- The Washington Times - Monday, April 13, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | After an interview ran late, Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins bolted from his locker at Citizens Bank Park to join his teammates on the field before a game against the Atlanta Braves last week. Halfway to the clubhouse door, Rollins realized he forgot something and turned around.

“How about a glove?” the 2007 National League MVP uttered to no one in particular. “I might need it even though mine doesn't work.”

It's still a loose Phillies clubhouse, but self-deprecating humor is easier to dispense when you've brought the first World Series title in 28 years to your cranky and demanding fans. Later on, the players, coaches and manager Charlie Manuel received their rings, all 103 diamonds worth (representing 92 regular-season and 11 postseason victories), to celebrate the five-game series win over Tampa Bay.

Pitcher Jamie Moyer, who won 16 games at the age of 45 and is starting his 23rd big league season, had to fight back tears after getting his ring.

“It exceeds any expectation I could have had,” he said. “This whole thing allows me to reflect on my life in this game and how fortunate I've been. All the sacrifices my parents have made, my wife and children - it's very special.”

Moyer skipped school to be among the huge crowd gathered downtown for the 1980 World Series victory parade. Last October, he got to ride in one.

“It was pretty amazing,” he said. “It was a pretty unimaginable situation. The sheer joy and excitement. It was an unbelievable experience. You may be able to dream it, but you wake up. We lived it. We lived it with our fans, with the city, with the organization.”

But, Moyer added, “At some point you've got to let go.”

The Washington Nationals play the defending champs in their home opener Monday, and as the Phillies will remind anyone within earshot, it's time to turn the page. Which, incidentally, fans can do with one of the several books written about last season, perhaps while watching a commemorative DVD and wearing a World Series cap and T-shirt. Everywhere he went, outfielder Jayson Werth said, people thanked him for last season.

Championships endure forever, except when it's time to try to win another. The last National League team to repeat as World Series winners was the Cincinnati Reds in 1976.

“There's nothing wrong at different points of the season remembering last year, thinking about how you did as individuals, as a team,” said closer Brad Lidge, who converted all 48 of his save opportunities, including the title clincher. “The only time it becomes a problem is when you're thinking you can rest on last year and don't have to play as hard.

“This is a totally different season,” Lidge added. “It's not related to last year, other than the fact that we have the same guys back and we have the memories of what we did. But it's a different year.”

Lidge and various other players appeared during a “World Series Trophy Tour” last winter, and he narrated one of the DVDs. The ring ceremony constituted the last official celebratory act, coming two days after Manuel raised the red and white championship banner on Opening Day.

Seventeen minutes later (people actually clocked it), boos from the sellout crowd rang out during what would be a 4-1 loss to the Braves. This is one tough town.

“Real tough,” Werth said.

Manuel pushed the point of starting anew when the entire squad convened for the first time during spring training.

“I get up and give a speech, and that's where we started thinking about it then,” he said.

Manuel said he hasn't forgotten “how they worked and how much they achieved.” But at the same time, “the season's underway,” he said. “And we need to settle in and get into our regular routine. That's what won for us last year, the fact that we come to play that game that day. We play for the moment. If we win or lose, the next day we come to the ballpark thinking that we're gonna win.”

The cast is mostly the same from a year ago. The club essentially swapped free agent outfielders, Pat Burrell for Raul Ibanez. Rollins and first baseman Ryan Howard are former MVPs, and second baseman Chase Utley has the same potential. The pitching staff is intact, although left-handed ace Cole Hamels got pounded by Colorado in his debut amid reports he has not fully recovered from elbow problems. He insists he is fine.

“We have a chance to be better,” said the once-maligned Manuel, who lost out to Chicago's Lou Piniella for NL manager of the year. “We can definitely hit better than we did last year. Our pitching down the stretch for the last seven weeks was the best I've ever seen it here. And we've got a lot of those same pitchers back.”

More than anything, Manuel said he likes the mindset of his team.

“I've liked it for two years now,” he said. “I know the individuals, and I always give them credit because their attitude is what basically got us to the World Series.”

A few hours later, Philadelphia scored eight runs in the seventh inning to erase a 10-3 deficit and beat the Braves 12-11 for their first win of the year. The Phillies come into Nationals Park with a 3-3 record after Sunday's 7-5 victory against Colorado.But slow starts are not uncommon. Last season, the Phillies started out with two losses to the Nationals and stood just two games over .500 as late as May 19. But like the year before, they finished strong to win the division ahead of the fading Mets.

Ibanez, a 14-year veteran who hit .293 with 23 home runs and 110 runs batted in for Seattle last year, said he was immediately struck by the clubhouse chemistry when he reported for duty.

“It's probably the most united team I've ever been around,” he said. “A great group of guys. Loose and intense at the same time, and focused.”

Still, it might take additional help to repeat.

“Sometimes you can will a win and just make it happen,” Lidge said. “But other times, there might be a broken bat ball that falls in that you can't do anything about. It just wasn't in the cards that day.

“I hope people understand that the nature of baseball is not that you play as hard as you can every day and you have the most talent and that means you win the World Series. That's not how it works always. … There have been a lot of teams that have played really hard and had the most talent, but it doesn't matter.”

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