The Philadelphia Phillies' Top Five Postseason Moments
For having the distinction as the longest standing professional sports franchise in one city, spanning 128 years, it is somewhat amazing that a large concentration of the Philadelphia Phillies organization's postseason highlights have come in the most recent 35 years.
Certainly, some of this relates to Major League Baseball's formatting changes that first added a round of league playoffs with the initial formation of divisions, and then expanded to the current four playoff participant approach in each league. Simply put, since the changes, there have been more opportunities to participate in the annual year-end tournament than in the days of baggy knickers.
However, the increase in autumn thrills can also be attributed to the fact that the organization has been on a definite up-swing over the past four decades, perhaps still reaching to attain new heights with the current era of the club. Prior to that time, the Phillies' history was strewn with large periods of futility and dry spells.
It is a safe bet that the Phillies faithful would have preferred a richer history, dotted with triumphs in exchange for varying levels of annual disappointment and frustration. However, rather than bemoaning the team's less-decorated history, the upside for die-hard Phillies fans is that it provides for a deeper appreciation of those relatively scarce high points and achievements.
Accordingly, so many of the magical memories and moments over the past couple years still reside in the forefront of Phillies fans' minds—and probably aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Yankees fans may have quantity in their favor, but Phillies fans sure do have quality. With many years and long periods of unsatisfied yearnings and unconditional love invested into the team, the thrills and payoff are that much sweeter. Of course, the Phillies organization and their fervent fan base would not complain if quantity were to come their way as well.
Sifting through the archives of the Internet and my mind, I present to you the top five postseason moments in Philadelphia Phillies history:
No. 5—1993 NLCS Game Five (Tie)
These two playoff games followed similar course with the visiting Phillies riding their ace to lead throughout until a sudden late inning uprising by their opponent. In both cases, the hometown heroes hung on and rallied to win in their last at bat in a pivotal postseason contest.
The 1993 Phillies were known as the lovable upstarts, shockingly having gone from last to first in the NL East in just one season. For their efforts, they had the good fortune of facing the mighty Atlanta Braves, who were installed as heavy favorites to advance to the World Series after registering 104 wins in the regular season.
The Phillies entered Game Five in Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium with the series dead locked at two games apiece. Manager Jim Fregosi tapped 16-game winner Curt Schilling to pitch this important game and he did not disappoint.
Schilling dominated the Braves through eight innings, shutting them out on four hits, while striking out nine. Meanwhile, his teammates chipped away to stake him to a 3-0 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, but Atlanta was not willing to go down easily.
Shortstop Jeff Blauser worked a walk and then defensive replacement Kim Batiste committed an error. At that point, Fregosi opted for reliever Mitch Williams to close things out.
Unfortunately, three hits and a sacrifice fly later the Braves had tied the score at 3-3 and were poised to finish off a dramatic come-from-behind win. After surviving a scare with Mark Lemke lining a potential game-winning hit foul, "Wild Thing" struck him out and recorded a fly out to send the game into extra innings.
With the momentum clearly shifted and 52,032 Braves fans delightedly tomahawk chopping in anticipation of a victory, Lenny Dykstra temporarily silenced the crowd in the top of the tenth inning. With one out, "Nails" drove a fastball off pitcher Mark Wohlers over the center field fence to give the Phillies a 4-3 lead.
Atlanta fans were still chopping to the point of tennis elbow, though, as the team was sending the top of their order to the plate in the bottom half of the inning to face 40-year old reliever Larry Anderson. After Otis Nixon raised hopes with a deep fly out to right, Anderson ended the game in dramatic fashion by recording back-to-back strikeouts against Blauser and slugger Ron Gant.
Rather than suffering the type of demoralizing playoff loss that the Phillies faithful had seen too many times before, the heart-pumping win sent the series back to Veteran's Stadium with a pivotal 3-2 lead. The over-achieving cast rode the wave and clinched the series with a 6-3 victory in Game Six, but if not for the dramatic win in Atlanta, a National League Championship might have been out of the question.
2009 NLDS Game Four (Tie)
Although the setting was the National League Division Series, this game followed a very similar script to that of that 1993 NLCS game. The faces had changed, but the high drama was equally abundant.
The Phillies came into the game with a 2-1 series advantage over the same Colorado Rockies team that knocked them out of the playoffs two seasons earlier. They held a narrow 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning behind postseason hero Cliff Lee when a relatively staid game turned wild.
With one out, swift center fielder Dexter Fowler walked. Lee jammed future Hall of Famer Todd Helton and he muscled a grounder to Chase Utley. When Fowler leaped over Utley, Jimmy Rollins lost sight of Utley's toss and an inning-ending double play turned into both runners being safe.
Manager Charlie Manuel elected to pull Lee, who had thrown 117 pitches, in favor of Ryan Madson. After Ben Francisco made a spectacular catch to temporarily keep the Rockies off the board, pinch hitter Jason Giambi dumped a flare to left and catcher Yorvit Torrealba banged a double to deep center to stake his team to a 4-2 lead.
All-Star closer Huston Street came on to face the suddenly trailing Phillies in hopes of evening the series. After a quick out, Rollins grounded a single to center, but Shane Victorino bounced into a force play. Utley followed with a lengthy plate appearance and masterfully worked a walk.
Still down to their last out, Ryan Howard reached across the plate and drove a double to the fence in right, plating both runners to knot the score at 4-4. Jason Werth followed by serving a 2-2 pitch to right center, plating Howard with the go-ahead run.
The Rockies mounted a comeback in the bottom of the ninth, putting two runners aboard with two outs. Manuel summoned Brad Lidge, who had been somewhat of a pitching adventure throughout most of the season, to relieve Scott Eyre. Channeling the 2008 "Lights Out" model, Lidge got clean-up hitter Troy Tulowitzki to wave at a hard, biting slider to end the game.
Phillies players flowed onto the field to joyously celebrate the terrific series-clinching victory. With champagne spraying throughout the victorious locker room, Eyre coined the contest "an instant classic." Indeed.
No. 4—1980 NLCS Game Five
The 1980 National League Championship Series featured two clubs seeking to register the first World Series Championship in their organization's history. The Houston Astros, of course, were relative newbies as a 1962 expansion team, while the Phillies were making their fourth attempt in five years to advance beyond the NLCS.
Displaying the determination of unfulfilled teams, the series turned out to be one of the hardest fought and most entertaining in league history. After three consecutive extra-inning contests left the series knotted at 2-2, a World Series berth would come down to a fifth and deciding game in the monumental Houston Astrodome.
The Astros broke open a tie game with a three-run rally in the bottom of seventh inning to take a 5-2 lead. This had the home team and their fans feeling pretty confident with Hall of Fame flame thrower Nolan Ryan on the mound, who had never lost when leading after seven innings.
Facing the prospects of another bitter disappointment, the Phillies were not about to surrender meekly. Larry Bowa and Bob Boone singled to start the frame before pinch hitter Greg Gross reached safely on a bunt to load the bases. The ever tenacious Pete Rose then battled Ryan, eventually working a walk to force home one run and send the pitcher to the showers.
After a force play scored another run and put runners on the corners, Mike Schmidt went down swinging for the second out. Pinch hitter extraordinaire Del Unser smacked a clutch single to right to tie the score at 5-5. Second baseman Manny Trillo continued his hot hitting by lining a triple to left to dramatically cap a five-run rally.
But holding true to form in the series, Houston countered with a pair of runs in the bottom half of the frame to make it 7-7. And, of course, a scoreless ninth sent the game into extra innings for the fourth consecutive time.
Unser came through again in the tenth by cracking a double to right with one out. After Trillo flied out, Garry Maddox picked up the biggest hit of his career when he doubled home Unser to give the Phils an 8-7 lead.
Dick Ruthven, called onto pitch in relief with the entire season on the line, set the Astros down in order for the second straight inning and the rest is history.
No. 3—2009 NLCS Game Four
Besides being one of the greatest in Phillies postseason history, this moment is arguably the most stunningly jubilant occasion in the entire history of the organization. For the Phillies faithful in attendance, or watching remotely for that matter, this spectacular slice of time is surely one to be remembered for a lifetime.
Similar to the NLDS-clinching game a week earlier, the Phillies were down to their last out, but this time facing the most dominant closer in the National League. Trailing by a run with two mates aboard, Jimmy Rollins crushed a liner into the right-center field gap that jolted his team to a dramatic come-from-behind win.
Going from near the agony of defeat to the thrill of victory caused a spontaneous eruption of joy throughout the stadium amongst players and fans who knew they were sharing an experience for the ages with more than 46,000 of their closest friends. In just a few seconds time, Jimmy Rollins turned a 2-2 series deadlock with the Los Angeles Dodgers into a commanding 3-1 lead with his two-out walk-off double.
Following up an 11-0 dismantling the night before, the Phillies appeared to pick up where they left off when Ryan Howard smoked a two-run shot into the right field bleachers in the first inning. The Dodgers buckled down, though, and rallied to take a 4-3 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth.
With Jonathan Broxton on the hill facing the bottom of the Phillies lineup, the Dodgers appeared poised to even the series. And, fueled by the extra adrenaline that comes with the occasion, the burly pitcher was hitting triple digits on the radar gun.
After quickly getting Raul Ibanez to bounce out, pinch hitter Matt Stairs coaxed a walk with memories of his NLCS blast off him a year earlier apparently still running through Broxton's head. The pitcher followed by hitting Carlos Ruiz with a pitch, but then recorded the second out on a soft liner by pinch hitter Greg Dobbs.
Rollins stepped to plate with everyone in the stadium on their feet, waving rally towels and roaring encouragement. J Roll was up to the challenge as he smashed a 1-1 fastball that hopped to the fence in right-center.
As Ruiz bounced across home with the winning run, Rollins raced around third to joyously jump into the middle of his teammates' welcoming party. The stadium rocked with noise as the crowd celebrated and then lingered to soak up the splendor of the moment. It was truly one for the ages.
No. 2—2008 World Series Game Five
Seemingly, only in Philadelphia could a World Series Championship clincher be spaced to cover three days, dramatically expanded by the elements and a decision by Commissioner Bud Selig. Although the game began on Monday evening and did not conclude until two days later, the thrill was surely not lost for Philadelphia fans and players.
When the game began, postseason hero Cole Hamels strolled to the mound with an opportunity to lead the Phillies to the organization's second World Championship. A split in Tampa Bay and then two victories in Citizen's Bank Park had given the Phillies a 3-1 series edge over the Devil Rays and a chance to win in front of a packed house in Philly.
Despite ongoing showers and the prospects for more, the game proceeded with the Phillies grabbing a 2-1 lead after five innings. The rain intensified and the conditions became treacherous. After the Devil Rays scratched out the tying run in the top of the sixth with some assistance from the elements, play was halted.
After a lengthy delay, Selig elected to suspend the game rather than allow a title to be anti-climactically won by traditional rainout rules. It was the right decision, but it meant Game Five was essentially reduced to a 3 1/2 inning showdown.
When the torrential rains finally cleared, the game was resumed with pinch hitter Geoff Jenkins batting for the now unavailable ace of the Phillies. Jenkins promptly cracked a double high off the wall and scored one out later on Jason Werth's dunker to center to quickly fire up the capacity crowd and give the team a 3-2 lead.
In fitting Philly form, the Rays tied the score in the seventh inning, and, if not for a great play by Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz, would have taken the lead. In the bottom half, though, Pat Burrell broke a World Series hitless slump with a double high off the wall in center field and pinch runner Eric Bruntlett scored on Pedro Feliz's base hit to regain the lead.
With electricity coursing through "The Bank" in anticipation of a championship, Brad Lidge strode to the mound to do what he had done 47 straight times in 2008: nail down the victory with a save.
Tampa Bay put the tying run on second via a single and stolen base with one out. "Lights Out" Lidge recorded the second out on a soft liner to right and toed the rubber to face pinch hitter Eric Hinske. Displaying the intensity and nasty stuff that enabled a perfect relief run to that point, Lidge fanned Hinske on a sharp, biting slider to end the game.
The Citizen's Bank Park crowd exploded with excitement as Lidge dropped to his knees and joyously embraced catcher Ruiz before being buried by his teammates. It took three days to complete the game, but the highly charismatic Phillies had sealed the city's first pro sports championship in 25 years.
No. 1—1980 World Series Game Six
The only element to separate this joyous moment from that of the 2008 World Series clincher is its sheer historical importance within the Philadelphia Phillies organization. One pitch, one whiff of the bat, and one triumphant leap into the air ended 98 years of futility and frustration for Philadelphia's long-suffering fans.
After more than three quarters of a century had passed since Major League Baseball's inception of the World Series, the Phillies had remained the only original franchise that had never recorded a championship. And, after the team had recently flirted with the feat three straight seasons before falling short in the NLCS, the weight of the task only got heavier.
An exciting come-from-behind Game Five win in Kansas City sent the Royals and Phillies back to Veteran's Stadium with the hometown team holding a 3-2 series lead. Just one victory stood in the way of finally reaching the sport's pinnacle.
The Phillies were handing the ball to 24-game winner Steve Carlton in hopes of completing the dream. Confidence flowed amongst players and fans that baseball's best pitcher could get it done—well, at least as much as could be reasonably expected after 98 years of disappointment.
"Lefty" appeared up to the task when he shut out the Royals over seven innings while his team built a 4-0 lead. But, as if embedded in the city's DNA, the drought was not going to end without some heart-thumping anxiety and drama.
When Carlton allowed the first two runners to reach base, Manager Danny Ozark summoned the team's spiritual mascot and top relief pitcher Tug McGraw to close the deal. "Tugger" surrendered a walk, sacrifice fly, and single, but somehow escaped the inning with only one Royals runner crossing the plate.
After the Phillies went down in order in the bottom half of the inning, McGraw bounded to the mound for the top of the ninth. The noise and angst continued to build throughout the concrete venue as the Royals loaded the bases with one out.
Frank White anxiously swung at McGraw's first pitch, sending a harmless foul pop towards the Phillies dugout. Catcher Bob Boone circled to the ball and stuck out his glove to make the routine catch similar to hundreds he had make throughout his career, but the Phillies faithful, conditioned for tortuous endings, watched in horror as the ball popped out.
Alertly, and somewhat magically, the ever-opportunistic Pete Rose snatched the ball before it could drop to the ground and disaster was averted. The Royals were down to their last out.
Bolstered with the added confidence of fate seeming to be on his side, McGraw set up lead-off hitter Willie Wilson with his signature screw ball before firing a fastball to get him swinging and secure the Phillies' first World Championship.
The eternally optimistic, free-spirited hurler briefly leaped around the mound before a cascade of teammates piled on him while pandemonium broke lose throughout the Vet.
The Final Word
The journey through Phillies team history has not always been fruitful or fulfilling. The path has surely been strewn with the litter of many wasted seasons and taken us to many dead ends.
But, the path has also led us to some exhilarating highs that are that much more special due to the adversity in getting there. To be a Phillies fan is to know perseverance and revel in the truly exceptional occasions.
These are my top five (er...six) Phillies postseason moments. Are yours the same? Is a new moment just around the corner?