Come up with all of the adjectives you’d like for Game 4 of the NLCS, because they all fit here. Yesterday, yet another chapter was etched into the Phillies annals, this time by a scuffling star.
Cliff Lee made his mark on this series, and Ryan Howard is doing his best Lou Gehrig impersonation, so Jimmy Rollins did not want to be left out. And all you can say is wow.
On a personal level, I was fortunate enough to attend last night’s game by a stroke of luck. Here’s how the story goes:
Around 4 p.m. on Monday, I receievd a call from a friend saying his father could not go, so a seat opened up. Reluctant at first – don’t ask me why – I said sure, why not, thinking better of it. Turned out to be a great call. I’d been to at least a dozen games this year in some capacity, so why stop now?
After taking the Broad Street Line down to Pattison Avenue, we ventured through the sea of humanity, through the block party preceding the third base gate, and into a packed house. Before entering, we stopped and took it all in, and encountered nothing but the highest spirits from Phillies fans.
Once inside, we grabbed a Yards beer and headed to our seats. Section 330, not a bad view. This was turning out to be a hell of a night so far. Although the biting chill in the air was evident, just being there gave me a warm feeling – at first anyway.
Fast-forward to the first inning, with rally towels in full motion, Ryan Howard opened things up with a line drive shot into the right field seats. Nothing could go wrong on this October evening. Joe Blanton decided to shut the Dodgers down for three straight innings, providing the energy that kept Citizens Bank Park brightly lit.
Then came trouble, and you could cut the tension with a knife, excuse the lame adage. Blanton gave up two runs in the fourth, one in the fifth, and one more in the sixth inning to put the Dodgers on top. The boo birds didn’t show up, but it was more shock and fear that this was slipping away. The negativity wasn’t as prevalent as I’ve witnessed in years past, but at that point, the crowd had all of that previously stored energy sucked out of them.
Almost instantly, it became colder in there. It felt 20 degrees cooler and I felt frostbitten, and unsure of what was next to come. We scurried for some hot chocolate and got back to the seats before missing a pitch. I didn’t miss one pitch the entire evening.
With the score at 4-2 L.A, time was clearly running out. Shane Victorino quickly got the ball rolling in the Phillies favor in the bottom of the sixth inning. He tripled into the left field corner, only the second triple to left field in that ballpark all season, by the way, and with it the crowd was back. Everyone had a feeling of, “can we do this again,” although there was still a great deal of complacency floating around. Victorino then scored to make it 4-3, but the Phillies would strand a runner in scoring position. The roller coaster continued.
Chan Ho Park came in and locked it down in the seventh. The bullpen looked great on this night, and everyone in my section was bustling about it. Then in the eighth, with the Phillies at bat, George Sherill came in. I’ll admit, he had me worried, just by being such a tough lefty. The rally in that inning came short as well. Once again, more air sucked out of the stadium. That’s when it happened.
No, not the craziest ending I’ve ever witnessed with my own two eyes. Before that, people started leaving! A woman and her two kids in front of me bickered during the bottom of the eighth about staying. She wanted to leave, citing the cold as her out, and the kids clearly wanted to stay. The elder boy said, and I quote, “you can’t leave a one-run game in the ninth inning in the playoffs!” The mother said something along the lines of “too bad”, and off they went, never to observe the spectacular finish. Basically the whole row to my left had up and gone by the time the Phillies got to bat.
For the most part, however, the stadium stayed filled, save those few who could no longer brave the frost. And they made the right choice.
Jon Broxton came on and Phillies fans ooh’ed and aah’ed his every 100 m.p.h. fastball as it popped up on the screen. Dude even threw a 93 m.p.h. slider to Jayson Werth, who somehow fouled it off. I turned to my friend on my right and just shook my head. Uh-oh, I thought. But I thought wrong.
Raul Ibanez started off the ninth with a ground out, and it felt like a gut punch. Then, Matt Stairs was announced and there became this quick jolt of optimism. Stairs owns Broxton after his mammoth blast last season, so why not again? They pitched around Stairs; I’ve never seen pitchers so afraid of a guy who hit below .200 on the season, but he continues to get respect from everyone, it’s amazing. Carlos Ruiz was then hit by a pitch, and for an instant fans were pissed, but then quickly realized, we’ve got a shot here.
Greg Dobbs came on to pinch hit and nearly flared one into left field, but it died and Casey Blake snared it for out number two. I stood hunched over, looking for warmth, but at the same time wondering if Young James could stand tall and figure something out. To that point, he looked God awful in the series, except for the leadoff single. I figured a pop up or a roll-over ground out to second base. My head kept telling me it was too good to be true, but my heart was saying, these are the Phillies, and anything is possible. I turned to my friend and said, “I have zero faith in J-Roll right now.” My apologies.
J-Roll blasted that middle-in fastball into the gap, and all hell broke loose. I swear you could feel the foundation swaying as 40,000-plus jumped, hugged, and screamed in unison. Being a Phillies fan since childhood, there haven’t been many special feelings overall. I recall going to Game 5 of the 1993 World Series when Curt Schilling pitched a complete game shutout, but I don’t remember it being as loud as it was last night.
As J-Roll was mobbed by his teammates, I thought of how Harry would have called that final play. When I got to the car, I flipped on the radio just in time to hear Scott Franzke’s emotion-filled ending, and it sent chills to every part of my body. He captured the moment brilliantly, and HK would have been proud.
My friends will tell you I’m as even keeled as it gets. I’m not one to show much emotion, and especially with the Phillies. As someone who writes about the team daily, I try to keep my fandom from skewing my viewpoints. However, as Carlos Ruiz rounded third base, I felt that I was outside of myself for a few moments. It’s not often that a baseball team can have that effect, but the Phillies have some sort of gravitation pull to them. They take a hold of you and won’t let go until the very last out.
On Monday night, they did just that. As the Phillies Phaitful capped that amazing night by singing “High Hopes”, I knew that we once again witnessed something special.