The Philadelphia Phillies organization and fan base have much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.
That statement might seem a bit misguided considering that the Phillies finished with the worst overall record in Major League Baseball during the 2015 season.
The Fightin' Phils finished in last place in the NL East for a 2nd straight season, and finished with a losing record for a 3rd straight season.
However, there are very real signs that the organization problems may have bottomed out. While real, measurable, on-field improvement may still take another year, there is now hope for the future.
First, consider the major changes in the management and ownership situations.
We began the 2015 season with Pat Gillick still in charge on behalf of an old-school mentality ownership. Ruben Amaro Jr, who had overseen the demise of the club at the Major League level, was still the general manager. Ryne Sandberg, who seemed unable to make a real connection with his players, was still in the dugout.
Flash forward to the end of the season, and the two months since it drew to a close.
New, aggressive ownership has stepped forward with the public emergence of John Middleton as the face and voice of the group.
Andy MacPhail has taken control as team president. Matt Klentak has been hired as a young, new-wave, Ivy League educated general manager.
Pete Mackanin has been given the opportunity to skipper a team into spring training for the first time in his career.
Every one of these developments is a positive one for fans to bank on moving forward. We will no longer see the same old mentality.
After the Philadelphia Phillies had gotten off to a good start by taking the opener of the 2008 World Series against the host Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in a tight 3-2 decision, the host Rays evened things up, holding off the Phils for a 4-2 win in Game Two.
With their backs to the wall in that 2nd game, Tampa had scratched out four early runs off Phillies’ starter Brett Myers.
Holding a 4-0 lead, Rays’ manager Joe Maddonturned to rookie lefty David Price with two outs in the top of the 7th.
Just a year earlier, Tampa had made Price the top overall pick in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft. He quickly rose to become the best pitching prospect in the game, and made his big league debut that year on September 14th, pitching in five games down the stretch as Tampa held off the Boston Red Sox to win their first AL East crown by two games.
In the ALCS, Price had pitched in three games. He got the win in Game Two with a clutch 11th inning performance as Tampa tied that series with the Red Sox.
Then in the decisive 7th game, Price pitched 1.1 innings to get the Save in a dramatic 3-1 win that moved the 1998 expansion franchise into their first-ever World Series appearance.
The Phils would get to the talented rookie with a two-out solo home run by Eric Bruntlett to cut the lead to 4-1, and then put two of the first three runners on in the 9th, scoring another run on a Tampa error to make it 4-2.
But Price had toughened up, striking out Chase Utley swinging and getting Ryan Howard on an easy grounder to 2nd to tie up the World Series at a game apiece.
The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies were an explosive offensive juggernaut that had been playing together for a few years, with most of their key players just entering the prime of their careers.
The previous season of 2007, the club had gotten over a bit of a hump when they ran down the New York Mets in September to take the franchise’ first NL East crown in almost a decade and a half.
For the previous half-dozen seasons, stretching back to the dying days of Veteran’s Stadium and moving on through the 2004 christening of Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies had been consistent winners.
However, prior to that ’07 squad, which team leader and shortstop Jimmy Rollins had declared in the beginning were “the team to beat” in the division, the Phils had kept falling a few games short of a postseason berth.
‘J-Roll’ had been around since the turn of the century. He, left fielder Pat Burrell, known since his college days as ‘Pat the Bat’, and pitcher Brett Myers were the lineup’s still-young senior citizens and cornerstones.
A trio of even younger players had come along over the previous 2-3 years, and were beginning to emerge as superstars in their own right. Together they would help supply much of the final push towards an actual world championship.
After the Blue Jays scored three times in the top of the first off Tommy Greene, the Phillies bats decided that they were not going to let Toronto run away and hide again, answering with four of their own off Jays’ starter Todd Stottlemyre.
Through four innings, the Phillies led 8-7 in what was developing as a slugfest. Little did the fans that night at The Vet know, they hadn’t seen anything yet.
Over the next three innings, the Phils powered their way to a 6-2 advantage, taking an overall lead of 14-9 on the scoreboard.
Up by five runs going to the top of the 8th inning, the Phillies were just six outs away from tying the World Series at 2-2.
And then the Blue Jays’ bats, silent for most of the previous four innings, finally awoke, and with a vengeance.
Toronto scored six times in that top of the 8th to re-take the lead at 15-14. Just as suddenly, perhaps demoralized by the unrelenting pressure, the Phillies’ bats went silent and scoreless.