As we reach the end of 2007, I thought it would be nice to look back at the year that was, and what made me, you, and everyone in Phillies Nation â€¦ well â€¦ love the Phillies.
Letâ€™s put it simply: There were a slew of amazing moments. From the NL East clincher to every late-inning rally and last-at-bat win, the Phillies were maybe the most exciting team in baseball in 2007. Hopefully, youâ€™ll have as much fun and enjoyment looking back, reading these snippets, as I did writing them.
5. August 5: The Miracle at Miller
You donâ€™t know when comebacks are going to happen. Most times you hope it happens, but it just doesnâ€™t. Past Phillies teams would be predictable at this game: Theyâ€™d be down two, maybe three into the ninth and start a rally. But, as if it were fate, the Phils wouldnâ€™t come through in the end, and the loss would be the score.
Not the 2007 version.
These Phillies came back more than any team in baseball. The biggest comeback of them all? How about when their backs seemed completely pinned to the wall in Milwaukee.
The game was predictable enough as it was. Adam Eaton started, and of course, they were down 4-0 after one frame. Once Eaton gave up another two in the fifth, his day was done, and it was up to the bullpen to at least keep the Brewers at six runs. Well, Clay Condrey and Geoff Geary did that job. The offense, however, couldnâ€™t get back against the expensive Jeff Suppan. Only an Aaron Rowand single put the Phils on the board. It was 6-1 going into the ninth.
Wes Helms starts off against Matt Wise, and grounds one back to him. Wise canâ€™t hang on to it, and Helms makes it safely. Well, thatâ€™s cool. Man on first.
Then steps Jasyon Werth, the inexplicably above average Jasyon Werth. After two pitches, he smacks one to left field that â€¦ hey â€¦ it got over the fence. Alright. Well, itâ€™s 6-3. At least theyâ€™re making the Brewers bring in Francisco Cordero. Thatâ€™s cool.
Cordero enters, and the best closer in the National League faces off with Chris Coste. Well, very quickly, Coste pops up to second, and pinch hitter Carlos Ruiz lines one to right field. So two outs. Good game, Phils, good try.
Jimmy Rollins â€” who else? â€” has to keep the game alive against Cordero, and on four pitches, works the walk. Heh, well, theyâ€™d need at least another guy on to tie it. Rolins steals second on indifference. Not a big deal. Then, oh, Tadahito Iguchi slices one through the hole for a base knock. Rollins canâ€™t get home. Well, here we go then, the tying run is up. Now â€¦ NOW itâ€™s time for the Phils to be predictable.
Oh look, Burrell is the tying run. Here comes a strikeout. Wait. Ball. Oh. Ball. Suddenly, Burrell is taking a walk. Okay. Thatâ€™s bases juiced. Okay, HERE comes the end of the game.
Up steps Ryan Howard. Okay, strikeout. No, no, heâ€™s hit! He hit him! Wow. Itâ€™s 6-4 now.
Now itâ€™s Aaron Rowand. Okay, NOW they lose it. Right? He hits it, grounder to third â€¦ thatâ€™s gotta be â€¦ oh man! It got through! One scores! Are you kidding! Roberson scores! We tied it! We tied it! Holy crap, we tied it!
Luckily Helms wasnâ€™t in the position to tie it, because he flied out to end the inning (despite being very close to a home run).
But Helms would get his. With two on and two out in the 11th, after stalwart performances by the bullpen, Helms struck one to right field, falling shallow and going back for a double. Two scored. The Phils had an amazing 8-6 lead.
And of all people â€¦ of all people â€¦ Jose Mesa shut the door for the save (not before loading the bases, of course).
While many Philadelphians ended their viewing of the game early because of Eatonâ€™s performance and a perfect summer weekend day, the Phils gave the stragglers something to remember. It was, really, the beginning of the Phils stretch run. Not too long later, theyâ€™d walk over the Mets in a four-game sweep, and not long after that, theyâ€™d win the East. So go back, recall that fine ninth inning, and remember, sometimes, these comebacks happen. You just never know when.
4. July 8: Destiny is a rainstorm.
The Phillies began the year 4-11, and didnâ€™t reach .500 until May 16. They didnâ€™t climb from .500 for good until July 21. But somewhere in between, their season turned a corner. It was the moment the Phillies not only began playing better, but became one of baseballâ€™s coolest teams â€” a group of guys everyone and anyone could get behind no matter what. It was the day the Phillies became a real team.
ClichÃ©? Hackneyed? Maybe, but come on, you didnâ€™t feel it?
The Phillies were playing the Rockies in Coors Field, with both teams straddling .500. (Honestly, who couldâ€™ve imagined this matchup would repeat itself in October?) It was a pretty boring game, with Eaton giving up four early runs (what else was new?) and the Phils climbing back thanks to the big boys (Utley single, Howard single, Rollins single, Burrell home run â€” all RBI hits). With a treacherous rainstorm coming toward Coors Field, the teams tried to finish as much of the tie game as possible. Luckily, the MVP (again) came through.
After two-out singles by Barajas and Eaton (seriously?), Rollins drilled a liner to center, scoring Barajas on a bad throw. Eaton, meanwhile, got out of the sixth with the lead, and it was 5-4 Phillies.
Then, it hit.
The rain came, and the tarp came out. After what seemed like a flawless placement, the wind kicked up and blew the tarp out of control. Fans screamed as groundscrew members went with the tarp, sliding across the grass and hanging on for dear life. Remember, the stadium is high in the mountains â€” the wind is a bitch.
What seemed like a lost battle became a shocking moment when, from the dugout, came every single Phillie. They hustled onto the field, grabbing an end of the tarp, and began securing it and straightening out the situation. Crew members regained themselves and got their bearings. And the fans in Coors Field cheered wildly. Unselfishly, the Phillies players were risking injury to help the groundscrew nail down the turf.
Victorino was the star, running like a chicken with his head cut off and sliding around to help the crew. Abe Nunez was seen shotputing a sandbag. Utley and Co. were giving their all to the tarp while slowly and surely, the beast was being tamed. Soon, the tarp covered the entire infield, the Phillies were retreating back to the clubhouse and the fans were giving the visiting team a standing ovation. Yes, the visiting team.
The actions were replayed on ESPN, Comcast SportsNet, everywhere. The Phils were the toast of the sports world â€” for once, unselfish actions trumped the Barry Bondsâ€™ and Michael Vicks. For once, good guys were doing good. And for the rest of the 2007 season, they were good guys. Despite the bullpen meltdowns and tough losses, you couldnâ€™t root against these guys. It wasnâ€™t right. Utley and Co. are great guys. Itâ€™s a fact. Being a Phillies fan today is amazing, because these guys are just fun, good guys. We have no LoDucas or A-Rods to root for. We got good guys.
And good guys do win. That day changed the season forever. The play was inspired. The words were truth. The actions were fierce. And the Phillies â€” the good guys â€” wouldnâ€™t be denied.
3. July 25: When no one thought it was possible â€¦
Youâ€™ve been there.
Itâ€™s the ninth inning, and your team is down to the very last out, hell, the very last strike. And only some miracle will get your team the tie. So you wish for some hit, maybe a home run, maybe something else â€” a triple, whatever. Maybe some play that happens once every three or four years. Anything.
This night, Jimmy Rollins made sure the miracle would come.
The MVP made so many amazing moments during the 2007 season. But you can argue this was his greatest.
Letâ€™s set it up. The Phillies were beating the Nationals 4-2. Cole Hamels had pitched seven strong innings, striking out six and giving his bullpen a chance to close it out. Ryan Madson held it. Antonio Alfonseca didnâ€™t. A double off makeshift closer El Pulpo, and another off lefty Mike Zagurski made it 5-4 Nationals. It happened that quickly. The final two outs of the ninth occurred quickly, but the fans were depressed. Personally, following the game on MLB Gameday Audio, I wanted to throw something into the computer screen. Why the hell did this always happen?
Chad Cordero entered the game for Washington, seemingly the easy choice to end the game and send everyone home upset. As was the norm. It started that way. Carlos Ruiz flied one lazily to right field. Pinch hitter Greg Dobbs grounded one to shortstop for out number two. Ho freakinâ€™ hum. Thanks a lot, Alfonseca.
Then, like so many times, Rollins came up with the game on the line.
After a few pitches, he saw one he could hit. He roped it into left field. It looked good, but became playable. Then, it happened.
No one could hang on.
The ball squibbed between the Washington outfielders and tracked to the fence. Rollins saw it all the way. He was at second. He decided to go for three.
The throw came to cut-off man Jose Batista. Rollins was reaching third when he looked out â€¦ and … Batista â€¦ couldnâ€™t â€¦ quite â€¦ hang â€¦ on!
Rollins, so aware, so freakinâ€™ aware, sped up again and took to home. Oh my God! Batistaâ€™s throw came in â€¦. SAFE! TIE GAME!
It happened. That play that never happens. That play every fan dreams of. It happened.
Thatâ€™s why Jimmy Rollins won the MVP award.
It almost seemed inevitable at that point. They had to win this game. But when? Tom Gordon closed out an inning. Clay Condrey did his job. In fact, he lasted three innings and did a yeomanâ€™s job in long relief. In the 12th inning, fans all thought the game would end, with Utley and Howard coming to the plate. No dice. But they would end it, we all knew that.
In the 14th inning, our wish came true. Utley drew a leadoff walk, bringing Howard to the plate.
It was a foregone conclusion.
Not only did Rollins make the impossible play, but Howard put the nail in the coffin. And on that bench, feet from Howardâ€™s game-winning blast, Rollins had this to tell the camera: â€œDatâ€™s how you win!â€
If youâ€™re the 2007 Phillies, that is how you win.
2. August 30: Beat the Mets! Step right up and beat the Mets!
Of all the Phillies/Mets contests in 2007, August 30 takes the cake. In fact, of all baseball games in 2007, August 30 may be the best of them all. Two heated rivals face off â€” a game the Phillies could take and consequently sweep the Mets out of Citizens Bank Park. It was unthinkable at the time.
I mean, with a series rotation of Adam Eaton/Jamie Moyer/Kyle Kendrick/Kyle Lohse, do you expect to sweep the Mets?! There was no way. In fact, I pondered if it was likely the Phils could take two in the set. But all four? Wow. It just shows how much passion this group of guys had.
Lohse started the game against Orlando Hernandez, and neither man could get out of the fourth inning. The Phils struck first, as Howard smashed a two-run dinger off El Duque. Then Burrell lined a shot toward the Phillie Phanaticâ€™s nose (homers are all he does against the Mets), before Rowand hit a solo shot of his own. Boom. 5-0 Phils.
That wouldnâ€™t last.
A troublesome fourth inning made it 5-3 Phils, and Lohse had been pulled for Geary. He was no better, giving up two runs to the Mets and tying the score at fives.
In the fifth, the pinstripes would answer. A Howard single and Werth walk set up back-to-back-to-back singles by Ruiz, Victorino and Rollins. Suddenly, the Phils were up 8-5 and seemingly in good position to win. But of course, the bullpen wasnâ€™t finished with its work.
In the eighth inning, with the Phils still holding the 8-5 lead, good olâ€™ Alfonseca came in to bridge the win to Gordon. Bad move. With two men on, Marlon Anderson struck a double, then Endy Chavez singled home two. 9-8 Mets. An RBI groundout by Carlos Delgado made it 10-8, and the Phils were practically cooked.
But if thereâ€™s one thing we learned about the Mets in 2007, itâ€™s that â€” okay, if there are two things we learned, itâ€™s that:
A: Billy Wagner shouldnâ€™t get two-inning save opportunities.
B: The Mets are chokers.
Willie Randolph tried to get Wagner the two-inning save, but with one out in the eighth, well, the Met killer made his mark yet again:
â€œDid he do it again … yes he did â€¦ outta here!â€
Burrellâ€™s perfect swing connected with the Wagner fastball, and it was 10-9. Okay. Here we go.
In the ninth, with the Phils still down one, the setup was priceless.
Werth led off with a single, and with one out, Iguchi pinch hit for Nunez. Werth, straddling off the bag at first, noticed something interesting: Wagner didnâ€™t give a crap about him. â€œAlright then,â€ Werth said, and he was off for second, getting in without care. Then he got up, saw Wagner wasnâ€™t looking at him again â€¦ so â€¦ off he went again. And he slid in safe! Man on third and one out!
Iguchi, of course, came through. Werth scored, and the Phils had tied it at 10. Unbelievable.
But the best was yet to come. With Rollins at the plate, Iguchi noticed the same thing Werth saw: Wagner still didnâ€™t care! Are you kidding?! So Iguchi went, and â€¦ he was in! That opened first, and Rollins was put on intentionally. Yeah, for Chase Utley. Great idea.
Utley worked Wagner with a classic at bat. After taking and fouling, Utley was able to work the count full. He waited for his pitch â€¦
Then, it came in, inner-half, down the pipe â€¦
â€œLine drive â€¦ hit to right field!â€
Iguchi got a bad start.
â€œThe throw to the plate â€¦â€
The ball bounces.
â€œPhils win 11 to 10!â€
Insanity at the Vault. Burrell jumps the pile. The Phils sweep the Mets, and do so with the most aggressive baseball seen in Philadelphia in years. Thereâ€™s no one hero; everyone does their part. Wagnerâ€™s the goat. How freakinâ€™ sweet it is.
I followed the entire game while at work. I cheered when the Phils grabbed the lead and went into my 4:00 news meeting with the Phils up 8-5. I came out and almost cried, seeing the Phils were now down 10-8. But in my office, as I tried to work, I followed. Play after play, I became more intrigued, more excited, until, finally, Utley delivered.
I ran outside. Called each and every one of my four brothers. And I screamed.
â€œI love this God damn team! I freakinâ€™ love these guys!â€
The intensity and passion displayed that day on the field may not be topped for a long time. It was the day the Phillies transcended anything else in Philadelphia and became THE team to watch. How could you not root for Werth stealing two bases in a row? Or Iguchi following suit? Or Rollins? Or Burrell pounding Wagner? Or Utley? These guys are absolutely worthy of our adulation, and this day showed it in spades.
1. September 30: Victory
September 29, for me, wasnâ€™t the day. I woke in my Connecticut apartment and drove to the train station to pick up my younger brother. We were going to see Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan that night. Before, however, there was a little Phillies game â€” the possible division clincher against the Nationals. But it wasnâ€™t happening â€” it just wasnâ€™t the day.
We arrived at a New London, Conn., bar a moment before the 3:30 p.m, start time, imploring the bartender to flip to the Phils game, though we were the only Phillies fans there. My brother, only 18, wasnâ€™t allowed to sit at the bar and watch, so we sat far away from the TV, watching the game like Shane Victorino watches Cole Hamels. It wasnâ€™t right It just wasnâ€™t the day.
But we watched, hoping the Phils would win and maybe the Mets would lose later that night. But Adam Eaton was on the hill, and his final opportunity of redemption was lost in the disruptive shadows of Citizens Bank Park. Once the Nats jumped on him, it was over. The shadows made it too difficult for the Phillies to pull it out. No home run would even spark a rally. It just wasnâ€™t the day.
The next morning, ears still ringing from a fantastic concert, my brother and I awoke to settle in for the Mets/Marlins game. This time we were inches in front of the TV, as I was able to watch the Mets broadcast on the CW. My laptop, which had given me audio after audio of every Phillies game that season, was at my side, ready to broadcast Game No. 162. A beer in my hand, some takeout pizza for lunch. My brother and I were ready. This was the day.
If there was any sliver of a doubt it wouldnâ€™t be the day, the Marlins made sure to erase it. After the Mets stoked a mini brawl with the Fish, anger settled in. The Marlins wanted to win. Tom Glavine stepped in for the Mets, and became just a hard victim of the Marlinsâ€™ will. Single after single, doubles and hit batsmen piled up, and after every big hit, the score climbed. Our emotions grew wilder and more emphatic with each new number on the run total.
Meanwhile, fans â€” buzzing because of the possibilities â€” settled into their seats at Citizens Bank Park. They watched Philliesâ€™ pitcher Jamie Moyer warm up, and then, it happened.
The scoreboard was lit and sparked an eruption of joy in every fan at the park. Could this be the day? Could this really be the day? Was that scoreboard lying? Is this true? Could this be the day?
Moyer extinguished one National, then another, then another, and just as quickly, the Phils were at bat. Jimmy Rollins, maybe one, two hits away from securing his MVP, stepped in and bounced one through the hole in right field. Then, he swiped second. Then, he took third. The crowd couldnâ€™t stop buzzing. Chase Utley, with one out, poked a fluttering fly into right field, and though it was caught on a line, Rollins was off. The throw didnâ€™t matter â€” Rollins wasnâ€™t going to be denied. 1-0 Phillies. Still 7-0 Marlins. And at that moment, the realization was already setting: The Phillies were going to win the division.
The game wasnâ€™t going to end with heroics. It wasnâ€™t going to extra innings. No, this game was a celebration â€” a celebration of bold moves (Myers to the bullpen), huge signings (JC Romero, Jayson Werth) and incredible singular seasons (Ryan Howard, Rollins). Most of all, it was a celebration of being a Phillies fan â€” living a life tortured and downtrodden, but grasping the sweet flower of ultimate victory, if only for one gloriously sunny day.
Moyer kept the Nationals at bay while the Marlins made sure the Mets werenâ€™t close to a comeback. While I chewed my nails in nervousness and questioned every moment I was at the train station, waiting for my brotherâ€™s train to Philadelphia, some fans at the park were reveling with Moyerâ€™s every out, counting the outs until the division was theirs. Some of us chose to spend this glorious day in different ways.
Back home, I tuned into the Mets game, seeing the game was out of reach for the New York nine. And my laptop told me the Phils were holding a 3-2 lead with JC Romero finishing off a Nationals attempted rally with a huge double play ball. With that one hurdle to clear, it seemed fair to say the day was ours.
Thatâ€™s when it happened. Chris Coste singled, and one out later, Rollins came back to the dish. He had already scored another run â€” sliding from third base to the dugout off a Howard bloop single. Now he was taking care of his business.
Back in January, Rollins uttered those potentially damning words: â€œOn paper, I think weâ€™re finally the team to beat.â€ What a stir it caused. But Rollins wouldnâ€™t back down. Even after a sloppy error in an April Shea game that made fans laugh and squeal. Even after injuries to Howard, Utley, Gordon, Myers, Lieber, Garcia, Hamels, Victorino, Bourn. Even after Eaton and Helms completely blew up. Even after the 10,000th loss, which couldâ€™ve defined the season as one of stupid minituae. Even after the bullpen blew almost every lead, big or small, it could grasp for most of the season. Even after all that, he was standing at the plate, a man on first, the Phillies with a one-run lead in the sixth inning of the seasonâ€™s last game, tied for first place in the division.
So he struck one.
It sailed into right field, and for a moment, the fans leaped for a potential home run. But no, he wasnâ€™t doing that. Not this season. Not with the rare 20-20-20-20 season at his fingertips. The ball bounced off the wall, came off the wall and bounced into Austin Kearnsâ€™ glove. Rollins was digging at second. Coste had scored. Who cares. Then, in one of lifeâ€™s great little moments, the production room switched to the centerfield camera, which had its lens on the dugout, particularly, Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand.
There really hadnâ€™t been a season where Burrell wasnâ€™t a marked man. The first pick in the 1996 draft was automatically given Ashburn-like status upon his arrival to Philadelphia. And a few 30 HR, .260, 98 RBI seasons later, the fans responded as if he was Steve Jeltz. Broken promises. Overhyped mush. A club kid. A mommaâ€™s boy. A thin-skinned bum. He swung too often, and when he didnâ€™t, he looked too long at the down-the-pipe fastball. What a crock.
They tried trading him in 2006, and in 2007 â€” they being the fans. Heâ€™ll go to Baltimore, right? Heâ€™ll go to Anaheim maybe, right? But he wasnâ€™t budging. Ed Wadeâ€™s no-trade clause on his Schmidt-like contract made him a 2-ton boulder. Sorry, Philadelphia, Patty boy wasnâ€™t moving away. No matter how much you hate that .260, no matter how much you canâ€™t stand that flailing orchestra swing, he wasnâ€™t moving away.
But the second half of 2007 was different â€” maybe because he left all his usual offensive output for that second half. After a dismal, Jeltz-like first half, he bashed the ball in July, August and September. Literally, he may have been the best player in Major League Baseball down the stretch. And with every big knock (many against the hated Mets), with every aching catch (despite his injury-plagued body), the fans responded. Like he was Ashburn. He fought threw the pain, found his stroke, and most of all, somehow, became a leader. He greeted his teammates with joy, raised his hat high and said all the right words. He even praised those who hated him, Phillies fans, and multiple times toward the end of the season. He respected them. He wanted to play hard for them.
So, when Rollins was gunning for third base, the camera, entrenched on Burrell and Rowand, captured Aaron hitting Pat on the shoulder and directing him to the speeding shortstop. Burrell glanced with shock, awe, excitement. â€œJimmy Rollins is gonna try for three!â€ And the once-hated Burrell was suddenly a child, a full-blown, ecstatic Phillies fan. He was like all of us.
The throw came in, but of course, it wasnâ€™t in time. Rollins slid in safely, raised his arms in adulation and with his dutiful jaw, peered to the sky for thanks. The crowd was electric. Rollins had done it. He had secured the MVP season, secured his promise, secured the division.
As if the celebration needed another big moment, Howard secured it with a bomb to right field. It was the capper, the final blow, the last laugh. The fans just screamed for its flight as the big man trotted home.
And in New York, the game was slowly dying. Mets fans cried, many left, and by the ninth, Shea Stadium was a ghost town. Some miles away in Philadelphia, Citizens Bank Park was an orgy of celebration. For the first time ever. Brett Myers came into the game to finish it off. And after Myers threw one pitch, the crowd blew the roof off again â€” the Mets game had ended. It was 6-2 Phillies. It was in the books. The game was over. The division was theirs.
Myers struck out the first batter. Then he engaged a fly ball to left for the second out. Then stepped Pena, the final small barrier between the Phillies and their first division title in 14 years. One strike. Two strikes. Ball. A small chuckle escaped, just to lighten the buzz for a small moment. Oh, donâ€™t tease us.
Then Myers was quickly ready, looked in, got his sign from Chris Coste and delivered:
â€œCurve ball, struck him out! Phillies are the 2007 National League Eastern Division champions!â€
Coste popped up and starts running happily to Myers. And Myers, the opening day starter, threw his arms up in the gayest of celebrations (literally and figuratively). Coste came closer, and closer, but then, out from nowhere, Burrell â€” of course â€” jumped onto Myers, starting the pile. And the biggest celebration in Philadelphia in years began.
And I was screaming like a girl, crying to my brother who was on the train back to Philadelphia. I had announced the final inning to him as it happened. Then I called my dad, cried to him and laughed, and cried and laughed. I wouldnâ€™t have had it any other way. And of course, the Phillies didnâ€™t beat the Rockies in the Division Series. Well, okay, thatâ€™s for this year. In 2007, however, the one thing that mattered most was this game, this moment, this unbelievable feeling.