"Yes, we're going to the World Series," Ryan Howard said, shouting. "That sounds really good to say."
Never straying from their opportunistic best, the Phillies leapt out when Jimmy Rollins scorched a homer
on the game's eighth pitch -- much like he did in the deciding Division Series game against Milwaukee.
"I didn't see it," Rollins said. "I just hit it and took off, not taking anything for granted. I knew [if it dropped in] I was getting on second, and if they made a mistake, I was going to get on third."
He got home. With a 1-0 lead and the ball in ace Cole Hamels' sterling left hand, a ticket to the World Series seemed inevitable.
The Dodgers never had a chance against Hamels, who was named the NLCS MVP
. The left-hander bested his Game 1 performance with seven innings of five-hit ball, allowing one run and striking out five. The Phils await the winner of the American League Championship Series, in which the Rays lead the Red Sox, 3-1.
Rollins' drive to right-center field, the 10th leadoff homer in LCS history, rattled Dodgers righty Chad Billingsley, and the 24-year-old unraveled in the third. Walks to Rollins and Chase Utley followed by two-out RBI singles by Howard and Pat Burrell pushed the lead to 3-0. Billingsley's final act was issuing an intentional walk to new Phillies postseason hero Shane Victorino.
Sloppy Dodgers defense, specifically three errors by shortstop Rafael Furcal, led to two unearned runs in the fifth. While Hamels welcomed the support, he was at his dominating best, posting a 1.23 ERA in three postseason starts. He ended each of his final five innings with strikeouts.
The final one came on his 104th pitch, and caught Jeff Kent looking, preserving a four-run lead. At that moment, the Dodgers had two runners on and Kent could've pulled the Dodgers within a run with one swing.
Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge handled the final six outs, setting off a celebration that had been coming for 15 years.
"Our six most important outs of the season," Jamie Moyer said.
The final out, a Nomar Garciaparra foul popout to Carlos Ruiz, had the catchers' eyes bulging out of his head.
From the dugout, Moyer yelled, "Two hands!"
"I was so happy when I knew the last out was in my hands," Ruiz said. "It wasn't too high, but it took forever to come down."
How long did it take to land?
"About 10 minutes," Joe Blanton said. "It was a while. I was running up the steps, and [was] out of breath at the end. That out seemed to take longer than the whole inning, combined."
The celebration spilled onto the field and into the tiny visitors' clubhouse at Dodger Stadium. The celebration was louder and more boisterous as the reality of playing in the World Series began to sink in.
"After hearing about the '93 team and the '80 team over and over and over, we finally have a chance to make our mark. It's crazy. [Getting to the World Series] is always worth the wait, and you always want to come back for more. We're here now, four games away."
-- Jimmy Rollins
Rollins was doused by Howard, then later returned the gesture. Pedro Feliz, in a rare display of emotion, screamed in the center of the party and paid for it with a five-pronged attack.
Off to the side, Chris Coste pinched a few of his teammates, starting with Clay Condrey.
"It's real," Condrey said. "Seriously, We're here."
When the clubhouse became claustrophobic, the celebration spilled onto the field, where West Coast Phillies fans were waiting. With banners with slogans like Tug McGraw's "Ya Gotta Believe," and "One More," transplanted fans tried to make the players feel like the were in Citizens Bank Park.
Acknowledging the sea of red jerseys, players offered high fives and pointed to their faithful. In Philadelphia, some 3,000 miles away, the fans were rollicking in the streets.
"I can only imagine what it's going to be like when we land, how excited the people are going to be," Victorino said. "It's going to be a fun time, but we're still not done. This means a lot, but we don't want to stop here."
Fifteen years after the Phillies suffered a six-game loss to Pat Gillick's Blue Jays, the Phils are returning to the Fall Classic. This time, they are led by Gillick, the 71-year-old general manager who intends to retire after the season.
Returning to the World Series are Lidge and Eric Bruntlett (2005, Astros), So Taguchi (2006, Cardinals) and Feliz and Scott Eyre (2002, Giants).
Heading the list of first-timers include the 45-year-old Moyer, whose eyes remained red through the entire celebration, and Burrell, the longest-tenured Phillie who made his Major League debut in May 2000.
As the Phillies got closer, Burrell said he couldn't help but think of the lean and close-but-not-close-enough years.
"Almost daily, especially now with what we've been doing," said Burrell, who could barely contain himself as the final out was recorded. "It's easy to get caught up in the moment, but when you look back ... We see where we've come and where we're at. ... There's no way to describe this. Now it's time to keep going."
The city of Philadelphia waited 15 years for the Phils' sixth journey to the biggest stage, and the organization has a chance to capture its second World Series championship. A title would snap a 25-year drought by the city's four major sports. No professional team in Philadelphia has won it all since the NBA's 76ers in 1983.
"After hearing about the '93 team and the '80 team over and over and over, we finally have a chance to make our mark," Rollins said. "It's crazy. [Getting to the World Series] is always worth the wait, and you always want to come back for more. We're here now, four games away. It's something everybody says they're going to do once in their career, and you hope it happens. That day has come. We don't have to watch October."
Unlike the ball that nestled in Ruiz's huge catcher's mitt,
the Phillies hope they won't come down. While flying across the country, players will reflect on the postseason moments that got them here.
They'll see Rollins' home run leaving the park in Game 5 or
Brett Myers' single shooting up the middle and another past a diving James Loney in Game 2. They can remember either of Hamels' intimidating efforts in Games 1 and 5 or Victorino's and Matt Stairs' homers in Game 4, pivotal in that they gave the Phillies a 3-1 series lead, rather than a 2-2 tie.
How about Utley's stabbing of Russell Martin's line drive in Game 4, and tagging the base to squelch a rally?
Pick a moment. They're all good.
The Phillies have taken three steps, and want a fourth. At 99 wins, 103 is where they want to be.
"We've got one more big step, then we're going to take a grand parade," manager Charlie Manuel said.