Saturday, October 11, 2008
View from 302 - Phillies Playoff Baseball
The year was 1993. The Phillies, through an improbable run, had made the playoffs for the first time since 1983. And there I was, a junior at Ithaca College, imprisoned in upstate New York, over 200 miles away. I could only keep up with the team on the television. During the NLCS, I remember skipping plenty of classes to watch games with my Braves' fan roommate. Winning the pennant that year couldn't have been sweeter.
But then here came the Blue Jays, with at the time a Murderers' Row of a lineup. I remember worrying before the start of the series, where the outs were going to come.
Flash forward to game 6...the Blue Jays were up 3 games to 2, but the Phillies had some momentum, after Curt Schilling pitched an absolute gem to keep the Phillies alive, and force the series back to Toronto.
And there I was, sitting on a couch in upstate New York, in my friend's apartment. Though not a Phillies fan, he had no love for the Blue Jays (really, outside of Toronto, who does?) and so possibly out of deference for my fandom, not only was he rooting for the Phillies, he decided to throw a party. About 30 or so people showed up, and the game got underway, with most of the partygoers only occasionally throwing glances at the television.
I of course, sat in rapt attention, oblivious to everything else, living and dying on every pitch. Around the 4th inning, I noticed another guy doing the same thing. Obviously a Phillies fan like myself, we struck up a conversation. Turns out he too was from Philly, and not only that, was planning to head up to Toronto the next day (game 7) with some friends, as he heard there were tickets to be had (at the time I believe he said tickets were being scalped for around $75 a pop. I have no idea if this were true). He had room in his car, and asked if I wanted to come.
Realizing the trip would cost probably over $100, (a fortune for a college student) I didn't give it a second thought before of course saying yes. Game 7 of a world series. It's not a tough decision.
So at least for about 4 innings or so, I was the happiest person on the planet. And then came the ninth inning.
Who knew I would have to wait fifteen more years to come close to witnessing another post season for the Phillies? But that's what happened. And in 2007, I blinked before I could get my hands on tickets, and missed out.
2008 rolled around, and I was determined not to make the same mistake. So last week when my friend called me up with an extra for Game 1 of the NLDS, I jumped at it. The experience was cathartic. My eyes misted up when they introduced the trainers. Playoff baseball is like no other beast. Hanging on every pitch, in the rain, I realized it almost wasn't enjoyable. No lead is safe. No play is ever automatic.
But I'd never trade the experience for anything.
Luckily, my wife got her hands on a pair of tickets for Game 2 of the NLCS, so I could experience playoff baseball again in person. Getting ready for Friday's 4:35 start (yuck), we met up with friends who had tickets as well, and made the trek down to Citizens Bank Ball Park...
It could not have been a nicer day. Blue skies, no clouds, mid seventies. We headed down early and pulled into a lot by 2:00 - plenty of time to eat our hoagies, drink a few beverages, enjoy some tastykakes and nosh on chips (I only mention this because a pizza place near us ran a Phillies post season special: 4 hoagies, 2 six packs of beer, 4 tastykakes and a large bag of chips for $24. This steal almost overshadowed the day).
The DirecTV made an early appearance as well, displaying its discounted offers and minor barbs against Comcast, whose city we obviously were in. I only include this picture in hopes that some DirecTV exec stumbles upon the post with an offer for free satellite for me. Actually, I'm including it because I like the shot a lot.
Around 4:00 we headed in and made our way up to section 302, 3 levels up in right/center field. Not great, as it didn't give us a good view of right field, but we weren't complaining. We were inside, and not many people could brag about that. The players were still warming up on the field, and I saw another photo opportunity I couldn't pass up; Howard, Utley, Victorino, Rollins and Worth, chatting it up on the first base line in shallow right field. I may have been high up, but it still made for a good photo.
The first surprise of the day came when they announced who was throwing out the first pitch - none other than fan favorite Jim Eisenreich of the 1993 Phillies. Nicknamed "Dahmer" by his teammates for his supposed resemblance of the serial killer, Eisenreich had always been a fan favorite for his ability to get deliver a key hit and his no nonsense approach to the game.Now, even though earlier in the morning I had heard the song, Beds Are Burning by Midnight Oil, a harbinger of a Phillies loss for my friends and I that dates back to the early 90s (seriously, the data we have on Phillies losses when myself or one of my friends hears that song before the game is uncanny), the good karma Eisenreich brought to the game should have been more than enough to calm my nerves. And during a regular season game it probably would have. But the playoffs are different, as anyone will attest.
Chad Billingsley, the Dodgers pitcher scared me. The Dodgers lineup scared me. The lack of run production by the Phillies to this point in the playoffs scared me. Seriously, it was difficult to enjoy the game, and neither team had taken the field yet. Luckily, it seemed the rest of the fans did not share my concerns, or hid them better than me. The place was packed, the towels spinning, the lint was flying (these rally towels are not of the best quality) and the people were on their feet. Despite the pit in my stomach, it felt good to be in this environment.
The Dodgers scored first, the Phils came roaring back. The Dodgers clawed back a bit, the Phils opened it up. 8 runs, no homers...not typical of the home team. Brett Myers got into the action with three hits of his own to help his cause. Howard didn't look great at the plate, and Utley got nothing to hit (taking 4 walks on the day) but it didn't matter as Werth, Victorino, Ruiz, et al made up the difference. I don't care where the runs come from as long as the Phillies have more than their opponents by the end of the game. It felt good to get so many two out runs as well.
And of course it wouldn't be exciting without a little drama to keep everyone on their toes. With two outs Furcal whiffed on a nasty pitch from Myers, but scampered down to first when Ruiz couldn't block it. Russell Martin then hit a seeing eye single through the left side to bring Ramirez up to the plate. Obviously he hit a home run. It shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone. The Phils 6 run lead, was cut in half. And we weren't even out of the fourth.
Making the Dodgers bullpen look like Cy Young clones, the Phillies remained scoreless for the rest of the game. But not to be outdone, the Dodgers had trouble with the Phillies bullpen as well. Luckily, in the top of the 8th, Casey Blake hit the ball to the deepest part of the park, and Victorino had just enough room to leap up and steal a double from him, or the ninth may have been even more exciting (in a bad way).
In the end, the sun did set, and so did the Dodgers chances. Lidge came in and, in between a couple of walks, managed to strike out the side. If I were Torre I think I'd call Nomar into my office and go over a little more of the gameplan, as he went up there swinging and really made for a quicker and less tense ninth. But I'll take it. While I have an inside track on game 6 tickets, nothing would please me more if there were no need to use them, and have the Phillies take care of business in LA. I love the playoff atmosphere and would be tickled pink to do it all over again, but a sweep would be lovely and I would have no qualms not seeing the Dodgers again this year.
Here's hoping to that scenario plays out.