The end is here

They dressed mostly in silence, shoving their belongings into duffle bags and slipping out to the waiting buses, en route to Penn Station, and then Philadelphia, and then wherever their offseason homes lie.

The end of the Phillies' reign as world champions came just before midnight in the Bronx, in the form of a convincing 7-3 loss at the hands of the Yankees. Most of them will be back. Several will not. Righthander Brett Myers is a free agent, as are Matt Stairs, Scott Eyre, Chan Ho Park, Paul Bako, Pedro Martinez, Tyler Walker and Miguel Cairo.

Pedro Feliz has a $5.5 million club option that might be exercised. Cliff Lee has a $9 million club option that will definitely be exercised.

In many ways, the Phillies final game of the 2009 season offered a case study on how they can improve before their next attempted title run. They will need to address the bullpen, where two of the most reliable arms in an inconsistent unit -- Eyre and righthander Chan Ho Park -- are headed toward retirement or free agency. They will need to find a right-handed bat or two who can provide balance on the bench (reserve outfielder Ben Francisco went 0-for-3 last night and finished the postseason 0-for-11, while Eric Bruntlett and Miguel Cairo combined to go 0-for-6).

They will need to decide whether Feliz, who  went 0-for-4 last night and 3-for-26 in the postseason, has earned a $5.5 million club option with his defense, or if the free agent market holds a compelling-enough right-handed-hitting offensive upgrade at third base that might better balance the line-up without sacrificing too much in the field.

And they must find a reliable fifth starter, provided: A) They decide to offer righthander Joe Blanton arbitration and keep him in the fold with lefties Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and J.A. Happ, B) They are not married to veteran lefty Jamie Moyer, who lost his spot in the rotation in August and is currently recovering from lower ab/groin surgery, but who is due to make an estimated $8 million next season thanks to escalators he reached based on starts and innings pitched, and C) That they have seen enough out of Martinez, who will be a free agent, to know that he is not that guy.

There will be other sub-plots, other developments, that will shape this team in the next few months. Might Myers, who after eight seasons with the Phillies will become a free agent, be the guy who completes the rotation? Is Ibanez, who went 13-for-52 with 13 RBI this postseason, headed for surgery on his injured groin and lower abdomen?

One thing is for sure: the 25 players who walked off the field amidst the mayhem at Yankee Stadium last night will never play together again.

Even in defeat, they made history, becoming the first team in franchise history to reach back-to-back World Series. They won 93 games during the regular season, nine games during the postseason, and came two wins away from becoming the first National League team to repeat as World Champions since the 1975-76 Reds.

This weekend, however, Broad Street will be silent, save for the people and cars bustling through the onset of winter.

There will still be Thanksgiving, and there will still be Christmas, but there will be no parade, no title, no World Bleepin’ Champs.

“When two teams are playing like that, one of them is going home,” manager Charlie Manuel said, his eyes red and his voice at times shaky. “Last year it was Tampa. This year it’s us. But we’re going to be back.”


I'd like to thank all of you readers out there for following along throughout this season. I appreciate the feedback, both positive and negative, and I hope you all will continue to check in to the blog throughout the offseason, when we'll attempt to keep things running on all cylinders.

On Sunday, I'm off to Chicago, where the general manager's will be holding their annual meeting. Free agency begins 15 days after the last game of the World Series, which by my calculation is Nov. 20.

In other words, there will be plenty of moving and shaking going on -- probably not as much as last year, when the Phillies hired a new general manager, said goodbye to Pat Burrell, signed Raul Ibanez, and hired an entire new front office, as well as a new bench coach and third base coach. But there will be plenty to delve into once the World Series hangover wears off.

Again, thanks for checking in.

And as Fonzie would say: Ayyyyyyyyyyyyy