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. 18.
THE DATE: Oct. 11, 1993
THE GAME: Phillies vs. Atlanta Braves, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia
THE STAKES: Game 5, National League Championship Series
THE GREAT: The 1993 Phillies were cartoon characters, sketched from some wild artist’s mind. They had popping muscles, bushy beards and mad, bloodshot eyes. Maybe the reasons were questionable habits, a contempt of self-care and rough hangovers, but for this 9-year-old it didn’t matter. These guys were larger than life, complete with distinct personalities and their own superhero nicknames.
There was “Dutch,” the leader with the well defined forearms, sparkling smile and brute strength. There was “Head,” the kooky third baseman who out of nowhere slammed powerful home runs. “Inky” and “Eisey” were there, as were “Jake” and, of course, “Wild Thing.”
But ask most prepubescent kids in 1993 who was their favorite player, and there was only one answer. At 5’10” he stood shorter than the other guys. He ran fast, squinted all the damn time, and never ever gave a crap about what stood in his way. And his nickname was the best. “Nails.”
All the kids loved Lenny Dykstra.
And in 1993, for one magical season, he was healthy the whole way through. He played 161 games, hitting .305 (though it seemed as if he hit .500) with a career-high 19 home runs. But that wasn’t all. He led the league in at bats (637) and somehow also led the league in walks (129). He stole 37 bases. He smashed 44 doubles and six triples. If you could clone the perfect leadoff hitter, he would arguably be 1993 Lenny Dykstra.
So we loved him. We copied his batting stance. We jammed bubblegum in our mouths (most of us had no idea what the dude was doing). And on the field we ran like him, laid out like him, slid like him and attempted to hit like him.
Well, we couldn’t hit like him. Not 1993 Lenny Dykstra, who probably peaked in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series.
He really never should’ve been given the shot. Curt Schilling cruised against the Braves, striking out nine in his first eight innings. In the top of the ninth, just for kicks, Darren Daulton homered to increase the Phils’ lead to 3-0. It seemed out of reach. It was out of reach.
Schilling walked Jeff Blauser in the ninth, then Kim Batiste – the defensive replacement who made more crucial errors than any player in Phillies history – committed an error to put two on and nobody out. That brought Mitch Williams into the game for the save. And we know how that went.
(It is funny, by the way, how many times Williams blew a Schilling start. They didn’t like each other, fighting about the late-game collapses well into the 1993-94 offseason. And with the passage of time, I can actually understand if Williams purposely blew one of Schill’s games. I mean, seriously, Williams didn’t do that and never would’ve done that. But then again, I get it. I’m just saying, I get it.)
Fred McGriff, David Justice, Terry Pendleton and Francisco Cabrera made sure the Braves tied the game. Then Williams got the final two outs. Of course he did.
(Again, I’m just saying, I get it.)
That brought the Phils up in the 10th. And with one out, up stepped Dykstra. He took Mark Wohlers to a full count, then unloaded on a low fastball.
Deep to centerfield it flew, landing beyond the wall and giving the Phillies a 4-3 lead.
Larry Andersen would slam the door on the Braves in the 10th, moving the Phils one game from the league pennant.
And thousands upon thousands of prepubescent kids replayed Dykstra’s home run by running the bases in living rooms across the Delaware Valley.