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09/27/10 11:42 PM ET

Phils celebrate, but keep eyes on big prize

Club hopes division title is step toward another Series win

WASHINGTON -- Ryan Howard and Shane Victorino rushed up the stairs and into the Phillies' clubhouse Monday at Nationals Park, where they discovered a table full of champagne bottles and containers filled with beer.

They waited.

Everybody waited.

Howard and Victorino called Roy Halladay, Mike Sweeney and Brian Schneider to the table. They would pop the corks from the first bottles of champagne following their 8-0 victory over the Nationals, which clinched their franchise-record fourth consecutive National League East title and the best record in the league.

"It was the right thing to do," Howard said.

Halladay, Sweeney and Schneider have played a combined 40 years in the big leagues. They have played in a combined 2,767 games.

They never popped champagne until Monday.

"We were first-timers," Halladay said with a smile.

"We'll never forget that," Schneider said. "To remember us, to think of us, that's pretty special."

"We feel like we have three more of these celebrations to go," Sweeney said. "As much as we enjoyed it today, we still have work to do. We still have games to win."

The Phillies have to win 11 postseason games before they can celebrate their second World Series championship in three seasons. If they do, it would make them arguably one of the greatest teams in NL history. The Phils already are just the third team in league history to make four consecutive postseason appearances. The Braves (1991-93, 1995-2005) and New York Giants (1921-24) are the others.

No NL team has been to three consecutive World Series since the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals, who won twice.

The Phillies have that opportunity.

"We've got a long way to go," said Jayson Werth, who homered and drove in four runs in the clincher. "We've got a long road. We know where we want to be. We know what happened last year. We haven't forgotten. We know what's at stake, and we're looking forward to it."

The Phillies have the three best pitchers in any rotation in any season in club history to help them get there. Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt are scheduled to pitch this weekend in a meaningless series for the Phils against the Braves at Turner Field, although Phils pitching coach Rich Dubee said that could change.

Philadelphia could play Game 1 of the NL Division Series on Oct. 6 at Citizens Bank Park, so the club could make some changes to set up its rotation the way they want it.

"I'm hoping in the playoffs, we'll kind of feed off each other," Oswalt said. "I'm sure Halladay will start it off. We'll try to lean on him as much as possible. He's the ace of the staff."

Oswalt pitched with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte when the Astros won the NL pennant in 2005. That was a pretty formidable trio, too. But Oswalt said this trio compares. He said they are just as good.

"We had two of the best guys in the National League in 2005," Oswalt said, referring to Clemens and Pettitte. "Same thing here. We've got two guys at the top of their game in the prime of their careers."

But what about him?

Oswalt isn't exactly the third wheel.

"I just want to give us the chance to win," he said.

The Big Three has done nothing but win since they got together in late July. They are a big reason why the Phils sprayed champagne, dumped beers over each other's heads and lit up enough cigars in the back of the clubhouse to create a smoky haze.

They enjoyed themselves, but this is a team that has had nine of these celebrations since they clinched the 2007 NL East title.

They have been here before.

They know there is more.

The Phillies had hoped last year to become the first NL team to win consecutive World Series since the 1975-76 Reds, but they lost in six games to the Yankees. Before they lost, Jimmy Rollins wondered if they could become The Little Red Machine, referring to the Reds team known as The Big Red Machine.

"I thought about that again last night," he said.

Rollins knows the history of NL dynasties past. He knows about The Big Red Machine. He knows about the Cardinals teams from the 1940s.

"[Phillies owner John] Middleton will not let you forget that," Rollins said.

If they do what they want, people could be talking about the 2008-10 Phillies like the 1942-44 Cardinals and 1975-76 Reds.

"That's something you think about when it's all said and done," Rollins said. "When you're going through it, everything has to go your way. You have to have a good team. You have to have great pitching. You have to have timely hitting. You have to have guys having career years, coming together and things going your way.

"You don't think about the future of what you might be setting. You're just trying to blaze a trail right now. When the lights are out, you get to look back. But right now, the lights are on. We're just trying to keep them on."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.