Originally posted on Buzz On Broad  |  Last updated 10/1/11

At some point tonight, the regular-season Phillies became the playoff Phillies. It’s not certain when it happened exactly -- whether it was a slow metamorphosis or an instantaneous change. It could have been right after Skip Schumaker singled to lead off the second inning, becoming the last Cardinals batter to reach base against Roy Halladay. It could have been when Jimmy Rollins singled to lead off the sixth, or when Ryan Howard let loose on a 3-2 change-up and put the Phillies ahead for good.

Either way, it was clear that the Phillies that stood on the field as Lance Berkman launched a three-run shot to right field in the first inning were not the same Phillies who trotted off the diamond nine innings later. The change was most likely led by Doc Halladay, the coolest of cool in a dugout known for its even temper. Giving up three runs in the top of the first inning might have been a huge hit to many pitchers, but Halladay dug in and retired 21 straight after that Schumaker single.

Halladay was so good that he didn’t allow a single ball out of the infield -- not a pop-up, line drive, nor fly ball -- between the 2nd and 8th innings. He was so good that by the time he departed after the 8th inning, the Phillies faithful had forgotten about the three runs he’d given up.

When Shane Victorino singled in the fourth, scoring Chase Utley and making it 3-1, one could sense that the Phillies had a weight lifted off their shoulders. When Howard came to bat in the 6th inning with two men on and one out, there was a feeling out there on the shoulders of Kyle Lohse: vulnerability. For the first time since the first inning, the Phillies were really back in the playoffs, and the crowd was back on its feet.

As important as that Howard home run was, I would argue that it wasn’t the most critical of the game. Yes, the Big Piece put the Phillies ahead, though when the Cardinals scored a few runs in the 9th those go-ahead runs turned out not to be the game-winners. The real dagger was the pile-on, the additional runs that said “the Phillies are back.” Those came two batters later, following a Victorino single. That batter was Raul Ibanez.

Why Raul? If any Phillies hitter needed to bust out in the postseason, it was Ibanez. He’ll always be beloved in Philadelphia for his playing style, his attitude and his talents even at an advanced age, but it was clear that “Uuuuul” had struggled this season. If the Phillies were going to win the World Series, the Mayberry/Ibanez platoon was going to have to deliver from the sixth position in the lineup.

When Ibanez hit a home run of his own to right field, he was no longer the Raul that Phillies fans had watched struggle every other month this season. He wasn’t the Raul who hit .211 in June and .210 in August, the Raul whose swing seemed to get longer and slower with each passing at-bat. Instead, he was the left-handed power bat the Phillies added from Seattle, the Raul Ibanez who could be a part of a World Series championship team.

I’m not going to suggest that this win guarantees any Phillies title, any more than their winning 102 games in the regular season did. This was just 1/11th of the final journey--and not even that, as each step will get harder and harder. The pitching will be there, but whether or not the bats will deliver is still up in the air.

For a night, the 2008 Phillies were back on the field, scoring runs and holding on for dear life before their closer shut the door. Obviously the 2011 Phillies are older but improved in areas -- a team that could potentially hit, but one that doesn’t need to score 11 runs every game. Is it possible for Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and company to think for a few weeks that they’re a few years younger? It certainly seemed like it tonight.

Josh Verlin is the lead columnist for BuzzOnBroad.com. He can be found on Twitter @jmverlin

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