Sunday, November 1, 2009
The Phillies reached the World Series, then got their fans all excited at the prospects of winning against their high-powered and favored opponents by splitting the first two games on the road. Coming back to Philly, emotions were high and the city was primed for the excitement. And then the visitors put on a baseball clinic, swamped the Phils, and went up 2-1 in the series. Last night? Nope. 1993 actually.
I have been a Phillies fan for most of my life, and I have always been able to say without any reservation that from start to finish, the 1993 Phillies were the single most fun team that I have ever watched. The varied and colorful personalities on that team combined with the fact that they had finished in last place the previous year and so were pulling off a rare 'worst to first' season were the main reasons.
That Phillies team was led by a 'Macho Row' contingent, nicknamed as such because of the section of the locker room in which they sat. Darren 'Dutch' Daulton was the catcher with movie-star good looks, the longest-tenured player, and the de facto team Captain. Dutch banged 24 homers and knocked in 105 runs after he had survived a major car crash a couple of seasons earlier with another one of the team's most colorful characters.
That other player in Daulton's car accident was known alternately as 'Nails' or 'the Dude', and he was the team MVP. Lenny Dykstra was the prototypical leadoff hitter who worked the opposing pitcher for deep pitch counts, then provided speed and daring on the base paths. Combined with some power pop in his bat, the Dude had put together a .305 average, .420 on-base percentage, 19-homer, 37-steal, 143-runs season that led to a 2nd place NL MVP finish behind only Barry Bonds.
The first baseman was perhaps the most colorful of the bunch. John Kruk was one of the best pure hitters in baseball. The rolly-polly and scruffy-bearded Kruk was asked by a female reporter what it was being a pro athlete, to which he famously replied "I ain't no athlete, lady, I'm a ballplayer!" And could he ever hit, that season going .316 with a .430 on-base percentage, 85 rbi, and 100 runs scored.
Macho Row was filled out by scary-crazy 3rd baseman and team enforcer Dave 'Mikey' Hollins and Pete Incaviglia, who looked like a mafiosa enforcer himself. The 'straight guys' in the lineup were veteran outfielder Milt Thompson, Tourrets syndrome-inflicted outfielder Jim Eisenreich, steady infielders Mickey Morandini and Mariano Duncan, and baby-faced rookie shortstop Kevin Stocker, who had come up to the team from the minors late in the season and provided an irreplaceable spark.
On the mound the team was led by outspoken eternal optimist and breakout ace Curt Schilling, talented young righthander Tommy Greene, and veterans Danny Jackson and Terry Mulholland. The bullpen featured a colorful veteran in current Phils broadcaster Larry Anderson, but was anchored at the back end by one of the most flamboyant, inconsistent, maddening, lovable, flame-throwing closers of all-time, Mitch 'Wild Thing' Williams.
The manager of this crazy bunch of castoffs and cartoon characters was baseball lifer Jim Fregosi, who a couple of years later would hit on my wife right in front of me. But that's another story for another day. That summer of 1993, Fregosi was the perfect fit for this bunch, a man who had seen it all, or so he thought.
The 1993 Phillies started out hot and never looked back, leading the NL East division wire-to-wire and finishing 97-65 to win the division title by 3 games over the Montreal Expos. In the NLCS they were prohibitive underdogs to a 104-win Atlanta Braves team that was about to start their own dynasty. But the Phils battled to a 4-2 series victory with Mitch Williams striking out the final Braves hitter and setting off a wild celebration at Veteran's Stadium as the Phillies advanced to the World Series for the first time in a decade.
Most baseball people had them as big enough underdogs to the Braves, but in the World Series that status would rise to another level. The Phils were going to be facing the defending World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays, a team laden with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers like Paul Molitor, Rickey Henderson, Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar, Dave Stewart, Al Leiter, and John Olerud.
The Jays opened at home by scoring three 7th inning runs to break open a tight game and take an 8-5 win that left many thinking they would sweep the Phils. But this mentally tough Phillies team came back in the 2nd game with a big 5-run 3rd inning that they used to coast to a 6-4 win and a 1-1 tie in the series. When the team returned home for three games, the raucous crowd at 'The Vet' was hoping to help make the difference and spur the team to the upset.
Game 3 was a complete damper for the Phils and their fans. The Blue Jays bats came alive by scoring three first-inning runs en route to a huge 10-3 victory that demoralized the Fightin's and their fans. Most baseball people though the Phils had stolen their one win from these champs, and that the Jays would now coast to the series victory.
Game 4 of that 1993 World Series would turn out to be one of the most incredible games in baseball playoff history, and a dark day in the annals of Phillies history. The Jays bolted out of the gates hot, again scoring three in the first. But this time the Phils answered, scoring four of their own for a 4-3 lead after one inning. Two more in the 2nd put the club up 6-3, but the Jays answered with 4 in the 3rd for a 7-6 Toronto edge. The Phils tied it in the 4th, and then rallied for 5 runs in the 5th to take a 12-7 lead. Things looked good for a 2-2 series tie, and the Phils would have their ace Schilling on the mound the next night.
The Jays scored 2 in the 6th to get back within 12-9, but the Phils scored once in the bottom for a 13-9 lead and once again in the 7th to stretch it to 14-9, a lead which they took into the 8th inning. It was there that things fell apart. The Jays scored six runs in what seemed like a never ending rally, taking back the lead 15-14. The champs held on to that lead, and the Phillies had a completely demoralizing loss, down now by three games to one.
The Jays were just one win away from their repeat title, and the Phils were down. They needed someone to step up and be a hero, someone to give them reason to believe that they could actually beat this Jays team. Their ace did the job, as Curt Schilling tossed a 5-hit gem of a shutout and the Phillies won 2-0, forcing the series back to Toronto. With the Jays lead down to 3-2, the Phils hoped to just squeeze out a win any way possible and force a 7th game.
In Game 6 back at Toronto, the Jays methodically built a 5-1 lead which they took into the 7th. The Phillies appeared dead, and the Jays fans were celebrating their apparent World Series repeat early. But the Phillies bats suddenly rose from the dead, scoring 5 runs in that 7th highlighted by a Dykstra clutch homerun. With a 6-5 lead, the Phillies moved into the 9th looking to tie the series.
Williams came on to get the Phils even, but he walked Henderson to lead things off. He came back to get Devon White for the first out, and the Phils were two outs away from evening the series. Molitor battled to get a 2-strike single. Joe Carter stepped to the plate. Williams got him to a 2-2 count, one strike away from getting the Jays slugger, one ground ball away from a game-ending double play.
Instead it was Carter who ended the game, and the World Series. Williams came in with a low, hard pitch and Carter got his bat around quickly on the ball, driving it on a line towards the left field corner. The ball sailed just over the fence, and the Toronto fans erupted as the 3-run homerun won the series for the Jays. Carter lept for joy and was mobbed by his teammates at home plate at the conclusion of one of baseball's most dramatic moments.
Those 1993 Philadelphia Phillies have lived on in sentimental favor with the fans. Even Mitch Williams, branded a public enemy for awhile in the town, has become a cult hero. He fully accepted responsibility for the loss, and ultimately the fans embraced the fact that he never shrunk from his role. He is now a popular TV analyst with the team. Kruk has gone on to become a national baseball analyst as well.
The 1993 World Series was not a win for the Phillies, and one of the biggest reasons in looking back was their failure to put away what should have been a win in that 4th game which would have tied the series. Tonight the current Phillies have that same opportunity, to tie the series up with their ace going tomorrow. This time, the club must get it to 2-2 and give Cliff Lee a chance to put them back up.