A four game set at the Bank with the New York Mets and the recent trade of Chase Utley, have us remembering one of the watershed moments in the rivalry and that crazy summer of 2007.
Slow starts had been the bane of the franchise for a few years and, in 2007, an 11-14 April left them five games out of first (4.5 behind the Mets). They picked up the pace in May, but found themselves 26-27, eight-and-a-half games behind their rivals from Queens. A smoking hot run in June pulled them to within three games before a crucial four gamer in South Philly.
On June 28th, the Mets postponed the final game of their set with the St. Louis Cardinals, based on the threat of a storm that never materialized. More than a few commentators, writers and other baseball ‘experts,’ theorized that the Mets had postponed the game in order to rest their bullpen and set up their starting pitching for the pivotal series with the Phillies. Questionable ethics or not, the Mets won three of four and extended their lead to five games.
Two months later, with the Mets holding a six game edge, the rivals braced for yet another four game series at Citizen’s Bank Park.
Game one featured the triumphant return of Utley, who had been on the DL since a pitch from Washington Nationals rookie, and part-time misspelled Beatle, John Lannan, had broken a bone in his hand on July 26th. Utley, exploded immediately, going 3-for-5 with a home run as the offense dropped nine runs and 18 hits on the visitors. J. D. “The Real Deal” Durbin (remember him?) was solid in the 9-2 win.
Tom Glavine, who had flirted with the Phils as a free agent in order to squeeze a few more dollars out of the Mets, took the ball for New York against the entirely regrettable Adam Eaton in game two. Carlos Delgado popped a two-run shot in the second and Glavine was … well … Tom Glavine, confounding and frustrating the Phillies through seven scoreless frames. Jimmy Rollins greeted reliever Pedro Feliciano in the bottom of the eighth with a solo homer that awoke the bats. Aaron Rowand would add an RBI single to tie the game at 2-2 and send it into extra innings. Closer Brett Myers retired all six of the Mets he faced in the ninth and tenth before Ryan Howard walked it off with his 35th bomb of the season for the 4-2 win.
Game three was a match-up between the ageless Jamie Moyer, and the clueless Oliver Perez. David Wright’s solo home run in the top of the first was answered by Rollins and Pat Burrell who each took Perez deep in the bottom of the inning. Each team would tack on an additional run and Myers took the ball in the ninth looking to nurse the 3-2 lead into a win. After consecutive singles, the Mets had runners at first and third with only one out. Shawn Green hit a ground ball to Rollins that was not the crisp, tailor-made double play ball that the more than 43,000 in attendance were hoping it would be. Rollins dutifully flipped it to Tadahito Iguchi to force out Marlon Anderson at second as Endy Chavez raced home with what appeared to be the game-tying run. But, as Iguchi pivoted and threw to first in hopes of finishing the 6-4-3, Anderson overtly chose to barrel into Iguchi rather than slide to the base. Umpire C. B. Bucknor immediately and emphatically ruled Green out at first due to Anderson’s interference. This negated Chavez’ run and ended the game despite vehement protest from the visitors’ dugout.
With the town buzzing about the previous night’s controversy and the Phils getting back within three games of the NL East lead for the first time since the Mets’ shenanigans in June, game four was a ‘getaway day’ matinee.
The Bride and I had purchased tickets for this game, months beforehand, and were feeling strong as we traded barbs with blue and orange clad loudmouths in the parking lot. Driven by my lifelong love of Phillies baseball and her crush on Mr. Utley, she and I watched a lot of live baseball that summer. We would make our way to Shea Stadium and RFK in DC before closing out the regular season in the leftfield upper deck of CBP on that fateful September Sunday against the Nationals. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. There was still work to be done and countless hopeful ‘phans’ carrying brooms into The Bank.
Homers by Howard, Burrell and Rowand would chase Orlando ‘El Duque’ Hernandez and spot Kyle Lohse with a 5-0 lead after three innings. But, the slugging Mets stormed back with three in the fourth and two in the fifth to tie the game, 5-5. With both starters watching from the dugout, the Phils tagged Aaron Sele for three runs in their half of the fifth to rebuild their lead, 8-5. It was becoming increasingly clear that this game was destined to become the stuff of legend.
In the top of the eighth, Antonio ‘Count Rugen’ Alfonseca entered the game with one out and one man on base. The six-fingered man faced five hitters and did not record an out. When the dust settled, the visitors had a 10-8 lead. In desperation, Mets’ manager Willie Randolph called on Billy Wagner for a six-out save. The former Phillies closer had spent most of the season burning bridges and talking trash about the Phillies, the city of Philadelphia, and (bad move) the fans. So, he was understandably serenaded by the Phaithful when he took the field.
Wagner had already been touched up by Burrell in a blown save at Shea earlier in the year. He was his typical, irascible self afterward, dismissing the Phillies’ slugger and his game-changing bomb with a memorable quote – “He has a one path swing and I threw it in his path”. So, when he found that path again and Burrell took him deep in the bottom of the eighth to cut the lead to 10-9, the tension was ratcheted up even higher.
In the bottom of the ninth, Jayson Werth led off with a single and, after Carlos Ruiz flew out, stole second and third easily. Iguchi paid off Werth’s hustle with a pinch-hit single to tie the game at 10-10. The 32-year-old Japanese import, who had filled in effectively for Utley during his DL stint, immediately swiped second off of Wagner and a clearly frustrated Paul LoDuca. Rollins was intentionally walked to create a lefty-lefty match-up with Utley. It seemed only fitting that it come down to the man who had been forced to sit and watch for a month. Utley smoked a 3-2 pitch past a diving Delgado and Iguchi raced home just ahead of Chavez’ throw to win the game and complete the sweep.
What a series!! A blowout, two walk-offs and a game that ended on a controversial call. As we strutted through Ashburn Alley and the parking lot, we were shouting “That which was SIX is now TWO!!” in the direction of anyone in blue and orange.
Full disclosure: The Phillies celebrated their sweep of the Mets by dropping five out of the next six in Miami and Atlanta. Eventually, they would find themselves seven games behind with only 17 games remaining. We all know what happened then.
Some might argue that it’s too soon to be nostalgic for this generation of Phillies baseball or that it’s sad and desperate to recall the good times when you’re experiencing bad times. But, this is what makes baseball great … moments, memories and Mets fans crying on the northbound New Jersey turnpike.