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Phillies focused on ultimate goal

When it ended, there were no massive dog piles, no exuberant displays of over-the-top-excitement and no outward sign that their second consecutive National League pennant signified anything more than what they had said it would be all week long: just another step on their journey to what they, and a growing number of others, are envisioning as a second straight World Series championship.

After Shane Victonio squeezed a lazy fly ball from the Dodgers' Ronnie Belliard for the final out of a 10-4 victory in Game 5, the Phillies gathered en masse in the middle of the diamond to celebrate their NL pennant and a return trip to the World Series. Actually, celebrate may be too strong a word. To be sure, the Phillies were a happy and excited group, but even in front of their home crowd, they seemed to be holding back. In place of the dogpile that marked their World Series title a year ago was a much more workmanlike display of high-fives and man hugs that suggests, even more than their words on this warm evening, that this triumph was expected, and that their work is far from over.

Indeed, when Cole Hamels was asked after the game if this is where the Phillies expected to be, he said, "Of course." What was notable was not so much Hamels' words as his expression, as if he had just been asked if he expected to wake up in the morning.

"I think it was just everybody's mindset," said Ryan Howard, who was named MVP of the NLCS. "It was that little underlying expectation that we had for ourselves that, hey, we know we can get back there and try and win it again."

To get back there, they first had to get past the Dodgers, a task many expected to be unlikely, or at least far tougher than it actually was. "We weren't the better team this week, I don't think that's any secret," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who added that "damn right I was surprised" that his team lost in five games.

He shouldn't have been. The Phillies outplayed the Dodgers in nearly every possible way in this series. Even the vaunted Dodgers bullpen was badly outpitched, surrendering 14 runs in 21 innings for a 6.00 ERA, with an 18:12 K/BB ratio. The Phillies, meanwhile, surrendered just five earned runs in 15 2/3 innings, for a 2.87 ERA. "You can take all those [stats] and drop-kick them out the door in postseason," said lefty Scott Eyre, one of four Phillies relievers who did not give up a run in the series.

Yet for all their back-end brilliance, this series was really won with their overwhelming offensive onslaught. While the batting averages were nearly identical (.232 for the Dodgers, .231 for the Phillies), Philadelphia outscored Los Angeles 35-16, outhomered them 10-6, had 19 extra-base hits to L.A.'s nine, and had much higher on-base (.348 to .287) and slugging percentages (.500 versus .360). Along the way, they served notice that whomever they face in the World Series, they will have an American League-style offense to keep them in games.

"The AL is supposed to be a slugging league, but this offense fits right in," postseason ace Cliff Lee said. "Playing AL-style won't be too tough for us, but it might be tougher for an AL team being without the DH."

Dodgers pinch-hitter Jim Thome compared the Phillies' relentless offense to the Indians teams he played for under hitting coach and then-manager Charlie Manuel in the mid-90s and early part of this decade, and Manuel didn't disagree. "A lot of times we generate runs just because of our ballpark and the fact that we can hit the ball out of the ballpark," he said. "We need to be a little bit more consistent, and I'd say we can be a better hitting team."

After the way they bludgeoned the Dodgers, that is both difficult and frightening to imagine. Six of the eight Phillies position players in their never-changing lineup hit home runs in this series, and of the two that didn't, one (Jimmy Rollins) had a game-winning double and the other (Chase Utley) hit one in the Division Series and topped 30 for the fourth time in his career in the regular season. Entering Game 5, their 5-6-7 hitters -- Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez and Pedro Feliz -- had combined for just a .098 average. But on Wednesday, they went 5-for-12 with three home runs, a double, six RBIs and five runs scored, proving once again that their offense is capable of erupting at any moment.

"You didn't have the soft touch" in their lineup, Torre explained after it was over. "You see Werth, he doesn't get any hits and all of a sudden he explodes."

At the All-Star Game, Torre told Werth he was a "pain in the ass," an ultimate compliment coming from an opposing manager, and it was never more true than in Game 5, when Werth hit a pair of home runs, two of the four that the Phillies hit on the night. The first was indicative of just why Werth and the Phillies are so tough to pitch to. Dodgers starter Vicente Padilla fell behind 3 and 0, but Werth said, "I was going to make him throw me two strikes, and I looked at two right down the middle, but I still felt I was in the driver's seat and I was still calm. I got a fastball and put a good swing on it."

The ball landed in the right-field seats, giving the Phillies a lead they would not relinquish. By the time Werth smacked his second home run of the night, the advantage had swelled to 9-3 and the Phillies fans began a chant of "hit the showers."

Soon enough, the Dodgers would, and by the time they did, the Phillies were showering each other with champagne in their clubhouse. If the celebration was muted on the field, it finally picked up when they reached their own clubhouse. The first Phillie through the doors to attack the 13 cases filled with champagne was Pedro Martinez, who jumped on a team official's back and led the charge with shouts of "Here we go boys!" and "Who's the MVP? Whoever it is is going down!"

The rest of the team soon followed, mockingly chanting, "What time is stretch tomorrow?" knowing full well that they will have the day off. In fact, they will have six days off as they prepare for the series that they expected to be in all season long. Their opponent remains undetermined -- though judging by the signs that read "Bring On The Bronx" and chants of "Yankees suck!" it's clear who their fans want to face -- but that is just about the only question facing this team at the moment. Which may be why when Hamels was asked if he expected his team to successfully defend their title, no matter who it was against, his face held its incredulous pose. His answer was the same, too.

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