Forgetful Phillies recall how to win


PHILADELPHIA -- On such a night, we learn the elemental lesson about baseball players. That they are different from the rest of us.

Had you or I or any of the 62,706 in the stands at the Vet actually had to play for the Phillies in Game 5 of the World Series last night, it would have been a chore bordering on the impossible. How could anyone recover so quickly from the exhausting, unforgettable experience that was Game 4? Who could shake the misery attached to blowing a five-run lead with five outs to play, maybe kicking away the World Series in the process?

Why? 15-14 was everywhere here yesterday: on the talk shows, in the papers, such a tangible presence throughout the warm, windy day that it almost seemed alive, someone to take to lunch. Who could possibly take on another, even more important game under the weight of such a distraction?

The Phillies could.

Was it because, as one cynic suggested, they were just too stupid to know when to give up? Or was it because, as their partially accurate rogue image suggests -- and most of Philly wants to believe -- they're particularly tough guys who don't know when to quit? Don't believe the hype.

The Phillies were ready last night because, like all ballplayers everywhere, from the rookie leagues to the bigs, they have learned to forget what happened the night before.

It's the basic fundamental difference between them and us. As soon as a game ends, we start talking about it; what else is there to do? But ballplayers start thinking about the next day's game. That's their job. Getting ready to play. Thinking about who is pitching, what to expect, what adjustments to make.

It's Rule No. 1 in the baseball survivor's handbook: Last night does you absolutely no good today.

"What's it like in the clubhouse today?" someone asked manager Jim Fregosi a couple of hours before the first pitch last night.

He shrugged. "Like any other day," he said. "Doesn't seem any different."

Music. Silly stuff. Just another day for the Phillie phruitcakes.

We want so badly for them to take a step back and consider the perspective, their place in history, their stats: all the stuff the rest of us batter around endlessly. Unfortunately, they have to play.

"Can you appreciate what went on last night?" someone asked the Phillies' Milt Thompson before the game.

"Not really," Thompson said. "We're playing the World Series."

Ah. Right. And did they ever play it last night.

The Phillies simply didn't allow their fans, or themselves, to sink into the funk that was there for the starting. From the first inning, it was apparent that they were as brisk and crisp as the post-thunderstorm weather.

As happens so often, Len Dykstra set down the rules. He cross-wired Jays starter Juan Guzman leading off the first, fouling off three pitches before drawing a walk. Then, after drawing a half-dozen throws to first, stealing second. He advanced to third when catcher Pat Borders threw the ball into the outfield, and scored on John Kruk's ground out.

The tough, hustling run let it be known: This was not a team gasping on the memory of 15-14. And if anyone wasn't convinced, the Phillies continued to stack together a collection of alert, smart plays.

Kevin Stocker's two-out RBI double. A magical 3-6-4 double play turned on a lousy Guzman bunt. Darren Daulton throwing out Roberto Alomar on an attempted steal. Curt Schilling's delicate sacrifice dropped in front of the plate. Daulton backing up first on a bad throw. A steady, seamless performance.

The one thing they couldn't do was expand their early 2-0 lead, so it was left to Schilling to protect it. Fregosi's bullpen, battered and spent, wasn't going to help. Schilling got Alomar to bounce into a double play to end a threat in the sixth, then got Rickey Henderson, Devon White and Alomar to cut down a threat in the eighth.

"I got pumped up," Schilling said, "when they had runners on first and third with no one out in the eighth, and I looked down to the bullpen and no one was warming up. It was my game. A great feeling."

The Phillies are still facing a tough go. Winning two in Toronto won't be easy. But we know they won't be distracted by the task. They might not win the Series, but give them their due: They're the ballplayers' ballplayers. They play, shrug, move on. No matter what.

"How does it feel to be going to Toronto playing sudden death?" someone asked Kruk. "If you're going to die," Kruk said, "it might as well be sudden."

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