Commentary

Days to remember in Philly

Phillies are rewriting their history one postseason series at a time

Updated: October 15, 2010, 10:04 AM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- October. It was always the Yankees' kind of month. And the Cardinals' kind of month. Even the Angels' kind of month.

But until 36 months ago, October baseball -- in the town the Phillies play in -- was a phenomenon people were about as familiar with as the European Cricket Championships.

Oh, it was going on out there someplace. These folks were aware of that. But about as close as it ever came to their house, to their world, was their cable TV box.

Baseball in October? It was just another show they flipped through while trying to find the Flyers game, or maybe an "Iron Chef" rerun.

And then something strange happened. This team showed up.

Before the 2007-10 Phillies arrived, their not-so-storied franchise had gotten itself mixed up in exactly 10 postseason series in the previous 56 years. Now, all of a sudden, it's about to play its ninth series in the past 36 months.

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Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesThe Phillies' 2008 World Series victory helped change the course of a franchise that had long been synonymous with losing.

So in Philadelphia, these 2007-10 Phillies haven't been "just" a baseball team. They're starring in their own remake of "Transformers."

They've transformed their town. They've sold out 133 baseball games in a row -- in a city where, as recently as eight years ago, they were still getting outdrawn by the Pirates. They've turned Citizens Bank Park into the place to be.

And now, this month, they're turning their attention to a whole new level of transformation.

They're a team with the opportunity to transform history.

"And I'm not sure," said outfielder Jayson Werth, "that everybody understands that yet."

Well, it's sometimes hard to comprehend history as it's unfolding. So that's where we come in.

As this juggernaut gears up for its third straight trip to the NLCS, against a Giants team that could easily derail all of this, let's take a look at the history these Phillies have already made -- and what could still be within their grasp over the next three weeks:

• By sweeping the Reds in the division series, the Phillies just achieved a feat managed by only two other franchises in National League history: They've now won a postseason series three years in a row. Obviously, that was tougher when the only postseason series every year was the World Series. Nevertheless, only the Braves (1991-99, with a strike in the middle) and Cardinals (2004-06) ever did it before this Phillies team came along.

• And right over the horizon comes their next big challenge. No National League team has ever won the NLCS three years in a row. But if the Phillies pull that off, they would join the only three AL franchises to win an LCS in at least three straight Octobers: the Orioles (1969-71), Yankees (twice) and Athletics (twice).

• And as you've no doubt heard a few times, if the Phillies do win that NLCS, they would become the first National League team to play in three consecutive World Series since 1944, the second since 1924 and only the fourth ever.

But those are merely the big-picture items on this team's historical to-do list. There is more. Much more.

• If we judge this group in the context of Philadelphia baseball history, you should remember this: In the first 120 years of the franchise's existence, the Phillies won a total of four postseason series -- which would be one more than the Diamondbacks won in the first four years of their existence. This group of Phillies, on the other hand, has now won six series in the past 24 months.

• In the first 123 years of Phillies history, they had precisely one pitcher go out and throw a postseason shutout. (That would be Curt Schilling, in the '93 World Series.) They then had two pitchers (Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels) step up this October and do it in a span of three games against the Reds.

• And that led to this -- their first sweep of any postseason series in 124 seasons. The Yankees have swept 13 series. The Braves and Reds have swept six apiece. Even the Cubs swept a postseason series 103 years before the Phillies got around to it.

But that's the current, nearly incomprehensible state of the franchise. Three years ago, the Phillies were known mostly (and deservedly) for being the losingest franchise in sports, the first team in professional sports history to lose 10,000 games. Now, by some miracle, they're a walking history museum, trying to digest the flood of historic stuff that seems to wash through town every October evening. For example:

They've won Game 1 of seven straight postseason series -- tied with the Braves for most in NL history. … They've ripped off wins in six consecutive potential series clinchers in 24 months -- a feat matched only by the 1998-99 Yankees in that short a period of time. … And we haven't even gotten into that Roy Halladay no-hitter.

These are times that don't come along very often, in the life of any franchise, in any sport. So even the men in the middle of all this have a difficult time processing what they've wrought. But they know it's something rare and magical. How could they not?

"We know what we're doing," said Werth, who joined the band in 2007 and now, with free agency looming, is probably in his final days as a Phillie. "We're well aware of what's going on. Or at least I am. I guess I can't really speak for the rest of us. But I know this is one of those dynasty situations that rarely come along unless you play in New York."

Howard We know what it feels like to be on both sides, of winning a World Series and losing a World Series. So right now, everybody in here is pretty determined and pretty focused.

-- Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard

OK, now it's clearly a stretch to describe this team with that word, "dynasty." The Yankees of the '20s, '30s and '50s were a dynasty. A team that wins one World Series -- and, for that matter, a team that has only won as many World Series in its history (two) as the Marlins -- doesn't exactly qualify.

But this is also one of the few groups of athletes we've ever run across that actually appears to be motivated by the chance to do something historic. These guys know all about those 1942-43-44 Cardinals, for instance -- the most recent NL team to reach the World Series three years in a row.

What this group might not know is that those Cardinals are one of only two teams that ever did what these Phillies are trying to do -- win one World Series, get back and lose the next one, then make it back a third time and win again. The only other team that's ever done that was the 1956-57-58 Yankees.

But whether they know every detail or not, these men know there's history out there to make. And they're openly driven by trying to make it.

So after they swept that division series Sunday, you couldn't have told from their ho-hum postgame high-five line whether they'd just crossed a huge hurdle in October or won a series in the third week of May. And their postgame champagne-squirting was no frat-party scene, either. That was no accident. It's not as if they forgot to celebrate. They just have bigger items ahead on their postseason agenda.

"When we first won, in '08, it was uncharted territory for everybody," Ryan Howard said. "But we've been there now the last two years. We know what it feels like to be on both sides, of winning a World Series and losing a World Series. So right now, everybody in here is pretty determined and pretty focused."

Howard has started 33 consecutive postseason games over the past four years. But what makes that especially notable is that he's had so much company. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino have been on the same lineup card in every one of those games. And the Elias Sports Bureau tells us that no other team has ever had five players who started that many consecutive postseason games together.

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Miles Kennedy/Philadelphia Phillies/MLB Photos/Getty Images"World Series champions!" That's got a nice ring to it.

Now back in the early '50s, when there weren't three postseason rounds to pad those numbers, the Yankees went through a stretch from 1951-55 in which Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Gil McDougald, Hank Bauer and Joe Collins played in -- but didn't start -- every game in four postseasons. But that doesn't mean this isn't exceptionally rare.

We thought we'd find a similar streak, for example, with the great Phillies teams that reached four postseasons between 1976 and 1980. But nope. Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa, Greg Luzinski, Garry Maddox and Bob Boone didn't play in -- or start together -- in every postseason game back then.

So that just stands as proof, Schmidt said, that this current Phillies core is "a unique group" -- one, he said, that has already "surpassed our accomplishments." And if this team wins this NLCS and makes it back to another World Series, Schmidt said, it will "officially be the best team in Phillies history, bar none."

Now that's clearly not the same thing as being "the best team in Yankees history." Or the best team in about eight other franchises' history. But as Mike Schmidt stands back and looks at his old team from afar, he sees a very different operation than the one he played for.

Just as the Yankees and Red Sox have separated themselves from the rest of the American League, he said, "the Phillies have become the 'Red Yankees' of the National League. Who wouldn't want to play for them?"

Oh, we can think of some people. If you're allergic to booing, or cheesesteaks, for instance, you'd definitely be playing in the wrong town. But the players who have been swept up in this historic tidal wave seem to share the overpowering feeling that they're in the right place at the right time in all of their careers.

"I keep telling every guy that I can, 'Don't take this for granted,'" said backup catcher Brian Schneider, the ex-Met who is now in his first year on this ride. "But that's what's so unique about this team, is that they don't [take it for granted] either, or they wouldn't continue to do this, year in and year out."

The Giants will have other ideas, obviously -- not to mention the kind of shutdown pitching that could take all those historic dreams and dump them directly in the Schuylkill. And if the Giants go on to win their first World Series in more than a half a century, that ought to grab the attention of a few historians, too.

But back in Philadelphia, they'll find a team immersed in rewriting its own history, in a city that once couldn't tell an LCS from an LCD.

"It's pretty amazing," said the closer, Brad Lidge. "But to be honest, it feels like we're doing what we're supposed to be doing. We know this is an incredible run our team's been on these past couple years. But we feel very blessed, like this is what we need to be doing, and this is what we should be doing."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com