On September 28 2012, the Philadelphia Phillies were eliminated from playoff contention for the first time in five years, leaving an unfamiliar knot in the stomachs of fans.
I say unfamiliar, depending on age bracket. If you are my age (39 last week), this is old hat. For the 12-and-under crowd, this is uncharted territory. We live in strange times. Previous generations have seen more bad baseball than should ever be witnessed by human beings. But there have been rare flashes of brilliance that make the losing bearable.
Here are my top 10 Phillies playoff moments:
10. Dickie Noles buries George Brett: George Brett nearly hit .400 during the regular season in 1980. In the fourth inning of Game 4 of the 1980 World Series, Noles threw a fastball directly under the chin of the All-Star third baseman, sending him to the dirt, and prompting umpire warnings to both squads. Brett collected only three hits for the remainder of the series. It is seen as the turning point to the Phillies' first World Series championship.
9. The 1993 Phillies hammer Greg Maddux in the NLCS: The Atlanta Braves had assembled one of the greatest pitching staffs in baseball history, and the ace of that staff was Greg Maddux. The polished Braves were heavy favorites, and they were picked to dominate the rag-tag cast of throwaways that were the '93 Phils. In Game 6, with their season on the line, the Braves sent Maddux to the hill, and he promptly got hammered by the determined Phils. Darren Daulton hit a two-run double, Dave Hollins belted a two-run homer, and Mickey Morandini laced a two-run triple to chase Maddux. Game, set, match.
8. Stairs sends one deep into the Los Angeles night: Matt Stairs was a late addition to the Phillies n 2008, with the sole purpose of doing one thing. In Game 4 of the NLCS, he did it. With the score tied 5-5, Stairs hit a titanic two-run pinch-hit home run off of Jonathan Broxton to give the Phils the lead for good and put the series at 3-1 in favor of Philadelphia. Broxton was never the same. Matt Stairs will never have to buy a beer in Philly for the rest of his life. That was the hardest hit baseball I have ever seen.
7. The "Rain Game": Mother Nature decided to put the Phillies' 2008 party on hold for two days. Playing in a torrential downpour for 5 1/2 innings in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, crew chief Tim Tschida decided to call the game after the infield started to resemble the Schuylkill River. The game was resumed two days later, October 29, with the Phillies batting in the bottom of the sixth. It marked the first time in Series history that a game was suspended due to weather. You expected less in Philly?
6. "He Buried it!": Believe it or not, the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals) had very solid teams in the early 1980s. With the Phils clinging to a one-game lead over the Expos on the last day of the season in 1980, Mike Schmidt hit an epic two-run blast in the 11th inning to clinch the division. Most fans are still puzzled by the fact that Don McCormick, a light-hitting September call-up, was on deck with a base open when Schmidt strolled to the plate. The Expos pitched to Schmidt anyway. We'll take it.
5. 7 1/2 out, 17 to go: Rest easy, '64 Phillies. Your ghosts were exorcised in September of 2007 when the New York Mets completely collapsed, and the white-hot Phils overcame a 7 1/2-game deficit with 17 to go. Included in the meltdown was a Phillies four-game sweep at home, punctuated by a wild comeback in the ninth against Met closer Billy Wagner. During a series in New York, umpire CB Buckner ruled Marlon Anderson for interference with Chase Utley during what would have been a game-tying fielder's choice. The resulting interference gave the Phillies a game-ending double play instead. Tom Glavine got lit up by the lowly Marlins on the last day of the season before the Phils even took the field. Three hours later, Brett Myers struck out Willy Mo Pena. Chaos ensued.
4. "Nobody beats Nolan Ryan with a three run lead in the eighth inning!": So said Howard Cosell as the Phillies had the daunting task of beating Ryan, who had a 100 mph fastball and knee-buckling curve. But in the eighth inning of Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS against the Houston Astros, the Phils, down 5-2, loaded the bases. Two runs scored on a walk to Pete Rose and a groundout by Keith Moreland. An RBI single by Del Unser tied it. Manny Trillo put the Phils ahead with a two-run triple. The Phils would win 8-7 in 10 innings. I can still hear my dad screaming. I wonder what Cosell thought?
3. The Whiz Kids and Whitey: They were before my time by a long shot, but I can only imagine the Whiz Kids looking a lot like the current Phils, circa 2007 -- young and hungry. The sad fact is that they produced only one pennant. Clinging to a one-game lead on the last day of the season in 1950, and tied 1-1 at Ebbets Field against the Dodgers, the beloved Whitey Ashburn gunned down Cal Abrams at the plate in the ninth inning. Dick Sisler's three-run homer in the 10th gave the Phils the pennant. The Kids would lose to the Yankees in a hard-fought World Series.
2. "Swing and a miss! Struck 'em out! The Philadelphia Phillies are the 2008 world champions of baseball!": I really miss Phils announcer Harry Kalas, and this was his call when the Phils won it all in 2008. No matter how overpaid the players are, no matter how much you boo, no matter how many times your team rips your heart out and shows it to you, this moment is why you live and die with them. Brad Lidge and Carlos Ruiz vs. Eric Hinske. "Chooch" wants a slider in the dirt. Lidge delivers, Hinske flails, arms reach heavenward. Relief as much as elation. My World Series win.
1. If you're scoring at home, that play goes 2-3: With German shepherds on the field to obstruct the ensuing bedlam, Tug McGraw needed three more outs to win the 1980 World Series over the Kansas City Royals. With one out, Frank White hit what looked like a harmless pop-up for out number two. But Bob Boone, whose knees were shot by this point, bobbled and dropped the ball. Phillies fans globally, in that split second, see 1964, the Whiz Kids, and the failures of the late-'70s flash before their eyes. Not to worry. Pete Rose, forever Charlie Hustle, snatched the bobble before it hit the turf and all was well. Two outs. Then, Tug McGraw struck out Willie Wilson. We win! My dad's World Series.
People ask me why I'm a Phillies fan. The answer is simple. It's an illness passed from generation to generation. And when they win, it's made that much sweeter by the losses endured in between.
Now, we have to get my son his World Series.
Sources: 1980-81, 1993-94, 2007-2008, 2008-2009, 1950 Philadelphia Phillies Years in Review and Media Guides.