For the past week, the Phillies have been living in 2008. The celebration, the pizazz, the honors, the jewelry, the memories, the returns.
It started at Friday night at Citizens Bank Park — Pat Burrell’s publicized return to Philadelphia as an opposing player, a thrilling end to game against the victims of 2008, mirroring game three of the World Series almost eerily. Saturday it was a test for Cole Hamels, but really, another unimportant matter. Sunday night was a night for the fans to reconnect to the champions. The flag came up, the players came out, the spotlight shone bright. But Derek Lowe had the last laugh as the Phillies pressed hard to force joyousness. Tuesday night seemed to be a hangover from the celebration — the Phils couldn’t hit anything, struck, it seemed, by the elation and emotion of the past week.
But something happened Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. At the end of a whirlwind week, and after one more visit by Burrell, one more sighting of a sobbing Pat Gillick and the unleashing of gorgeous 103-diamond rings, Dan Baker threw down the gauntlet. “As we turn the page to the 2009 baseball season,” he said.
Soon, Burrell was on a plane to Boston. Gillick was away from his front office duties. Both experienced their closures in Philadelphia; even the hated Adam Eaton received his closure — a full-scale noise of boos from a crowd that needed to tell him how they felt one last time. Before receiving the rings, a video described players’ thoughts about receiving the rings. Shane Victorino expressed that the ring itself was closure, that he wouldn’t actually feel like a champion until he wore the ring. Those rings met their hands, and slowly, there was closure.
The Phillies began to shed the skin of 2008 from their bodies. Maybe, to be philosophical, they had to stretch the skin off of them. And what better time than the bottom of the seventh, right after the seventh-inning stretch.
Of course, we can never forget 2008, nor would we want to forget. But baseball doesn’t stop. Baseball recycles. And we have to remember what Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard told us on October 31: They can win it again. And again.
To win again, they had to put 2008 behind them, shed the ghosts. And slowly, they have to step into new suits, preparing themselves for the long haul toward another championship. No better man could do that than the biggest new addition — the man who stepped in for Burrell — Raul Ibanez. The new left fielder stroked two big hits in the 12-11 win: The first a two-run home run, the first of the season for the Phillies; the second an RBI single that opened scoring in that marathon seventh. Let’s not forget his walk in the eighth, which turned into the insurance run that — literally — saved Brad Lidge’s consecutive-save streak. In a way, Ibanez took the first steps into the 2009 costumes.
And maybe it’s all too radical, but you could sense some heat radiating from the Phillies clubhouse, and you could sense the air finally wafting through during that seventh. With each walk the crowd grew louder, echoing the greatest moments of the treasured 2008 season. And as assured as ever, the Phillies took care of their business, scoring just enough, doing just enough. That’s the old 2008 attitude, but with a new team, a new swagger, a new costume taking shape.
It’ll take time for the 2009 Phillies to grow into their full form — remember, the ’08 team didn’t hit their full stride until September. But if there’s anything certain, it’s that the 2009 team will find its character and make its mark. Now the Phillies head to the road, to homer-happy Denver, far away from the memories of 2008. There will be no banners, no flags, no seas of red. If anything, they can look to the outfield and see “2007 NL Champions,” then look to the field at the Rockies and remember it’s hard to get back there.
The good thing is the 2009 Phillies have the experience and mental toughness the 2008 team possessed. And very likely, that 2008 memory is leaving their skins. Now it’s all about 2009.