The Philadelphia Phillies clinched their first postseason berth, their first division championship in fourteen years, with a 6-1 victory over the Washington Nationals today. They started the day in a tie with the New York Mets, who got blown out by the Florida Marlins 8-1. Tom Glavine, a 300-game winner in his career and almost certainly a Hall of Famer thanks to a career where he's benefitted greatly from umpires giving him an extra twelve inches off the outside of the plate (face facts, people, it's true), got clobbered for seven runs while getting only one out.
For the Mets, it's an epic collapse. They led the division by seven games with only seventeen to play, a lead no team has ever blown (though those numbers do strike me as a little arbitrary), and won only five of them, giving the Phillies a chance. The Phillies took advantage, winning thirteen of their last seventeen over the same stretch to finally clinch a postseason berth.
It hasn't been easy. Starting pitcher Freddy Garcia came in a huge trade in the offseason and was expected to anchor the starting rotation. He went 1-5 with an ERA of 5.90 before going on the DL, getting surgery, and collecting his ten million dollar paycheck. Starting pitcher Jon Lieber went down with an injury for the season. Bullpen anchor Ryan Madson went down with an injury for the season. Closer Tom Gordon missed several months with an injury and opening day starter Brett Myers had to take over closing duties before he missed over a month with an arm injury. Free agent Adam Eaton finished with a 6.29 ERA and came just one out away from having enough innings pitched to qualify for the worst ERA in the majors. They ended up using 28 pitchers. Thirteen of them started games. They ended up relying on a starter who was released by three other teams this year, a guy they called up from AA to eat some innings, a pitcher dropped by the Boston Red Sox... Spit and bailing wire doesn't begin to describe it.
One of the worst pitching staffs in baseball was balanced by one of the best lineups. They were second in OBP, first in runs, first in slugging, third in steals, despite Chase Utley missing over a month with an injury, despite Pat Burrell's terrible first half struggles (which he more than made up for in the second half), despite never knowing how many runs they would need. They were up 11-0 on St. Louis late in the season and ended up winning 13-11.
In 2006 the Phillies were eliminated on the next-to-last day of the season. The year before, they were eliminated on the very last day, finishing one game behind the Houston Astros, who rallied to beat closer Billy Wagner, a former Astro himself, twice in two days earlier in the season. If the Phillies had won either of those games, they would have made the playoffs. After that year, Wagner went to the New York Mets. His struggles against the Phillies late in the season helped Philly to come back this year. The Phillies swept the Mets in four games at home, in three games on the road, greatly contributing to the Mets' collapse. If the Mets had won even one game in either of those sweeps, they're a game up instead of a game down here at the end, and the Phillies miss the postseason again.
The Phillies haven't made it to the playoffs since 1993, the era of Curt Schilling and Lenny Dykstra and John Kruk, the lightning-in-a-bottle team that fell just short, but still holds the hearts of Philadelphia sports fans. This year's team isn't lightning-in-a-bottle, they're a good team over the last five years that has always, always, always come up just short in the regular season.
But not this year. This year they've won the NL East, and they have a chance at only their second World Series title in their history, which would match what the Florida Marlins have, despite the fact that the Marlins have only existed since 1993, one hundred and ten years less than the Phillies.
The postseason in baseball has three steps, a best-of-five series, then a pair of best-of-sevens. Three wins in the first round, four in the second, four in the third. Eight teams have a shot. Only one will do it. The Phillies finished this year at 89-73. They need to win eleven more. They need to finish with a perfect hundred wins. By making the postseason, they've cleared the first hurdle. They're 89% of the way to the goal. Just 11% more to go.