Red October is back.
After their thrilling, 3-2, walk-off win in 10 innings over the Pirates last night, the Phillies are back in the playoffs to defend their National League pennant. They’re back, thanks to a moment that will live in franchise lore, the first-ever walk-off hit to clinch a postseason berth in Phils history.
Normally, we see players pile around the pitchers mound after the final out is recorded, so last night’s celebration was unique, especially for us Phillies fans. But where does last night’s celebration rank in terms of all-time clinching celebrations?
There have been 13 clinching opportunities since the Phils won the pennant in 1950 (there was no clinching celebration in 1981 because of the split-season, first-half championship), and here is my official, undisputed rankings, taking into account in-the-moment drama, the build-up to the clinch, and the postseason drought that led up to that moment.
As you can see, this is pretty serious.
It’s hard to imagine anything ever topping the drama of this day. Final game of the season, the Phillies and Mets are tied atop the NL East standings after the Phils had trailed New York by 7 1⁄2 games with 17 remaining. As the Phillies were warming up, the Mets fell behind 7-0 to the Marlins in the first inning, with Tom Glavine utterly falling apart. As the scoreboard flashed the score in right field, the crowd went berserk. Jimmy Rollins joined the 20-20-20-20 Club, Ryan Howard hit a bomb and Jamie Moyer went six strong before Brett Myers took over the 9th, with the Mets having officially lost just moments before, to lock down their first division title in 14 years.
Recency bias? Maybe, but like I mentioned above, the Phillies have never clinched a postseason berth with a walk-off hit. It was magic.
OK, not many of us were around in 1950 to witness this, but consider what went down. Game 154 (it was a 154-game season back then), final day of the season, and the Phils and Dodgers are tied atop the NL standings. The winner goes to the World Series. It’s that simple. With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th, Richie Ashburn throws out a runner at home for the final out of the inning to preserve the tie, then Dick Sisler hits the most clutch home run in franchise history, a three-run blast in the 10th, with Robin Roberts outdueling Don Newcombe (both pitchers went the full 10 innings) to win just the second pennant in team history.
Although they’d won the division the year before in a more dramatic fashion, the eventual World Series champs had to come back late in the season to track down the Mets for a second straight year. In Game 161, Brad Lidge entered the 9th inning holding a 4-2 lead, but gave up a run to make it 4-3 and had the bases loaded with just one out. That’s when Ryan Zimmerman hit a grounder to shortstop Jimmy Rollins that he dove for, shoveled to Chase Utley for a dramatic 6-4-3 double play to clinch a spot in the postseason. It is the best defensive play to clinch a playoff berth in franchise history.
There wasn’t a whole lot of drama to this clinching scenario, but the cast of characters and the clubhouse celebration after is what does it for me. The Phillies led the NL East virtually wire-to-wire and when they went into Pittsburgh on September 28, it was only a matter of time before it happened. The Phils magical run went further than any of us had dared dream.
They had finally done it. After 11 straight seasons of missing the playoffs, and after nearly blowing their chance in a three-game series sweep at the hands of the Cubs in Chicago, last year’s Phils rallied in winning three of four against the Nationals, then went into Houston in the third-to-last game of the season and rode six perfect innings from Aaron Nola in beating their eventual World Series opponents, 3-0. It was their first postseason berth since 2011, the longest drought of any team in the National League.
After winning three straight division titles from 1976-78, the Phils missed the playoffs in 1979 and things weren’t looking so good for most of 1980. But like some of the other teams mentioned above, they rallied in September and, on the penultimate game of the season, the Phils battled back against an excellent Expos team to win their fourth division crown in five years. Of course, the celebration against the Astros in the NLCS was more memorable, but this was still pretty dang good.
On September 26, Greg Luzinski hit a three-run homer against the Expos and the Phillies beat the Expos 4-1 in the first game of a doubleheader at Jarry Park. It was their first playoff appearance in 26 years, and yet no one ever talks about this team, or this game. Maybe that’s because they got blitzed by the Big Red Machine in the NLCS, but winning just their third division title in franchise history should have been a bigger deal in retrospect, no?
By this point in their life cycle, winning the division had become commonplace for these Phillies, but not for Roy Halladay, who had never experienced postseason success in Toronto. So it made sense that the future Hall of Famer would be on the mound for the NL East clinching moment, authoring a two-hit shutout of the Nationals in the process.
Perhaps the most forgotten “good” team in the Phillies history, the Wheeze Kids replaced their manager at mid-season and got ridiculously hot in September to surprise everyone with a division title and trip to the World Series. Three members of the Big Red Machine were here — Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Pete Rose — John Denny had an out-of-nowhere Cy Young season, and the Phillies finished things off with a 13-6 win over the Cubs in Wrigley. It was their 7,000th victory in franchise history, and I challenge you to find video of it somewhere.
The last of the Phillies’ five straight division titles, the Phillies coasted to a franchise-best 102 wins and ended up locking up the division on September 17, faster than any team in Phils history. Utley’s bare-hand snag for the final out was pretty sweet, actually.
I’m lumping these together because, by this point, winning the division had become commonplace for these Phillies. Having won a World Series the season before, the Phils were looking to make a deeper run and their 10-3 win over Houston in ‘09 was fun, if not memorable.
The Phillies clinched their second straight NL East title, 15-9, over the Cubs in Chicago. There is no video online of it happening. We can’t be sure it did, apparently.
They beat the Pirates 10-8, a game in which pitcher Randy Lerch hit two home runs and ended Pittsburgh’s 24-game home winning streak (thanks to @jmiller678 for the heads-up on this video!)