Once upon a time, there was a baseball team from the City of Brotherly Love. This particular team was good; very good. They walked onto the field expecting to win and waiting for their opportunity to be the chosen one on any particular day. Perhaps, one day, it would be J-Roll who would come up big. The next, possibly The Big Piece would chip in with a blast or King Cole would throw an absolute gem, requiring very little of the offense for this team to win.
This wonderfully impressive team carried themselves with a swagger befitting a champion, even before they officially became World Champions.
But alas, this very same bunch of proud players lost their swagger. They became mere shells of themselves during the 2010 season and instead of looking to be the individual that would win a game for the club, they waited for someone else to do something. The offense relied on the pitching and the pitchers carried their weight, but even they couldn’t find ways to win while the offense refused to click.
Then, finally, right around the Ides of July, that swagger returned. Even though injuries still kept key pieces of the puzzle – including the Big Piece – out of the lineup, again, the players were taking turns making their contributions count. Enthusiastic fill-ins like Wilson Valdez and Mark Sweeney chipped in to help hide the loss of all-star caliber players. Young Domonic Brown arrived from Lehigh Valley and added a youthful enthusiasm to the mix.
The result was not only a great season, but the posting of the best record in baseball, giving this proud, aggressive group of players home field advantage throughout the post-season. That advantage and the swagger of the Phillies would surely result in a mighty parade down Broad Street on a crisp fall afternoon.
But alas – yes, again alas – this team again lost that swagger. Again, players watched and waited for someone else to make something happen. Even without their particular brand of ball, the Phillies marched through the Cincinnati Reds without a loss and prepared for the San Francisco Giants; a mere speed bump in the road to the World Series. Yes, our now arrogant bunch of heroes figured to just swat away the Giants, dismissing them with only a faint appearance of sweat on their brow.
But before they knew it, The Doc stumbled against The Freak and the Giants had stolen that precious home field advantage. Little Roy picked up his pitching companion and the two teams traveled west, with the Phillies feeling as arrogant as ever, even though the series was tied at one game-a-piece. King Cole was defeated and then Joe Blanton fell and our arrogant little heroes had their backs against the wall. And us, the followers of this tribe, felt just as arrogant as Doc returned and pitched through his own injury to pull the Phillies within a game and send the two teams back east with the Phillies down 3-2 in games.
Surely, little Roy could out-duel Mr. Sanchez and for a while, he did. But then, the Giants, who adopted a swagger of their own, bounced back. Mad Dog was called upon to pitch two innings, something he hadn’t done all season, and the result was a 3-2 lead for the Giants as the teams headed to the bottom of the ninth.
It was then that just a glimpse of swagger reappeared, only to be replaced by that arrogance that had been on display for so long now. With runners on first and second and two out, Ryan Howard stepped in to save the day and force a game seven, but with a 3-2 count, Mr. Howard declined to swing and the Phillies were quickly forced home for a long, cold winter.
As arrogance will cause a team to do, this team refused to admit that they had blown their chance. Instead, The Big Piece talked about that pitch that he was sure was a ball, since he only swings at strikes, after all.
The moral of the story is that a little swagger is definitely a good thing, but when that swagger turns into arrogance, the odds turn quickly against a team. With swagger, this club picked each other up, with a different hero every night. With arrogance, this club waited for someone else to step to the plate and ultimately found points other than themselves on which to lay blame.