When the Phillies made the playoffs in 1993, I was eight years old, starting the second grade, and despite a claim staked as a baseball fan, largely unaware of the magnitude of the situation. It had been ten years since they last found themselves playing into October, and that ended with a disappointing four games to one loss to Cal Ripken‘s Orioles in the World Series. I attended the 15-14 World Series game, but the only non-Joe Carter memory I can conjure up about that postseason is Fred McGriff mashing a long home run.
Last year, when the Phillies won the division on the final day of the season, I was absolutely elated. It was my senior year at Penn State University and I had come home for the weekend to attend my girlfriend’s sister’s sweet sixteen party. Luckily, the day of the party coincided with a lousy Adam Eaton performance that almost cost the Phillies their season, so I did not miss much. But the next day, my brother, a Phillies blogger at MVN, and my father, the former TV producer for the Phillies, watched in awe as Wily Mo Pena stood, dumbfounded, as a Brett Myers curveball resulted in a called third strike, and ultimately, the division.
After six or seven years of the Phillies coming within three games of the division and/or wild card, I was so excited that they made the playoffs that losing the division series did not matter to me. I did not care that they got swept by the Rockies, because the team I devote so much energy and so much of myself to, finally rewarded me for my loyal fandom. Sure, a division series win would have been nice, but they got there, and that is what mattered to me. This year, however, was a different story. Perhaps making the playoffs for the first time in my young adult years spoiled me, but I had expectations this season. Expectations that they could at least get back to the division series. The outlook appeared to be bleak at several different junctures, but they always battled back, and ended up winning the division for a second straight season.
Unlike last year, I wanted a division series win this time around. Last year, I got a sniff, but this year, I wanted a big, delicious bite. When the Brewers handed the Phillies game one on a silver platter, I was thrilled, but also uneasy due to the fact that the Phillies just as easily could have lost the game and did not perform too well outside of Cole Hamels. In Game Two, myself and fellow bar patrons went into an absolute frenzy when Shane Victorino hit a grand slam off of CC Sabathia, an event nobody could have predicted. Of course the annoying comments such as “CC-ya later” resulted when he was pulled from the game but the Phillies took a 2-0 lead into Milwaukee and I honestly felt that, wow, my bite was almost complete.
Dave Bush shut the Phillies down in game three, setting up an important fourth game matchup between Jeff “I am the epitome of average” Suppan and Joe “I am an innings eater, I swear!” Blanton. To show off my clairvoyant ability, I predicted that Jimmy Rollins would lead off the game with a home run, and vowed to buy a drink for everyone at my table if it came true. Of course, Rollins did hit a leadoff home run, and I lost $20 buying drinks. It was $20 well spent, though. Blanton pitched a gem, and even though the Eagles lost to the Redskins on the adjacent television set, my Phillies had won a playoff series and were actually advancing. It did not really sink in until I got ready for the first game of the championship series, one that looked like it would be very tough given the Dodgers recent run, and, of course, Manny Ramirez.
During game one, which took place in Philadelphia, I was very annoyed that the song leading into commercial breaks was “I Love LA” by Randy Newman. Nothing against Mr. Newman, but this game took place in Philadelphia, and even when the Phillies took a 3-2 lead, FOX’s usage of the song persisted. This was my first inclination that maybe, just maybe, FOX was pulling for the Dodgers. I didn’t mind, but when Joe Buck and Tim McCarver exhibited pro-Dodger broadcasting, failing to highlight or capitalize on solid plays by the Phillies, I grew more than ticked off. To FOX, Buck, and McCarver, shame on you. I understand that Dodgers-Red Sox would be huge ratings, but I tune into a game and like to hear objective announcing. Not only does Buck not understand that the opinion of a play by play guy is irrelevant, but McCarver is a complete idiot and gets by because “catchers are smart!”
Their broadcasting in this series was atrocious, only diagnosing aspects from the Dodgers point of view, and as Brian Joseph of MVN Outsider wrote, if I was going to tune in and listen to a Dodgers’ broadcast, at least give me Vin Scully. But I digress. Brett Myers and Shane Victorino handled the Dodgers with the bat in game two, giving the Phillies a 2-0 series lead heading to Manny-wood. In game three, Hiroki Kuroda manhandled the Phillies, who just could not do anything to erase an early 5-0 deficit. Russell Martin seemingly took pride in setting up inside to incite retaliation, but once again failed to back up his talking the talk with any semblance of walking the walk at the plate. Martin may be an all-star and a solid player, but he came off as an absolute punk in this series, whining about call after call, and not doing anything to back it up. He also should never have been batting behind Manny Ramirez because, well, he provided absolutely no protection.
Game four would be extremely important, as the difference between 2-2 and 3-1 is huge. The game appeared to belong to the Dodgers until Joe Torre‘s odd usage of the bullpen resulted in Shane Victorino lining a two-run home run off of Cory Wade into the right field bullpen, knotting the game at 5-5. Then came the home run from new Phillies legend Matt Stairs, off of Jonathan Broxton, to put the Dodgers away, 7-5. Stairs pretty much has a one track swing, and Broxton threw him the best possible pitch for that track.
Last night, at a bar on Frankford and Cottman Avenue, I once again called that Rollins would hit a leadoff homer, but in case I was correct, did not offer to buy drinks. Jimmy did, in fact, lead the game off with a home run, so I saved some money and got just as much satisfaction. Howard and Burrell hit RBI singles of their own to put the Phillies up 3-0, and errors by Rafael Furcal led to the Phillies taking a 5-0 lead. I could feel it. I mean, I could really feel it. Hamels was cruising, the LA crowd was out of it, and there were only so many more outs before the Phillies could advance. For the fifth straight time, a Phillies pitcher failed to throw high heat to the target, missing with a fastball right down the middle, and Ramirez showed why he is one of the greatest hitters of all time, smacking a dinger into the right-center seats.
The home run only made the score 5-1, and after Cole Hamels got Jeff Kent looking, on a questionable pitch, I knew, deep down, the series was over. Ryan Madson, who has suddenly become unhittable, shut the Dodgers down in the 8th inning, before Brad Lidge had his typical Jose Mesa-like save, one which adds unnecessary drama. As Carlos Ruiz squeezed his glove on the Nomar foul ball, the next three minutes were an absolute blur, as I hugged and shook the hand of people I did not previously know and will never see again. We also apparently formed one of those pre-game NBA circles and were jumping around, screaming sentences that could not have made much sense.
The celebration then exited the bar and continued onto Frankford and Cottman Avenue, where there were easily 5,500 people celebrating in the streets, climbing street lights and stop signs, high-fiving, hugging, and just celebrating the fact that the Phillies were actually in the World Series. After about a half hour I got tired and needed to go home, but it still has not quite sunk in that the team I devote so much of myself to is now four games away from a world series. I don’t know how I will feel if they win or lose. I mean, clearly, I’ll be happy if they win, but since I have never experienced a championship, I don’t know if winning one would make me care less about the 2009 season or something along those lines. If they lose, I’ll still be happy they got there, but upset that some of my favorite faces, like Pat Burrell, probably won’t be returning.
Regardless, this was a hell of a year so far, and I just cannot believe that I actually care about the World Series this season. Now, if only they could stop showing that creepy astrophysicist and his commercials, I’d be set.