Sunday, September 30, 2007
PHILADELPHIA — Shane Victorino doused the fans with a fire hose, Brett Myers and Ryan Howard jumped into the stands to join the celebration and Hall of Fame announcer Harry Kalas sang "High Hopes" over the public address system. Believe it, Philly. The Fightin' Phils are going to the playoffs — just as Jimmy Rollins predicted way back in January.
"There's only one more celebration to try and go for now and that's the whole thing," Howard said.
Considered all-but-out of contention just 2 1/2 weeks ago, the Philadelphia Phillies overcame a huge deficit in the standings, caught the Mets and won their first NL East title since 1993 on the final day.
Howard hit his 47th homer, 44-year-old Jamie Moyer pitched 5 1-3 gutsy innings and the Phillies, backed by a crowd going crazy, beat Washington 6-1 Sunday to end a 14-year playoff drought.
Myers tossed his glove underhanded straight in the air and jumped off the mound after striking out Wily Mo Pena to end it. Pat Burrell ran out of the dugout and hugged Myers and everyone piled on.
The party was on, and it lasted for hours right there on the field, thousands of fans staying to enjoy a rare moment in Philly.
"This has been an incredible ride and we've got to keep going," Burrell said.
The Phillies also needed help up I-95 to clinch, and got it from Florida. The Marlins beat the Mets 8-1 to ensure there wouldn't be a tiebreaker playoff game on Monday.
Philadelphia rallied from seven games down on Sept. 12, matching the biggest September comeback in major league history. The Phillies and the Mets went into the last day tied for the division lead.
Now, it's the Phillies who are advancing to the postseason for only the 10th time in their history. They'll host Game 1 of the first round Wednesday against the winner of Monday's wild-card tiebreaker between San Diego and Colorado.
Somehow it seemed fitting the Phillies enjoyed success the same season they became the first team in professional sports to lose 10,000 games.
A team known for one of the biggest collapses in baseball — they blew a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 games left in the 1964 NL race — took advantage of a colossal fold to finish first. The Phils won 13 of their last 17 and wound up 89-73.
The Phillies' long-suffering fans are quite familiar with heartbreak and failure. One World Series championship (1980) in 125 years makes for plenty of disappointing finishes, especially in recent seasons.
In 2005, the Phillies were eliminated on the final day. Last year, they were knocked out on the next-to-last day of the season.
Finally, the die-hards have reason to celebrate.
Guided by heavily criticized manager Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia overcame a 4-11 start and numerous injuries to key players. Yet even in mid-September, the comeback kids — they rallied for 48 come-from-behind wins this season — never gave up.
"No matter what the stakes are, we're never going to quit," center fielder Aaron Rowand said.
Many players admitted they shifted their focus to the wild-card race earlier this month. Once the Mets started free-falling, helped by Philadelphia's three-game sweep at Shea Stadium on Sept. 14-16, winning the division became a possibility.
No major league team failed to finish first after having at least a seven-game lead with 17 to play. The Phillies joined the 1934 Cardinals and 1938 Cubs as the only teams to overcome seven-game deficits in the final month.
"The Mets just hit a bad streak, and we were able to take advantage," general manager Pat Gillick said.
The Phillies hadn't spent a day in first place until tying the Mets on Thursday night. They moved into sole possession of first Friday, but gave it right back with a loss on Saturday.
Before they took the field against the Nationals, the Phillies looked up at the out-of-town scoreboard and saw the Mets were trailing 7-0. And, you didn't have to be inside the ballpark to know that score.
When the Marlins scored their fourth run in a seven-run first inning, one tailgater leaped high in the air off the back of his flatbed pickup, landing feet-first on a plastic Mets helmet, crushing it into tiny pieces. His buddies circled around and mocked New York fans with "Jo-se, Jose, Jose, Jose, Jo-se, Jo-se!" in the singsong pattern of soccer's "Ole" chant.
Jose Reyes isn't going to the playoffs, but Rollins is on his way. Rollins took heat for boldly predicting last winter that the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East. Rollins backed up his words with an MVP-caliber season, and added one more highlight to a sensational year with an RBI triple in the sixth.
"I'm no prophet, just a baseball player," Rollins said.
With the crowd emphatically chanting "M-V-P!" during Rollins' at-bat, he lined his 20th triple into the right-field corner for a 5-1 lead.
Sensing something special, the sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park never chanted "E-A-G-L-E-S!" Sunday or during the six-game homestand.
Not since the days of the Dude and Wild Thing — Lenny Dykstra and Mitch Williams — has a Phillies team captured the hearts of a city starved for a championship. The NBA's 76ers were the last to win a title in 1983.
And leave it to a native son to deliver at a crucial time. While fellow 40-something Tom Glavine struggled for the Mets, Moyer (14-12) was sharp. Moyer grew up in nearby Souderton and played hooky from school to attend the Phillies' victory parade on Broad Street in 1980.
The crafty left-hander allowed one unearned run and five hits, striking out six. He baffled hitters with a typical mix of offspeed pitches and barely 80-mph fastball.
"I'd like to be going down Broad Street again on one of those floats instead of watching the floats go by," Moyer said.
Tom Gordon, J.C. Romero and Myers finished it off with 3 2-3 scoreless innings.
Rollins singled leading off the bottom of the first against Jason Bergmann (6-6). He stole second and third and scored on Chase Utley's sacrifice fly to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead.
In the third, Howard made it 3-0 with a two-out, two-run single. His solo shot in the seventh capped the scoring.
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