September 30, 2007

Phillies NL East Champions

The Phillies led, 7-0, before taking the field, thanks to Tom Glavine's first-inning meltdown at Shea Stadium.

Fellow baseball senior citizen Jamie Moyer had no such difficulty, soft-tossing the Phillies to a 6-1 win over the Nationals on Sunday, securing their first National League East title and playoff appearance since 1993.

The celebration began with a strikeout of the Nationals' Wily Mo Pena. Like Jesse Orosco with the Mets in 1986, closer Brett Myers flung his glove high as he fell to his knees. Cell phone cameras clicked as fans waved towels high over their heads. The noise at Citizens Bank Park was deafening.

The Phillies took over the division lead after Game 160, then fell back into a tie with Game 161, when they lost to the Nationals. An enthusiastic crowd of 44,865 -- the 24th sellout this season -- reacted to each Marlins' run on the out-of-town scoreboard. The Mets' game, which began 25 minutes earlier, ended with an 8-1 Marlins victory.

Moyer, who famously skipped school to attend the parade celebrating the 1980 World Series championship, was more than up to the challenge of shutting down a Nationals team that achieved a season goal a night before by clinching fourth place in the division.

The veteran lefty pitched around a one-out double in the first and got the Phillies to the dugout. Jimmy Rollins added to his NL Most Valuable Player candidacy by stroking a leadoff single off Jason Bergmann, swiping second and third and streaking home on a medium liner to right field by Chase Utley.

Phillies, 1-0.

Moyer provided a slow death to a lineup of aggressive fastball hitters, dancing through five innings. Washington's only run came courtesy of a Greg Dobbs error. Ronnie Belliard reached on that play and scored on an Austin Kearns single.

The rest of the afternoon on Fan Appreciation Sunday belonged to the suffering fans, who nearly got their wish over the past two seasons. More than three million (3,108,325) came to watch 81 home games this season, and delighted with each offering.

Raucous from pitch No. 1 -- a swinging strike by Felipe Lopez -- the rally towels waved throughout the 75-degree day, perfect by any standards.

Ryan Howard padded the lead to 3-0 with a bases-loaded, two-run single in the third, and Philadelphia added two more in the sixth. Howard also homered in the seventh. Moyer left to a thunderous ovation in the sixth, and Tom Gordon received some more accolades when he ended the inning with a double play.

Party hard, Phillies fans, for a relentless team that roared back from seven games back on Sept. 12 to overtake the Mets, who couldn't get out of their own way. Philadelphia went 13-3 in its final 16 games, while New York went 5-12.

Go on, Philadelphia. Spray champagne, smoke a cigar and buy a T-shirt that says "National League East Champions." Celebrate.


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