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.
15. September 17: Story of the year
After a thrilling sweep of the Mets at Shea Stadium, the Phillies walked into Busch Stadium II hoping to ascend to the top of the NL East. The offense was ready to rock. Kyle Kendrick brought his A-game.
Problem was: The bullpen brought its F-game.
Ryan Howard homered to start the offensive onslaught. Then a five-run fourth, capped off by a three-run Jimmy Rollins homer, put the Phils up 6-0. Then, with a 7-0 lead in the sixth, Howard strode to the plate with the bases juiced. In true Howard fashion, he unjuiced the bases, and the grand slam made it 11-0.
Kendrick would go out in the sixth and give up his signature three runs in the frame, including a Ryan Ludwick homer. But that was expected â€” Kendrickâ€™s nickname is â€œ3 in 6.â€
After the Phils tacked on a sac-fly run to make it 12-3 (which was incredibly important in retrospect), Charlie Manuel brought in mop-up guy Clay Condrey to finish off the game. Good move â€” this is why they pay Condrey.
Uh oh. Single. Error. Single (by Russell Branyan). Single. Two score. Single.
No outs. 12-5. No need to worry too much â€” it is a seven-run lead. Now, Manuel canâ€™t use any of his big-game relievers (Myers, Gordon, Romero) because theyâ€™ve been overworked in New York. So, in hopes of patching the game up, Manuel brings in the next bad reliever to mop it up â€” Jose Mesa.
Uh oh. Double by Pujols. Two score. Grounder. One scores. Line out. One scores. All the while, Phans are biting their nails, cursing their televisions, computers and radios, grieving, grieving, grieving. Sure, the Phils had a three-run lead still, at 12-9, but letâ€™s look back:
September 5: Phillies carrying an 8-2 lead in the eighth, when Manuel brings in Tom Gordon. You know, every game is important in September. Run after run. Brett Myers comes in. Then in the ninth, down two, with the bases loaded, Matt Diaz strikes a long fly to the outfield. Uh oh. 8-7. 8-8. 8-9. Game over.
In Saint Louis, up 12-9, Manuel goes another step up, bringing in Antonio Alfonseca for the eighth.
Uh oh. One out. Single. Walk.
Next up: Kane Davis.
Uh oh. Two outs. Passed ball. One scores. Single. One scores. Walk. In steps Ludwick; luckily, he flies out, but on a long shot. 12-11. And still one inning to play.
Good for the Phils, Aaron Rowand leads off the ninth with a homer. Insurance. Yeah, in this game. In the bottom half, Manuel brings in Fabio Castro, who strikes out Rick Ankiel. Then itâ€™s Francisco Rosario time. Walk. Single. Uh oh. No â€” a pop to first base and a strikeout by Branyan ends the madness. Phils win. Breathe. Phils win. Breathe.
14. June 28: Jimmy thing
In the MVP season that was for Rollins, there were many precious moments that defined his efforts. Maybe the most overlooked came in a game where he took over, snatching a win from the Reds and supplanting himself as team leader.
It began early. Rollins lead off the game with a single, which paid off with a Chase Utley home run. But as with all Adam Eaton starts, the offense would have to do more than necessary to win. Despite the 2-0 lead, Eaton would get it to 4-2 Reds.
No worries. Letâ€™s do it again. This time, Rollins lead off the third with a double. And, since Matt Belisle didnâ€™t learn the first time, Utley killed the ball into centerfield for the second consecutive time, tying the game.
But here comes Eaton again. A Scott Hatterberg single made it 5-4 Reds. The Phils had to respond again, and did so with a two-run Greg Dobbs double. 6-5 Phillies.
Eaton would, of course, see the game tied at 6. And Ryan Madson wouldnâ€™t let it stay that way, giving up a Alex Gonzalez home run to make it 7-6.
Time for Jimmy to do his work yet again.
With two outs in the eighth, a shocking development: Base hit, Abraham Nunez. Rollins came to the plate, and with the first pitch, connected on a liner to right field. Nunez would score. Rollins would truck it into third. Tie game.
Alfonseca and Condrey would give some normalcy to the bullpen, keeping the game tied at 6 and giving Rollins his chance to win it. In the tenth, after a Rod Barajas walk and (surprise) Nunez single, Rollins came up again with a runner (now Jayson Werth) on second.
â€œLine drive, base hit centerfield! Here comes Werth! The throw to the plate â€¦ heâ€™s safe! Phils win!â€
Rollins: 4/6, 2 R, 2 RBI â€” and not a bad moment in the bunch.
13. September 16: Dobbs helps clean the mucky Shea Stadium floors
After taking the first two games of a crucial mid-September set in Shea, the Phillies were on the brink of totally confusing the Mets into a void. The Mets suddenly couldnâ€™t beat the Phillies at anything â€” if this were â€œThe Seventh Seal,â€ the chess game would be long finished. So on a Sunday afternoon at the semi-circle, the Mets tried and tried, but didnâ€™t expect Mr. Dobbs would put â€˜em to bed.
The Phils took an early lead off the Evil Half of Oliver Perez, taking advantage of errors and plenty of walks. The Mets would chip away at a growing lead, until finally taking the bull by the horns by the body of Mr. Carlos Beltran. The All Star pounded a three-run shot to right-center, tying the game at 5.
Guillermo Mota entered the game for the Mets in the sixth, and immediately continued the Mets baffooning. Pat Burrell walked. Howard reached on a terrible throwing error to strike a double play. Rowand walked. New pitcher â€” Jorge Sosa. (Just remember, for our Mesa and Alfonseca, they had Mota and Sosa.) Jayson Werth walked. Wes Helms â€” no, Manuel made the move to bring in pinch hitter Greg Dobbs. Cue the drumroll.
Dobbs reaches out and lines one to far right field. It tails. Tails. Will it get over the Konika sign? â€¦ Yes! The Mets fans, at once, are confused, then deflated. Grand slam. 10-5 Phillies. Thatâ€™s it. The air is out. There will be no comeback.
David Wright would add a home run, bringing some joy to Mudville. But the New York Nine wouldnâ€™t take this one. Instead, the Phils were one more game closer, on the verge of taking the division for good.
12. September 15: Misjudgment leads to elation
No game was thoroughly as entertaining in the mid-September Phillies/Mets series than the Saturday afternoon Fox tilt. Great pitching, timely hitting, good defense and big late plays lead to one of the most exciting games of the year.
The game was billed as the third start of the season for Pedro Martinez, who returned to the Mets after a long season of injuries and rehabilitation. What a start for Pedro, who after giving up an early run via a Rowand single, blew his fastball and sinker by unsuspecting Phillies, piling up nine strikeouts. Philsâ€™ starter Kyle Lohse hung in, somehow getting out of a bases loaded/no out jam with just one run on a hit batsman.
The Mets took a lead off Lohse, however, setting up a memorable comeback. Down 3-1, Tadahito Iguchi pinch hit with a double. A horrible error by first baseman Shawn Green brough Iguchi home, 3-2 Mets.
Pedro Feliciano entered the game in the eighth, and Rowand welcomed him with a shot to left field. Boom. Tie game.
Sosa entered the game from here, and with two outs and a runner on second, Manuel brought in pinch hitter extraordinare Pete LaForest. And in his biggest at bat of the season, LaForest drew a walk, letting Rollins stride to the plate. At this point, after the season heâ€™d have, it wasnâ€™t a question of if heâ€™d get the run home, but how. Would he homer? Triple? Simple base hit?
Rollins took the second pitch and drove one to center field. It had some distance. Not enough. But Beltran didnâ€™t know how much. He came in a step, two steps â€¦ then noticed it wasnâ€™t in his line. Back â€¦ back â€¦ over his head! One run scores! Two runs score! Rollins is in at third easily! 5-3 Phils!
â€œMVP!â€ chants are wild throughout Shea Stadium, and now the Phils can count the outs to a huge win. JC Romero retired the side in the eighth, leading to a Myers save opportunity.
It wasnâ€™t easy. Jose Reyes walked. Then stole second. Then Luis Castillo singled on an impossible grounder to Rollins. With one out, it was up to Wright, the Mets MVP. This was his chance. His chance to solidify his case. But Myers had a different plan.
â€œStruck â€˜em out!â€
Beltran was next, and couldnâ€™t redeem himself from his early miscue, lining the final out to Werth to end the game. Karma, how devilish.
11. May 16: King Cole â€¦ almost â€¦ has his day
For Cole Hamels, 2007 was not only a breakout year, but the year he became one of the National Leagueâ€™s premiere pitchers â€” suddenly, Hamels is on the same level as Peavy and Webb. If he wasnâ€™t hurt and didnâ€™t miss a few starts late, he may have made a heck of a case for Cy Young.
As it stood, May 16 was the kind of start that demostrated the power of King Cole.
The hot-bat Brewers were in town, and on a clear Wednesday night, Hamels had the cure for the big boppers. He started right away, striking out the side in the first. Then he struck out Bill Hall to lead the second. Already he had a 2-0 lead. In the third, another two strikeouts. 5-0 Phillies. The Brewers line read 0-0-1.
The lineup turn had no effect. Retired the side in the fourth. Retired the side in the fifth. Retired the side in the sixth. Hamelsâ€™ power was so strong, Nunez even got in on it, singling home a run to make it 6-0. After six: 0-0-2.
In the seventh, Weeks led off for the third time. This time â€” maybe Hamels was feeling the pressure â€” a walk. No big deal. No hitter still intact. Then came JJ Hardy. Line drive â€¦ gone. No hitter gone. Shutout gone. Hamels angry. 6-2 Phillies.
After giving up a fly ball for an out, Hamels settled in and took out his anger the only way he knew how, striking out Hall and Kevin Mench. Hamels would go eight, finishing with eleven strikeouts and earning a huge standing ovation. For six innings, Hamels took the fans on a magic ride, hoping to show fans exactly what they knew all along â€” that Cole could throw a perfect game.
He will one day.