The premise seemed simple enough: expound upon your most and least favorite Phillies game. It seemed easy – a dozen of each instantly popped into my head. The challenge, of course, becomes: what defines favorite? Is your favorite meal the one you eat most often or that you save for special occasions? Does your favorite movie sit out next to the DVD player for a quick view when you need a laugh, or packed away in its collectable box, brought out only occasionally when you have the time to view end-to-end without interruption?
My favorite Phillies game has to include what is best about baseball – the way the game, the season, and the slow march of many seasons that form a franchise, mesh and interact. It has to be the culmination of a long struggle, evoke a hearty laugh, and deliver heaping servings of wicked baseball.
To fully understand my choice, let’s consider my runners-up. There’s the long brawl, the 23-22 extra inning affair at Wrigley Field in which neither starter lasted the first inning, after which the score was 7-6. The final game of the 1980 World Series, wherein Pete Rose, in a metaphor for his entire tenure with the team, leaps from nowhere to catch the popup that Bob Boone squeezed out of his glove, culminating with Tug McGraw leaping into the air, guard dogs surrounding the field, and Michael Jack superhumanly flying over the frenzied mob. Likewise, I am surprising myself by excluding game 5b of the 2008 World Series, even though it includes my favorite play ever: Chase Utley’s fake throw, tricking Jason Bartlett to attempt to score, only to be thrown out at the plate.
As wonderful as those are, my favorite single Phillies game is from September 30, 2007, in which the Phightin’s defeated the Nationals 6-1 to clinch the division title and return to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. Leading into the game our boys had to overcome a 7-game deficit in the NL East as recently as Sept 12th, behind the Mets (who had to be complicit in our victory with a stellar collapse equivalent to the surge of the heroes in red pinstripes.) Starting was Jamie Moyer, constantly surprising everyone with his tenacity in the twilight of his career. Ryan Howard (called Big Brown at the time) was coming off his MVP year, still smashing taters regularly, and we all were anticipating an MVP nod to Rollins, entering the game with 19 triples, one shy of a significant milestone.
Immediately preceding this game, the Phillies had overtaken the Mets with a 6-0 rout of Washington behind Cole Hamels on Sept 28th, only to have Adam Eaton (cough) give up a loss on the 29th to bring us to a divisional tie on the last game of the season. Tom Glavine took the hill for the Mets at 1:10 PM and promptly surrendered four runs (his last pitch hitting Dontrelle Willis with the bases loaded.) The relief gave up a 3-run double, such that by the time the Phillies took the field at 1:35, surrounded by a sea of waving white towels, the Mets were behind 7-0 in the first inning.
With a sense of destiny in the air, Rollis led off with a sharp single, stole second and third and scored on a Chase Utley sacrifice fly. A bases loaded single by Howard in the third scored two to make it 3-0. With Moyers dealing on the mound through six, and the Nationals seemly checking their flight status between at-bats, and the Mets making no progress against Miami, the game took on the air of a joyful romp. A long postseason drought would be broken, an improbable comeback fulfilled. The only anticipation left was for Jimmy to reach the magical number of 20 triples. With each plate appearance, I held my breath, wondering and hoping. In the bottom of the sixth, with chances dwindling, Jimmy scalded a line drive to right field, scoring Chris Coste. I still remember the excitement in Chris Wheeler’s voice (doing play-by-play rather than color) as Jimmy rounded second and slid into third, kicking up a dust cloud reminiscent of Mike Schmidt’s inside the park homerun. Jimmy became only the 4th player in MLB history to reach 20 doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases in one season. Howard’s homerun in the 7th was a delicious icing on the cake and Brett Myers, another tale of redemption, closed out the game to what would guarantee no worse than a tie for the division. The Phillies so handily beat the Nationals that the Mets were not yet finished as the Phillies celebrated.
The hole Glavine dug for the Mets was too much to overcome, and the fans in Flushing had to watch on helplessly as their season came to a bitter end. I mention this not so much to gloat, but to remember the flip side of each victory. We’ve been on the receiving end of so many heart wrenching losses, that the juxtaposition of the Phillies triumph vs. the Mets’ downfall, fills me with a kind of reverence for the victory. My view is kind of "there but by the grace of God go I" because if Moyer had lost his map to the strike zone as Glavine had, and the Mets offense leapt into action, the roles could have been exactly reversed – the Phillies starting the game knowing the Mets had a 7-0 lead and all downhill from there. Seeing the Mets fans pack up their signs, wiping tears away, their hopes dashed, it is hard to remember that baseball is just a game, which it is. Except at those times when it isn’t.
But instead of devolving into that dubious fate, September 30, 2007 to me was the turning point, the start of the literal and figurative parade of 5 division titles. While the Phillies were handily defeated in the playoffs that year, it set the stage for the WFC of 2008 and lots and lots of very happy baseball through 2011.
Except for one very, very sad game. My most unphavorite game of them all. It wasn’t the last game of the 1993 World Series (occurring during my honeymoon, after which the name Mitch Williams could not be uttered in our house for 15 years). It wasn’t the Burt Hooton game 3 of the 1977 playoffs (where Hooton of the Dodgers gave up 3 bases loaded walks in the 2nd inning but the Phillies still lost 6-5.) Not the last game of the 1983 World Series, the only postseason game I ever saw live, at which I had to watch the Orioles dance on the much maligned Veteran’s Stadium AstroTurf as the rickety black and white video board read "Congratulations Baltimore Orioles 1983 World Series Champions." No, my least favorite game is much sadder than that.
It was a Monday afternoon affair, April 13th, 2009. The Phillies actually won that game, edging the Nationals 9-8 in Washington, DC. But it was not the plays on the field, the calls of the umpires, nor the status of the roster that made it my least favorite. It was that earlier in the day, Harry Kalas collapsed at the ballpark and had died before the game even started. There was some debate whether to postpone the contest, but it was fittingly decided that not playing a game because of Harry was exactly the wrong response.
And so, with red eyes and trembling voices, the remaining announcers called the game. (Wheels in particular looked morose but determined.) But each positive event was almost salt in the wound, and Shane Victorino’s home run in the 3rd inning was less a joyous affair, but a reminder that there was no one to call That ball’s outta here! Yes, the Phillies won the ballgame, but they had lost one of the finest voices ever in baseball broadcasting and a long friend of the team. And just as my favorite game ushered in a new era, so my least favorite kicked off a sad string of events – Harry’s coffin at home plate at CBP, Vitorino lovingly toting his powder blue jacket into the dugout each game, the requisite HK patch. There would be no more Swing and a miss, struck eem out! No longer It’s a long drive, deep left field! That ball’s outta here! No more Chase Utley you are the man! I even found myself missing MitcheePoo! Any loss on the field can be responded to the next day. This kind of loss cannot.
Yes, the tears shed by the Mets fans in 2007 found the Phillies fans’ eyes again soon enough. We try to shrug off losses by saying that it is only a game, which it is. Except, of course, when it isn’t. And when you get right down to it, it never is.