Why did the Philadelphia Phillies battle for 102 wins and home-field advantage throughout the postseason?
For a game like tonight; to host a deciding showdown at Citizens Bank Park with their ace on the mound.
Am I nervous? Absolutely. All of a sudden it's do or die, and I'd hate to see a team this skilled (not to mention beloved by me) go out so early.
But am I worried? No. Roy Halladay's on the mound. 43,000 screaming fans will have his back. It's the best-case scenario for the Phillies.
Sure, they could lose, and that would be disappointing. But the Major League Baseball playoffs often turn out to be a crapshoot. Maybe you run into a scalding-hot team, like the San Francisco Giants last year. Maybe you burn out after a grueling regular season, like the Phillies in 2007.
Only eight teams out of 32 make it to the big dance, which is awesome, and so much unlike how basketball and hockey do it. The regular season holds purpose; you can't sneak in as an eight seed with a record under .500. After 162 games, any franchise that makes the postseason should pat themselves on the back for a successful year.
Obviously, you'd love to win it all. Unfortunately, only one team gets that privilege, and it's not always the most talented one. Should Cody Ross and Edgar Renteria have carried the Giants past the Phillies and Cliff Lee's Rangers last year? Not on paper, but they did. And at the end of the day, they deserved it.
The teams that don't take it home, however, are often unfairly and derogatorily labeled as losers by fans and the media. As an astute commenter put it on Beerleaguer early this morning, the slogan for the MLB postseason might as well be "8 TEAMS-7 CHOKERS-1 LUCKY SURVIVOR." When Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard end a playoff run by striking out, it doesn't matter that they've each brought their teams a World Series trophy and hit hundreds upon hundreds of home runs. They blew the big game, and that's the narrative that sticks.
In a sense, I understand; the 2011 season won't be a true success unless the Phillies win the World Series. But after making the playoffs five years in a row and winning only one championship, I think most Philadelphia fans realize how hard it really is.
So then we come back to Roy Halladay. I've thought a lot about how I'd love for the Phillies to "win one for Doc" or "win one for Cliffy," but it's only recently, after watching the starters struggle through a few games of this series, that I realized the team isn't gonna win one for them. They need to win for the team.
Roy Halladay's getting paid a lot of money, mostly to win Philadelphia at least one more title. Cy Young awards are nice, 20-win seasons are neato, but championships are the ultimate goal. Halladay and Lee and Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt are here to out-pitch the other team's best starters, whether the Phillies offense puts up zero runs or a hundred. So far, Halladay and Hamels are the only ones living up to their end of the bargain.
With that in mind, tonight is Halladay's chance to add one more notch to his lengthy belt of a career. I can't tell you whether the Phillies offense will wake up and hit Chris Carpenter again, but I do know that another gem from Doc will make moving onto the next round that much easier. The Cardinals are a pesky offensive team, but that didn't stop Harry Leroy Halladay from mowing them down six days ago.
If he can do it once more, and give Lee a chance to redeem himself in the NLCS, maybe baseball's most talented team can live up to the promise, and the hype, that they earned with those 102 wins.