September 23 Philadelphia Daily News:
“THE BALL WAS slicing and Jayson Werth was sprinting and the whole time Raul Ibanez was engaging in a series of heartfelt conversations with the Man Upstairs.
“I said about 14 prayers running down to first,” Ibanez admitted later. “You’d be surprised at the things that run through your head when you are hoping that ball stays fair.”
Those prayers were answered with a mighty roar, one that began in the leftfield corner, where his eighth-inning double landed on the chalk line, and quickly spread throughout Citizens Bank Park. By the time Ibanez reached second, Werth was sliding into home and the Phillies were on their way to 1-0 victory and a series sweep of the reeling Braves.
“I saw the ball bounce off the wall,” Werth said. “I was scoring after that.”
Ibanez’ slicing, two-out hit off of Atlanta lefty Jonny Venters was the decisive moment in the Phillies’ 10th straight victory, and it might prove to be the same in their quest for a fourth straight National League East title. Eleven days ago, they were tied atop the division. But last night, after another dominant effort from righthander Roy Oswalt and a third straight save from Brad Lidge, the Phillies (92-61) held a six-game lead with nine games to play and were tied with the Yankees and Twins for the major league lead in wins.
They can clinch the division as early as Saturday, although that would require winning tomorrow and Saturday against the Mets and having the Braves lose their next two games against the Nationals. Four of any combination of Phillies wins and Braves losses will lock up the division crown. Last year, they held a six-game lead with nine to play and did not clinch for another five games. Still, that left them plenty of time to rest their regulars and set up their playoff rotation.
This year, though, the Phillies have bigger things in mind. Four wins in their final nine games – three-game sets at home against the Mets, in Washington, and in Atlanta – would clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
And, last night, Werth reiterated a statement he made in the wake of the Phillies‘ 5-3 victory on Tuesday night: that their goal is to finish with the best record in the majors.
“We’ve been talking about winning 100 games and being the best team in baseball for years now,” said the rightfielder, who drew three walks last night, including one with two outs to put him on first base for Ibanez’ double in the eighth. “We’ve pretty much got the same guys in here. We’re a good team. We want to be recognized. We feel like everybody out there over the past few years, and we feel like we’re right there, if not better. That would definitely be a benchmark and a fine accomplishment for the guys who have been in here the last few years.”
If the Phillies happened to win out, they not only would reach the 100-victory plateau for the third time in franchise history, they also would tie the club record of 101 wins set in 1976 and ’77. They are one victory shy of their total from last season, and have a good shot at equaling the 97 posted by the 1993 team that lost to the Blue Jays in the World Series.
It is hard to imagine any of those teams stacking up with the one that has taken the field over the last month-and-a-half, when the Phillies have won 22 of 26 games, including 14 of their last 15. Certainly, none of them featured a three-headed rotation like the one that lifted them to their sweep of the Braves. Last night, it was Oswalt allowing one hit in seven scoreless innings before giving way to a pinch-hitter.”
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