"Every time we go to the next series, we go in as an underdog because we've got some sort of imperfection that is really going to cost us," left-handed starter Cole Hamels said. "We've proved everybody wrong. That's what shows about our team. We're very good, and we're very motivated."
Hamels endured yet another rough outing during Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Wednesday night, but the Phillies' bullpen calmed those nervous fans who wondered whether the team was going to be able to record 14 outs before the Dodgers erased a three-run deficit.
In fitting fashion, that 14th out was secured by the rejuvenated Brad Lidge, whose perfect ninth inning secured a 10-4 win over the Dodgers and enabled the Phillies to celebrate the fact that they are indeed returning to the World Series with the bullpen that was supposed to serve as their Achilles' heel.
"It's not that the regular season doesn't matter," Lidge said. "But there is a different level of intensity and focus that we have when the postseason rolls around. I think the belief that we have the best team to a man helps us go out and play to the best of our ability."
During the regular season, Phillies relievers ranked ninth in the NL, with a 3.91 ERA. Through the first nine games of the postseason, they have posted a 3.24 ERA and been credited with four of the team's seven victories.
"Whoever says that it's a weak spot ought to try facing them," Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake said. "They're not a whole lot of fun to face. I think they're pretty strong."
The primary reason for the sudden turnaround can be attributed directly to the postseason revitalization experienced by Lidge, who posted a 7.21 ERA and blew 11 of his 42 save opportunities during the regular season.
With his right knee proving to be stronger than it had been earlier this year, Lidge has worked four scoreless innings and surrendered just one hit during the playoffs.
"I knew when the postseason arrived, it was my time to do my thing and do as good as the rest of the guys," Lidge said.
With Lidge filling his role in a successful manner, the rest of the Phillies relievers have been able to fall into place. In addition, this relief corps has been bolstered by the return of Chan Ho Park, who missed the NL Division Series and returned in Game 1 of the NLCS to escape the threat he inherited when he entered the seventh inning with a runner on second base.
Park returned the next afternoon and was charged with the only two runs that the Dodgers scored in their Game 2 victory. But the damage could have been limited had Chase Utley not made an errant throw on a potential double-play relay. That opened the door for J.A. Happ and Ryan Madson to issue costly walks.
After that game, Madson said he was confident that he'd be able to quickly correct the flaws that led him to issue two walks and surrender six hits in the two innings he'd completed over his previous three appearances.
With a scoreless eighth inning in Monday's Game 4, Madson gained the confidence that helped him retire three straight batters with the bases loaded in the eighth inning of Wednesday's clincher. His escape act preserved a five-run lead and gave the bullpen further confidence as it heads into the World Series.
"We're not going to be perfect, but we were pretty good this year," Madson said.
With Hamels lasting just 4 1/3 innings and exiting with a three-run lead, the Phillies bullpen didn't have to be perfect, but the five relievers who entered to ensure there wouldn't be a meltdown combined to allow just one more run.
"It felt awesome," Lidge said of the group effort. "The offense did a great job, first of all, taking some pressure off of us. But everybody down there was so ready to go out there and pitch their best. Nobody down there is scared of anything."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less