Until March 27, we’ll be counting down the 50 greatest Phillies games of the last 50 years. This is 50 of 50.
And this is No. 26.
THE DATE: Oct. 12, 2009
THE GAME: Phillies vs. Colorado Rockies, Coors Field, Denver, Colorado
THE STAKES: Game 4, National League Division Series
THE GREAT: It’s hard to predict what Ryan Howard’s lasting legacy will be among Phillies fans.
For most of the five-year, $125 million contract extension he signed in 2010, Howard was how Phillies fans learned the meaning of the word “albatross” — his health faded, the strikeouts piled up and the contract became more and more of a burden.
Before the years of being accused of bringing the team down, though, he was a player who could almost single-handedly keep it afloat. There is no better example of this fact than Game 4 of the 2009 Division Series, in which the Phillies hoped to squash the Rockies as retribution for the disappointing 2007 NLDS.
The Phillies jumped to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning, adding another run in the sixth. Despite loading the bases in the eighth, they couldn’t push a run across to add some breathing room or put the Rockies away. No lead is comfortable at Coors Field and, in the bottom of that inning, Colorado capitalized on a walk and throwing error to put two men on. Jason Giambi singled in the tying run, but the real damage came off the bat of Yorvit Torrealba, whose double plated two more runs and gave the Rockies a 4-2 lead.
Things looked grim heading into the ninth inning, but the Phillies had some boppers coming to the plate. Due up were Greg Dobbs, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, only one of whom would have to reach to bring the tying run to the dish — which, in the thin air of Colorado, is all it takes to keep a game alive. Utley and Howard would follow them, if necessary, and already fans were doing the math: can we get Howard to the plate?
Dobbs led off by striking out, and the math became more complicated. Rollins singled but was forced out at second on a grounder off the bat of Victorino. Even after Victorino swiped second base, things were getting tight for the Phillies, who were an out away from taking the loss and sending the series to Game 5.
Utley worked a six-pitch walk to keep the inning going and, crucially, to put Howard in the batter’s box. His success that season – his fourth consecutive season with 40 or more home runs – was such that fans knew getting him to the plate was all it would take to give the team a chance to win.
They got him to the plate.
With the game on his shoulders, Howard shot a one-hopper off the right field wall to score Victorino and Utley. The game was knotted up at four, but only until Jayson Werth served a single to shallow center that scored Howard. That gave them the lead and ultimately the game and the series.
After the game, reports confirmed that Howard was as eager to shoulder the load as fans were to give it to him. Reportedly, he approached his teammates in the dugout at the start of the ninth inning, commanding, “Get me to the plate, boys.” They got him to the plate, and he got them to their second National League Championship series in as many years.