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Friday, October 22, 2010

What's My Destiny, Momma?

The Phillies were facing elimination. They scored early, were backed by some solid starting pitching, added some insurance runs late, and forced a Game 6. This describes two recent Game 5's, the win by the Phillies Thursday night in San Francisco, and the win at home against the Yankees in the 2009 World Series.
The Phillies of now find themselves in a familiar situation. Following the Game 5 win, this series is marked with a sense of optimism that was evident last year in the World Series, when every Phillies fan in the city KNEW that Pedro Martinez was going to beat the Yankees in Game 6. And if that happened, everyone KNEW Cliff Lee would pitch Game 7 on four days rest and clinch the series. Phillies fans were spoiled by the magic of the 2008 championship team and could not fathom the equally magical run of 2009 coming to an end. It seemed as though the Phillies' destiny was to beat the Yankees in the World Series, and everything was going to fall into place no matter what. 
It didn't turn out that way. Pedro Martinez got rocked, Hideki Matsui made enemies, and the Yanks won the series in Game 6. 
So going into the upcoming Game 6, the Phillies who were on the team last year HAVE to be thinking about the similarities to last year's Game 6, and the effort necessary to make a difference in the outcome. However, this year's Game 6 will be very, very different from last year's.
First of all, the game will be played in Citizen's Bank Park. Roy Oswalt is scheduled to start and has not lost at home as a Phillie this year. Oswalt executed a brilliant winning performance at home against this same Giants team in Game 2 of the series just five days ago. Cole Hamels, who is lined up to start Game 7, could get his first start at home this postseason. Hamels has never lost a series clinching game in his career in the postseason.
Thursday night's game also shined a light on the resilience of this team that has been hiding throughout the majority of this postseason. For the entire NLCS up to Game 5, the team that scored first went on to win the game. The Giants struck in the first inning off of Roy Halladay, scoring a run off of Buster Posey's fielder's choice groundout to Chase Utley. But the Phillies battled back. They took advantage of Giants' mistakes in the third inning, in which Tim Lincecum hit a batter, Aubrey Huff made an error, and Posey made a bad play on Halladay's bunt attempt. Although the Phils scored three runs, the third inning could have blown the game open even wider, but the Phillies stranded two runners on base with less than two outs. However, they managed to give Halladay a lead and some breathing room in which he always performs at a much higher level.

This pitching matchup of Halladay v. Lincecum differed from that of Game 1, in which Halladay actually out pitched Lincecum but the Giants were able to capitalize better on their opportunities and win the game. In Game 5, Lincecum looked much sharper than Halladay, who walked the leadoff batter in the game and seemed to struggle with control throughout the outing.
Yet, the Phillies remained resilient. They took advantage of their opportunities in the third inning and that proved to be the difference in the game.
Now, heading into Game 6, the Phillies have a wonderful opportunity to even the series and force a Game 7 in which no one in their right mind could favor the Giants to win. And the Phillies have put themselves in this position due to to their opportunistic play in Game 5.
There was a wonderful stat posted by Fox in the middle of the Game 5 broadcast; the Phillies have swept fifteen three game series this year, the most in the majors. But following the devastating loss in Game 4, the Phillies have approached these final three games as each one being a one game series in which they need to sweep. It is this mentality, combined with the resilience that came alive in Game 5, that has sparked the optimism of this city once again and led many to question yet again the destiny of this team.
Will the Phillies sweep the final two games at home and advance to the World Series? If they succeed in doing so, does that mean they are destined to win it?
I guess we'll just have to figure that our for ourselves.

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