Phil Sheridan: Jimmy Rollins' heart - and confidence - is in the Phillies

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Jimmy Rollins has been batting sixth without complaint in this postseason. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

SAN FRANCISCO - Jimmy Rollins grew up just across the bay, a bridge and a world away from the glitz of San Francisco. That doesn't mean, however, that the Phillies shortstop is coming home for the second act of the National League Championship Series.

Rollins may be from here, but he's a Philadelphia guy now. As much as any of our adopted athletic heroes, Rollins belongs to the place where he plays rather than the place where he was born.

Thanks to these Phillies, an entire region believes its beloved baseball team can step out on the field and win and win and win. With one championship delivered, one just missed and another in their sights, these Phillies have transformed the way a city thinks of its baseball franchise and just maybe of itself.

The transformation is so thorough, so complete, it has become too easy to forget where it began: in the daring imagination and fearless voice of one James C. Rollins. It was the little shortstop with the big ideas who first declared the Phillies "the team to beat" in the National League East, who predicted a World Series title and meant it.

Rollins stood among the Flat Earthers who expected disappointment and pain and pronounced the world round. Then he invited all comers to join him for a ride to the far shore.

So it never made sense, the notion that Rollins should be benched during this postseason. Even though his spate of injuries prevented him from developing any kind of offensive rhythm this season, and even though Wilson Valdez performed admirably when given the chance to fill in, Rollins belongs on the field when the games matter most.

He just does. Because you can't take his bat out of the lineup without taking his presence, his essence, out of the lineup. And long before the machinations that brought Roys Halladay and Oswalt, before Cliff Lee and Brad Lidge and Raul Ibanez and Placido Polanco, Rollins was an irreplaceable element in the winning chemistry of this Phillies team.

And he still is. That vintage double in Game 2 Sunday night did more than give the Phillies breathing room in a must-win game. It restored the swagger this team carried – or that carried this team – through the past couple postseasons. That surge of confidence is what Rollins has always personified, and it is what brought the chants of "J-Roll, J-Roll" ringing down from the faithful who packed the Bank.

"It reminded me of the last hit in 2007, my MVP year," Rollins said. "I hit the triple and the fans stood up and all you can do is smile. We have great fans. They're into the games. We sold out 130-something consecutive games and it feels good when they lift you back up in a moment like that."

Rollins, whose preference for hitting in the leadoff spot is long documented, has been batting sixth without complaint in this postseason. That is manager Charlie Manuel's one concession to the reality that his shortstop just hasn't been himself at the plate. After Game 2, Rollins explained in the simplest terms why he prefers leading off.

"Feels like you're in the fire right in the beginning of the game," Rollins said, "where batting sixth, you might not get up until the second inning and the game has already happened."

In the games, as in his role in the Phillies' success, Rollins wants to lead the way. There really is nothing wrong with that. Besides, the No. 6 spot isn't exactly a no-man's-land. Manuel has smartly given Rollins a spot where he can drive in runs or get a rally started, depending on when his place in the lineup rolls around.

What's important is the message that this team doesn't panic, doesn't make radical changes at the first sign of adversity. Rollins is one of the men who made the last three glorious years possible. He has delivered in the past and, as he proved with that near-grand-slam Sunday, he is capable of delivering in big moments again.

"When he gets going, he's a very consistent player," Manuel said. "He's a special player."

"I've been the same for the last 10 years," Rollins said. "But once you lose the confidence, you're not going to have a chance to play at this level. God gave me this talent and I'm going to do something with it."

He has done so much, delivering an MVP season and a championship during his time in Philadelphia. So many great players in every sport have passed through town without delivering the goods as Rollins has. And it all started with his fierce belief that this team could and should win.

"You lose confidence like that," Rollins said, "you'll be going home. And I don't plan on doing that any time soon."

Thing is, he's already home - and that doesn't mean the Bay Area.

 


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.