PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies left Citizens Bank Park on Oct. 24 utterly stunned.
They were the best team in baseball following a grueling six-month, 162-game schedule, and had expectations for a third consecutive National League championship. But the Phillies instead watched the Giants -- a team that needed to win the final game of the regular season to secure a postseason berth -- celebrate a trip to the World Series on Philadelphia's home field following a victory in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.
The Phillies quietly and slowly moved through their clubhouse in the moments following that gut-wrenching loss. Mike Sweeney, who might have played his final game in the big leagues, buried his face in his locker and cried. Ryan Howard, who struck out looking to end the season, stared into the distance for what felt like an eternity.
Teammates hugged each other and shook hands, knowing some would not return next season.
"I just don't think any of us saw this happening," Phils closer Brad Lidge said that night. "I felt like we had the best team in baseball this year."
The Phillies won 97 games in the regular season to finish with the best record in baseball for the first time in franchise history. They had Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels leading the rotation. They had an offense that finished second in the league in scoring, despite a litany of injuries.
But the offense slumped at the worst possible time and their championship aspirations ended.
In roughly six weeks, the Phils will open Spring Training in Clearwater, Fla., in pursuit of their fifth consecutive NL East title. But before we look ahead, let's look back at the top five Phillies stories from 2010:
5. Gillick to the Hall
Pat Gillick, who helped build the 2008 World Series champion Phillies, is elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
There might have been bigger moments on the field in 2010, but Gillick's election to the Hall of Fame deserves mention. He had an unforgettable three-year run as Phillies general manager from 2006-08. He dismantled the team in '06, guided them to their first NL East championship in 14 years in '07 and led them to their first World Series championship in 28 years in '08.Who knows where the Phils would be without his influence, which many feel changed the thinking of the organization.
4. Simply the best
The Phillies finish the season with the best record in baseball.
It is hard to believe, but Philadelphia was just 48-46 on July 21. The club was in third place in the National League East, seven games behind Atlanta. The Phils looked old. They looked tired. The front office even discussed trading Jayson Werth. But something clicked. The Phillies picked up Oswalt before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline and finished 49-19 (.721) to cruise to their fourth consecutive division title. Not only that, but the Phillies, who have been around since 1883, finished 97-65 for the best record in baseball for the first time in franchise history.
Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels capture the imagination of Phillies fans. Phils fans simply could not accept the fact general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. traded Cliff Lee in December 2009, but the talk quieted when he acquired Oswalt before the Trade Deadline. Whatever nicknames fans gave Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels -- the Big Three, H2O, etc. -- they lived up to expectations. From the time Oswalt arrived, Halladay finished 9-2 with a 2.94 ERA, Oswalt finished 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA and Hamels finished 5-4 with a 2.35 ERA. They lived up to the hype in the postseason, too. In eight starts, they went 4-3 with a 2.22 ERA.
2. Did you say Cliff Lee is back?
Lee turns down bigger bucks from the Yankees and Rangers to sign with the Phillies.
The Phils had just lost Werth to the Nationals. Amaro had just said he expected to make a couple tweaks to their roster, but nothing major. But then late on Dec. 13, word spread Lee had agreed to a five-year, $120 million contract with Philadelphia to shock the baseball world. The Yankees and Rangers made bigger offers for Lee, but Lee said he loved the Phillies and the city too much and decided to return. The city went absolutely crazy for days upon hearing the news, raising 2011 expectations to World Series-or-bust levels.
1. Every five days is a Halladay
Halladay exceeds expectations with an unforgettable year.
He waived his no-trade clause and signed a relatively reasonable three-year, $60 million contract extension to join the Phillies in December 2009. So what did he do in his first season in red pinstripes? He pitched the 20th perfect game in baseball history on May 29 against the Marlins at Sun Life Stadium. He went 21-10 to become the first Phillies pitcher to win 20 games in a season since Steve Carlton won 23 in 1982. He became just the second pitcher in baseball history to throw a no-hitter in the postseason, when he threw one against the Reds in Game 1 of the NL Division Series. And he finished his magical year by winning the National League Cy Young Award. The only thing missing was a World Series championship ring, but with Lee in the fold in 2011, Halladay must like his chances.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.