The Philadelphia Phillies have nothing to play for.
For Phillies fans that phrase stirs up some rough memories. It reminds them of the last place finishes, collapses and countless seasons so bad that by mid-September, there really was nothing to accomplish.
Well once again, it is mid-September and the Phillies have nothing to play for these last few weeks of the season.
However, unlike all those heart-breaking years, this year it is because they have already accomplished everything possible that a team can accomplish in the regular season.
Ok, they have some things to play for, but really only personal statistics and team records. When it comes to the important things, like playoffs and home field advantage, they have almost nothing left to work for.
The celebrating began last Wednesday, after just 146 games, when the Phillies clinched playoff berth for the fifth consecutive year.
Thanks to a typical Roy Halladay masterpiece, the Phillies clinched berth in the fewest amount of games in the history of their club, edging out their 1915 record of 147 games by just one.
In danger of being swept for the first time in over a year, Halladay dominated the game from the very start.
Doc went the distance, allowing just six hits, one walk and striking out seven en route to his first shutout of the season.
The Phillies’ only run came in the top of the first when a Placido Polanco single knocked in Shane Victorino from second base. Both offenses were quiet for the remainder of the contest as the Phillies took the final game of the series with Houston 1-0.
They were just getting started.
The following day, the Phillies welcomed Florida to town for a split day night doubleheader. With a magic number of four to clinch the N.L. East going into the twin bill, the Phillies could not have asked for a better outcome.
Hunter Pence and Raul Ibanez both delivered RBI doubles in the first inning of game one off right-hander Anibal Sanchez. That was all the scoring they would need to lead them to a 3-1 victory over the Fish.
Kyle Kendrick was phenomenal on the mound, surrendering just one run on three hits in his five innings of work. The bullpen was just as good, shutting down Florida for the remainder of the game.
The pitching was also backed by stellar defensive play from Pete Orr, who robbed several Marlins from getting hits in the game.
The nightcap was all about Cliff Lee. With a 1-0 lead in the ninth and bidding for his seventh shutout of the season, Lee made a mistake on an 0-2, two out pitch to Jose Lopez. Lopez hit the ball out of the park, tying the game at 1. Lee retired the next batter finishing with a complete game no decision. He struck out a dozen Marlins batters, marking the 18th time in his career and ninth time this year he has recorded double digit strikeouts in a game.
With the score knotted at one, the game moved into extra innings. After a shutdown top of the tenth, Michael Martinez walked on just four pitches to open up the home half of the inning.
Ryan Howard, a notoriously dangerous pinch hitter in his career, came off the bench to hit for the pitcher’s spot. After working the count to his favor, Howard belted a fastball into left center field for a game winning double. Philadelphia won by a final score of 2-1.
Michael Schwimer received the win, his first in the majors, and the loss was pinned on Burke Badenhop.
With the win, their magic number to clinch their fifth consecutive division title fell to two going into the weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
On Friday, a Braves loss and a Phillies win would have clinched the division, but only one of those happened.
The Mets pummeled the Braves 12-2, but the Phillies celebration would have to wait.
Another night of anemic offense left the Phillies trailing 2-1 going into the ninth. However, Jason Mott, the Cardinals’ closer, could not put the game away.
Howard, who was benched for the second straight game to rest an injured foot, laced a pinch hit double off Mott with two out in the ninth. Ruiz then lined a ball down the line in right that bounced in and out of Corey Patterson’s glove. Martinez, who came in to run for Howard, scored to tie the game.
But the Phillies could not drive in the game winner in the ninth and it cost them the game.
Schwimer came out to pitch the tenth but allowed three hits and one walk, surrendering two runs. He suffered the loss as the Phillies fell by a score of 4-2.
Although they lost the game, their magic number fell to just one entering Saturday due to the Braves’ loss.
The stage was set for the Phillies’ fifth straight division title.
On Saturday, Roy Oswalt got the nod against the Cardinals, a team he had not beaten since Aug. 29, 2007.
Oswalt, who seems to be fully healthy for the first time in months, had impeccable control of his pitches and lots of zip on his fastball. He fired seven strong innings, allowing no runs on five hits while punching out seven.
The offense finally showed up as well.
In the eighth inning, with the Phillies up 3-2, they put the game out of reach for St. Louis.
Shane Victorino, who finished with three RBI and homer on the night, put the Phillies up 4-2 on a base knock that scored Carlos Ruiz. Chase Utley was then hit by a pitch, which loaded the bases. One out later, Hunter Pence singled to drive in a run and the bases remained loaded.
The biggest blow of the inning had yet to come. With the bases loaded, and two out in the eighth, Raul Ibanez scorched a line drive deep into the right field bleachers for a grand slam. The game was all but won after that.
In the ninth, Ryan Madson entered from the bullpen and pitched a scoreless inning, and ensured the Phillies a fifth consecutive division title.
The Phillies became just the fifth team ever to win five consecutive titles joining the Yankees, Indians, Braves, and Athletics.
The only thing the Phillies have yet to clinch is home field advantage throughout the playoffs. However, as of Sunday evening, the Phillies magic number to clinch is only one. The Brewers would have to win the rest of their ten games and the Phillies would have to lose all twelve of theirs. It is very unlikely that will happen.
Although the offense struggled during the last few series, strong pitching made up for the lack of runs and pushed them into the playoffs with home field advantage throughout.
The Phillies have scored three runs or less in eight of the last nine games. But in those eight games, they have held the opponents to two runs or fewer five times.
The clinching game showed signs of productive offense, but it does not prove that they are out of their offensive skid for good. The Phillies will have time to figure it out and giving players some breaks before the playoffs start could certainly help.
After the series with the St. Louis, the Phillies host Washington for four games, play in New York for three, and round out the season with a three game set in Atlanta. All the
way they will be eagerly awaiting the news of who their NLDS opponent will be.
Kenny Ayres is a second-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at AF649219@wcupa.edu.