Batting coach Greg Gross hugs Raul Ibanez of the Philadelphia Phillies after the Phillies defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 9-2 to clinch the National League East division championship at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
You'd think the Philadelphia Phillies had been there before.
Come to think of it, they have been in the exact spot they were Saturday night before. Four times before. The Phillies clinched the NL East title Saturday night -- their fifth consecutive division title, and they showed the rest of baseball why they are in prime position to be the favorite to return to the World Series for the first time in two years.Roy Oswalt shut down the Cardinals for seven innings, allowing no runs and just five hits, with seven strikeouts, as the Phillies fashioned a 3-0 lead. He nearly gave up a two-run homer to Yadier Molina in the top of the seventh, but Molina's ball bounced off the top of the wall right back to left fielder Raul Ibanez, and Molina was held to a single. Allen Craig, who was on first base, had to stop at third.
Phillies reliever Michael Stutes got into a bit of trouble in the eighth and the Cardinals cut the deficit to 3-2. But in the last of the eighth, the Phillies put on a power display. An error, three singles and a hit batsman gave Philadelphia two more runs and a 5-2 lead. Then, with the bases loaded, Octavio Dotel threw three straight cutters to Ibanez. The Phillies star put the third one into the seats in right field for the exclamation point on the victory, a grand slam that made the final score 9-2. (The loss also was a tough blow for the Cardinals, who fell 4-1/2 games behind the Braves for the NL wild card.)
When Ryan Madson got Rafael Furcal to ground out for the final out of the game, the Phillies had a low-key celebration on the field, high-fiving as if it were just another day at the office. The only real clue to the division title were the hugs given by players to each other and to the coaching staff.
The Phillies have one more magic number, and it seems inevitable: two more wins in their final 12 games will clinch home field throughout the NL playoffs. But with both the best home (52-23) and road (46-29) records in baseball, the Phillies will be tough to beat in the postseason no matter where they're playing.