Note: It was my hope that when I was writing the reflection of this season it wouldn’t be until November; written after many celebrations, a parade down Broad Street and a ring ceremony in the future. Sadly, this is not the case. I needed time to compose myself after the NLDS loss to the Cardinals but hope you enjoy this reflection. One phrase to describe the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies Season….roller-coaster. A roller coaster filled with high hills and low dips, one with twists and turns and flips that can turn you 180 degrees. It was a season highlighted with some of the highest highs this franchise has ever seen: 102 wins, shattered pitching stats, batting crowns won and marred with inquiries and non production at times.
The first high of the 2011 season came prior to Spring training. On 12/14/2010, Christmas came early for Phillies fans. Cliff Lee stunned the baseball world by signing with the Phillies. Lee lost approximately 2 million dollars a year in this deal. He turned down the Yankees for a 7 year deal and came back to the place that traded him exactly a year before. He came back to Philly where he felt the most comfortable, the most loved and the most hopeful.
The return of Cliff Lee made the Phillies a pitching power house. For one of the first times I can remember as a “phan” people were talking about our pitching instead of our hitting. Cliff Lee joined a staff consisting of 3 other pitchers that would be considered number 1 or 2 on any given day and team. He joined: Roy Halliday, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. R2C2 was born. And hey, as we saw throughout the season the rest of our pitchers weren’t something to sneeze at. Rookie Vance Worley put on a show each time he pitched. Worley is a future fixture on this roster and he sure is going to learn from the very best.
Almost as quickly as Phillies fans recovered from the extreme excitement of Cliff Lee’s return we were hit with our first dip. Chase Utley was diagnosed with patellar tendinitis and chondromalacia in his knee. He would start the season on the disabled list and the word was that there was no time table for his return. What would this team do without its iron man? Without its heart? Would players that were slow to produce in the beginning of the season be able to step it up? Would Chase be back before the all star break? The answers to these questions brought along another high. Our bench players provided a lot of incredible plays during the 102 victories the Phillies sustained this season. On May 26th fans were treated to what was my favorite victory of the season and one that will forever make one of these bench players a hero and legend in Philadelphia. Wilson Valdez, bench utility player, came into pitch the 16th inning. He stunned fans with his willingness to do whatever was asked of him.
Chase Utley did return in May. A date earlier than any critic guessed and any fan hoped for. He played with the heart he always has and helped carry the Phillies to the 102 wins with in the ballpark homeruns, stolen bases and some good fielding plays. In July, we were met with another spectacular high. Hunter Pence was aquired from the Astros and he added the spark in the line up and a confidence that was vacated by Jayson Werth the year prior in left field. His love of the game and how he embraced the fans with his quirky sayings and tweets has quickly made him a fan favorite. While injuries plagued the Phillies all season long and they only played with their regulars no more than a handful of times all year the Phillies played with heart and a hunger to win. We were out of no games and I don’t believe there was a doubt in anyone’s mind that we would be playing October baseball for the 5th season in a row.
Maybe the reason that the loss to the Cardinals hurts so bad is that Phillies fans knew that our players wanted to win as much as the fans wanted to win. The players wanted to bring home the ring and have a parade. We saw that each and every game with the intensity in which they played. The Phillies fell short this year and whether we blame Charlie for being a little lacksidasial with some of the core guys, Ryan Howard for not hitting a few more homers in the post season, or our beloved Cliff Lee for giving up a 4 run lead we have to remember that baseball is a long season. 162 plus games. 162 plus games where the Phillies hardly ever dropped 2 in a row. 162 plus games where the superstars provided us with spectacular homeruns and players. 162 plus games where Cliff Lee and Roy Halliday pitched complete games and Cole Hamels returned to form with his excellent pitching. 162 plus games where we won 102.
There is a lot of uncertainty as we enter the 2011 off season. Will Jimmy Rollins return to the team and put on the red and white pin stripes again? Who will play right field with Dom Brown not ready to come up and Raul Ibanez probably not returning? Will Lights out Lidge be back? How long will Ryan Howard be out with a ruptured achillies? Will they be able to come together as a line up and sparkle again? Will Vance Worley be able to fill the large shoes vacated by Roy Oswalt? These questions will be answered in the ensuing months and I will be looking forward to 2012. I am sad that the Phillies are out of the post season too early but I will forever fondly remember this season for the way the Fightins overcame the lows and rode the highs. They broke franchise records and I can say that I have watched the greatest Phillies team in history.
SPRING TRAINING IS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER….