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It Was 20 Years Ago Today...

With Sunday's rainout inserting a short pause into the early going of the 2007 season, it's a good time to look back at a previous Phillies team that's been mentioned more times of late than the current incarnation probably would have wanted: the 1987 club.

Like this year's model, the '87 Phils began the season with high expectations, scoring an unexpected coup when Bill Giles broke the owners' unspoken agreement to collude against free agents by signing Lance Parrish in mid-March. Adding the veteran all-star catcher to a young club that had won 86 games the season before was supposed to boost the Phils into legitimate pennant contention.

But when the season began, they promptly fell flat on their faces. On Opening Day against the Braves, after five scoreless innings, Atlanta broke through against Shane Rawley for two runs in the sixth, then added four in the eighth to salt away a 6-0 win behind Rick Mahler's complete-game shutout. That dispiriting loss was followed by two one-run defeats... and the team was on their way to a 1-8 start that probably had fans wondering when the Eagles, with exciting young quarterback Randall Cunningham, would be starting camp.

One highlight came on April 18, when Mike Schmidt hit his 500th career home run in dramatic fashion to lift the Phils to an 8-6 win that boosted their record to 3-8. But the team dropped 10 of its next 15 to bottom out at 8-18 on May 8. As their successors would do 18 and 19 years later, the Phillies then rallied, going 19-9 over their next 29 to even their record at 27-27 on June 9. But as they  dropped five of seven after that, the front office had seen enough, and fired manager John Felske.

Lee Elia took the reins, and for about two months, things seemed to be working: the Phils went 37-25 over Elia's first 62 games, and after young pitcher Mike Maddux threw seven shutout innings to lead the Phils to a 2-0 victory over the Dodgers on August 22, they sat at 66-57.

Trailing the Cardinals by 6.5 games with 39 to play, the team had a pulse, but no charge to the pennant was in the offing. The '87 Phillies dropped 25 of their last 39 games, including a season-ending sweep at Pittsburgh, to finish 80-82.

Still, the season didn't look like a total washout, and the future seemed relatively promising. Six of the eight lineup regulars on the '87 team were age 28 or under, including Von Hayes (21 HR, .277/.404/.473), Juan Samuel (28 HR, 100 RBI, 15 triples, 35 steals, .272/.335/.502), and 24 year-old Chris James (17 HR in 358 at-bats, .293/.344/.525). Three-time MVP Mike Schmidt, who turned 38 during the last week of the season, was still a star: his 35 home runs and 113 RBI paced the team. On the pitching side, the Phillies' top four starters--Shane Rawley, Don Carmen, Bruce Ruffin, and Kevin Gross--combined to notch 50 of the team's 80 wins, and all but Rawley were 27 or younger. The team also boasted the NL's best reliever, Steve Bedrosian, who notched 40 saves and won the Cy Young Award.  

Instead, the 1988 Phillies cratered, posting a 65-96 record that was the team's worst until Terry Francona's Underachiever Supremo 2000 team. Schmidt suddenly got old (.249, 12 home runs, and a third of the season lost to injury), and the whole team lost its patience: Hayes' walk total dropped from 121 in 1987 to 49, and Samuel went from 60 to 39. James led the club with 19 home runs, but posted just a .672 OPS. The news was just as bad on the pitching side, as Rawley's win total fell from 17 to 8, Ruffin pitched himself out of the rotation, and the grim likes of David Palmer and Marvin Freeman began to suck up, and suck in, starts. It would be five more years until the Phillies resurfaced above the .500 mark, in the flukily wonderful 1993 season, and then most of another decade before the current run of near-miss competitiveness began.

So let's hope history stops repeating itself right about now.