Monday, June 25, 2012

Tampa Brings With It Sweet Memories, But No Time For That

            The moment will live forever in Philadelphia Phillies lore.
            Phillies fans everywhere can almost assuredly replay and describe the memory at the drop of a red and white hat.
            The Phillies’ Brad Lidge stands in the stretch and delivers an 0-2 pitch to Tampa Bay’s Eric Hinske.  Hinske swings over Lidge’s deadly slider, which had worked beautifully so many times throughout the year, to get strike three and clinch the 2008 World Series.
            Lidge jumps and falls to his knees with his arms extended toward to sky.  Catcher Carlos Ruiz throws his mask aside, sprints out to his pitcher and falls into his lap.  The two embrace as the rest of the team piles on in celebration.
            As a 29-year-old Phillies fan, it was the first and only World Series winning moment that I have gotten to see.  I can remember standing in front of my television literally shaking in anticipation of Lidge’s third strike.  The feeling was much better than the one I had in 1993.  Lord knows that isn’t a memory I like having embedded in my brain as the Phils’ previous shot at greatness.
            This weekend, Tampa Bay and Philadelphia’s paths will cross once again as the Rays come to town for a three-game set.  It will mark the first time Tampa has returned to South Philly since it had to watch the Phils celebrate their world championship.
            Tampa’s roster has changed quite a bit since 2008.  Only six of the 17 players that played in Game 5 are still on the team (B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, David Price, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and J.P. Howell).  Four others that were on the roster remain today (Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac, James Shields and Jeff Niemann).
At the time, it was the Rays’ starting rotation that was credited with getting the team to the Fall Classic.  Now, only two of their five starters remain (Price and Shields) as Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson and Scott Kazmir all wear different uniforms.
            Tampa hasn’t had a return to glory since.  After going to the World Series, the Rays finished third in the AL East the next year and missed the playoffs altogether.  They then finished first and second respectively in 2010 and 2011, but fell in the ALDS both times.
            The story has been eerily the same for the Phillies.  While they did get back to the World Series in 2009, they have lost in the NLCS and the NLDS each of the last two seasons.  That is certainly something not to be expected of a 90-win team.
            Philadelphia has had a lot of turnover on its roster as well.  In fact, it has fewer players from the 2008 season still on its team than Tampa does.  Only Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick and Ruiz walk around the Phillies’ clubhouse with 2008 championship rings in their possession.  Though the team has still been one of the best in baseball over the last three years, not many can say they were a part of the title run roughly 1,200 days ago.
            I am sure there will be a lot of reminiscing going on this weekend by most of the Phillies’ fans and commentators, but the Phillies themselves can’t afford to get caught up in all of the memories.  Coming into Friday, the Phils are a full nine games back of the NL East leading Washington Nationals and five-and-a-half games behind the Giants and the Mets in the wild card.
            Sure, there is a lot of time left in the season and when healthy the Phils’ roster is good enough to make a run.  However, no one knows for sure if or when they will ever be fully healthy.  Considering the way things have gone so far, Philadelphia should not be taking anything for granted.  The Phils should start playing with a sense of urgency as soon as possible, because before they know it – there won’t be much time left.

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