Team to Beat
Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins proclaimed the Phillies as the "team to beat" in the National League East during a January interview with the Associated Press, just months after his team's distant second-place finish behind the Mets. The remark was received with much disdain in New York, where the media and supporters of the defending division champions perceived the proclamation as a slight. In a March interview with the AP just days before the start of the 2007 regular season, the six-year veteran stood by his words. "It was the truth. It's the way I felt," Rollins said. "People don't expect you to express yourself. They think you sound cocky. It depends on how you say it. If you say it straightforward, you say it straightforward. People can take your words and try to twist them in any form they want."
Early 2007 season
After stumbling out of the gate with 11 losses in their first 15 games, the Rollins quote became a point of derision in baseball circles. When Philadelphia's record sunk to 1-6 after a lackluster loss to the Mets at Shea Stadium -- a defeat punctuated by a critical Rollins fielding error -- chants needling the Philadelphia shortstop rang throughout the stadium and a series of mocking articles appeared in the New York City tabloids the following morning. In spite of their languid start, however, the Phillies would rebound from their early turbulence and have amassed the best record in the league since April 18 -- offering the division-leading Mets a spirited challenge for the NL East title down the stretch.
Rollins, a constant target of acrimony in New York throughout the season as a result of the remark, backed up his words against the Mets. In 18 games against New York, Rollins batted 28-for-81 (a .346 average) with four doubles, two triples, six home runs and 15 RBIs. The Phillies won the final eight meetings between the teams to take the season series, 12 games to six. Philadelphia's three series sweeps of the Mets -- including a memorable four-game whitewash in late August -- represented a franchise best.
Later in the season
Over time, the defiant nature of the Rollins quote was embraced by the city of Philadelphia while assuming its place in the town's colorful sports folklore. The plucky shortstop's words were constantly referenced in headlines and articles throughout the season, including a Phillies blog registered at www.theteamtobeat.com and a Phillies/Mets rivalry blog registered at www.weretheteamtobeat.com. Furthermore, the quote emboldened the team's young roster along with its wounded, long-suffering fan base. In a blue-collar sports town that doesn't mind a little audacity in its underdogs, the previously well-liked shortstop seemingly achieved cult-hero status -- with no small credit to his MVP-caliber play at the plate and in the field. While playing under his self-imposed microscope throughout the regular season, Rollins became the only player in baseball history to surpass 200 hits, 15 triples, 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases in a single season.
The quote remained a symbol of the team's confidence even after the 2007 season, when the Phillies went on to win division titles in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. They went to the World Series in 2008 and 2009, and won the World Series in 2008.
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