Quick exit leaves Phillies unfulfilled

DENVER -- On his lonely walk from the first-base line to the Philadelphia Phillies dugout, outfielder Shane Victorino could only notice the countless gloves in the sky, the relics of victory, which after their lovely flight in the air, cast down to the ground like frogs falling from the sky. Victorino slowly trudged back to the Phillies' dugout, deftly avoiding several raucous Colorado Rockies who had flung their mitts, until he finally drifted into his team's deserted dugout. Just like that, on a measly ground out to second base, the season had ended.

A season of controversy, injury, resilience and elation swiftly ended for the Phillies in three underachieving games against Colorado, the last a painful 2-1 loss in Game 3 on Saturday. Less than a week ago, the Phillies were celebrating, flinging their own gloves, because of a history-making run that got them the National League East crown. Yet in the moments following Saturday's loss, Philadelphia's clubhouse was eerily quiet, as silent as a morgue.

"At this point right now, I don't think we accomplished anything," Phillies closer Brett Myers said. "We had a good run, but we got outplayed. It sucks. It feels like we got cheated. We had just three games in the postseason."

What the Phillies accomplished might not sink in for several days, if not weeks. But in truth, what they accomplished was remarkable. Down seven games in the standings on Sept. 12, the Phillies ended the season on a 13-4 run to pass the New York Mets for first place on the final weekend of the season.

At this point right now, I don't think we accomplished anything. We had a good run, but we got outplayed. It sucks. It feels like we got cheated. We had just three games in the postseason.

--Phillies closer Brett Myers

No team in baseball history had squandered a seven-game lead with 17 games to play as the Mets did. For now, though, the Phillies' accomplishment seems a bit hollow.

"I hope everyone goes home and remembers what this feels like and works hard this offseason," Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard said.

Although it did not seem possible, the Phillies ran into a team that was even hotter than they were, the astounding Rockies, who have won 17 of their past 18 games. A potent Phillies offense, which scored the most runs in the NL this season, was rendered moot by three young and talented Colorado pitchers, who average just 23 years of age and held Philadelphia hitters to just a .172 average.

The heralded trio of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Howard combined for only seven hits in 34 at-bats.

"We never got anything rolling," Rollins said. "They did a good job pitching. We didn't do a good job hitting."

And really, it was as simple as that. Philadelphia scored eight runs in three games. Even a stellar outing by veteran Jamie Moyer, who allowed just one run in six innings, could not save the Phillies.

Who knows what manager Charlie Manuel felt when he limped through his clubhouse after the game, one foot slumping over the other, his head bouncing like one of those giveaway bobblehead dolls, as he approached each player who stood near his locker.

"Great work," he told one player.

"Thanks, Shane," he told Victorino.

And Manuel did this with every player he saw in the clubhouse. Would this be Manuel's last exchange with his team? His job isn't secure, despite Philadelphia's run to the playoffs.

When asked about his manager's future, Philadelphia general manager Pat Gillick said,
"I can't really say right now. I can't make any comments."

Said Rollins: "It would be nice to have Charlie back. But I don't make that decision."

Questionable managing decisions might have doomed Manuel, such as the decision that might have cost him Game 3 on Saturday. With two outs and two men on base in a 1-1 game in the eighth inning, Manuel allowed the left-handed J.C. Romero to face the right-handed batting Jeff Baker, although Myers was ready in the bullpen. Baker singled, driving in the winning run.

"I thought about it. ... But I like Romero there, and [Baker] hit the ball on the end of the bat and found the hole," Manuel said. "He didn't what I would call 'kill' the ball."

But maybe the Phillies' unlikely playoff appearance will save Manuel. The division crown likely will be what the Phillies and their fans will remember months from now about the season.

Who knows what the definitive spark to Philadelphia's run to the division title was. Could it have been a three-game sweep against the Mets in mid-September? Was it perhaps the win against the Rockies on Sept. 13 that came after a dreadful 12-0 loss against Colorado the previous night? Or just maybe, the spark happened on an inconsequential day in January when Rollins proclaimed the Phillies the "team to beat in the NL East." From that day, Philadelphia forged a strong resilience that carried it through when its starting rotation was struck with several injuries, when Myers, the team's Opening Day starter, was sent to the bullpen, when the Mets seemed so far away in the standings. But Rollins' pronouncement couldn't carry them through the playoffs, and so Philadelphia's offseason begins.

"It's done," Rollins said of the season. "Now it's time to watch the Eagles."

While he leaned on a fold-up table in the clubhouse after Saturday's game, Rollins was asked if the Phillies were the team to beat next year, a bold prediction that could rally next year's team. This time, though, Rollins paused, processed the question, thought about what this year's playoffs taught him about how quickly things can change in baseball and could only respond, "I hope so."

Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.