The Phillies were two outs away from a 2-2 series tie in the 2009 NLCS. Raúl Ibañez led-off the inning with a weak ground ball to second base.
In stepped Matt Stairs. The crowd of over 46,000 at Citizens Bank Park recognized the significance of the batter vs. pitcher matchup and cheered accordingly.
Stairs didn’t have a chance to win the game with one swing in his second at-bat against Jonathan Broxton. The Dodgers closer ended up walking Stairs on four pitches.
“I wasn’t going to give him one over the middle,” Broxton said after the game. “Keep it down, and try to get him to chase.”
Stairs was replaced by Eric Bruntlett on the basepaths. On the next pitch, Carlos Ruiz was drilled in the elbow with a 96-mph sinker. Gregg Dobbs came up to the plate for the biggest at-bat of his life. All he had to do was avoid hitting into a game-ending double play. He got jammed and hit a short pop fly to Casey Blake at third base for the second out.
On to the Next by Jay-Z played as Jimmy Rollins emerged from the on-deck circle.
“He likes the moment,” manager Charlie Manuel told the Philadelphia Inquirer after the game. “He wants to be there, and he can control his adrenaline and handle the moment. … Jimmy Rollins, he strives. The bigger the stage, the better he likes to play.”
Rollins looked like he was out of his element on the first pitch, which was a fastball that ran inside. He fouled it off to the backstop. It was clear his aim was to end the game with a ball in the gap but his swing was off. If Broxton missed inside, Rollins had to put a better swing on the ball. The next pitch missed outside for ball one.
Then came the hardest pitch Rollins had seen all season. The fastball clocked in at 98.8-mph on the radar gun. The only problem? The ball was middle-in, exactly where Rollins needed it to be to put it in the right-center field gap.
“I was just looking for a ball middle-in,” Rollins said. “I’ve faced him a number of times and I’ve always found a way to put the barrel on the ball but it was usually a fly ball. All I had to do was catch a ball in the gap. I don’t need a home run. I’ll take a line-drive in the gap. Worst case scenario the game was tied but with him throwing 99, I get the ball on the barrel and it goes pretty far.”
“Borderline extremely cocky that they’re going to come back every single time,” the winner pitcher Brad Lidge said when asked about the offense’s mindset when trailing.
He drilled it. Andre Either didn’t have a chance to make a play. Bruntlett scored easily from second. Ruiz busted his rear-end off, hustling from first to home. The fate of the Dodgers was sealed before Either’s glove got a hold of the ball. Strangers embraced in the moment of euphoria. Those who were there said it may be the loudest Citizens Bank Park had ever gotten.
Rollins was mobbed by his teammates at third base.
“I’m alright. I have to curl up in the fetal position and start throwing punches back,” Rollins said. Jayson Werth put Rollins in a chokehold. He was “finished after that.”
It all made sense. Rollins came into the at-bat 3-for-18 in the NLCS. He was struggling but he thrived in those big spots and his teammates always counted on him to lead the way. With Game 5 coming up, the Phillies could taste their second-straight World Series berth.
“The pressure is all on them,” Rollins said.
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