As the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers battle it out in the National League Championship Series for the second year in a row, it’s easy to forget there was a time when the Phillies were routinely involved in this particular tournament.
But it has been seven years since the Phillies were last in an NLCS, 2010, when they lost in six games to the San Francisco Giants (I still hate you, Brian Wilson). It doesn’t feel that long ago, but seven years is a good chunk of time. In all, the Phillies have played in nine NLCS series (1976, ‘77, ‘78, ‘80, ‘83, ‘93, 2008, ‘09 and ‘10), and piled up a lot of great memories along the way.
OK, maybe not so much in the years they lost (I was one year old when Black Friday happened but it still feels like I lived through it). But in the years they won and moved onto the World Series, there were some incredible moments.
So as the Cubs and Dodgers play to decide who will move onto the World Series, here is my ranking of the 10 greatest NLCS moments in Phillies history.
10. (tie) 1983 Game 4 - Al Holland and the Wheeze Kids
10. (tie) 2009 Game 5 - Victorino Closes It Out
10. (tie) 2008 Game 5 - Lidge Gets It Done
For whatever reason, these three clinching moments don’t resonate as much as the moments that are to come, but you have to celebrate any time your team manages to get the Fall Classic. Especially when those opportunities are so rare.
The 2008 series felt more dramatic, but neither the ‘08 or ‘09 series with the Dodgers turned out to be all that close. And that 1983 pennant may be the most forgotten and least-talked about playoff run in franchise history. Nevertheless, they all have to be on this list.
9. 1983 Game 4 - Sarge Goes Yard
The best moment from that ‘83 series against the Dodgers had to be the Gary Matthews blast that opened the scoring in the 1st inning of Game 4. In all, Matthews hit .429/.500/1.071 in the four games, going 6-for-14 with 3 homers, 8 RBIs and 15 total bases, and winning the NLCS MVP Award. Not bad for Sarge, who was worth 0.1 WAR in the regular season.
8. 1993 Game 6 - Mitch Williams 1-2-3
It was one of the seminal moments for any fan who lived through the post-Schmidt/Carlton/Luzinski era. After years of watching one losing team after another traipse through Veterans Stadium, the ‘93 team surprised everyone by beating a Braves squad that won 104 games that year. Perhaps the most shocking aspect was Mitch’s 1-2-3 inning to lock it down. His subsequent leap into the air has become and iconic symbol in team history, and it was the greatest moment of my 17-year-old life up to that point.
7. 1993 - Game 1 - Kim Batiste Atones
Batiste entered the 9th inning of Game 1 as a defensive replacement for the rock-handed Dave Hollins and promptly booted a double play ball that allowed Atlanta to send the game into extra innings. In the bottom of the 10th, Batiste followed a John Kruk double with a base hit down the left-field line of his own, sending the Phils to a 4-3 victory and Batiste off the field on the shoulders of his teammates.
6. 1993 Game 5 - Lenny Dykstra Goes Deep
So many memories from that ‘93 series. In Game 5, with the series tied 2-2, Williams had blown another lead, this time a 3-0 cushion handed to him by an outstanding Curt Schilling, which sent the game into extras once again. And in the top of the 10th, Lenny Dykstra hit one over the right-center field wall off the nearly unhittable Mark Wohlers, pounding home the point to the Braves that this series was, for all intents and purposes, over. The Phillies took two out of three in Atlanta and went home for Game 6, where they would clinch a trip to the Series two days later.
5. 1980 Game 5 - Manny Trillo’s Triple
Quite frankly, the entire 8th inning of Game 5 should be considered one of the “greatest moments.” And, if you wanted this higher up the list, I couldn’t argue with you. In what is often referred to as the greatest five-game playoff series in MLB history, the Phillies found themselves down 5-2 in the 8th inning against the Houston Astros and future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. Their fate seemed sealed. They were gonna choke again.
But after a Larry Bowa single, a Bob Boone BABIP-aided infield hit, and a bunt single by Greg Gross, the Phillies loaded the bases with no outs in the span of about two minutes. Ryan walked Pete Rose, forcing in a run and keeping the bases loaded. Ryan was taken out with the score 5-3, Keith Moreland stroked an RBI groundout to make it 5-4, Del Unser followed a Mike Schmidt strikeout with an RBI single that tied the game, and then Trillo smoked a two-run triple down the left field line to make it 7-5, Phils.
The Astros wouldn’t go away, though, tying the game at 7-7 until Garry Maddox hit a go-ahead RBI single in the 10th, sending the Phillies to an 8-7 victory and their first World Series in 30 years, after three seasons in ‘76, ‘77 and ‘78 of crushing disappointment. Trillo would be named NLCS MVP.
4. 2008 - Game 4 - Victorino Ties It Up
Matt Stairs’ home run (which is understandably further up this list) gets all the love, but the Phillies don’t win this game with Shane Victorino’s shocking, grab-the-momentum two-run dinger to right field that tied the score in the 8th inning of Game 4. It was an improbable home run for a player who emerged as an October hero, and set up the No. 2 moment on this list. This blast needed more attention, which is why I put it at No. 4.
3. 1980 - Garry Maddox Final Out
It’s not as thrilling as the five-run rally, but when Maddox finally caught the final out to send the Phils to the Fall Classic, it ended a long civic nightmare and exorcised some very real demons. The stain of Black Friday would never go away, but this team that had to come from behind, both all season long and in this postseason, finally got over the hump and allowed the team to take on the Kansas City Royals, against whom they would win their first world championship in 96 years of existence.
2. 2008 - Game 4 - Stairs Rips One Into the Night
After Victorino’s blast, Matt Stairs hit this bomb off poor Jonathan Broxton, who is the poor soul responsible for the top two moments on this list. I still have never seen a player hit a ball any harder than Stairs’ moon-shot way up the right field stands at Dodger Stadium. It might have broken StatCast had it been in existence at the time (a 150 mph batted ball, you say?). It was the moment that made you realize, “Maybe the Phillies really are going to do this.”
1. 2009 Game 4 - Jimmy Rollins’ Walk-Off
Again, off Broxton, this time it was Jimmy Rollins’ turn to play the hero.
The Phillies entered the bottom of the 9th with a 2-1 lead in the series but trailing 4-3 in Game 4. Entering the inning, the Phillies had a 20% chance of winning the game, but that fell to 11% when Raul Ibanez grounded out. It jumped back up to 21% when Stairs worked a walk (Broxton wanted NO PART of Stairs in that at-bat after the previous year’s debacle).
Eric Bruntlett came in to run for Stairs. Carlos Ruiz was then hit by a pitch, putting runners on 1st and 2nd with one out. The Phillies were now at 34% to win the game. Greg Dobbs followed with a soft lineout to the third baseman for the second out. Odds to win the game fell to 17%.
Then, Jimmy Rollins shocked the Delaware Valley and did his thing. Outside of the Phillies actually winning the 2008 World Series, this was the single most thrilling moment I can remember watching the team, and it was a moment when it really felt like they would never lose again.
Of course, they would lose again, in six games to the New York Yankees in the World Series. But Rollins’ walk-off, for me, was the greatest NLCS moment in team history.
But the debate will be part of the fun.
Check out the Felske Files TeePublic store for amazing Phillies T-shirt and sweatshirt designs!