NEW YORK — Charlie Manuel was heading to the interview room when he spotted a reporter walking alongside.
“Two out of three, that’s what I told them,” Manuel said.
Sounds like the Philadelphia Phillies and their manager already have set their goal for 2010.
The Phillies fell two wins short of becoming the first NL team in 33 years to win consecutive World Series titles, losing to the New York Yankees in six games. Looking ahead to next season, they see plenty of reasons for optimism.
“We’ve got a good team, and we love to play baseball,” Manuel said. “We will be back.”
The team has a young nucleus of star players who are under contract for at least one more season. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton are all 30 years old or younger.
In five seasons in Philadelphia, Manuel has led the Phillies to three straight NL East titles and the franchise’s second championship. He plans to keep adding to that resume.
“I think we’re in a span right here where within the next couple years, that’s going to be very important for us,” Manuel said. “I think it’s going to be our heydays, as you might say. It’s very important for the next couple years that we stay afloat. But at the same time, I think we have the talent, and I think that we can tinker with our team enough to even get better.”
The Cincinnati Reds were the last NL club to win two consecutive World Series titles in 1975-76. It had been 13 years since an NL team had even won consecutive pennants. The Phillies cruised to another division title with 93 regular-season wins. They eliminated Colorado in four games in the first round of the playoffs and knocked off the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games for the second straight year in the NLCS.
But the Phillies ran into the best team money can buy in the World Series. Determined to win their 27th title and first since 2000, the Yankees went on a US$423.5-million spending spree last off-season. The additions of pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira boosted New York’s opening day-payroll to $201 million. The trio, of course, had a major impact on the Yankees’ success.
“It says a lot about the character and chemistry that we made it back here again,” Victorino said. “Some teams win it, and you never hear from them again. But you can’t take anything away from the Yankees. They had a great season. The positive is we were here for a second season in a row, and there’s no reason to think we can’t make it three or four seasons.”
Pitchers Pedro Martinez, Chan Ho Park, Brett Myers and Scott Eyre are the only significant players who can become free agents. Martinez, who lost two games in the World Series, enjoyed his half-season with the Phillies and wants to stay with the team. He could get a one-year deal. Park was outstanding in the bullpen for much of the season, but he prefers to be a starter and might seek an opportunity elsewhere. It’s more likely that Eyre will return than Myers.
“We’re proud of what we did,” said closer Brad Lidge, who struggled all year.
“We think we can be back here again and again. We have a great squad.”
The biggest concerns for the Phillies are Lidge and Cole Hamels. Lidge led the majors with 11 blown saves after going 48 for 48 last year, including the post-season. Hamels, the 2008 World Series and NLCS MVP, was 10-11 in the regular season and pitched poorly in the playoffs. The 25-year-old lefty also showed signs of immaturity, pouting when things didn’t go well and showing up teammates during the NLCS after an error behind him.
“I know we can do better because as I sit here tonight, I know Hamels is going to be better and I know Lidge is going to be better,” Manuel said. “I can tell you guys that. I know that. So therefore that’s going to make us better.”