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.
10. August 28: Yet another ‘mazinâ€™ Mets game
Letâ€™s cut the intro: The Mets and Phillies played, and something big happened.
This contest, second of the ginormous four-game set in Philly that closed August, progressed like a regular, quick National League game. The stripes had Adam Eaton out there, and it was actually one of Eatonâ€™s more inspired starts. He went 5.2 IP and only gave up two runs â€” a Carlos Delgado homer in the second inning.
On this night, however, Tom Glavine brought his good pitching cap. He kept down the Phils in seven innnings, despite giving up eight hits. It was the usual: The Phils couldnâ€™t get the runner home. Phils fans were slumping in their seats, dreading the usual close loss due to incompetence.
Then, something happened. Willie Randolph gave Pedro Feliciano â€” who had a lower ERA than any Phillie pitcher not named J.C. â€” the ball in the eighth. And who else but the MVP to welcome him to the game:
â€œLong drive, left field, this ball is â€¦ outta here! Home run, Jimmy Rollins and it cuts the lead in half, 2-1!â€
Half the work was done. A Pat Burrell walk put Shane Victorino â€” during his bench stint â€” on as a pinch runner. With Aaron Rowand at the plate, Victorino stole second, then, on an errant throw into centerfield, the speedster took third. Two outs. Rowand ready.
The pitch â€¦
The broken hit was so well placed that it ran up the third base line, at first as a surefire foul. Victorino, moving at the pitch, was almost at home by the time David Wright and Paul LoDuca cornered the ball, which spun back inside the foul line and away from becoming a non-play. Rowand was at first. Vic had scored. The game was tied. Adulation.
Brett Myers came into the game in the ninth, and promptly disposed of the Mets. He did it again in the tenth, something Billy Wagner couldnâ€™t do just two days later. The bottom of the tenth came, and Victorino led it off with a single. Up stepped Ryan Howard, who didnâ€™t need a single to lead him. One swing later, and itâ€™s a wrap.
The Phils won 4-2 on Howardâ€™s 35th. And yet again, disgust, confusion and anger for the Mets. How sweet it is.
9. August 14: Russell Branyan. Yes, Russell Branyan.
On August 9, the Phillies trolled the waiver wires and grabbed Russell Branyan. It was an intriguing â€” if odd â€” pickup, because the Phils didnâ€™t necessarily need another infield bat. Literally, it seemed Branyanâ€™s only reason to be on the team was to hit a home run in a key spot.
So when Charlie Manuel signaled him to the on deck circle for his first Phillie at bat, Branyan did what was asked of him.
Before this, the Phils and Nationals were involved in a tight, scoreless game. Kyle Lohse was pitching good enough for the Phils, while Shawn Hill had the Phils looking weak, striking out seven in his six innings. For some reason, however, Hill was taken out, and as the Phillies usually did, they would go after the bullpen with moxie.
The Nats struck first, though, and a Tony Batista double off Lohse was the big mistake, making it 2-0 Nationals.
The Washington bullpen proved good against the Phils bats until there was one out in the eighth. Jayson Werth grounded one to third, but Ryan Zimmerman couldnâ€™t make a good throw, committing the error and putting Werth on second. Up stepped Carlos Ruiz, who deposited an RBI single to single.
Antonio Alfonseca was up next, but he wasnâ€™t hitting. Instead, Manuel went for Branyan.
After taking a pitch, Branyan saw one come into his wheelhouse. Then, the mighty Branyan struck a tremendous blow that sailed into the D.C. sky. It wasnâ€™t a question of if, but where. Landing at the upper deck, the blast brought home two and gave the Phils the lead. It was Branyanâ€™s first Phillie at bat, and he did well. Very well.
Tom Gordon finished the Nats off in the eighth, and Myers struck out the side to close the game. A nice job by the bullpen, but the true hero was Branyan, Mr. Three True Outcomes.
His final line as a Phillie: 9 AB / 2 HR / 6 K / 0 BB. Okay, Two True Outcomes. But what an Outcome this was.
8. June 7: Met killer strikes again
As if there werenâ€™t enough Mets games on the list, here comes Burrell with another memory.
This June 7 contest was billed as a battle between two young hurlers. Cole Hamels was 8-2, while Maine was 6-3. Both pitchers were having fine years as new staff aces. Hamels was asked to finish off a sweep for his club; Maine had the task of staving off a hungry Phillies team and keeping the Mets strongly in front of the NL East.
It started off as hoped, with Hamels and Maine pitching well for the first five innings. Rollins provided the first big lift with an RBI single, scoring Abraham Nunez. In the sixth, the Phils struck again, with Howard singling home Victorino.
Then Hamels entered the Twilight Zone.
The first pitch he threw to Delgado in the sixth went over the right field fence. Then Wright came to the plate and gave Hamels a strong at bat, before knocking a blast into left-centerfield. Tied. Maybe it was youth, maybe it was anger, but Hamels wasnâ€™t calm yet. His very next pitch â€” to Paul LoDuca â€” left the yard as well. 3-2 Mets. In a matter of five minutes, the lead was gone.
Maine and Hamels would go seven each, and with Feliciano and Wagner in the wings, the Mets need not worry at the time. And yes, Feliciano did his job until walking Utley. Seeing enough, Willie Randolph went to his closer, who despite walking Howard, finished off the Phils with a strikeout of Rowand.
But the two-inning save is never kind to Mr. Wagner.
In the ninth, Wagner set up against Burrell. You know what happened next.
The fans became restless as the Phils grabbed a hold of the game. The Mets became a shell, bringing in Julio Franco, David Newhan and Scott Schoenweis to try and stave off a loss. But it was inevitable. In the tenth, Rollins singled, then was moved to second by Victorino. Up stepped Utley, and Captain Clutch delivered. Double. 4-3 Phils.
It wasnâ€™t over. After a Howard walk, Rowand came up. Single. 5-3. Then, for just desserts, Burrell. Double. 6-3.
Makeshift closer Alfonseca came in to finish off the Mets, and despite a Delgado double, they were cooked. Like most other games in 2007, a Met loss was already in the cards.
7. June 3: Hula on, my wayward son
Not often does a young player step into the spotlight at such an early point in his career. Sometimes itâ€™s a collection of smaller moments that propels a player into the next level. But for Shane Victorino, you can trace his ascent to stardom to one fine moment: Hula day.
The promotion was simple, if kitschy: A traditional bobblehead doll for the â€œFlyinâ€™ Hawaiian,â€ but this time, thereâ€™s a hula skirt around his waist. Who cared if the doll looked nothing like Vic, it was a cool little toy. â€œDaily News Liveâ€ showed off the doll the day before the giveaway. It was cute. Thatâ€™s it: Cute.
Giveaway day wasnâ€™t cute. Overcast and just a little cool, Citizens Bank Park hosted the Giants for an early-June tilt. The Phils threw Freddy Garcia at the Giants, and they threw their bats right back at him. Randy Winn led off with a homer and Bengie Molina would add one two innings later for a 2-0 lead.
Giant youngster Tim Lincecum took the mound, and the Phils blew the kid out of the water once they got their feet wet. Utley led off the fourth with a homer, and with Burrell on base, Rowand brought him home with a knock of his own. Suddenly, a 3-2 lead, but that wouldnâ€™t last. Not with Garcia on the hill.
After a clutch single by Fred â€œThe Sealâ€ Lewis and a poor error by Burrell, the Giants tied the game. Then Ryan Klesko tapped into 1996 and brought home two with a single of his own. Garcia would somehow last for another inning, but would get pulled in the middle of that, after giving up two hits. Young Mike Zagurski wouldnâ€™t help the cause, giving up an RBI single and another run on a wild pitch. Down 7-3, it wasnâ€™t looking like the Philsâ€™ day.
Then in the seventh, the tide turned. Still in the game, Lincecum surrendered three straight hits, the last a two-run double by Wes Helms. After two quick outs, new pitcher Jack Taschner was brought in to face the lefties Utley and Howard. Bad move. Walk to Utley. Then Howard â€¦ and a humongous bomb into the backdrop to give the Phils an 8-7 lead.
The lead looked safe â€¦ until â€¦ Ryan Madson came in for the save. Two walks later, and it was Alfonsecaâ€™s turn. But Kevin Fransden would erase any hopes there, singling home The Seal for the tie. The fans booed, of course, just wanting some sort of closure.
Kevin Correia, in his second inning of work, brought down Rollins with a strikeout. Then came Victorino. Maybe the fans were holding up the doll. Maybe there was voodoo at work. Who knew. Whatever it was, it worked. Vic lined the second pitch he saw into left field, and as quickly as you can shake your hips, the ball was over the fence and gone, bringing the crowd to elation and ending the game for the Phils.
Vic was greeted thoroughly at the plate, and his face got the pie treatment later. But it was the hula doll, that little shaking piece of plastic, that brought joy in Mudville that day. And it cemented the star of the Flyinâ€™ Hawaiian.
6. Septmber 28: The King has his day
Cole Hamels â€” welcome to primetime.
In his final start of the season, Hamels faced off against the Washington Nationals. Over in New York, Maine was setting against the Florida Marlins. Forget Maine. The night belonged to Hamels.
He got in a spot of early trouble, but extinguished the Nats quickly. From then, it was all smooth sailing. The cool, calm, collective, cocky son-bitch 23-year-old wunderkind mowed down the Washington nine with his nasty changeup/fastball combination, working in the curveball like we all hoped he would.
The Phils provided enough offense, but the night was Coleâ€™s. The King racked up Ks later in the game, in a Schilling-like performance where he got better as the game progressed. He struck out the side in the sixth, two in the seventh, then the second out in the eighth.
The moment: With nobody on, two out and two strikes on Ryan Zimmerman, Hamels zoned in on the young third baseman. He came up, lifted, hid that face for a moment, then ripped off a gorgeous changeup that slid into Ruizâ€™s mitt without a problem. Zimmerman went at it, missed it, the umpire brought up his arm and Zimmerman walked away. Hamels came off the mound, calm, cool, collective, cocky. The crowd was anything but.
Hamels came to the dugout with an 8-0 lead, and would give up the glove to Condrey, whoâ€™d finish the deed.
At the end of the show, the Phillies were a game above the Mets, as Maine couldnâ€™t shut down the Fish the same way. And Hamels, the son-bitch, was glad he put together his finest performance. No almost-no hitter, no complete game would come close to this â€” putting your team on the brink of the playoffs â€¦ giving your team a magic freakinâ€™ number.