THROUGH ALL the cold and empty Octobers, autumns without postseason baseball to warm the civic soul, there was one constant.
Phillies players, coaches and managers came and went. But as time passed and another round of playoffs went on without them, the team's front office remained remarkably unchanged. More and more, management was fingered as the root of the problem.
When Pat Gillick was hired as general manager in November 2005, there was renewed hope. When the team was under .500 as late as July 19 this year, it seemed to many fans that only a name had changed.
It took a furious rush at the end and an epic collapse by the Mets. But as the shadows lengthened over Citizens Bank Park late yesterday afternoon, the fans were cheering themselves hoarse as the Phillies celebrated clinching their first trip to the postseason since 1993, and just their second appearance since 1983.
So, fair is fair. In the end, it always comes down to the players on the field, the manager and coaches. But the guys upstairs must have done something right, too.
Gillick caught most of the flak during the long, hot summer and it's not hard to see why. He made a trade with the White Sox that brought in Freddy Garcia. For his $10 million salary, Garcia won one game before being sidelined for good in June with shoulder problems that eventually required surgery. He was unable to retain lefthander Randy Wolf and then turned around and signed Adam Eaton for $24.5 million over 3 years. Eaton's 6.29 earned run average was the highest for any qualifying starter in baseball and it appears highly unlikely he'll even be included on the postseason roster.
As Gillick stood just outside the raucous clubhouse, though, he shrugged off the criticism he'd received.
"I'm happy for the city of Philadelphia," he said. "The last time I was here before I was hired was in 1993 when I was here [with the Blue Jays for the World Series]. I know the frustration people were feeling then. When you talk about the fans here, there's been a lot of frustration for a long period of time, so there's going to be some negativity."
He could also take some quiet satisfaction in the fact that even if the big, headline-grabbing deals didn't pan out, several of the seemingly minor transactions that occurred in the margins did. The Phillies wouldn't have been spraying champagne yesterday without the contributions of J.C. Romero, Jayson Werth, Tadahito Iguchi and Greg Dobbs.
"You've got to take the good with the bad," he said. "Some of the moves we made didn't turn out. The thing about it is that you can't lose your nerve if you make a bad one. Most of the add-ons, the side deals, the supplemental situations that added to the club, people didn't really concentrate on those.
"The one that probably worked out best was Iguchi. At that point, once [Chase] Utley got hurt, we were desperate from the standpoint that we didn't have anybody but Abraham [Nunez] to play second base. And [Iguchi's] been so fundamentally sound. Like today, we needed a sacrifice fly [in the sixth inning] and he stepped up and got it."
Team president Dave Montgomery, who hired Gillick, moved unobtrusively around the edges of the madness, shaking hands and offering congratulations.
"We've had a good club for a few years now," he said. "In our playoff system, you can't just be good. You have to be one of the best four teams. And there were a couple times when we had one of the best four records in the league but still didn't make it because we were behind a division winner and the wild-card team.
"That's why I think it means so much to players like Pat [Burrell] and Jimmy [Rollins]. They had to be thinking, 'What does it take?' "
Club chairman Bill Giles put together the group that bought the team from the Carpenter family in 1981.
"It's just unbelievable," he said. "I can't believe how much heart and character this team has shown. I've always said that the 1993 team was my favorite, but if we can keep on and do even more, I may have to change my mind."
Assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. complimented the players, coaches and manager Charlie Manuel. And the front office? "Baseball is a crapshoot like anything else," he said. "You try to look at the track records of the people you're thinking about acquiring. You try to put your best team on the field. There's a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work."
Gillick, then, must be a pretty lucky guy. He's been general manager of four teams: Blue Jays, Orioles, Mariners and now Phillies. All have made it to the postseason.
"There's no question that he's a Hall of Fame executive," Amaro said.
Gillick, 70, put his perfect batting average on the line when he came to Philadelphia. He smiled when asked if, now that he's 4-for-4, it was a relief that his record remains unblemished.
"It feels good from a personal standpoint because I'd never won anything in the National League. I guess it proves you can switch leagues," he said mildly.
"It's good to win. It's nice to win. That's all I can say. I lost for a long time. I remember 30 years ago when we started out in Toronto, we were losing 100 games a year. It got pretty old. At first, if we played three games and won one, we were jumping up and down. Later we got good and if we played three games and lost one we got upset.
"This brings a lot of pride to the city. It makes the fans feel good. It kind of says, 'We can do it, we can win, we're not going to fall short.' ''
The Phillies are still short of every team's ultimate goal. And while it's true that they only won 89 games this season, it's also true that it's only one fewer than Arizona, which led the league with 90.
"There's a lot of parity this year. Some would say a lot of mediocrity," Gillick conceded with a laugh.
Still, once you get to the postseason, you never know. The Cardinals won only 83 games during the regular season last year and then rolled to a world championship. The hardest part can be just getting to the playoffs.
Then again, nobody has to remind the Phillies of that. *