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. 19.
THE DATE: June 8, 1989
THE GAME: Phillies vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
THE STAKES: It’s a 1989 Phillies game
THE GREAT: This had more to do a with a few fateful words spoken by an onlooker than it did with a forgettable Phillies roster scoring its biggest comeback in franchise history at a time when there was virtually no excitement at the Vet unless Buddy Ryan was involved. But on this night, the Pirates jumped out to a 10-0 first-inning lead, looking like it was in the bag for a team that one year later would break out to win three consecutive National League East titles on the backs of Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Doug Drabek and Jim Leyland.
As for the Phillies, they were just four years away from their magical run in 1993, and of the 18 Phillies that eventually played in this 1989 game, only three (John Kruk, Darren Daulton and Ricky Jordan) would be part of the National League champs.
The Phillies were so bad, the Pirates so promising, the lead so great, that it moved Bucco television color man Jim Rooker to say his fateful words on the air in the bottom of the first: “If we don’t win, I’ll walk back to Pittsburgh.”
Apparently, that was all Steve Jeltz needed to hear. He and Von Hayes both cracked two home runs in the game, and the Phillies rallied for a crazy 15-11 win.
In one of the most bizarre statistical anomalies in Phillies’ history, the two home runs Jeltz hit in that one game represented 40 percent of the home runs he would hit in his entire 727-game career. Not only that, but he became the first Phillies player to homer from both sides of the plate in a game.
Rooker didn’t walk home that night, but instead came up with a better idea as the all-in-fun taunts and jibes continued for the next few weeks. A year later, he walked 300 miles from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, collecting money for charity from the walk and fulfilling his throw-away promise while cursing Jeltz all the way home.