NEW YORK - It ended just before midnight in the middle of the Bronx, with a stream of pinstriped players swarming a Hall of Fame closer in the middle of the field. It ended with Shane Victorino running to first, and Carlos Ruiz running to third, and Chase Utley standing on deck, and Charlie Manuel watching it all from the front corner of the dugout, his arms on the padded rail. It ended after 372 days, and 177 games, and the first back-to-back trips to the World Series in franchise history.
After it was over, after Mariano Rivera closed out a one-sided 7-3 win to eliminate them in Game 6 of this World Series, several members of the Phillies sat motionless in the visitor's dugout, staring vacantly onto the field as the Yankees celebrated their 27th world championship and the grounds crew hurriedly erected the same makeshift stage on which a year ago the Phillies had stood.
"Obviously, you want to be on the other side," said Ryan Howard, whose two-run home run in the sixth inning off an otherwise solid Andy Pettitte represented one of the Phillies' few offensive highlights of the night. "But those guys went out there and won. You have to give them credit."
It ended as many feared it would - with not enough out of the starting pitcher, with not enough out of the bullpen behind him, with not enough offense against a 37-year-old starter pitching working on 3 days' rest.
All of them had overcome long odds just to reach this point. Pedro Martinez climbed off his couch in mid-July to bolster the team's rotation down the stretch. The bullpen suffered enough injuires to start a new season of "M*A*S*H." The lineup endured an epic first-half slump by its leadoff hitter and an injury that limited the the second-half production of its high-priced leftfielder.
But there is a big difference between reaching back-to-back World Series and winning them, and in this six-game series, the Phillies did not have enough to cross that distinct line.
By the end of it - a convincing defeat sparked by Japanese-born slugger and Series MVP Hideki Matsui's record-tying six RBI - the details were both murky and irrelevant.
Manuel could have held a tighter leash on Martinez, rather than leaving him in the game with two out and the bases loaded in the third to face Matsui, who the inning before had homered off him for the second time this series. But the fact that pulling his starter in the third inning was even a realistic option bode almost as poorly as the two-run single that Matsui would eventually hit.
"I just didn't think [Martinez] was as sharp," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He just didn't have the arm speed. But again, this is the first time in a long time he's come back on his regular turn. That plays into it."
Martinez, who was starting on normal rest for the first time since mid-September, never appeared to find a groove, his velocity sitting mostly in the mid-80s and his command spotty, and the two pitchers who followed him did not fare much better.
By the end of the fifth inning, when Chad Durbin allowed three of the four batters he faced to reach base and J.A. Happ allowed a two-run double to Matsui, the Phillies found themselves in a 7-1 hole.
Meanwhile, Pettitte held the Phillies' lineup to only one run in the first five innings, finally allowing Howard's home run in the sixth.
"Somebody's got to win it," said lefthander Cliff Lee, who went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five postseason starts and will be back with the Phillies next season once they exercise his $9 million option. "They outplayed us. They deserve it. It's hard to swallow, and you don't really like it, but it's why you play the games."
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 bolster the bullpen. They will need to find a righthanded 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 Pedro Feliz, who went 9-for-54 in the postseason, has earned a $5.5 million club option with his defense, or whether the free-agent market holds a compelling-enough righthanded-hitting offensive upgrade at third base that might better balance the lineup without sacrificing too much in the field.
Will Brett Myers, who after eight seasons with the Phillies, become a free agent or return to the rotation? Is Raul Ibanez headed for surgery on his injured groin and lower abdomen?
One thing is for sure: The 25 players who walked off the field amid 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 and nine games during the postseason, and came within two wins of becoming the first National League team to repeat as world champion since the 1975-76 Reds.
This weekend, however, Broad Street will be silent, save for the people and cars battling through the SEPTA strike. 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," Manuel said. "Last year, it was Tampa. This year, it's us. But we're going to be back."
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.