Phillies have sights set on repeating

October 1, 2009 11:36:16 AM PDT
They poured champagne and beer, lit victory cigars and toasted their beloved former broadcaster, enjoying a moment that seemed inevitable all season. Send in your own Phillies Fan Photos & Videos!
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Celebrations never get old, so the Philadelphia Phillies partied away after clinching their third straight NL East crown on Wednesday night. Players ran around the clubhouse and on the field, soaking each other with bubbly, spraying fans and anyone else in sight.

Everyone from mainstays Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins to newcomers Raul Ibanez, Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez relished the accomplishment. But no one is satisfied.

Getting to the postseason is only the first step and everyone in the organization knows it. Expectations are much higher when you're the defending World Series champions. The goal is repeating.

"I want to say you get used to this, but every one is different and special," All-Star outfielder Jayson Werth said. "We are going to enjoy this moment, but know where we still have to go."

Unlike the two previous years when Philadelphia had to overcame late-season deficits and didn't clinch until the final weekend, this division championship was hardly in doubt. The Phillies moved into first place for good on May 30 and had a comfortable lead throughout the season.

But that didn't make it any easier, especially for a team whose pitching staff has been riddled with injuries and plagued by inconsistency.

"It's been rougher this year," Rollins said. "Everyone was gunning for us. The last couple years, we were kind of the dark horse. We were right there, but we were never in the lead. We were trailing and catching up at the end. But winning a championship, everyone is gunning for us. We stood up to the test in the regular season, and we'll stand up to the test in the postseason."

The Phillies are trying to become the first repeat champions since the New York Yankees won three straight World Series from 1998-2000. The Cincinnati Reds were the last NL team to win two in a row in 1975-76.

While the players partied, manager Charlie Manuel sat quietly in his office like he's done in the past. He didn't hear the "We want Charlie!" chants coming from the crowd as he reflected on the season and looked ahead to the playoffs.

"I let them celebrate because it's more their celebration and I like it that way better," Manuel said. "They're the ones who play. They're the ones who got it done and that's kind of how I like it."

Manuel said he already told his players to keep focused on the bigger prize. Winning it all is the only goal. He closed the clubhouse doors before Tuesday's game and held a meeting in which he did all the talking. The Phillies had lost five of seven and their lead over Atlanta was trimmed from 8½ games to four in that span. They responded with consecutive wins to lock up the division.

"They know it's the first step," Manuel said. "They've been there before. They know what it's all about."

The Phillies (92-66) still have a few things to play for the rest of this week. They entered Thursday night's game against Houston a half-game behind Los Angeles for best record in the NL. They can secure home-field advantage in the first round with any combination of two wins or losses by NL Central champion St. Louis.

Manuel plans to rest his regulars, especially Utley and Ibanez. Howard, Rollins, Werth and Shane Victorino also will get a couple days off.

"There are some guys that I'd like to give some time off," Manuel said. "But also, home-field advantage comes into play, and we'd like to win that too."

The biggest question mark for the Phillies entering the postseason is the bullpen, which was the team's strength last October. Closer Brad Lidge has 11 blown saves after going 48 for 48 last year. Ryan Madson is 10 for 16 in save chances. If Madson gets the ball in the ninth, someone else has to fill the setup role.

Injuries are a major issue. Brett Myers, who would've been a candidate to close if healthy, was just cleared to pitch after he strained a muscle in the back of his shoulder. Myers made five relief appearances after recovering quickly from hip surgery in June and returning well ahead of schedule.

Left-hander J.C. Romero pitched Monday for the first time since July 19 because of a strained forearm, and Scott Eyre is battling through an elbow injury. Right-hander Chan Ho Park could return this weekend after going down with a strained hamstring.

The starting rotation is almost set with Lee, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton. Martinez (5-1, 3.63 ERA in nine starts) probably will get the nod over rookie J.A. Happ (12-4, 2.85) for the last spot. Manuel has said that Happ could end up in the back end of the bullpen.

"Hopefully, this won't stop here," Martinez said amid the celebration. "That's why it took me longer to come back to the big leagues. I wanted a team that would give me a chance for this."

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