Saturday, October 23, 2010

Opportunity Knocks For Phillies to Prove Greatness in the NLCS

Philadelphia Phillies closing pitcher Brad Lidge (3rd L) celebrates with teammates after they defeated the San Francisco Giants during Game 5 of their Major League Baseball NLCS playoff series in San Francisco, October 21, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

A mark of a great team is its ability to overcome adversity to achieve success. The 2010 Philadelphia Phillies have surely faced an ample portion of challenges this season with a disabled list transaction report that reads like an MLB "Who's Who" list. 

The team has already proved to be tremendously resilient by turning a two-games over .500 mid-season record into the best record in baseball with a remarkable 49-19 finish.

While many were contemplating writing off the season as a year of bad fortune, the entire Phillies organization remained resolute in their capabilities and optimistic for a successful outcome. No one panicked, no one baled. 

After trailing the Atlanta Braves by seven games just a couple months earlier, the Phillies won the NL Eastern Division going away. Their season ending tally of 97 wins and a rare as Halley's Comet NL All-Star game victory gave them home field advantage throughout the postseason. 

With the "Big Three" anchoring perhaps the best lineup in baseball, odds-makers pegged them as the favorites to win it all heading into the October tourney that spills into November for each league's best team.

Although they looked a little rusty in spots, the Phillies quickly dispensed the Cincinnati Reds 3-0 in the NLDS. As further validation to the oddsmakers, the "Big Three" produced a historic no-hitter in the opener and a brilliant five-hit shutout in the series clincher. 

The team's next destination was a third consecutive trip to the NLCS, this time to face the upstart San Francisco Giants. 

Somewhat surprisingly, that trip found them in a 3-1 hole after four games and facing the possibility of a winter of wondering what could have been. The Phillies were on the brink of elimination.  

It has turned into a potential microcosm of their whole season.  Of course, for that to happen, the Phillies would need to battle back to win the NLCS. 

On Thursday night, the Phillies took one large step in that direction. A 4-2 victory over two-time defending Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum in enemy territory kept them alive and restored home field advantage. 

Somewhat fitting to their seasonal journey, the Phillies' ace of aces, Roy Halladay suffered a groin pull early in the contest and clearly did not display his typical dominating stuff. Also, fittingly, he battled his way through to maintain a narrow 3-2 lead after six innings.

And, perhaps keeping with the script, Jimmy Rollins finally seemed to shake off a lingering hamstring injury that has compromised his running ability through the playoffs. In the seventh inning, seeing J Roll steal second and third base had to hearten his teammates and Phillies fans alike. 

The bullpen came up big with some of its best work all season over the final three innings. Additionally, Jayson Werth provided a huge insurance run with an opposite field homer in the ninth. 

Earlier in the game, Werth gunned down Phillies nemesis Cody Ross at third with a Dave Parkeresque frozen rope from right. Besides helping Halladay escape a jam, the play may have taken a little edge off Cody's magic over the Phillies. 

Of course, two more large challenges remain if the Phillies want to be the first National League team in 66-years to appear in three consecutive World Series. 

Tonight, Roy Oswalt takes the hill in hope of advancing the team to game seven. A revved-up Citizen's Bank Park crowd will be there to offer ample encouragement. 

Should the Phillies win, 2008 postseason hero Cole Hamels is waiting in the wings for Sunday. By then, the electricity at "The Bank" might be enough to power the entire Tri-state area.

Meanwhile, Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers will be looking on, awaiting their 2010 World Series opponent. 

The stage is set.  Opportunity knocks for the Phillies to show their true greatness. 

After fighting their way through adversity all season, a similar course in the postseason would provide further evidence that this is truly a great team. Coming back from a 3-1 NLCS deficit to prevail would only serve to enhance the argument. 

It won't be easy facing a Giants team with its own talented pitching staff and a seemingly unending arsenal of interchangeable parts. Importantly, they also possess a belief that they can win. 

With due respect to the Giants, the Phillies also possess that same belief. This Phillies team is, in fact, a truly special club— and this weekend could go a long way towards demonstrating that further. 

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