Phillies have crashed after 5 straight NL East titles

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“Feeling sorry for yourself or something like that? No, you can’t do that,” Manuel said. “This is Major League Baseball, and we’re a high-market team. We’re supposed to win games, and we’re supposed to go get it. We’re supposed to be men; we’re supposed to be fighters.”

No such thing as rebuilding

Tuesday afternoon’s trade deadline and this offseason are crossroads in the track of the franchise and the short- and long-term fortunes of this core group. Was 2012 just a blip, or the end of the line?

Stark knows the Phillies are aging, but he refuses to believe this team is done or “over the hill.” A transformation of some sort, however, is coming.

“I don’t think that this is hopeless in the near-term, but they have to start getting younger,” Stark said. “That’s their ticket to surviving over any extended period of time. It’s just going to be a real challenge for Ruben or whoever’s making these decisions to try to make that happen. He knows what he needs to do; it’s just going to be very difficult to actually make it happen.”

The Phillies will have the luxury tax (set at $178 million for 2012) to contend with next season unless they perform a major fire sale. Victorino and Joe Blanton almost certainly will not be back, and there could be holes to fill in the outfield and at third base, not to mention re-crafting the bullpen.

But with a sellout streak of 254 games and counting at Citizens Bank Park and Halladay, Utley, Howard and Co. owed big-time money for 2013, it’s impossible for Amaro to tear it down and start over with younger players.

“It’s easy to think long-term when you’re in a small market and you’ve never won,” Bowa said. “When you’re in a market like Philadelphia, Boston, New York, there’s no such thing as rebuilding. You better be competitive or [fans will] let you know about it. When they lose, they take it personally.”

The boo birds are out now, among those who still go. Many more fans are buying tickets and staying home to avoid watching a losing team Bowa described as “disinterested.”

Players, even as the painful losses piled up, have refused to call it a season. Certain emotional victories spark hope, such as when Rollins assured reporters July 22 that it wasn’t too late.

“Nah, nah. Colorado won 19 in September [actually 20, in 2007] and found themselves the wild card,” he said. “Those stories are still around baseball.”

Those aren’t too common, but neither are those of teams going from dominant pennant contender to irrelevant in less than a year.

“It’s always easier going up the top of the mountain, but coming down the mountain it’s a lot steeper fall,” Plesac said.

If this is the Phillies’ tumble all the way down the mountain, there’s the inevitable frustration that a team seemingly built for the long haul managed to only win one World Series. And while Plesac stressed that it’s hard to win a title, Bowa, a member of the Phillies’ only other championship team in 1980, knows how it feels.

“I’m sure this group of Phillies feel that they should’ve won more than one. It’s not that easy to win a World Series, but when you have the pieces in place, you think you’re going to get there,” he said. “You’ve got to have a lot of luck involved, you’ve got to have people stay healthy, you’ve got to get a couple breaks that go your way late in the season. It’s not as easy as people think. But you still, as a player, when you look at your ballclub, when I looked at the team I was on and look at the Phillies, the team that they’ve had, I say, ‘Wow, we should’ve had more than one ring.’”

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