The memories of October glory are all still fresh, from Cole Hamels’ three straight Game One gems to the epic Brett Myers-CC Sabathia battle and Shane Victorino’s grand slam; the moment Matt Stairs wrote his name into Phillies history and Jamie Moyer’s World Series brilliance; Joe Blanton’s improbable Fall Classic homer and Brad Lidge striking out Eric Hinske to secure the title. But let's not forget that it took the good work of April through September even to get the Phillies into the playoffs. A week and change after the team secured its second world championship, here are my top ten wins of the 2008 regular season.
Barely two weeks into the season, the Phillies found themselves totally stifled against Houston starter Shawn Chacon, who allowed just four hits in eight scoreless innings as the Astros took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth. But the Phils stunned Houston closer Jose Valverde with a four-run comeback in the 9th, starting with a Chris Snelling solo homer. Pat Burrell tied the game moments later with a two-run shot, and Pedro Feliz won it with an RBI double as Geoff Jenkins ran through a stop sign at third base and narrowly beat the throw to the plate.
Giants centerfielder Aaron Rowand almost won his first game back at Citizens Bank Park when his solo homer in the top of the 10th gave San Fran a 5-4 lead. But Pat Burrell won it with a two-run walkoff blast in the bottom of the inning, on a full-count pitch from flamethrowing Giants reliever Brian Wilson.
The Phillies dominated Atlanta this season, winning 14 of 18 matchups. None was more improbable than this victory: in the 9th, Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson dropped a Chris Coste popup that would have ended the game as Eric Bruntlett scored from second. Shane Victorino was the hero, driving in the go-ahead run and scoring the eventual winning run, in the top of the 10th then ending the game by gunning down the would-be tying run at the plate in the bottom of the inning.
Back-to-back-to-back solo homers by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell got things going in the 1st, then a nine-run inning in the 4th—which featured Kyle Kendrick’s first career extra-base hit--put it away. It was the second time in less than three weeks that the Phils had scored 20 runs in a game—and was the last offensive gasp before a ten-week offensive drought that threatened to derail the season.
Met manager Jerry Manuel’s decision to pull Johan Santana after eight innings was costly—even with a 5-2 lead. The Phils rallied for six ninth-inning runs to shock the Shea Stadium crowd, with So Taguchi delivering the big blow of the inning and the signature moment of his mostly lamentable tenure with the club: a two-run double that tied the game. Jimmy Rollins, already Public Enemy Number One in Queens, followed with a two-run double that put the Phils ahead for good.
Just your run-of-the-mill game in which you surrender nine runs in an inning but win. After Cole Hamels completely melted down in the 4th, squandering a 3-0 lead, the Phils looked likely to lose a second straight game to the Braves, who were essentially playing for their season with the trade deadline days away and their competitive prospects in the balance. But they roared back with seven runs in the fifth, capped by a three-run Greg Dobbs pinch-homer, and held on through four innings of scoreless relief. The Phils rallied from another five-run deficit to beat the Braves in the series finale the next afternoon; Atlanta traded star first baseman Mark Texiera a few days afterward, essentially conceding the season.
This one began as a tense pitchers’ duel between Hiroki Kuroda and Joe Blanton, tied at 1 through six innings. J.C. Romero and Ryan Madson surrendered a run in the 7th, but down to their last out in the 9th, the Phils rallied as Pedro Feliz delivered a game-tying hit. Happy Pete was the hero again two innings later, ending the contest with a three-run walkoff bomb as the Phils moved closer to a four-game sweep of LA at home.
The Phils didn’t beat the Mets that often in 2008, but many of the wins were memorable—none more so than this comeback victory. Down 7-0 after the top of the 4th, they rallied with a run in the 4th, four in the 5th, and one each in the 8th and 9th—the tying hit a double by Eric Bruntlett. This was the game in which Brett Myers pinch-hit, all but called his home run shot despite being under strict orders not to swing: he looked at six pitches but ultimately struck out. Chris Coste, who entered the game in the 8th, finished a 4-for-4 night with the game-winning hit.
This doubleheader sweep was capped by Myers, pitching on three days’ rest, firing a two-hitter to beat the Brewers. Earlier in the day, the Phils broke a 3-3 tie with four eighth-inning runs, on a single by struggling Pat Burrell and a three-run blast by Shane Victorino, both off Milwaukee lefty Brian Shouse. The four-game series sweep, and particularly the decision to leave Shouse in to face Burrell and Victorino, led to the firing of Milwaukee manager "Special" Ned Yost a day later.
(And yeah: I know this is two wins. We're world f***ing champions; lighten up!)
The clincher. For the second straight year, Jamie Moyer defeated the Nationals on a late-September afternoon to secure the NL East crown—but this one was considerably more tense that the easy win that concluded the 2007 regular season. Moyer’s six-inning, one-run performance put the Phils in position to win, but the bullpen nearly buckled in both the 8th and 9th innings. With men on second and third and no outs in the 8th, Lastings Milledge hit a bloop into shallow center that seemed ticketed to fall until Jimmy Rollins made a great over-the-shoulder catch, allowing just one run to score and preserving the lead at 3-2. Ryan Madson then notched a groundout and strikeout to preserve the lead. The Phils added a huge insurance run in the bottom of the inning when Victorino beat out an infield single, then scored on a Feliz double, setting up an unforgettable 9th. Brad Lidge started it with a strikeout, but then allowed a single, a walk, an RBI single, and another single to load the bases. Facing Ryan Zimmerman, Lidge seemed poised to lose his season streak of 40 consecutive converted save opportunities when the Nats third baseman drilled a pitch back through the middle. But Rollins just reached the ball and flipped to Chase Utley, who fired the relay throw to first to complete the double play and end the game.
Honorable mention: Jayson Werth's three-homer game against the Blue Jays on May 16, the July 4 win against the Mets; Moyer besting Greg Maddux in a 1-0 win at San Diego on August 15; and Myers firing eight shutout frames against the Mets on September 5; Hamels, clearly without his best stuff, finishing the team's perfect 9-0 record in Atlanta for the season on the strength of a two-run Burrell homer in a 4-3 win on Sept. 18.
Any other great wins from 2008 that come to mind?