Monday, November 03, 2008

Reflecting On The Phillies World Series Win

Unbelievable. I watched it, but I'm still not sure that it really happened. Our four major teams from Philly just don't do this anymore. You know, go out and come through when it matters most.

Since May 31, 1983 -- the day the 76ers won the last title in Philadelphia -- Philadelphia teams made the playoffs 47 times, reached the championship game or round seven times, and came up short in every one.

So, until the actual final strike was registered last Wednesday night, it was perfectly understandable how I could be watching my team, one strike away from a world championship, fully expecting Eric Hinske to line a single to right field. Or worse, bomb a home run to center, like he did in game 4.

That's just the way it had worked out for so many Philly teams for the past 25 years. Close, but, oh so far.

It's the main reason my dad basically gave up watching their games. Too much torture seeing them continuously fail.

It's the main reason for the last two years I gave up following along with Phillies games online at night. Too many frustrating losses that ruined the short amount of sleep I get each evening.

But, as the regular season wound down, it was too hard to turn away. Thanks to my work buddy, Jay, he gave me his password info to log onto so I could watch games on the computer.

One of the first games I decided to see was the Brett Myers shutout on three days rest against the Brewers. That win completed a much needed four game sweep, and drew the Phils even with Milwaukee for the wild card lead.

That was when it seemed like the Phils might be able to eek out a playoff spot after all. The fact that they got hot while the Mets pulled their now annual el foldo was even sweeter.

Again, people like to say the Mets choked, and they did to an extent, but the Phillies had to play excellent baseball to catch them, and they did, for the second straight year.

Last season, the Phillies went 13-4 down the stretch to help overtake the Mets. This year, the Phils closed the regular season 13-3, and won by three games.

Still, after last year's early playoff exit, I was just cautiously optimistic about their chances this year.

Even winning game 1 of the NLDS was only slightly satisfying, because it took Brad Lidge escaping a mess he created in the 9th to hang on for the win, and C.C. was pitching in game 2.

But it was during the game 2 win over Milwaukee that I started to believe. Not that it would happen, but certainly that it could.

Shane Victorino will get all of the credit he deserves for hitting the grand slam off Sabathia that broke the game open, but it was Brett Myers' at-bat against C.C. that will be one of the unforgettable moments of the entire postseason for me. Fouling off pitch after pitch, earning a walk to the standing ovation of a fan base that instantly knew how big that at-bat was.

Watching the Phils take care of business in game 4, with Rollins setting the tone with the early home run, and then Pat Burrell hitting two of his own bombs, clued me in that this could be a very special year.

Opening at home against L.A. was nice, but only if they could win both games. Again, Burrell came up big, with a go-ahead home run off Derek Lowe, which followed Chase Utley's game-tying home run in the 6th, rallying the Phillies from down 2-0.

Myers again used his bat driving in runs in game 2, and Lidge held on for an 8-5 win.

The games in L.A. will forever be joined in my memory bank by our trip to Disney World that coincided. I'll never forget watching the conclusions of both games 4 and 5 at the poolside bar at the Pop Resort with a handful of Phillies' fans, even more diehard than me.

My only regret is that I missed the live heroics of Victorino and Matt Stairs bringing the Phillies back in game 4, as I walked up to the bar with the score already 7-5. But, hearing about the two homeruns from a group of Philadelphians was worth it.

The World Series was a bit bizarre, but in the end, incredible.

Cole Hamels was dominant in game 1, and the bats -- outside of Utley's first inning homer -- were not. But, Lidge came through again, and it was advantage us.

Game 2, more of the same frustration from an offensive offense. Myers was just ok, and the offense was still non-existent. Rays even up the series.

Then, it got fun.

Staying up late on a Saturday night to watch Jamie Moyer toy with the Rays was a thrill, especially after having watched Moyer really struggle in the first two rounds. After the career Moyer had, plus having grown up a Phillies fan, he deserved that stage, and pitched beautifully.

Unfortunately, the Phils couldn't hold a 4-1 lead, and he was not the winning pitcher. I don't think he cared too much, as the Phils got the 9th inning win on Carlos Ruiz' infield hit that scored Eric Bruntlett (two of the most unlikely offensive stars you could imagine).

Game 4 should have been known as game FORE, as the Phils hit some bombs -- including two from Ryan Howard -- to help finally enjoy an easy win, 10-2.

The stage was now set for the culmination of everything. King Cole on the mound in their home ballpark for all the marbles. Sure, a loss would still leave them with two to get one, but who wanted to go back to St. Pete? Nobody.

It had to be game 5.

Vic opened the scoring with a 2-run single, and the place went nuts. Then Crawford got them to within one on the homerun, but that was ok, Hamels was still in command.

Then the rain came. And came. And on they played as the field got more unplayable by the second. Plus it was windy and cold.

After the Rays tied it with their "only in those exact circumstances do they score that run since Rollins would have grabbed that groundball, Upton wouldn't have been able to steal second so easily, and Pena would have made an out because normally Hamels would have been able to throw his offspeed pitches" rally, then they finally called the game.

After originally feeling the Phillies got robbed, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Because what transpired Wednesday night was as unique as it was unforgettable, and it all worked out to the Phillies advantage.

The resumption of a 2-2 game with the home team batting first in the bottom of the 6th presented the Phillies with a big advantage. The hometown crowd would get the rare chance to begin the night cheering the offense, rattling the pitcher, pumping up that first batter -- the best cheerleader on the Phillies bench this postseason -- Geoff Jenkins.

It started beautifully for the Phils with Jenkins lifting a 3-2 pitch to right center for a leadoff double. The fans, and Jenkins, were cheering like crazy. And, get this: The Phillies got the run in!

They took away any lingering momentum the Rays had generated with their 6th inning game-tying hit in the monsoon two nights earlier.

Starting the game again in the bottom of the sixth meant instant drama. Had Jenkins led off the 1st with a double, yeah, that'd be great, but everyone would know there's still just about a full game to go. But, with a 2-2 game, and the evening starting in the bottom of the 6th, suddenly it's ON right from the outset. Getting that run in meant the Phils at that time were just nine outs from the title.

Now, granted, Ryan Madson gave it right back with the home run allowed to Rocco Baldelli, but the difference is with this 2008 team, they were able to bounce right back and score again.

And, how perfect was the situation in the bottom of the 7th. Almost too perfect. Pat Burrell, who had been invisible in the series, who was most likely playing his last game as a Phillie in Philly, in possibly his last at-bat, lifted a high fly to one of the deepest parts of the park. Oh, if it had just gone another three or four feet, it would have been a home run for the ages -- at least in Philadelphia.

Burrell had to settle for the double, that should have been a triple. Bygones. Moments later, Happy Peter -- I mean, Pedro Feliz -- delivered what would end up being the game winning single to center.

4-3 Phillies after 7 innings.

J.C. Romero entered the game, and after allowing a base hit, induced a tension lifting 6-4-3 double play from B.J. Upton, and all of a sudden, it seemed like a definite possibility that the Phillies just might pull this off.

Heading to the bottom of the 8th, I called my dad...and seemingly woke him up.

Mom was already asleep, and dad was about to join her. I told him the score, knowing that I might be setting him up for a potential disaster in the 9th -- it was only a one run lead -- and I told him to watch only if he wanted to.

He said he wasn't sure, but he'd think about it.

My wife brought our crying 2-year old, who wouldn't go to sleep, into the room. Our oldest daughter Megan sat on the couch to watch, too. I started pacing, more like rocking back and forth, breathing deep, putting my hands through my hair, then up to my face, then exhaling.

This was it. Three more outs to go. Lidge looked calm. He delivered a first pitch strike, and eventually coaxed a measly popup from Evan Longoria for the first out.

Then Navarro broke his bat and looped a single into right.


Tying run on. Pinch runner on first (here comes the steal). Sure enough, the runner (Perez?) broke for second and got in easily.

Great. Only one out, and the tying run in scoring position. What have I done to my dad? I've sent him into a trap. Oh, no! Zobrist just smoked a liner to right...wait, Werth is there! He caught it rather easily. Two outs!!

Uh oh. Eric Hinske is slowly making his way to the plate. He's been up once in the series, and it was about a 589 foot missile to center field.

Breathing getting heavier. Saying out loud, "come onnnnnn, Brad", "ahhhhhhhh just one more out!" Strike one. Megan starts to cover her ears to protect her from my possible screaming that's about to ensue. Check swing. Did he goooooo, no it doesn't look like he - THEY CALLED IT A STRIKE! Wow, we got a lot of calls in this series (admit it Phillies fans).

0-2 count, crowd in a frenzy, just one freakin strike away. Lidge from the stretch, I crouch down, and there it is, a feeble swing from Hinske at a beautiful Lidge slider, the ball hits Ruiz' mitt, and it's OVER!!!

I jump up and shout something like, "YEAHWOOHOOOALLRIGHTYEEEEEEAAAHHH", and all is right in the world.

And, dad -- and mom -- were watching, too.

I felt such joy, relief, and satisfaction. The title washed away about 100 collective seasons without one for Philadelphia. And, after so many close calls with this team this decade, they finally did it.

After all of the frustrating losses, blown saves, strikeouts in key situations, losing streaks, coming up short the last week of the season, it didn't matter anymore.

There were so many great moments in the postseason. Unforgettable ones...The Victorino slam against C.C., preceded by Myers drawing the classic walk. Burrell's two home run game in the NLDS clincher. Utley and Burrell turning a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead within minutes in game one against L.A. Myers driving in multiple runs in game two. The "Beat L.A." chants. Victorino's game tying home run in game four, and Matt Stairs murdering that pinch homerun for the game winner. Utley's diving catch that turned into a huge double play earlier in that game. Jimmy Rollins, leading off a second straight clinching win with a homerun. Cole Hamels shutting down Tampa for his 4th postseason win. Jamie Moyer's performance in game 3. Eric Bruntlett beating the throw home to win game 3 in the 9th. Howard going deep twice in game 4. Joe Blanton's homerun. Victorino getting a 2-run single in the 1st inning of game 5. The rain. The suspension. The ascension, thanks to Geoff Jenkins double, leading to a run. Burrell almost hitting a homerun for the ages. Feliz putting the Phils up for good. Romero getting a huge double play. Lidge striking out Hinske to win it.


It's all worth it. Sulking from loss to loss, season to season, for moments like those.

Watching them clinch a playoff berth when it looked like they were about to blow their first ever 9th inning lead, but having it end on a Rollins to Utley to Howard double play. Overcoming the Mets, again! Shouting at Vic's homerun against Sabathia to "GO, GET OUT!!", and realizing that that slam probably clinched the first round series. Straining to hear the radio call of the final outs in game 2 against L.A., while I was just moments away from going on the air at my high school football game, and learning during the national anthem that the Phils had hung on for the win. Getting to watch two road wins in L.A. at a bar at poolside bar at Disney World with fellow Philadelphians. Getting to share the final out with my family.

Thank you Phillies. I hope you forgive, and understand all of the negative posts from me, and the many other negative vibes from the fans over the years. We just wanted a winner.

You've taken care of that, now.


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