The mood on Broad and Pattison, last night, was solemn and quiet as the fans predicted a plane ride back to Los Angeles would be inevitable, as the Dodgers handed the ball to closer Jonathan Broxton, who’s 98-101 MPH fastball has devastated opposing hitters this season.
However, a little bit of hope started to creep back into the cold, quiet crowd when Matt Stairs stepped to the plate with one out in the ninth.
Stairs went up there with one goal. “I walked into the batter’s box, and there was one thing on my mind, and that was to go for the Budweiser sign,” the lefty slugger put it.
Broxton, who’s no stranger to Matt Stairs’ tremendous power off the bench, suffered a career changing loss in last year’s NLCS, when Stairs took his fastball deep into the October sky.
This year, Broxton wasn’t going to let that happen. Broxton pitched around Stairs and walked him, leading Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel to send speedy Eric Bruntlett into the ball-game to pinch-run.
That brought Carlos Ruiz to the plate, who’s been known as Senor Octubre around Philly, due to his Panamanian descent and his postseason heroics. Broxton tried to come inside to Ruiz, to try to get a weakly grounded double-play ball. However, Broxton wound up hitting the Phils’ catcher on the arm, setting up runners on first and second for pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs.
Dobbs strode to the plate to the tune of 46,157 screaming, towel waving fans, but proceeded to softly line out to third baseman Casey Blake.
With two outs in the ninth, it all came down to Jimmy Rollins.
Maunel, from his seat at the far left of the Phillies dugout gazed across the diamond to the third base dugout and found his friend and former Phillie Jim Thome. Thome’s eyes met Manuel’s. And Charlie pointed to the right field stands. Thome shook his head, no way.
“Thome is standing over in the other dugout, and Thome looks at me, and I motion like that,” Manuel said, holding out his arm. “I told Thome, he is going to hit one. I go like this [points finger] and point to the right field stands. I did, but I had a good feeling about it. It wasn’t like I was joking or kidding or nothing.
“He was looking at me, and I went like that, and he’s shaking his head like no, he’s not, or something like that. You can ask him. I had a real good feeling. I was talking to [bench coach Pete] Mackanin the whole time. With Jimmy up there, I liked that moment. I liked the guy hitting.”
Then Rollins dug in to the left-hand batter’s box.
Rollins swung at the first pitch and missed it. He let the second pitch sail by for a ball. Then with the count 1-1 and two outs in the ninth, Rollins stepped out, took a breath and stepped back into the box.
“It’s funny,” Rollins said later. “Right before he threw the ball, I said, ‘Hit a ball in the right-center gap.’ “
Then came the hit that will be remembered for a long time.
With Charlie standing in the left of the dugout, his faithful leadoff man proved him right.
Rollins drove Broxton’s inside fastball to the gap in right center, splitting the two outfielders and bouncing the ball against the out-of-town scoreboard. By the time it was retrieved, Bruntlett had already scored to tie the game and Ruiz was rounding third, being waved home by third base coach Sam Perlozzo. The throw to the plate was cut-off near second, and Ruiz slid safely into home plate, popping up to join the swarm of teammates who charged Rollins near third.
With that the Phillies won the ballgame.
With that the Phillies took a three games-to-one series lead, setting themselves up to clinch their second straight trip to the World Series, Wednesday in front of the home crowd.
And you can be damn sure momentum will be in the home dugout.