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Phils ring up 2008 with finest campaign

Phils ring up 2008 with finest campaign

The Cubs had the best storyline. The Rays were the lovable underdog. The Mets had the big names. And the Dodgers, after acquiring Manny Ramirez, had the flavor.

But, after 162 games and three playoff series, the Phillies had what matters most: the ring.

Throughout the 2008 regular season, Philadelphia was pretty much a forgotten team, especially when it was four games behind the Brewers for the National League Wild Card and 3 1/2 games back from the Mets for the NL East crown as late as Sept. 10.

But a late surge catapulted the Phillies to the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Once they got there, they never looked back.

Philadelphia avenged a first-round exit from last year's postseason and, after disposing of the Brewers and Dodgers, beat the Rays, 4-1, in the World Series to claim the franchise's second championship in its 126-year history.

The Phillies did it with the strong pitching of Cole Hamels -- who made his case for being arguably the best young hurler in the game -- and the reliable ninth-inning work of Brad Lidge -- who converted 41 saves in 41 tries during the regular season. The late surge of Ryan Howard -- who emerged in August and September after a horrid start to the season -- and the steadiness of Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins aided the effort. With these performances and several other enormous contributions all along the roster, Philadelphia was the benchmark team for the 2008 season.

Here's a look at how that came to be.

January

The Phillies avoided arbitration with three players to open up 2008, reaching agreements on one-year deals with outfielder Jayson Werth and relievers Lidge and Ryan Madson. Then, on Jan. 31, Philadelphia solidified the hot corner when it signed third baseman Pedro Feliz to a two-year deal with a team option for '10.

But the Phillies weren't able to settle on a deal with their biggest slugger, Howard, as the two sides sat about $3 million dollars apart entering arbitration hearings.

January also saw Philadelphia say goodbye to heralded former members of its franchise, as Steve Ridzik -- a pitcher for the "Whiz Kid" Phillies that reached the World Series in 1950 -- died on the eighth at age 78, and former pitching coach Johnny Podres -- who enjoyed a 16-year pitching career beginning in '53 -- died five days later at age 75.

After playing the 2007 season with the Dodgers, Mike Lieberthal, the backstop in Philadelphia for 13 years, signed a one-day Minor League contract to retire with as a Phillie on Jan. 27.

February

Twenty-one days into the second month of the year, Howard and the Phillies finally ended their contract discussions when the slugging first baseman won his arbitration case -- with a three-person panel awarding him the $10 million he was seeking.

Bad news then came quickly for Philadelphia, as Lidge underwent arthroscopic right knee surgery on Feb. 25 to repair a torn meniscus and was slated to miss up to six weeks.

The Phillies also signed utility man Eric Bruntlett to a one-year contract and inked pitcher Kris Benson to a Minor League deal.

One year after Rollins accurately predicted his team would win the NL East, Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran came out and said it was his team's turn, stating flatly, "To Jimmy Rollins: We are the team to beat." On Feb. 20, Rollins voiced his disagreement and half-jokingly accused Beltran of "plagiarism."

Another light-hearted moment surfaced in February, and this time it was caught on tape. On Feb. 19, the Phillies -- thanks to Jamie Moyer's devilish scheming and help from manager Charlie Manuel and several members of the Philly media -- pranked pitcher Kyle Kendrick into thinking he had been shipped to Japan. The scene created an instant made-for-television moment.

March

Lidge got more bad news on his right knee in March, and the Phillies' closer was placed back to the 15-day disabled list on the 24th -- meaning he'd miss at least the first five games of the season. Tom Gordon was slated to take his place in the ninth inning.

That would hurt Philadelphia on Opening Day, as Gordon was unable to protect a tie game and the Phillies opened up the season with an 11-5 loss to the Nationals at home.

During Spring Training, Benson was the talk of camp with his early success, but the right-hander was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley on March 27 as part of an extended Spring Training program to give him more time to recover from right-shoulder surgery.

Entering the season, Manuel had all of his starting spots locked up except right field, where he still wasn't sure whether Werth or Geoff Jenkins would be the right fit. That remained a lingering question for most of the upcoming season.

April

The Phillies had their first winning April since 2003 in '08, finishing up the month 15-12 despite dropping four of six to the Mets. But those losses could be attributed to Philadelphia being without the two players at the top of its lineup in Rollins and Shane Victorino.

After trying to tough out a left ankle injury for the beginning of the month, Rollins was forced to go on the 15-day DL for the first time in his nine-year career on April 20. Victorino suffered the same injury that hampered him in '07, a right calf strain, and played in just 13 games in April because of his DL stint.

The Phillies also gave a big boost to their bullpen in April. Not only did Lidge return on April 5, but Philadelphia signed 39-year-old right-hander Rudy Seanez on April 1 and inked Steve Kline to a Minor League deal on the 10th.

In order to make room on the roster for Seanez, the Phillies freed up some of the congestion in the corner-infield spots by trading Wes Helms to the Marlins for cash considerations or a player to be named later.

May

The first two months belonged to Chase Utley.

On May 3, the Phillies' All-Star second baseman was named the NL Player of the Month for April and continued that surge in the second month of the season. Entering June, the left-handed slugger found himself batting .360 with 11 home runs and 23 RBIs.

The Phillies kept rolling, too, winning 17 of 29 games. Thanks to a victory against the Marlins on the last day of the month, the Phils also found themselves going into June with sole possession of first place in the NL East -- albeit by one-half game.

While Rollins worked his way back into the lineup, Werth was placed on the DL on the 24th with a strained right oblique and left fielder Pat Burrell couldn't find his stroke, batting just .227 during May.

Philadelphia also found itself looking for a reliable left-handed reliever and hoped Stephen Randolph -- who was acquired from the Astros on the 8th for a player to be named later -- could fill that void.

June

The Phillies had their roughest month in June, going 12-14, but still emerged with a one-game lead in the NL East.

During the month, Philadelphia encountered a six-game losing streak and finished the tilt by dropping nine of its last 11 games.

Perhaps the Phillies wasted all of their offensive firepower on one night. That night would be June 13 against the Cardinals, when the club pounded out 21 hits -- including four homers -- en route to notching 20 runs in a blowout.

Despite that game, the Phillies' offense batted a season-low .232 in June. And while the bats were silenced, Brett Myers was getting lit up. Entering July, Philadelphia's right-handed starter was 3-9 with a 5.84 ERA.

On June 5, Rollins was benched in the middle of a game after not running out a ball in the third inning. But the All-Star shortstop was back in the lineup the following day and deemed it a non-issue.

On June 1, Lieberthal -- who spent 13 of his 14 years in Philadelphia -- officially retired a Phillie after signing a one-day contract.

July

After Myers' early struggles -- prompting the club to option him to Triple-A on July 1 -- the Phillies were in need of another reliable starter. After missing out on Rich Harden and CC Sabathia, they finally got their guy. Philadelphia acquired right-hander Joe Blanton on July 17 from Oakland for three Minor Leaguers -- second baseman Adrian Cardenas, reliever Josh Outman and outfielder Matthew Spencer.

The Phillies signed Lidge to a three-year, $37.5 million contract extension on July 6 and, shortly thereafter, he joined Utley as the club's representatives in the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. Utley also took part in the State Farm Home Run Derby, but his five home runs earned him an early exit from the competition.

July also saw Gordon (right elbow inflammation) and Feliz (sore back) make trips to the 15-day DL.

Also, on the first day of the month, the Phillies signed their first-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, shortstop Anthony Hewitt.

After closing June on a low note, the Phillies began July with a four-game winning streak and ended it as winners of five straight -- keeping their division lead at one game heading into August. That number could've been higher, but Philadelphia lost seven of 10 to the NL East-rival Florida and New York.

August

August wasn't just a rough month in the standings for the Phillies, but it also forced them to make some emergency roster moves.

First, Seanez was placed on the 15-day DL because of an injured right shoulder, and he would appear in just four games in August. But, five days later, Philadelphia continued its pursuit of acquiring a second lefty in its bullpen when it picked up southpaw Scott Eyre from the Cubs for Minor League right-hander Brian Schlitter.

The move was especially necessary because Gordon, who hadn't pitched since July 5 because of elbow problems with his throwing arm, was pronounced out for the remainder of the season in the middle of the month.

The Phillies got another setback when Jenkins went on the 15-day DL with a right hip-flexor strain on Aug. 23. But the front office acted quickly, picking up outfielder Matt Stairs from the Blue Jays on Aug. 30 for a player to be named later to give the Phillies a veteran left-handed power bat off the bench.

It was also a huge bounce-back month for Myers, who returned to the club from his Minor League stint on July 23 and ended up going 4-1 with a 1.65 ERA in August.

But the month wasn't all that nice for Rollins, who called the Philadelphia fans "front-runners" on "The Best Damn Sports Show Period" and was then booed at his home ballpark for it.

Overall, after a 16-13 month -- which included a 25-inning scoreless streak for their offense -- the Phillies found themselves entering September one game back in the NL East.

September

The Phillies saved their best regular-season month for last, and so did Howard.

Thanks to a seven-game winning streak in the middle of the month, a three-game sweep of the Nationals to end September and an overall 17-8 record in the final month of the season, the Phillies nailed down their second straight NL East crown on Sept. 27 with a 4-3 victory over the Nationals at home.

Philadelphia needed that seven-game winning streak more than anything.

On Sept. 10, the Phillies found themselves in desperate straits, sitting four games back of the Wild Card and 3 1/2 back in the division. But starting on the 11th, Philadelphia began to roll, which led to that magical moment at Citizens Bank Park when Lidge nailed down his 41st save thanks to a brilliant game-ending double play begun by Rollins.

But, the club wouldn't have even been in that position if it weren't for Howard.

In September, the lefty slugger hit .352 with 11 home runs and 32 RBIs, replacing talk about his putrid start to the season -- which surfaced when he entered August batting just .239 and sporting a .498 slugging percentage.

But Lidge did his part, too -- and then some.

In his seventh year in the Major Leagues and first as the Phillies' closer, the then-31-year-old went a perfect 41-for-41 in save opportunities and, on Sept. 30, was deservedly tabbed the NL Comeback Player of the Year -- after converting just 19 saves in 2007, with the Astros.

October

This was the historic month. The month when the Phillies battled through tough pitching, intense road games, near on-field brawls, power-stacked lineups and massive downpours to accomplish something 28 years in the making -- the franchise's first World Series title since 1980.

Philadelphia met the Brewers in the NL Division Series and took care of them in four games. Backed by Hamels' strong Game 1 start -- which saw him retire 14 straight batters at one point and pitch eight shutout innings -- the Phillies got the postseason started with a series victory.

Next up, it was Manny Ramirez and the Dodgers, who had just finished sweeping the favored Cubs.

Philadelphia set the tone early by taking care of business at home, winning the first two games of the series. Then, after a setback in Game 3, Victorino -- the subject of a near-on-field brawl in Game 3 -- hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning of Game 4 to tie the game, and the recently acquired Stairs hit a tie-breaking two-run homer moments later to cap a 7-5 win. In Game 5, Rollins' leadoff homer set the tone, and another strong Hamels start carried the Phillies to the World Series.

Facing the up-and-coming Rays, Philadelphia got off to a good start once again, winning Game 1, 3-2, on the heels of a two-run homer by Utley and another strong outing by Hamels. After a 4-2 loss in Game 2, the Phillies headed back home for Game 3 and, after a 91-minute rain delay to start the game, Carlos Ruiz dribbled a walk-off single in the ninth inning to give the Phillies a 5-4 win. It was the first walk-off infield single in World Series history.

After an easy 10-2 win in Game 4 -- behind two home runs and five RBIs by Howard -- the Series made some more history when Game 5 was suspended in the top of the sixth because of unplayable weather -- marking the first suspended game in World Series history.

Two days later, on Oct. 29, the Phillies built a 4-3 lead, and the man who hadn't missed a beat all season -- Lidge -- nailed down yet another save to preserve the victory and give Philadelphia its second World Series championship in the franchise's 125-year history.

The win not only avenged the nightmarish three-run walk-off homer by Joe Carter in the 1993 World Series, it showcased Hamels as arguable the best young pitcher in the game. And the then-24-year-old left-hander got his due diligence when he was named the World Series MVP after seeing his team win both of his starts in the Fall Classic. For the 2008 postseason, Hamels went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts.

As an added bonus, Lidge was named DHL Delivery Man of the Year on Oct. 27. Then, on Oct. 31, the Phillies declined their option on Gordon and So Taguchi.

November

With the Broad Street Parade out of the way and reality starting to settle in after winning a World Series, the Phillies headed back to work and found themselves staring right into the Hot Stove period.

But more rewards were also in store.

Howard (.251 batting average, 48 home runs, 146 RBIs) finished second in the NL Most Valuable Player Award voting to Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols. Five days earlier, Manuel finished seven first-place votes behind Cubs skipper Lou Piniella as runner-up in the NL Manager of the Year Award voting.

A busy November also saw Rollins and Victorino win Gold Gloves at their respective positions, Lidge finish fourth in voting for the NL Cy Young Award and Utley claim his third straight Louisville Slugger Silver Slugger Award at second base.

Also, Burrell, Moyer and Seanez filed for free agency, Eyre was signed to a one-year, $2 million deal and Utley underwent right hip surgery on the 24th. At that time, he was expected to miss up to six months -- which could cut into the beginning of the 2009 season.

Philadelphia also did some shuffling in its front office, as former Orioles director of baseball administration Scott Proefrock was hired Nov. 17 to serve as the assistant to the Phillies' new general manager, Ruben Amaro Jr. -- who was promoted on Nov. 1 and signed to a three-year contract. Amaro Jr. replaced Pat Gillick, who stepped down and is now a senior advisor with the club.

Manuel also had to say goodbye to bench coach Jimy Williams, who was let go by the Phillies after being with the club since October 2006.

December

The Phillies said goodbye to longtime outfielder Burrell in December, and, in turn said hello to Raul Ibanez. On Dec. 16, Philadelphia officially signed the 36-year-old outfielder to a three-year, $31.5 million deal to replace "Pat The Bat" in left field at least through the 2011 season. Ibanez's addition gave the Phillies another bat capable of consistently hitting near .300 while also knocking out 20-plus homers and driving in over 100 runs. It also also potentially gave them three left-handed hitters -- Ibanez, Utley and Howard -- in the middle of the lineup for '09.

December also saw Philadelphia sign Chan Ho Park -- who could compete for the fifth spot in the rotation or a spot in the bullpen in 2009 -- to a one-year deal. Finally, December also saw the club reach an agreement on a two-year deal with Moyer to pretty much solidify its roster for the upcoming season.

Manuel was given a well-deserved extension through 2011 on the 9th. Also, several Phillies garnered This Year in Baseball Awards. Manuel was named Manager of the Year, Gillick was Executive of the Year, Lidge was named Closer of the Year and Utley captured the Postseason Moment of the Year when he pump-faked during the seventh inning of Game 5 of the World Series, baiting Jason Bartlett to run home for the go-ahead run and nailing him at the plate.

Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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