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Amazing rally vaults Phillies into NLCS

Phils rally to secure NLCS berth

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DENVER -- Jimmy Rollins stood in the middle of the Phillies clubhouse, still in uniform, still soaked from head to toe.

He had seen something unbelievable Monday at Coors Field.

He had watched the Phillies turn a one-run lead into a two-run deficit in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Rockies. But he also had witnessed the Phils make an unforgettable comeback, which he started with a one-out single in the ninth, as Philadelphia clinched the series with an emotional 5-4 victory to advance to the NL Championship Series against the Dodgers. Game 1 is Thursday at Dodger Stadium on TBS and Postseason.TV at 8:07 p.m. ET.

Rollins had seen these things happen, and he knew what it meant for the future.

In the Wild Card era, only the 1999-2000 Yankees accomplished what they'd done the previous season and won the World Series. Two defending champions returned to the Fall Classic and lost (2001 Yankees and 1996 Braves), one team lost in the League Championship Series (2008 Red Sox), three bowed out of the playoffs in the Division Series (2005 Red Sox, 2002 D-backs, 1997 Yankees) and five missed the postseason (2007 Cardinals, 2006 White Sox, 2004 Marlins, 2003 Angels and 1998 Marlins).

No NL team has won consecutive World Series since ...

"Since '76? Since the Big Red Machine?" Rollins said. "Maybe they'll call us the Little Red Machine. We're going to give it our all. I can tell you that much."

They showed that Monday, when they played one of the most dramatic games in franchise history. And like the Game 5 World Series clincher last October, it ended with closer Brad Lidge throwing a beautiful slider for a game-ending strikeout.

"Make sure you throw me the good one," catcher Carlos Ruiz told Lidge in a quick meeting on the mound before Lidge struck out Troy Tulowitzki swinging on a 2-2 slider.

Lidge knew what he meant. He wanted the pitch down and away.

"Wow," Ruiz said. "When he threw the ball I knew it was the good one. I know when he throws the one. You can see him finish it. It was great."

The Phillies had a 2-1 lead in the eighth with a runner on first with one out when Todd Helton hit a ground ball to Chase Utley. Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler nearly leapt over Utley to avoid the tag as Utley flipped the ball to Rollins at second.

Defending the title
A look at how defending World Series champions in the Wild Card era have fared in the following postseason -- if they made it that far.
Year Champion In defense
2008 Phillies TBD
2007 Red Sox Lost '08 ALCS
2006 Cardinals Missed playoffs
2005 White Sox Missed playoffs
2004 Red Sox Lost '05 ALDS
2003 Florida Missed playoffs
2002 Angels Missed playoffs
2001 D-backs Lost '02 NLDS
2000 Yankees Lost '01 WS
1999 Yankees Won '00 WS
1998 Yankees Won '99 WS
1997 Marlins Missed playoffs
1996 Yankees Lost '97 ALDS
1995 Braves Lost '96 WS

But Rollins could not see the ball and it deflected off his glove.

"It was just confusing at that point," Rollins said. "The runner was jumping over Chase. Everything was coming at you. The runner. The ball. It was just so quick. It just happened so fast. I thought he might go to first, but Chase had other things on his mind."

The Rockies had runners on first and second with two outs. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel removed Cliff Lee, who had pitched brilliantly to that point, for right-hander Ryan Madson. Madson got Tulowitzki to fly out to left field, thanks to a spectacular diving catch by left fielder Ben Francisco. But then pinch-hitter Jason Giambi singled to left to score Fowler to tie the game. Yorvit Torrealba followed with a double to right-center field to score Helton and Giambi for a 4-2 Colorado lead.

"I wish I could have left that inning with the game tied, but it was all meant to be," Madson said. "I was sitting on the bench after that, expecting to go back to Philly [for Game 5 on Tuesday]. And it was all because of me. And it didn't feel good at all."

But his teammates described a calm and collected dugout as the Phillies prepared for the top of the ninth.

"Worst-case scenario is that we go back to play Game 5 at our place," Rollins said. "That's the worst-case scenario."

Rockies closer Huston Street retired pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs for the first out in the ninth, but then Rollins singled up the middle.

The Phillies had a pulse.

"Fortunately, I've had success against him," said Rollins, who had hits in his previous two at-bats against him this series. "I already had two, but I was like, why not get a third one?"

QUICK WORK
WIth three sweeps and one four-game series, this year had the fewest Division Series games -- 13 -- since the three-round postseason format was introduced in 1995.
YEAR Games
1995 15
1996 14
1997 15
1998 14
1999 16
2000 15
2001 18
2002 17
2003 18
2004 16
2005 15
2006 14
2007 13
2008 15
2009 13

Shane Victorino hit into a fielder's choice to leave everything up to Utley with a runner on first and two outs. Street walked Utley on a 3-2 changeup to send Ryan Howard to the plate. Howard then hit a 2-1 fastball to right field. The ball bounced near the wall as Victorino and Utley motored around the bases.

"I was calm," Howard said. "I wanted to be in that situation. I just knew if Chase could get on, I could try to get those runs home. I was looking for [Street] to make a mistake middle-in, and he gave me the pitch I was looking for. I kind of hit it off the end of the bat and saw it hook away from [right fielder Carlos] Gonzalez. I just hoped it would hook enough. But I knew Chase would score. He gets great jumps. That's him. You know he plays hard."

Victorino and Utley both scored to tie the game, although it wasn't text book. Victorino was watching the ball as he rounded the bases and missed third. He had to quickly run back to tag it as Utley came up behind him.

"I got a little scared," Victorino said. "I was like, 'What am I doing here?' Chase was screaming at me. He was yelling at me, 'Go! Go! Go!' He was screaming and cussing because it could have been a crucial play. I'm such an idiot."

But the Phillies had tied the game after Street was just one strike away from sending the series back to Philadelphia. Jayson Werth made sure that wouldn't happen when he hit a 2-2 slider to right-center field to score Howard to give the Phillies the lead.

The dugout erupted.

They were going to win this thing.

Could they win it all again? No team has won consecutive World Series since the 1998-2000 Yankees. In fact, no defending champion has made the Fall Classic the following season since the 2001 Yankees, who lost to the D-backs.

"We really believe that we can do it," Lidge said. "We know that if we do, we can form -- I don't want to say legacy -- but some kind of pretty cool thing in this game. It's too early to say legacy, but I think we've got a lot of swagger on this team. The guys just don't want to be known as one-time World Series winners. They want to be in the same sentence as some of the great teams."

"We're not afraid," Rollins said. "We're not afraid of anybody."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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