The 2009 Phillies had the tall task of beating the Yankees in the World Series, but first they faced a different adversary: Barack Obama.
0-for-2, those 2009 Phillies, in tall tasks.
But anyone who defines a team’s season by more than just the last game they played can recall the many, many wins that set up that one, big, final disappointment. The Phillies threw everything they had at the 2009 playoffs, their second consecutive post season appearance after winning it all the previous year seeming even more ridiculous than the actual World Series win.
Things were different now; in the past year, all they’d done in October was win championships. There was no memory of them doing it any other way. Losing? In Philadelphia? Never heard of it. Now let’s all put tomatoes on our cheese steaks and pronounce "water" correctly.
Who knows what cozy Philadelphia pub you were piled into as Tom McCarthy barked over the opening graphics of Game Four of the NLDS. The Phillies were up on the Rockies two games to one, with the last two games being one-run squeakers. After a decisive Game One Phillies victory, Colorado stayed a run or two ahead of them for the next nine innings to tie the series, and it was some Ryan Howard heroics in Game Three that gave the Phillies a 6-5 win. That time it was just a sacrifice fly, though, so nobody ever talks about that game. But it might have been that moment, when Howard made solid, distant contact off Huston Street for the first of two times, that he knew how to hit the Rockies’ closer. The next night, that would come in handy.
Having reached 17 degrees - a record low for Coors Field - the day before,, to the clincher, nobody was looking forward to leaving their homes, let alone willfully exposing themselves to Denver’s frigid mountain air for a prolonged period of time. For some reason, the teams still showed up.
The key role players in this one were all slotted into fate’s plan as recently as this season: The starting pitching match-up was Ubaldo Jimenez (Going to 2016 playoffs) vs. Cliff Lee (Carson Wentz’s bow hunting instructor/nemesis); the game ended with Troy Tulowitzki (Going to 2016 playoffs) being struck out by Brad Lidge (Napping and smiling somewhere).
As far as playoff baseball goes, Game Four delivered. It had everything: A big hit. A comeback, series-clinching team win. A furiously erotic Chase Utley walk. Shane Victorino tripping over third base. Charlie Manuel installing Ben Francisco in left field just in time to make a diving catch. The Rockies inexplicably pitching to Jayson Werth with a runner in scoring position, even though the pitcher's spot was behind him. Ryan Howard scoring from second on a shallow single.
But the main thing was the Ryan Howard double that granted him a two to three day reprieve from large numbers of people hating him for no reason.
Moments before his crucial at-bat, Howard watched Greg Dobbs strike out from the dugout, turned to his teammates, and uttered desperately a phrase that you can now purchase on a unlicensed t-shirt.
It makes you wonder how many times he’d used that line before, because it feels like a line you could only use once. Did he mutter it under his breath, too shy to test it out?
RYAN HOWARD: Justgetmetotheplateboys
ROSS GLOAD: [Spits] What?
HOWARD: [Eyes widen; spins and walks away, head down]
GLOAD: Guys, quiet down. [Shane Victorino stops banging wooden spoon on empty Double Bubble bucket] I think Ryan wanted to say something. Ryan?
HOWARD: [Trying to climb into stands] Huh? Oh, yeah, no, it was, no. Nothing.
Or did he say it every time the Phillies were on the cusp of a rally, to the eye-rolling chagrin of his unimpressed teammates.
RYAN HOWARD: All right, just
CHASE UTLEY: [Mouthing the words as Howard says them]
HOWARD: Get me to the plate, boys.
[Utley and Jimmy Rollins giggle]
CHARLIE MANUEL: The hell are you two giggling about.
ROLLINS: Oh, nothing.
MANUEL: I don’t like it.
MANUEL: [Chewing noisily] I don’t like giggling.
[They watch Manuel go over to the dugout phone and use it]
ROLLINS: Do you think he’s calling our parents?
UTLEY: [Unconvincingly] I don’t care.
Or perhaps this was simply the first time Cliff Lee had heard him say it, not realizing it had become Howard’s mantra every time he was due up fourth or fifth in an inning.
HOWARD: Just get me to the plate, boys.
CLIFF LEE: [From other end of dugout] Whoa!
[Lee rushes down to the other end of the bench]
LEE: Did you just say "Get me to the plate, boys?"
HOWARD: Well... uh... yeah. That’s like, my thing...
LEE: That is so cool. [Turning to rest of the team] Hey, everybody! Let’s just get Howard to the plate! [Looks back at Howard] Right? Did I say that right?
HOWARD: [Looking at ground and shuffling cleats, embarrassed] Yeah.
ROLLINS: [Whispering] Did you know what Cliff’s voice even sounded like before just now?
UTLEY: Don’t talk to me, you’re going to get us in trouble.
With the Phillies down 4-2 in the ninth, a Rockies win would have tied the series at 2-2 and taken the mess back to Philadelphia. Not a huge deal, to have to clinch the NLDS at home, but there was an impatience to these Phillies that was always being tested by late lead changes or horrific inclement weather.
Fortunately, the Phillies did get two runners on, but with two outs. Howard came to the plate, just as he had suggested he would if given the chance, and so,
But don’t listen to me when a rapper on Youtube can sum the story up in a crisp 90 seconds.
Ryan Howard has only faced Huston Street three nights of his career, the first two being the sac fly that won Game Three and the double that won Game Four of the 2009 NLDS.
A couple of months later, the Phillies were trashing the Rockies in a nationally broadcasted regular season 2010 game. Howard opened the scoring with a bases loaded triple to make it 3-0 in the bottom of the third. Later, with the score now 10-2, Street entered the game in garbage time and had the opportunity to face Howard once more.
He hit him with a pitch.
I mean, I get it.