Business As Usual: Phils Clinch Division

During the Ed Wade era here in Philadelphia, we wondered if we would ever sniff post-season air. We were exposed to the Chris Brocks and Joe Roas of Major League Baseball much too frequently for such hopes to have a life span of more than a couple seconds.

How little we knew and how low our expectations were.

Pat Gillick took over Wade’s job after the 2005 season and quickly bolstered the team with some sly roster maneuvers. Just two years into Gillick’s reign, the Phillies finally achieved that vaunted post-season berth thanks to a collapse of epic proportions by the New York Mets. One can just imagine how sweet that victory champagne tasted in the clubhouse. For half of the teams in baseball, a simple post-season appearance is an achievement in and of itself; for the Phillies, who hadn’t been there since 1993, were unsatisfied with a meager three-game appearance abruptly ended by the Colorado Rockies in ’07.

The ’08 Phillies came out on a mission. They did not take baseball by storm; they did not even take the NL East by storm. It took, as in ’07, a last-minute coup de grace to leap into meaningful October baseball. Gillick, architect supreme, may not have drafted and cultivated the breadwinners that turned the gears, but he peppered that home-grown talent with guys you’d never expect to positively contribute to a championship-winning baseball team — guys like Joe Blanton and Pedro Feliz.

The Phillies did, of course, win that championship, the first since 1980. They went into the ’08 post-season, kicked some tail and took some names, winning the series 3-1, 4-1, 4-1 and never once lost a game in front of the home fans.

Gillick, having done many times what most GM’s would love to do just once — construct championship-winning baseball teams — stepped down and fresh blood in the form of Ruben Amaro took the helm. It doesn’t happen often, the button-pusher behind a World Series-winning team stepping down immediately afterward. With the change, many involved in the success of the ’09 Phillies could have resisted or become complacent. Not the Phillies.

47 games into the season, the Phillies wrested control of the NL East and that was it — that lead was never relinquished. It was the most dominant Phillies team since, well, 1993. So dominant that fans had to work themsleves into a frenzy when the Phillies were only 99.2% to win the division instead of 99.7%.

What did Amaro do to bolster the roster? Unlike Gillick, he did not trade a couple of B-level prospects for a middle-of-the-rotation starter or a utility player. He replaced fan-favorite Pat Burrell with Raul Ibanez, who would right now be a heavy contender for the NL MVP award if not for a groin strain that hampered half of his season. Amaro also went out and gave up some significant talent for last year’s AL Cy Young award winner in Cliff Lee, and signed free agent Pedro Martinez, who is a Hall of Famer the second he is five years separated from his last Major League pitch. That just doesn’t happen to the Phillies. Good players never wanted to play here before!

It is with the overt moves of Amaro and the shrewd machinations of Gillick that the Phillies have won the NL East division for three years running, the first time that has happened in Philadelphia since the 1976-78 teams.

When you look at teams like the Washington Nationals and the Pittsburgh Pirates, you empathize. We know what that is all about. It contrasts starkly to what has been going on in Philadelphia these last few years. We are so fortunate to be able to watch the great game of baseball played every night by these professional athletes — these classy, professional athletes.

Winning back-to-back championships is even harder. Improbable, even. Only three National League teams have ever done it. If there’s one thing we have learned about these Phillies, it’s that they are capable of achieving anything.

It was only nine years ago that the Phillies notched their seventh-straight season of sub-.500 baseball. Here we are now, NL East division winners three years running, and a mere 11 wins away from a second straight championship. In retrospect, it was worth trudging through the failures of the Ed Wade administration because it made this — all of this — taste that much better.

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