There was a moment of silence as the ball approached the plate. As it tumbled downward, sharp, smooth and succinct. As Eric Hinske reluctantly swung, failed to connect and ended it all: the game, the series, the season, the frustration.
And by the next moment, as Carlos Ruiz raised his hands in ecstasy and ran out to smother Brad Lidge in celebration, the silence was gone, replaced by the cacophony of joy. In living rooms and bars and street corners around the city – and of course, at the ballpark – the joy waiting 28 years for release finally had an outlet. That outlet came in the form of the 2008 Phillies, a team that washed away nearly three decades of disappointment and frustration, erasing it all by defeating the Rays and becoming World Series Champions.
The celebration continued on throughout the winter months as we soaked in the memories and the emotions attached to last year’s club. Many fans waited their entire lives to see the city end its 25-year championship drought, and there could have been no better way than to roll through October and finish with a parade down Broad Street. The 2008 Phillies, from top to bottom, were a team that connected with the city and the fans from the very start, capturing our hearts and captivating our attention every night during the summer and into the early fall. And in the end they finished it all with a win.
The offseason that we never wanted to end, though, came calling in February as pitchers and catchers reported to Clearwater, bringing about the possibility that the Phillies reign might eventually come to a close. Seven months ago when the season began it seemed almost implausible to think there could be a repeat champion from this town.
But now, with the 2009 Phillies four wins away from completing that task, it seems improbable that anything could prevent another banner being raised at Citizens Bank Park. Not A-Rod. Not CC. Not the 26-time World Champion Bronx Bombers.
The Phillies made it here, to the doorstep of history, with the help of many. The long swing of Raul Ibanez carried them through the early months. The grit and consistency of Chase Utley carried them through the beginning of summer. Once the dog days hit and the temperatures rose, a rejuvenation came from the accurate left arm of Cliff Lee. When it came time to lock up another pennant, the broad shoulders of Ryan Howard and the pure power of Jayson Werth carried them through the National League and into a one-week vacation, waiting for the final series of the year. All the while the spirit of the fans kept them running and swinging and pitching at the top of their game.
The bats, the gloves and the arms have the Phillies within reach of becoming the first NL team to defend their title since the 1976 Reds. If they do so, there will be another outburst of cacophony, followed by another parade and another offseason of celebration.
But with a short time before any of that begins, it’s worth noting what this team has already accomplished. A nucleus of top talents all in their prime has made the Phillies a winner, no matter what happens in the next week. The 10,000 losses mean nothing; the years of futility are out the window now. Philadelphia is home to an elite baseball team, one that will be a contender for years to come, with each April bringing expectations of success. Five years ago the thought of a championship seemed foreign and impossible. Now a second title seems inevitable.
As we watch the Phillies battle the Yankees, the memory of Brad Lidge striking out Eric Hinske will be at the forefront of our minds. And if a similar scene unfolds in the next two weeks, Philadelphia will not only have a winner, it will have a dynasty to call its own.