As Ryan Howard watched a 3-2 slider from Brian Wilson cross over the plate for strike three, the Phillies saw their pursuit of a third straight National League Championship come to an end.Â
There will be no Phillies-Yankees World Series repeat in 2010.Â Instead both teams will be sitting at home as the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants star in the Fall Classic.
Citizens Bank Park fell eerily silent as the Giantsâ€™ bench players streamed on to the field.Â Even though they trailed 3-2 in the series, the home fans still expected their team to come through.Â
And with good reason.Â The Phillies have made the World Series two years in a row and, on paper and on their regular season record, they are the best team in the National League.
However, the Giants played better than the Phillies in this series, so they are the team that progresses.
Itâ€™s difficult to write about San Franciscoâ€™s triumph without the words coming off as a backhanded compliment.Â The Giantsâ€™ batting lineup looks decent without being fearsome.Â They have some genuine top-level pitchers in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Brian Wilson, but otherwise a batter would fancy their chances against their pitching staff.Â They are not outstanding defensively, nor do they wow the crowds with unrivalled base-running exploits.Â
In short, not much about them screams â€˜World Series contenderâ€™.
Yet they havenâ€™t made it this far by luck.Â The Giants are a good team, a group that adds up to more than the sum of their parts under manager Bruce Bochy.Â Whether you want to put it down to performing well in the clutch, having a â€˜never say dieâ€™ attitude or any other phenomenon you wish to cite, they have found a way to win when it matters the most.Â
Is that something you can measure with statistics?Â Is it even just a figment of the imagination?Â I donâ€™t know, but I do know that the Giants edged their way into the postseason on the final day of the regular season, they beat the Braves in the NLDS and have now knocked the Phillies out in the NLCS.Â You canâ€™t argue with the results.
The fact that the Giants donâ€™t bowl you over on paper only makes their World Series berth all the more exciting.Â The stage is set for Lincecum or Cain to dazzle with a dominating (no-hit?) performance, for Buster Posey to cap his rookie season with a memorable moment or two, or for Pablo Sandoval to end a disappointing season for him personally by performing some World Series heroics in the same way that Cody Ross won the NLCS MVP award.
The Phillies deserve credit for another excellent season and they will know as well as anyone that the difference between winning a World Series and missing out at the Championship Series stage is a very fine line.Â
Meanwhile the Giants are four wins away from a World Championship.