ATLANTAOn the last and wildest night of the regular season, the Phillies turned out the lights in Georgia and celebrated two significant milestones.
The Phils rallied twice in the late innings to end the Atlanta Braves season with an exciting and dramatic 4-3 victory in 13 innings at Turner Field. By eliminating the punch-drunk Braves, the Phils propelled themselves into a National League Division Series matchup against the sizzling St. Louis Cardinals, who stormed back from 8 games behind the Braves on Sept. 5 to claim the wild card. St. Louis finished the regular season with 16 wins in its final 21 games. Three of those wins came against the Phils at Citizens Bank Park.
Theyre an extremely hot team, Hunter Pence said late Wednesday night. Its going to be a good series. Two good teams going at it.
Pence spoke those words moments after singling home the go-ahead run in the win that gave the Phils a final-series sweep of Atlanta.
The victory officially made 2011 the best regular season in Phillies history. The Phils won 102 games, most in team history, one more than the 1976 and 1977 clubs won. They finished with the best record in the majors (102-60) for the second straight year.
The win was also Charlie Manuels 646th as Phillies manager, moving him ahead of Gene Mauch on the teams all-time list. After the game, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Madson stood in front of the team in the winning clubhouse and presented Manuel with a large bottle of champagne. The bottle was neatly emblazoned with a label that featured Manuels picture and 646.
That was pretty cool, Brad Lidge said. Charlie didnt want to talk about it much. He wanted to turn the page and get ready for the next step.
It was pretty amazing to do it on the day we got to 102 wins. Its a pretty special moment for our team and for him.
Manuels hiring before the 2005 season was unpopular. In 2007, the Phillies lost their 10,000th game as a franchise, but later that season started a run of five straight NL East titles.
I remember when we lost 10,000 games and some people acted like I was there for all 10,000, Manuel said. Now that Im the winningest manager, I might let someone else brag, but Ill definitely smile and take credit for it.
I cant imagine the success that weve had. Im in the position where I was the manager, but it was definitely a team thing. It came from the players that the organization put together. And the fans had a big hand in it because they affect how we play in Philadelphia. But I think the memories Ill have from it are what Ill cherish the most, and the guys who helped me achieve it.
Lidge was asked if reaching 102 wins was important to the team.
I think its a cool thing, he said. I dont think it would have made a lot of difference if we didnt do it, but Im glad we did. Im pretty excited to be part of it.
Manuel said the team victory record was very fitting for the club.
Weve had a big season, but at the same time we still have a lot of work to do, he said. Our ultimate goal is to go to the World Series and win, and I think were sitting in a pretty good position. Its up to us to go get it.
The Phillies clinched the NL East with a win over St. Louis on Sept. 17 and followed that with an eight-game losing streak before righting themselves with wins in their last four games.
I think we just kind of let our guard down a little bit and we had a lot of guys missing from our lineup, Lidge said. We can turn it on, but I think we turned it off in those eight games. We knew we had to get everyone back in there and start turning it on for the postseason. We saw it was time to start playing and we did.
We finished up the season the right way, added Ryan Howard. And being able to win 102 games is a great accomplishment. Its hard to win in this league. At the same time, we have our eye on bigger goals.
Atlanta came into the final series fighting for its playoff life. That intensity seemed to help the Phils, who came to play each night. Wednesday nights finale was super-intense with the Phils rallying for the tying run against ace closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth then pushing across the go-ahead run four innings later. On the way to the win, the Phils got eight shutout innings from a team of seven relievers. Rookie Michael Schwimer pitched two scoreless innings and another rookie, Justin De Fratus, got the win, while David Herndon earned the save.
This series was a nice little transition to the postseason for us, Lidge said. For them it was do-or-die. We were able to put our best team on the field. Were pretty tough when we have everyone together.
St. Louis is one of three teams that the Phillies had a losing record against this season. The Cardinals won six of nine meetings. Roy Halladay will face lefty Jaime Garcia in Game 1 Saturday. Game time is expected to be announced Thursday.
Theyve been playing some great ball, Howard said. They had to scratch and claw to make it to this point at the end of the season, so theyre a very dangerous team. You cant take them lightly. For us, we just need to do our thing, just focus on ourselves, pitch well, hit well, play good defense.
Theyre a good team, he said. They can hit. Weve played them nine times this year and theyre a challenge for us. But at the same time, I look at it and theyve got good hitters. They can be a little weak on defense and their bullpentheyve got talent in their bullpen, theyve got big armsbut theyve had kind of a weakness so far. Weve got to play hard. Its pretty even.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at email@example.com.