The moment would have demoralized nearly any other team. In the eighth inning of Monday’s division series clincher in Denver, Dexter Fowler’s acrobatic baserunning clouded a key moment for Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, whose baseball instincts are typically flawless.
The Phillies led 2-1 with one out in the inning and Fowler on first, when Todd Helton grounded to second. The charging Fowler leapfrogged Utley, who bypassed the sure out at first for a risky attempt at second. The ball sailed wide of Rollins, and both runners were safe.
Soon after, Ryan Madson allowed key hits to Jason Giambi and Yorvit Torrealba, who screamed and pumped his fists at second base after giving his team the lead. It was a monumental comeback for the Rockies, who had stolen the series momentum. If the Phillies were a typical team, they would have thought, Oh, well. This wasn’t our day. On to Game 5.
But for all their flaws and holes, this team’s defining quality—a virtually religious belief that they will win—once again drove them to an improbable victory. “We have belief,” Jimmy Rollins said after the game. “And belief goes further than momentum.”
The Phils’ attitude all season has been one of remarkable self-assurance. That quality can look either wise or foolish, depending on results. When the team slumbered through a lazy September, and manager Charlie Manuel criticized them for playing down to its competition in games against the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals, the Phils seemed to be relying too heavily on the idea that they could flip a switch when things began to matter more.
You can’t do that in baseball. You can’t just turn it on when you have to. Except the Phillies did.
Trailing 4-2 at the beginning of the ninth inning Monday, they trotted into the dugout believing they would win the game. Let us pause for a moment to acknowledge how strange that was. Let us throw our hands in the air and say, incredulously, “What do you mean you thought you would win the game? Are you crazy? It was the Rockies night!”
But to their everlasting credit, the Phillies chose faith over reason. They did not pause to consider how unlikely a win would be, and they just did it. Where does this quality come from? Why do the Phillies have such a unique intangible?
Charlie Manuel, Rollins, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth deserve much of the credit. Manuel managed this series with uncommon boldness, fitting for his cocky squad.
Think about the moves he made: Trouble in the bullpen? Send starter Joe Blanton out there. J.C. Romero is out for the season? Tell rookie Antonio Bastardo to face Jason Giambi; he’ll strike him out. Scott Eyre sprained his ankle on Sunday? Give him the ball with a one-run lead in the ninth inning on Monday. Brad Lidge was the shakiest closer in baseball all summer? Bring him in with a runner on second and the series on the line.
Had the Phillies lost this series, all of these decisions would have led to a loud winter of second-guessing. But ol’ Chuck didn’t seem to care. He was going to win or lose his way.
That healthy arrogance filled the clubhouse all season. Rollins was another one. He faltered for much of the season, and has rarely in his career played with consistency worthy of his talent. But J-Roll loves the big moments, the cameras, the heightened energy of playoff baseball. And when his team needed him to instigate the offense during this division series, Rollins did it—just like he knew he would.
And then there was Howard. As with Rollins, it is sometimes necessary to note the first baseman’s flaws as a player. But his reputation as a big-time slugger is entirely earned, and makes him a fit for this team. Few hitters in baseball thrive in a game-defining moment like Howard, and that is what his legacy will be. The game-tying double Monday will stay near the top of his resume in the minds of Philadelphians.
Werth is not a former MVP like the others, but he is an insightful person and emerging star whose faith runs deep. As he trotted in from right field at the end of the eighth inning Monday, Werth was truly convinced his team would come back. Minutes later, he coolly singled in the winning run.
Baseball intelligence still says that the 2009 Phillies are not a championship team. The back end of the bullpen was shaky for six months before this redemptive week. Cole Hamels, who carried the team last October, is still shaky. The Los Angeles Dodgers handle lefthanded pitching far better than Colorado does, and their late-inning relief is formidable.
The baseball postseason is famously flukey, and the Phillies could certainly lose their next series. But they cannot fathom this season ending in a loss, and that faith will be their greatest advantage.