DiBiase: It was the best of times (for the Phillies)

Justin Dibiase

A not-so-wise man once wrote, “The NL East race is over. Though the Yankees are fighting for their playoff souls, the Mets are merrily on their way to another October.” That man was New York Post columnist Kevin Kernan, and the day he wrote that was August 26, 2007.

A truly wise man once said, “The Phillies are the team to beat in the NL East.” That wise man was Jimmy Rollins, and he proclaimed those powerful words during spring training.

While Mr. Kernan and the rest of Mets nation sit home stunned, MVP to be Jimmy Rollins embraces the franchise’s first postseason opportunity in 14 long, long years. It may have taken 160 games for the Fightin’ Phils to finally overtake their neighbors to the north, but they finally unseated the reigning division champs on the final day of the season.

A month ago, Philadelphians circled September 30th on their calendar. They saw that their beloved Eagles would be battling the rival New York Giants on primetime television in a game that perhaps would decide the beast of the NFC East.

After a couple weeks and a few Billy Wagner blown saves, the Delaware Valley was swept by Phillies fever, and the Eagles were only an afterthought. The Eagles were beaten mercilessly by “big blue,” but it did not seem to matter. The only thing that really mattered was that the Philadelphia Phillies; the least successful sports franchise in history, had secured a playoff spot.

Many people are quick to pronounce Philadelphia a “football city.” After four consecutive NFC Championship appearances, it was easy to say that in 2004. To people who have been around for the 1993 and the current season, it is clear that baseball still has a firm place in the heart of the city. For now, Donovan McNabb and the Eagles will have to take a back seat to their neighbors as the city embraces a true winner in every sense of the word.

As Brett Myers delivered that 1-2 swooping curveball to Willy Mo Pena on Sunday afternoon, he seemed to erase a decade of frustration, utter despair and “almosts” which Phillies fans have endured.

The Phillies franchise has been steadily overcoming its problems, and Sunday was icing on the cake. The ownership was constantly criticized for being too frugal; now the Phillies are bigger players in the free agent market. Veterans Stadium was considered one of the worst places to play; now the new Citizens Bank Park is considered the class of all stadiums. Charlie Manuel was a few losses shy of getting fired earlier in the season; now the skipper is the toast of the town and is awaiting his NL Manager of the Year trophy. Jimmy Rollins was told that he doesn’t belong as a leadoff hitter in the Major Leagues; now he is the main reason why the Phillies are where they are, and he also awaits an important trophy, the MVP. The team could not overcome the Mets and the Braves; now they are looking down upon their rivals.

The 1993 National League Champion Phillies are often compared to this current crop of players; however, the similarities are not so obvious. The 1993 team went from last in the previous season to first in ’93. The ’07 Phillies went from 2nd to 1st. In ’93, the Phillies led the division every day minus a few games early in the season. This season, the team crawled out to a 4-11 start and didn’t lead the division until game number 160 out of 162. The ’93 Phillies offered little stardom and recognizable names while the current Phillies sport all-stars, MVP candidates and young talent galore. So what is the uniting factor between these two teams? The answer is simple. It is the reason why the Mets are sitting home on their couches. The reason is heart and heart alone. While Jose Reyes jogs out of the box on a pop-up and Carlos Beltran lazily lets a fly ball drop in front of him, Jimmy Rollins turns a double into a triple, and Aaron Rowand breaks his nose running into the outfield wall to make a catch. Did the Mets have more talent than the Phillies, overall? Absolutely. Did they have more heart? Not a chance.

While the Phillies will let their division crown sink in, they as well as their fans know that the road ahead is difficult. They have serious issues concerning their bullpen and starting rotation. The Phillies currently have six efficient pitchers; Cole Hamels, Kyle Kendrick, Jamie Moyer, Tom Gordon, J.C. Romero and Myers, and remember, Hamels and Kendrick are both very young, both at the ripe age of 23. The Phillies have also struggled against the NL West, which sports two playoff teams, going a combined 14-20 against West foes. The Phillies can combat their weaknesses by getting strong starting pitching from Moyer, Hamels and Kendrick and letting their powerful offense jump all over the opposing team early. There may not be a ton of playoff experience on the 2007 Phillies team, but experience does not always equal success (See the 2001 Florida Marlins).

Philadelphia may once again have its collective hearts broken as in 1993 at the Skydome in Toronto, but those same hearts will never cease beating strongly and proudly.


Justin DiBiase is a junior civil engineering major from Franklinville, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]