Sunday, December 13, 2009
I love baseball and I love the Phillies. I paid my dues with this team. I went to empty games at Veterans Stadium. I went to see some bad teams play on hot summer days. It is because I stuck by my team through some of the awful seasons that the 2007 season was enough to bring me tears of joy.
It was a work in progress that Phillies fans saw under construction for the entire decade really. Under the general management of Ed Wade the Phillies were making strides in developing their own talent and watching them take the team to the next level. Young stars like Jimmy Rollins and Pat Burrell had been the main pieces of the team form the start of the decade, but guys like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard had finally come through to really send the team in the right direction.
Mixed in with the talents of Aaron Rowand and the departures of Bobby Abreu and Mike Lieberthal and under the leadership of manager Charlie Manuel, the team finally had what it took to reach the playoffs.
It may have ended abruptly against a magical team from Colorado but the team was heading in the right direction. Just wait a little longer.
The Team to Beat
Who else to lead the team in 2007 than the spunky shortstop, Jimmy Rollins?
When asked prior to spring training on his team's chances in the division Rollins made a bold statement by saying that with the players on his team the Phillies definitely should be considered a team to beat. And when Rollins talks the talk, he generally walks the walk. And nobody has ever done as good a job of backing up his words than Rollins did in 2007.
Mediocre until July
It's nothing new in Philadelphia. The Phillies are traditionally slow out of the gate of a new season. How else could you explain an 11-14 April and a 26-27 record at the end of May?
When June came to an end the Phillies had finally ended the month with a winning record but the New York Mets figured to be waltzing to another NL East division crown. This of course made the rivalry between the Phillies and Mets one of the great ones in the sport.
Finally, the rivalry is born
Philadelphia and New York are ideal rivals in sports. Eagles-Giants and Flyers-Rangers always has a little extra juice to it, but the Phillies and Mets had never experienced a true heated rivalry between them. The problem was, both teams were never good at the same time. when the Phillies were good the Mets were awful. when the Mets were good, the Phillies were dismal.
Not so in 2007.
When Jimmy Rollins was first introduced in the first game the Phillies played in Shea Stadium the Mets faithful were loud and clear that they did not appreciate the comments the shortstop made before the season. The Mets after all were coming off a division crown and were within one game of the World Series.
Every game the Phillies and Mets played played a crucial role in the season. The Mets had the early edge in the season series but when push came to shove it was the Phillies who would prevail. Perhaps no game was as fun to watch as the 11-10 game.
The Mets jumped out to an early lead on the Phillies as they were looking to avoid being swept in four games at Citizens Bank Park. A win would have likely salvaged the Mets season, but the Phillies rallied to come all the way from behind to come away with an exhilarating 11-10 victory on a hot afternoon near the end of August.
The Collapse of the Mets
Back in 1964 the Phillies pulled off one of the worst collapses in baseball history, blowing a late season lead to the St. Louis Cardinals by losing every way imaginable. But all was forgiven in September of 2007.
Trailing the NL East leading Mets by as many as seven games with 17 games to play it appeared that the Phillies would go one more season without reaching the postseason. But then a funny thing happened. The Mets started struggling against the Washington Nationals and Florida Marlins while the Phillies put together a string of wins to get back in the mix.
The NL East title came down to the final day of the baseball season. For the Mets it was one of the worst days in franchise history. The Marlins put seven runs on the scoreboard in the first inning off of future Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine. A win would have given the Mets at least a share of the division crown.
Watching the scoreboard light up with seven runs before Jamie Moyer threw his first pitch in Philadelphia set the tone for the day as the Phillies would celebrate their first NL East crown since 1993. Rollins once again carried the team to victory by picking up an early run to put the Phillies on top. Along the way Rollins hit his 20th triple of the season.
Needless to say there was not much for the Mets broadcasters to celebrate.
In 2006 Ryan Howard won the National League MVP. In 2007 it was all about Rollins.
The often cocky, yet confident, shortstop finished the 2007 season with 212 hits, 20 triples, 38 doubles, 30 home runs, 94 RBI, and a .296 batting average. Rollins edged out Colorado's Matt Holliday for the MVP award to go along with his first Gold Glove and first Silver Slugger award.
"Curveball, struck him out!" - Harry Kalas
I figure I should just let Mr. Kalas take this one...
The team was clearly on the rise but it was not until 2007 that they were taken as a legitimate contender in the National League. Unfortunately for the Phillies they ran into a buzz-saw with the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies were having their own story-book season that would take them to the World Series. The Phillies were unable to continue their end-of-the-season momentum against Colorado and the Rockies swept the Phillies in the NLDS.
But the Phillies would be back, using 2007 as another stepping stone in the building of a championship caliber team. I have a feeling we'll be talking about the Phillies again before this list is finished...