After dispatching the Milwaukee Brewers in the Division Series, the 2008 Phillies could not afford a champagne hangover. Jimmy Rollins, the man of prophecies, had already stated the club was "geared to win" the World Series, but first, the Phils had to get by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.
You can watch the entire series, starting with the Phillies' 3-2 win in Game 1, beginning Monday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Phillies of a previous generation had some history against the Dodgers in the NLCS. The Phils beat the Dodgers for the 1983 NL pennant but lost to them in 1977 and 1978.
The Phillies' loss in the 1977 NLCS was particularly painful. Black Friday the historians called it long before there was another Black Friday in 2011.
Black Friday of 1977 meant nothing to the 2008 Phillies.
"I didn't know anything about it until earlier this season,'' Rollins said between swigs of champagne after the Phillies ousted the Brewers in Game 4 of the NLDS. "We just have to get ready to play our game."
That was the right approach. The 2008 Phillies needed to be at their best to beat the Dodgers, who were managed by Joe Torre, winner of four World Series with the New York Yankees. Phillies legend Larry Bowa was the Dodgers' third base coach that year.
In the big picture, the 2008 Dodgers were a deceiving club. They won just 84 games, fewest of the eight playoff teams that fall, and 13 clubs had better regular-season records. But the Dodgers went 17-8 in September and at one point won 12 of 13 to overtake Arizona and win the NL West. They rode that momentum into the postseason and swept the 97-win Chicago Cubs in the NLDS.
No team improved its offense more at the trade deadline in 2008 than the Dodgers, who picked up Manny Ramirez after his expiration date had arrived in Boston. Ramirez hit .396 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs after joining the Dodgers on Aug. 1.
"I've never seen anyone that hot for two months," Bowa said before the series.
Torre added that he did not believe the Dodgers would have won the NL West without Manny, who continued to mash against the Cubs in the first round of the postseason. He went 5 for 10 with two homers, three RBIs and four walks, two intentional, in that series.
Before the NLCS, veteran Phillies reliever J.C. Romero acknowledged the menacing significance of Ramirez in the Dodgers' lineup.
"Any team with Manny changes for the better," Romero said. "If you take the mentality that you don't want someone to beat you, it would be Manny. If there's a situation where he can hurt us, we might take the bat away from him."
Ramirez didn't waste any time hurting the Phillies in Game 1. The Phillies had Cole Hamels, coming off eight shutout innings in the opener of the NLDS on the mound, and 45,839 in the seats at Citizens Bank Park. But the Dodgers struck quickly in the bottom of the first inning and took a 1-0 lead on consecutive doubles by Andre Ethier and Ramirez. The Dodgers added another run against Hamels in the fourth on a double, a groundout and a sacrifice fly to take a 2-0 lead.
For five innings, the Dodgers rolled behind sinkerballer Derek Lowe. But in the sixth inning, his pitch count began to soar and he became soaked with sweat on an unusually muggy October night. Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal opened the door a crack when he made a throwing error that allowed Shane Victorino to reach base and Chase Utley, who had been drafted by the Dodgers in the second round out of high school but did not sign, quickly capitalized when he smacked a fat, first-pitch fastball into the right-field seats to tie the game.
Lowe then retired Ryan Howard on a diet of sliders before Pat Burrell, one of the heroes of the NLDS clincher, came to the plate and lined a 3-1 fastball - middle-in and just 90 mph - into the leftfield seats to break the tie and give the Phils the lead. The crowd, which like the Phillies took a little while to warm up, was now in full throat and helped kick the Phils home the rest of the way.
The longball had been a huge weapon for the Phillies that entire season and it was in this game against a team that generally kept the ball in the yard. The Phils led the NL with 214 homers in 2008. Conversely, Dodgers pitching allowed just 123, the fewest in the NL.
Despite allowing a couple of early runs, Hamels was excellent, particularly pitching with the lead for the first time in the game. He struck out Blake DeWitt and pinch-hitter Jeff Kent for the first two outs in the seventh, then got Furcal to ground out for the third out.
For Hamels, who struck out eight, it was a shut-down inning at its finest, a deflating moment for the Dodgers, and a big reason the Phillies won.
Hamels handed off to the late-game partnership of Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge in the eighth inning and they closed it out as the Phillies, with just one inning of offense, rode their pitching to a Game 1 win.
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