For the second straight September, the Phillies have a recent and small lead over the New York Mets. The two teams have rejuvenated their rivalry in a new era of the NL East that doesn't feature the former powerhouse Atlanta Braves winning the title to go along with every Cy Young vote.
But while both teams share a plenty of talent, the Phils have just barely squeaked by the Mets the last two seasons—until now. Here are some things that we can take from these fightin' Phils for the next 12 games and for the 2009 and upcoming seasons.
Play the Whole Season
The Phillies started 2007 with the infamous Jimmy Rollins quote: "We are the team to beat in the NL East." This came after the talented Mets cruised to the best record in baseball in 2006, only to get upset by a then hot St. Louis Cardinals team in the NLCS.
So, to many, this claim was very bold. But Rollins got the last laugh and an MVP award to go with it. In the end, the Phillies played the season out, .549 ball, good enough to surpass the Mets in the final game of the season.
They finished the season hot, and never saw themselves out of it.
Play the Whole Game
The Phillies' NL East victory was helped in part from their league leading come-from-behind wins.
This year they rank second in come from behind wins. Unlike most teams, the Phils really have it ingrained in their head that there are nine innings and 27 outs in a baseball game. While its unlikely to win a game you're down 8-0 in the last out, they believe it can happen. Credit clutch hitting, good slugging, and a good bullpen for this.
A lot of this is mental, too, and can be learned by our Mets.
In a basketball game, down by 20 points with a minute to go in the fourth quarter means the game is probably over. But down by four runs with two outs in the ninth, anything can still happen. The Phillies seem to understand this better than the Mets, and most of baseball for that matter.
Don't Pity Yourself
Sometimes it's hard not to pity oneself. When circumstances lead to it, its hard not to feel so. Self-pity may help in recovering from a traumatic event, but will accomplish nothing more.
Every baseball team goes on losing streaks, while arguably none were worse than the 2007 Mets late last year. You can point the finger in any and all directions, really, but I credit a lot of this mentally.
In the end we weren't focus and we were just feeling sorry for ourselves: "We're too good for this to happen to us."
There was a lot of denial between the Mets and their fans. It wasn't really for me until I was outside throwing my shoes against the side of the house. (I learned early through the mid-'90s Utah Jazz that furniture and TV remotes can be victims to bad games—the side of the house is fine).
There are healthy times and ways to pity yourself—like waiting until winter and treating yourself to Johan Santana!
Don't Get Cocky
I didn't mind the collapse so much as I minded these awful sound bites. All those ones that were to the tune of, "We're so good it's boring."
Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, and Carlos Delgado lead the way (all of which ironically have great careers, but had no right to be saying that last year—check their individual 2007 stats if you need reference).
These comments came to excuse losses and mental lapses in play, while the Mets had a cushy lead in the NL East.
Let me examine that quote. Boring? Yes.
The 2007 playoffs were boring for me. I barely watched as a Met fan.
Good? Well at the time they were good, yes.
But I am sure each player involved in those comments would be glad to quickly eat their words now.
Don't get me wrong, the Phillies and Jimmy Rollins aren't beacons of modesty. This year, Jimmy said something he surely regrets to the Philadelphia faithful. But there's a difference in making a claim that will motivate you and your team and making a claim that excuses you for lack of focus in a game because you're just so good at it.
I mean that's just straight Mo Vaughn-Robbie Alomar era, as in possibly most shameful moments in Mets history.
In conclusion, we can learn from the Phillies.
We can't take Chase Utley at second, or pinch-hit Howard with two on in extra innings. However, we can learn from the way they carry themselves and play the game.
While I loath them, the Phillies play one of the best mental games in all of sports. They are honest with themselves and always motivated under any circumstances. That's the kind of team you like to play for and root for—and if the Mets continue to flounder and make excuses they will quickly have very poor chemistry and have to play in front of a bitter fanbase.