When Jayson Werth got home after last season’s World Series, he didn’t expect to feel the way he did. Sure, losing the World Series to the Yankees is never easy and it would seem that winning it all one year and then falling short in six games the next would temper some of the disappointment, but Werth says he was actually surprised at how emotional he felt.
Granted, Werth didn’t have any expectations of what losing the World Series is supposed to feel like, but when it actually happened it was like a punch in the jaw.
“Looking back I might be a little surprised about the emptiness, but it’s not like I’m sitting around and thinking about, ‘what if, what if,’” Werth explained. “We just have to get out there and start playing. It’s the stuff that comes after—the emotions.”
Perched at a table in a parking lot turned conference hall, Werth went over what he went through during the off-season and how that has shaped the team’s goals for this season and the playoffs. With Game 1 of the NLCS against the Giants set to begin on Saturday night at the Bank, Werth and the Phillies are getting closer to where they want to be, but know all too well how much work remains.
For some reason Werth and his teammate Ryan Howard understand that their experiences have hardened their focus on the current task. They are ready for anything and everything that comes their way. But mostly Werth wants to avoid that emptiness again.
“When I look back to last offseason, I got home and I had a sour taste in my mouth,” Werth said on Friday afternoon. “I definitely have always been the type of person who wants to win and hates to lose, so it probably started last winter. You take a few weeks off and you start to work out and everything hurts and you feel like you haven’t worked out in a couple of years, you slowly build up and you get to spring training and you get ready to go at it again, but the thoughts of all your accomplishments and non-accomplishments are very fresh.
“At the start of the year I definitely had a goal in mind and here we are many months later with a chance to see those goals through with a chance to succeed on the grand stage. It’s an exciting time, but at the same time your ability to focus goes way up and the end result is so near and so close—we’re not many games away. It has a lot to do with a lot of things. You wake up in the morning and you know why you’re going to the ballpark, you know why you’re out there practicing, and you have a sense of what’s going on maybe more than a lot of people realize.
“The old saying that we live for this, I guess it holds true.”
That’s where Werth and the Howard believe the Phillies have an advantage. Experience, especially playoff experience, cannot be measured. Sure, there have been some inexperienced teams that won the World Series, but those runs rarely last more than a season or two. And yes, some seasoned baseball men will tell you that experience rarely supersedes talent or luck, but in the same breath they will explain how it’s the greatest intangible.
The Phillies are loaded with experience. In fact, Werth, Howard, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz have started 35 straight playoff games together. They have been through it all… together.
Oh sure, the Giants have six players with World Series rings, including Edgar Renteria who ended Game 7 of the 1997 World Series with a walk-off single in the 12th inning, and Pat Burrell whose long double set the table for the Phillies’ clinching victory in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. But the Giants also have 16 players who are advancing past the first round for the very first time.
“Each year you learn a little bit more—you grow. Starting in 2007 we didn’t know what to expect so we were the new guys, but once we made it again in 2008 we knew what to expect,” Howard said. “We stayed focused and we knew what we wanted to accomplish. From 2008 to 2009, we wanted to do it again and we got there, but fell short.
“Now we’ve seen all the different aspects of it from just getting there, to getting there and getting on top, to getting there and coming up short.”
Losing to the Yankees last year after setting the record for most strikeouts in the history of the World Series bothers Howard. He doesn’t like talking about failure. Never did. Then again, most ballplayers are like that, which is why Werth describing his disappointment at losing last year is significant. When it all came to a close at Yankee Stadium last November, Werth, Howard and their teammates said all the right things. They built a convincing façade that hid the reality that the defeat stung as bad as it did.
Hell, word around the clubhouse after Game 6 was that Werth announced there were 100 days to spring training during the team’s final gathering for a post-game beer.
At the same time, the Phillies would trade that experience for anything. There’s something about calloused and hardened focus that can push a guy. As one Phillie likes to say, quoting a buddy in the Marines, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
Yes, experience matters.
“It helps. It definitely does. If you look back at 2007 when we first got into the playoffs we went up against a buzz saw team in the Rockies and we didn’t fare too well. I think experience had something to do with that,” Werth said. “The next year we go to Milwaukee and the first game there—that first night in Milwaukee—it was louder than any place I’ve ever been and it affected us. We were shell shocked a little bit and we lost that game and then the next night we came out and it was just as loud, and it had no affect on us.
Said Howard: “Being there. Being in those situations from before. We don’t panic. We’ve been in these situations before so we’re not going to panic. We’ve been up, we’ve been down and had to come back. We’ve seen it all.”
That’s what the Phillies are clinging to. Even going up against Tim Lincecum, who threw a magnificent, two-hit, 14-strikeout shutout against the Braves in his playoff debut hasn’t fazed the Phillies. They know Lincecum and respect him.
But then again every pitcher this time of the year is dangerous. All of them. The Dodgers were supposed to have the pitching staff and deep bullpen that was going to outlast the Phillies in 2008 and 2009, but it just didn’t happen that way. Both times the Phillies won in five games.
“We’ve seen him quite a bit. We know what he’s featuring and what to expect,” Werth said about Lincecum, but then again...
“We’ve seen some pretty good pitching over the years,” he added. “When you get to this level they’re all pretty good. We’ve been here before and with the experience we’ve had it definitely helped us along the way.”
A veteran and tested playoff club, the Phillies can’t wait to get started. They want to get back to work.
“I’m feeling good, I’m feeling alright. I’m excited for tomorrow night,” Howard said.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to rhyme. That was my Muhammad Ali moment.”