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High Hopes and Broken Hearts: My Favorite and Least Favorite Phillies Games

I know I have been gone a while. Work and life intervened, and while baseball was still a refuge, I just did not have the time to be here. I hope to be spending more time here in the future.

When I read about this topic., I could not quite get it down to a mere two games- there is just too much baseball even in my brief time as a fan to choose just one favorite, so I have written about three games- two personal favorites, and the one that proved that old quote about baseball breaking your heart.

"World F---ing Champions!" --- Chase Utley

My favorite game has to be 2008 World Series Game 5. I was not yet the baseball fan I am now, having been raised in a family where the only big baseball fans were my grandfather (who died in 1996) and an uncle that I seldom saw. I spent that summer and fall working in an office full of baseball fans, though, and they gradually pulled me in. The path through the playoffs had also pulled my mom into watching, and we made dinner plans for that Monday night based on being able to watch the game. By the time we arrived at the restaurant, the game had began and it was pouring in northern Delaware. I remember the rain sweeping into Philadelphia, the ominous bright green on the radar, and feeling that the game was no longer a fair fight- Mother Nature was turning an ordinary popup into an adventure and ultimately took the win from Cole Hamels. To this day, I believe that the umpires waited to stop the game because they wanted for it to be a tie- for there to be no other choice but to pick it up when the rain stopped. Two days later, when the game finally restarted, I was not able to be glued to a TV set. Instead I spent the early part of it on the road and the later part at Don Pablo's, where I stood in a crowded bar to watch the final three outs. As I watched the team and the city celebrate, none of the rest of it mattered- for the first time since I was in diapers, a professional sports team in Philadelphia had won it all. Looking back on it now, the delays seem fitting- this is Philly after all, and after 25 long years of waiting for a championship, of close calls and disappointment, that there would be an extra hoop or five to jump through was just as it should have been.

My other favorite game, is memorable not only for it's sheer duration- nineteen innings over more than six hours, but for its ending- winning pitcher, Wilson Valdez.. I did not get to see the early innings of this game, following the game on the radio and AtBat, but I got home in time for almost nine innings of baseball. Extreme extra inning games are cool for the unusual things that happen, and this game is no exception. Danys Baez, pitching five scoreless innings all in the same game, when he hadn't even been able to string together five scoreless innings over a number of appearances? But just for one night, he was amazing, performing better than Phillies starter Roy Halladay, who had given up three runs over his seven innings in the game. The best part of this game though was the nineteenth inning. Baez had carried the team as far as he could, and Dane Sardinha had pinch hit for him in the bottom of the eighteenth. The top of the nineteenth began with the type of reshuffle that is an invitation for bad things, yet this time, it worked. Placido Polanco moved from third base to second, Chooch moved from behind the plate to Third Base, and Wilson Valdez on the mound. Valdez pitched better than I thought possible, moving through the meat of the Reds order. He even managed to do the most Philly thing possible, plunking Scott Rolen, then stranding him at first base. And when it was finally over, his hat went to the Hall of Fame. Replacement players doing memorable things- that is what I love about sports and why this is one of my favorite games.

"It will break your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, you rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then, just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops." Giamatti

My least favorite game ever has to be 2011 NLDS Game Five. On a whim, I bought tickets to see the game, last minute- I wanted to be there to see them clinch. Yet the game had a strange feel almost from the time I arrived at the stadium, only to be greeted by the Budweiser Clydesdales, and it felt like they were just waiting for the coronation of their home team. I had excellent seats for the game, 100 level along the third base line, except for the rowdy Cardinals fan sitting next to me and hurling insults at every Phillie not named Halladay. The one run Halladay surrendered in the first two plays of the game came to feel like a ten run cushion for the Cardinals, and I remember my heart breaking when Ibanez's fly ball was caught on the warning track instead of being a three run home run- the game felt over in that moment. The bottom of the ninth inning felt like an extended nightmare- Utley hit a fly ball that had he pulled it at all would have been a home run... but instead, it fell harmlessly into Jon Jay's glove. Hunter Pence then grounded out., and fate showed just how cruel it could be, as Ryan Howard came to the plate as the potential final out for the second time in as many seasons. I remember praying in that moment, not for a win, but for God to let RyHo get on base. My prayer was in vain though, and my final memory from that wonderful 102 win season, one I fully believed would end in a championship, was the Cardinals streaming out of their dugout to celebrate as Ryan lay there, crumpled on the ground in pain. My heart just broke for him, and his injury felt like having salt rubbed in the wound of an abrupt ending to a seemingly blessed season. I stood there in the stands, tears falling down, feeling as if a door had slammed shut on a season with so much sunshine and joy. How could it end this way, when a World Series win seemed to have been written in the stars from the day Cliff Lee returned?

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