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Friday, October 31, 2008

Memories of the Phillies Finally Winning it All

I’d like to say it felt as good as the 1980 World Series win for Philadelphia, but I guess nothing ever matches up with the first time. The 2008 World Series victory was my first taste of being a fan of a championship team as an adult, and youthful exhilaration has been replaced with a sense of satisfaction and relief.

As I wrote right after the team won, I am just thrilled to know that I don’t have to hear about the 25-year championship drought in Philadelphia any more. It is dead and buried, along with the ridiculous notion of a Curse of Billy Penn. I am also hopeful this title will help the Philadelphia fans become just a little less ruthless, but whether or not it will remains to be seen.

Like everyone else, I’ll remember certain things that are purely personal. I don’t think I’ll ever forget riding an adaptive bike past the Rocky statue on my longest ride yet on the morning of Game 4. Having discovered biking with the Pennsylvania Center for Adaptive Sports in August on Martin Luther King Drive by the Schuylkill River, I finally did the entire 8-mile loop for the first time, reaching over to East River Drive and back. Possessing a terrible sense of direction, I didn’t realize the Art Museum, and therefore Rocky, awaited me on the other side.

I wasn’t even supposed to bike that Sunday. The program had ended for the season on Saturday. I hadn’t even bothered to go since the sky was threatening rain, and the volunteer who owned the 3-wheel bike I had been using wasn’t going to make it. But he offered to go on Sunday with a couple of other guys.

When I saw Rocky, the pivotal Game 4 was in the bag for me. Honestly, I hate when guys say that stuff. Of course it had nothing to do with the Phillies. But It was a gorgeous, crisp fall day, and I was riding around Philadelphia – something I simply couldn’t have imagined doing just 3 months ago. To cap it by doing the 8-mile loop on that particular sports weekend – on 5 hours of sleep after watching all of the rain-delayed Game 3 – well, I was feeling the magic.

Then came the rains on Monday night, and, I’ll admit, the fears started creeping in. I’m not sure what I feared more – a loss of momentum or that they would call the game with the Phillies ahead. A championship with an asterisk was not what this town needed. But once Major League Baseball revealed that they were definitely going to play nine innings – as they should – the question of why the game had continued so long begged to be asked.

A title was within the Phillies’ grasp, and an act of nature seemed to be stealing it away. Cole Hamels was rolling, and the game seemed to be played until the Rays managed to tie the score in the top of the sixth.

The game was suspended for two days for the first time in World Series history. Not hours, days.

The upside was that we – sorry, the Phillies – had an extra at-bat, starting with the pitcher's spot (presumably a pinch hitter) followed by the top of the lineup, the bullpen was the best in baseball, and, I thought, it at least let Cole Hamels possibly pitch game 7 if, God help us, it got to it.

Instead, Geoff Jenkins, a guy that had done little in months, re-started the game pinch-hitting for Hamels with a double and the eventual go-ahead run. Considering the prowess of the Phillies bullpen I thought it was over. But Ryan Madson, who had an incredible post-season, gave up a game-tying homer the very next inning.

In fact, Chase Utley kept the game tied later in the inning. With a runner on second, he snared a sure base hit up the middle, faked the throw to first and threw the runner on second out at the plate as he tried to score. For me, it lives with Pete Rose catching the ball after it popped out of Bob Boone’s glove in the clinching game in 1980. To quote Harry Kalas, Chase Utley – you are the man!

Then, in what could easily be the last thing he ever does in his long and often beleaguered career as a Phillie, Pat Burrell doubled off the highest part of the centerfield wall just missing a go-ahead home run. Pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett eventually scored the World Series winning run on a Pedro Feliz single– a run that forever belongs to Burrell.

From there, the bullpen did its thing. Brad Lidge stayed perfect – PERFECT – in save opportunities, 48 for 48 including 7 in the playoffs, and Philadelphia was once again the home of a World Champion.

I’ll admit, I thought, and wrote in my old blog, that Charlie Manuel had to go. I loved hearing him say at the parade, “We’re gonna win again next year, too. Brett Myers said so.” Criticize Charlie all you want for baseball reasons, but he took garbage just because of his accent, and that was weak. Now, he’ll live in Philadelphia sports history forever.

I love Hamels saying he wanted to be back for multiple parades. It’s almost forgotten that the Phillies only lost one game per series in the playoffs, and, I believe, went 25-5 in their last 30 games. (At least I heard that on Comcast.) They simply dominated when it mattered most, and with a young core they really should have a chance to make Hamels’ words stick.

I love that the suspended game that twisted Philadelphia’s guts out for what seemed like forever, now assures that this title will be historic not just for the city but for all of baseball.

I love that Hamels, Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley will not be joining the list of great players that went through Philadelphia without a ring.

And I love that Utley got up at the parade and said what Philadelphia was thinking, “World F---ing Champions!”

It says it all.

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