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. 42.
THE DATE: Sept. 11, 2004
THE GAME: Phillies vs. New York Mets, Shea Stadium, Queens, N.Y.
THE STAKES: Another meaningless September game … or was it?
THE GREAT: Visiting New York City always gets your heart pounding. But on Sept. 11, just three years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center? It was scary. Somber. Sobering. I had flown out of LaGuardia on Sept. 11 the year before, and really, there hadn’t been much change in the feel of the city on the next Sept. 11 anniversary. Who knows if there ever will be? I’ve been to 20 or so Phillies games at Shea (still none at Citi Field for some reason), and I’d never seen people looking over their shoulder walking into a game until this one.
But a random Saturday at the ballpark beats most other days, no matter when and where it’s being played. And when you can see history, even better. The Phillies were still reeling from an infamous 1-9 mid-August homestand that essentially crushed their season, but then a funny thing happened: Baseball.
No less than four wild, historic things happened in the five-hour, 15-minute, 13-inning marathon that featured 483 pitches and five Phillies home runs:
1. Billy Wagner had a meltdown for the ages after he blew a ninth-inning save and was ejected for throwing in the direction of Cliff Floyd. He threw a petulant temper tantrum at home plate ump Dana DeMuth that included the Powerade cooler and his hat, of all things, being thrown into the on-deck circle toward DeMuth.
2. The Phillies tied a National League record by using 10 pitchers in the game, and the two teams combined to use 18 pitchers, tying a major league record. This was a game not for the faint of heart. By the end of the game, managerial trips to the mound for either team were being met with boos. I may or may not have been starting them. When the baseball powers that be talk about speeding up games, and the traditionalists scream, “Heresy!” pop in a tape of this game and see if those traditionalists don’t start coming around to things such as limited mound trips and set times between pitches.
3. Off the top of my head, I can’t tell you two times David Bell was a hero in his three-and-a-half years in Philadelphia. But I can tell you one – this game. Bell was 4-for-7 and had a go-ahead single in the ninth that Wagner later blew, and then came back again in the 13th with a two-out, two-run home run to give the Phillies the lead that, this time, they wouldn’t give up. That pretty much sums up Bell’s time in Philadelphia: Completely forgettable until someone tells you about some instance and then you scratch your head for a second and think, “Ooooohhhhhh right, right, right.”
4. But the most important thing from a historical perspective that happened in this game came in the form of a seventh-inning pinch hitter, a September callup who so far had amassed all of nine at bats. His two-run home run, a no-doubter to straightaway center, was his first major league homer, getting the Phils to within 6-5. I vividly remember watching that pinch-hitter round the bases and telling my girlfriend at the time, “You’re going to tell your grand kids you were at the stadium for his first home run.”
That pinch hitter? Ryan Howard. Maybe she won’t be telling her grand kids she was there, but six years later, it looked like he was on that track until the wheels fell off.