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. 48.
THE DATE: Sept. 23, 2001
THE GAME: Phillies vs. Florida Marlins, Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, Pa.
THE STAKES: A shot at first place in late September
THE GREAT: It’s hard to believe or remember now, but in 2001, the Phillies were relevant. Hard to believe because on paper, they didn’t have a very good team, unless you want to go ahead and argue that Robert Person was a bona fide ace or that Brandon Duckworth was a legit star in the making. (Please don’t.) Hard to remember because of the 20 games I drove from Scranton to Philly to see that year, I was greeted almost every time by less than 25,000 (announced) of my closest friends at the Vet.
The 2001 Phillies were a hidden success, buried from the mainstream Philadelphia sports conscious until late June because of the Sixers magical run to the NBA Finals, then by an immediate and almost predictable 5-11 stretch that month that erased an eight-game lead by the end of the month. But it’s true: The Phillies were relevant into the last week of the 2001 season and had a chance to end the Braves’ stranglehold on the National League East.
It didn’t happen … but scoreboard watching in late September was a new thing for this Phillies core. And on Fan Appreciation Day in 2001, the Phillies had their most exciting ending in a game that season.
Back-to-back, two-out solo homers from Preston Wilson and notorious Phillie killer Mike Lowell in the eighth gave the Marlins a 4-3 lead that lasted to the bottom of the ninth. Marlins closer Antonio Alfonseca struck out Marlon Anderson and Pat Burrell without much resistance as about half of the 29,000 (announced) attendance had stuck around.
Travis Lee made sure the ones who stayed would remember it. He blasted a 3-1 Alfonseca offering for a home run, sending the game into extras and sending General Manager Ed Wade into some sort of shock. Even from my seat in the 200 level on the left field line, I remember looking up to the team box and seeing the normally subdued Wade going completely bonkers, doing his best Tiger Woods impersonation with a full-body fist-pump as he hung out of the window. I accidentally put my buddy Brian into a headlock in my delirium.
Then rookie catcher Johnny Estrada gave what would be his only highlight as a Phillie. He homered on an 0-2 mistake from Juan Acevedo in the 10th, nailing down a 5-4 win and keeping the Phils within a half-game of the Braves with two weeks left. They actually could have taken over first place, but up Interstate 95, Armando Benitez blew a three-run, ninth-inning lead for the Mets, and the Braves rallied to win.