'Underdog' Phils revel in NLCS victory
Relieved players spray champagne, thank fans for support
LOS ANGELES -- Though the Phillies made it no secret that they preferred to celebrate in their home stadium, in front of their home crowd, perhaps this was the next best thing. Not long after defeating the Dodgers on Wednesday to advance to their first World Series in 15 years, most of the Phillies spilled out onto the grass, where a few hundred fans had painted a piece of Dodger Stadium red.
Phillies fans from both coasts pressed down to the lowest level of yellow seats, holding up signs and screaming for the players who had just delivered the pennant. Their pennant. Some serenaded series MVP Cole Hamels. Others, in unison, cheered for Shane Victorino. And most joined in when the chant turned to "Four more wins!" -- a fitting narration for a team that doesn't often come this close.
Players, wives, girlfriends and coaches mingled on the National League Championship Series logo, popping corks to the sky. They hugged and they screamed, often at the same time. And they spoke all the poetry they could muster about this club, these fans, this chance.
"This is an incredible team," closer Brad Lidge said. "There's no other place in the world I'd rather be."
The celebration began outside, two hours or so after darkness fell on Southern California, just moments after Lidge delivered the final pitch. Jumping and stomping on the field, the Phillies quickly crammed into a tiny visiting clubhouse out of respect to their hosts. Then inside, they grabbed bottles of champagne, some two at a time, and -- bodies packed together -- sprayed each other and spoke as if nothing could ever go wrong.
Victorino, wearing two caps cocked at horizontal angles, gushed about Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard and his one-year old daughter. Rollins heaped praise onto Hamels and Pat Burrell. Lidge thanked the fans, the city, the organization. And champagne dripped off a network of ceiling pipes.
"This is a special group," third baseman Greg Dobbs said. "Everybody loves each other. Everybody treats each other like brothers."
"We've always been the underdog," Rollins said.
He has been spouting that message for nearly two years, ever since claiming that his team was the one to beat, ever since such brashness drew the ire of foes around the league. Some, "even teammates," Rollins said, considered him crazy. And now they consider him lucky, blessed, a baseball player headed to his sport's greatest stage.
The Phillies were prepared for this, even if they couldn't entirely expect it. Consider Brett Myers, who, discussing before Wednesday's game the prospect of pitching a potential Game 6 in Philadelphia, snorted at the notion of flying back home early to prepare for that start.
"I'm not going anywhere," Myers said. "Are you crazy? I'm not going to miss this."
And so there was Myers after the game, assuming what's become his customary role of instigator, jumping up and down on two feet and never straying far from the champagne bucket. He didn't spray champagne; he poured it. And then he poured out his emotions, withholding nothing.
"I just can't imagine how everybody feels in here," Myers said. "I don't think it's soaked in yet."
With that, Myers grabbed second baseman Chase Utley as he walked by, patted Utley's chest and planted a kiss on his cheek.
His was not the only display of affection. Dodgers manager Joe Torre, one of the most decorated October veterans of this generation, made his way into the visiting clubhouse after the game to hug and congratulate Charlie Manuel. One of Torre's confidants, third-base coach Larry Bowa -- a former Phillies manager himself -- did the same.
But mostly, the Phillies hugged each other. Soaked, packed together in one of baseball's smallest clubhouses, the Phillies then marched out onto the field and made it their field. Though a spattering of Dodgers fans remained, watching a video montage of their team on the left field scoreboard, most of those gathered were on the side of the National League champions.
"I know it means a lot," Lidge said, acknowledging the fans. "I know how bad they want it, and I know how bad we want it -- and those two things together are the reason why we're here."
That, and a brand of baseball that Lidge has helped perfect. He has provided stability to the bullpen. Howard has provided thump to the lineup. Rollins has chipped in with speed and power, and most of all leadership. And Manuel, who planned to head home Thursday to attend his mother's funeral, has provided guidance.
They are pieces that the Phillies have enjoyed in recent years, but that they could never quite mesh into this: a chance to achieve the baseball feat most worth achieving. Their thoughts weren't trained on the World Series yet -- not in the clubhouse nor on the field, where the scent of champagne trailed their every move -- but they knew what they had accomplished here in Southern California.
The Phillies knew, quite well, that they had earned their place at the top of the league. And so on a mild night, in front of a few hundred of their own fans, they reveled.
"It's been a long ride," Victorino said. "And now we're going to celebrate and have some fun."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.