still rocked, as did the thousands of red-clad fans who lingered into the night.

Yet as the players streamed out of the dugout after Shane Victorino settled under a lazy fly ball off the bat Ronnie Belliard to cap off the five-game series win, it was somehow different..

"We've got one more step," Ryan Howard said as he accepted his NLCS MVP Trophy, the spoils of a series in which he hit .333 with two home runs and eight RBI.

But last year, those words were touched with more than a hint of exuberance, of hopefullness, more bravado than confidence.

This year, the tone was that of a businessman addressing his colleagues, puntuated with a period and not an exclamation point.

"It's something I've been saying," Howard said later, a pair of plastic goggles protecting him from random drive-by sprayings. "We take it all in stride. The first step is making the playoffs. The second step is trying to get the National League Championship Series. And the third step is trying to get to the World Series. We achieved our third step, and then the next step is just going out there and trying to win."

For one night, they played like a team that had Howard's checklist hanging on the dugout wall.