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. 36.
THE DATE: April 18, 1987
THE GAME: Phillies vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pa.
THE STAKES: Mike Schmidt is sitting on 499 home runs
THE GREAT: Like any childhood Phillies fan in the 1980s, Mike Schmidt was my favorite player. Every time I stepped up to the plate in my backyard or in Little League, I swiveled my hips like him. Whether I was playing in the church parking lot up my West Scranton block or fooling around in a Wiffle ball game in gym class, I needed to play third base, just like my idol.
I tried to convince my mother to let me take “Jack” as my Confirmation middle name, despite there being no Saint Jack. (I settled on John … at least we could share monogrammed towels.) But for every home run, every Gold Glove-caliber play snaring a scorcher down the line, I had to hear the same thing from my father: “He’s never had a clutch hit in his life.”
This wasn’t true. He knew it. I knew it. But in true Philly-fan style, my father stood convinced of his constant assertion that with runners on second and third, down one in the eighth inning, Schmidt would strike out with the bat sitting on his shoulders.
My father wasn’t the only one who thought that, especially as the greatest third baseman in baseball history advanced in years, getting supplanted by, of all people, Rich Schu at his designated infield spot.
That’s part of what made Schmidt’s 500th home run so special: it came in the clutch.
The Phillies took an early 5-0 lead over Pittsburgh on this day (thanks mostly to a three-run shot by Lance Parrish) and had a 5-2 lead in the eighth when lock-down closer Steve Bedrosian entered. Bedrosian would be unhittable in 1987, winning the Cy Young, but he wasn’t good on this day, giving up four runs to the Pirates’ young lineup (which included Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Andy Van Slyke) in the eighth.
So the Phillies were down 6-5 in the ninth. Don Robinson entered to close the game. He got one out, then Milt Thompson singled. Then two outs. Then a walk to Von Hayes, putting two on with two outs. And up stepped Schmidt, sitting on 499 and in a position to be truly clutch.
He took it to a 3-0 count. Then Schmidt’s patented long, powerful stroke connected with the offering from Don Robinson and sent Harry Kalas into one of his most famous flurries.
“Swing and a long drive … there it is! Number 500! The career 500th home run for Michael Jack Schmidt!”
Schmidt never rounded the bases so quickly, his final meaningful victory lap for the greatest Phillie who ever lived.
And like it or not, Schmidt-haters of the late ’80s … it came in the clutch.