Five years ago, I woke up at the crack of dawn at my grandparents' place in suburban Philly, on a twin bed with the oldest mattress of all time. My dad, the occupant of the twin bed across the room, was already awake. We put on layers of Phillies gear and trudged out into a gray, snowy morning to watch the 2011 Phillies begin their season.
This was a year into my blogging career, before I started writing for The Good Phight, and I met a few people from The Fightins and my old blog Chicks Dig the Long Ball (RIP, I'm pouring one out for all my ladies) in Lot K to do some early morning tailgating. My dad was adorably game for anything, including meeting these people that I knew from the internet. It was cold and damp, and I pounded three beers and a breakfast burrito before my dad and I headed into the park. The tickets had been a gift from my mother -- months before, she had called me at work to ask for help finding tickets for opening day, because she wanted to surprise my dad. We spent a boatload, but we had great seats along the third base line, closer than I'd ever sat to the action.
That was the first game I'd ever gone to that was just my dad and me. Growing up in Maine meant we'd never had the opportunity to do this, and I came to baseball late, after I graduated from college. I didn't know how important baseball would continue to be in my life, but I had a feeling that it would be something that my dad and I could continue to share forever. So we did things that day that we've repeated every time we've gone to a game together. We always do a lap around the stadium. We always walk through the store. We always get one of those photographers walking around the stadium to take a picture of us, which I buy later as a gift to my dad. We hem and haw about food choices, my dad can't decide what he should get at the store, and we hustle to get back into our seats in time for the National Anthem.
I don't remember who sang the National Anthem that day, but I remember catching my dad's eye and tearing up. (Like I'm doing right now remembering this.) He put an arm around my shoulder, and he began to get choked up. Neither of us could say why it happened at that moment, but the overwhelming emotion I felt was gratitude. For the day, for baseball, for the Phillies, and for my dad, that I could share it with him.
And then the game started.
In 2011, the Astros were at the beginning of a pretty crappy few years, but no one really knew what was to come quite yet, that three straight 100+ loss seasons were in their future. The year before they'd finished fourth in the NL Central with a 76-86 record, and even though they weren't the punchline they'd become, they were still looked at as a trifle for the playoff bound Phillies. Beating them was a matter of pride after the 16-inning debacle they STOLE from the Phillies the year before (I still hate you forever Scott Barry, you enormous buttface), but it should have been easy. Should have, but it wasn't.
Here's the lineup for the Phillies that day, and it contains so many HEY IT'S THAT GUY REMEMBER HIM names that it's an absolute delight to go through.
Roy Halladay started for the Phillies, and though he wasn't as sharp as he would be in a few weeks, he pitched six good innings and gave up just one run. After J.C. Romero (oh man, remember him?) allowed a single to start the seventh, he was replaced with David Herndon (remember that guy?!) who proceeded to crap all over everything. A single, a bunt groundout, a triple, and a deep sac fly allowed the Astros to put up three more runs, and very quickly the Phillies had a ton of ground to make up. They had faced none other than Brett Myers starting for the Astros, and he was greeted with a lusty chorus of boos. Myers took those boos and made, uh... boo-monade. He went seven innings, and gave up two runs before he departed. The Phillies had two innings to score three runs to win the game. Remembering the pain and failure of the 2010 team and their criminally terrible offensive troubles, I was skeptical.
I'd never seen a walk-off in person before. And until it happened, I didn't think I'd get to see one that day. Brandon Lyon was pitching the ninth for Houston, and he was facing the heart of the Phillies lineup. A heart that had Raul Ibanez hitting fifth and Ben Francisco (?!?!?!) hitting sixth, thanks to Chase Utley's injured knees. Jimmy Rollins (hitting third) batted to lead-off the inning, and he smacked a single, as did Ryan Howard.
Something was happening, but I didn't want to believe yet. Two on with no outs was not a bad position to be in, but all I saw were the fifty billion ways the combo of Ibanez and Francisco could ruin it. I figured that Francisco would hit into a triple play and we'd all stand there, stunned, until the stadium personnel made everyone leave.
Ibanez did pop out, but Jimmy stole third while Francisco was up. Jimmy was clearly feeling it after spending most of 2010 on the DL with hamstring problems. That steal would be important, since just a few pitches later Francisco would line one to left center and Jimmy would score, cutting the deficit to just one run.
The crowd was waking up and people were getting into it. The Phillies had smelled fear wafting off of Brandon Lyon's doughy form, and like a shark sensing blood in the water they were going to strike. Carlos Ruiz singled to load the bases, which brought up Wilson Valdez.
If you can hear or read the name "Wilson Valdez" without having flashbacks to the years when everyone was desperate for him to REPLACE Jimmy Rollins, then I envy you and I'd like for you to consider switching brains with me. Because in my memory, Valdez is inextricably linked with a loud chorus of idiots who thought a 32 year old journeyman who was barely replacement level should replace the best shortstop in the history of the franchise. But this day in 2011 wasn't about my lingering memories of Wilson Valdez, especially since they weren't really lingering or memories yet. Valdez was playing for the knee-enfeebled Chase Utley, and he hit the first pitch he saw into left field. Howard (pre-Achilles explosion) lumbered home and the game was tied.
John Mayberry Jr. came up to bat with the bases loaded. Mayberry was about to embark on the best year of his professional career, a year in which he'd hit over .300 against lefties and find the Phillies leaning on him to strengthen their increasingly aged and injured outfield. This at-bat was the start.
It looked like Michael Bourn was going to pluck the ball from the air and send Mayberry back to the dugout. Until the ball sailed over his head and into center field. I'll never forget my dad shouting while jumping up and down and holding on to my arm. I shrieked and nearly fell into the seats in front of us, which some annoying, faithless idiots had vacated in the top of the ninth. "THAT'S WHY YOU ALWAYS STAY UNTIL THE END!" my dad shouted at me as High Hopes began to play. "THEY WERE BOOBS." My dad considers "boob" to be the most Philadelphian of all insults, and I can't say I disagree with him.
This is going to be the first in a number of pieces about the 2011 Phillies I'll be publishing throughout the season. It's been five years since they dominated baseball, and while my memories of that team are clear, my understanding of them and where they fall in Phillies history has only gotten murkier. They were a team that did extraordinary things, but that's what was expected of them. Were they truly loved by the fans for what they did, or were we expected to love them? Why were the fans so obsessed with Mayberry and Valdez at the expense of longtime Phillies veterans? Is this team's legacy the 102 regular season wins, or does that not matter because they got bounced out of the playoffs in the first round by the Great Satan, AKA the Cardinals? If there's a piece about the 2011 Phillies that you'd like to see on the site this season, let me know in the comments.
There's a lot to unpack about the 2011 squad, but today is about opening day. Opening day! Share your opening day memories in the comments below as we wait for the 2016 season to officially start.