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Emotional ride thrills the Phillies

October 16, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

They started the season with their All-Star closer on the disabled list and they lost their most-valuable-player shortstop a week later.

By midseason their opening-day starter was in the minor leagues; with 15 games left to play they faced their largest deficit of the season in the division race; and two games into the league championship series their manager's mother and their center fielder's grandmother died.

Yet the Philadelphia Phillies overcame that and more to win their first National League pennant in 15 years Wednesday, beating the Dodgers, 5-1, in Game 5 of the NLCS.

"There was a huge question whether or not we were even going to be in the playoffs," said Ruben Amaro Jr., the Phillies' assistant general manager. "We were really scratching. There was a lot of challenges during the course of the year. This was by no means a cakewalk."

It has been a long and emotional ride for the Phillies, whose manager and spiritual leader, Charlie Manuel, had to cut short his celebrating Wednesday night to race for the airport and a flight to Virginia to bury his mother June, who died last week after a heart attack. She was 87.

Center fielder Shane Victorino said his family plans to delay the funeral of his grandmother Irene until after the World Series, which opens next week in either Boston or Tampa Bay.

"I'm sure she is looking down on me," said Victorino, a former Dodgers prospect who drove in a team-high six runs in the five games. "I'm sure she's very happy."

His teammates, meanwhile, were delirious, bathing each other in beer and champagne in the cramped visitor's clubhouse at Dodger Stadium.

"It's just a great, great feeling right now," said first baseman Ryan Howard, who led the majors in home runs and runs batted in during the regular season. "It's everything you dream about as a kid."

Or remember from when you were a kid.

For pitcher Jamie Moyer, who skipped a day of high school to attend the parade after Philadelphia's only World Series triumph in 1980, the league title gives him a chance to attend another parade with four more wins.

"In '80 I was at that parade. And it would really be great for me to be in the next parade," he said.

"You dream and you dream, and I still don't know if I [comprehend] what we did."

After a while the Phillies took their raucous celebration -- and their league championship trophy -- back onto the field, where a few hundred Phillies fans and family members waited. That left Manuel alone in the clubhouse with his thoughts.

When catcher Carlos Ruiz squeezed Nomar Garciaparra's foul pop for the final out, Manuel said he turned to hug the nearest person.

"I don't know who it was," he said. "But it wasn't a woman, I know that."

A baseball lifer who has never been to a World Series as a player or manager finally has a chance to grab the brass ring. But for Manuel, simply winning was not nearly as satisfying as how his team won -- overcoming adversity and challenges by coming together.

"What makes it more enjoyable is the way our players got after it," said Manuel, who was visited by former Dodgers Manager Tom Lasorda after the game. "It was a total team effort. The attitude was off the charts. The best I've been around. And I mean that."

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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