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Winning ways in a tough season

Fans celebrate as the Phillies clinch the NL East title.


BACK-TO-BACK-to-back titles are rare for any sports team in Philadelphia; that’s why Phillies fans know this baseball club is something special.

The Phils clinched their third consecutive division title Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park. It’s a feat that only the teams from 1976 to 1978 have equaled.

What the defending world champions did this year wasn’t easy. Four of the last 10 World Series winners didn’t make the playoffs in the year after they won it all. The Tampa Bay Rays, beaten by the Phillies in the World Series last fall, are about 20 games out of first this year and will watch the playoffs on TV.

It wasn’t easy, especially when the Phillies’ leadoff hitter, pitching ace and bullpen closer endured slumps that lasted most of the season. To win the division again under these circumstances is a tribute to the players’ determination, manager Charlie Manuel’s leadership and the talent assembled by general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

There was another challenge to overcome this year, though not on the playing field. Legendary broadcaster Harry Kalas died of a heart attack in Washington on April 13, just as the season began. The players showed how much Harry meant to them by jogging en masse to the “HK” emblem on the outfield wall after their clinching victory to toast his memory.

This team isn’t hot, but it has the grit, character and the star quality necessary to repeat as champions. All those noisy fans don’t hurt, either.

The air is crisp, the evenings cool and the towels are waving. It’s winning time again.

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