The only reason the stands still appeared full last night, as the Phils entered the ninth trailing by six runs, was that the fireworks show set to take place after the game was sure to be better entertainment than the lackluster, sloppy performance the Phillies had provided yet again.
“Just make it quick, so we can see the fireworks,” one fan heckled as Shane Victorino strode to the plate to begin the ninth.
Before Ryan Howard stunned the city with his walkoff, tenth inning homerun, nothing could go right for the Phils.
A couple of errors, matched with bad pitching and a silent offense made for a long night at Citizens Bank Park. It seemed like it would be another one of those disappointing, puzzling nights where this struggling baseball team just couldn’t do anything right.
But then came the double, a double that could perhaps go down as one of the biggest of the season. Down the right field line, off the bat of Shane Victorino, the hit presented a glimmer of hope that just like in ’08 and ’09 this team could pull off the improbable and overcome what would seem to be an insurmountable deficit.
The hit, followed by a sac-fly and a single off the bat of Ryan Howard would lead to the first Phils run of the ninth inning. Jayson Werth followed Howard with a one-out single and rookie Mike Leake was beginning to run into his first real difficulty in what was supposed to be his first complete game.
Greg Dobbs, the next batter, took a 3-2 pitch deep to left banging it off the upper half of the mesh attached to the foul pole for a three run homerun, making it a 7-5 ballgame.
Dusty Baker had seen enough from his young pitcher and called for his closer Francisco Cordero to face Brian Schneider. Schneider flew out, leaving the Phils down to their final out. After pinch hitter Ben Francisco flew out, Cody Ransom stepped to the plate for just his seventh at-bat of the season.
With two down in the ninth, Ransom turned on a 0-1 pitch and put it a row into the seats in right-center. There was euphoria at the ballpark and an atmosphere which perhaps hasn’t been matched since last year’s World Series set in at Citizens Bank Park. The 82nd consecutive sellout crowd watched as Victorino batted for the second time in the inning, this time flying out to send the game to the 10th.
After Ryan Madson sent the Reds down 1-2-3, the Phils took just two more batters to seal the deal and complete what is certainly their most remarkable win of the season.
With Raul Ibanez on second base, Ryan Howard sent Arthur Rhodes’ pitch into the flower boxes in left field walking the Reds off. The game, one that words can only do limited justice to, will be remembered forever as an incredible July win. But perhaps it could become a lot more.
In a season where no one can seem to figure out what’s going so terribly wrong, the Phils need something to turn it all around. The first 8-innings were very indicative of the type of year this team has been having. The last two — what kind of year this team could be having.
For the offense especially, the type of spark we are used to seeing has been absent all year. People have been talking about whether or not this team has lost its swagger or its confidence and mojo. From an outsider’s perspective, it certainly has seemed to.
Wins like this mean much more than their statistical value. They prove a team’s character, not only to its fans, but sometimes to the very players who make the magic happen. While they’ll never publicly admit it, there had to be doubt within the Phillies clubhouse. It seemed as though everything was against them. For stretches they couldn’t buy a run, for others, they couldn’t buy a win or a decent pitching performance.
Tonight it seemed the deck was stacked against them, but they overcame a deficit no one could imagine.
“They can’t, they won’t, there’s no way….” is what every Phils fan was saying or thinking tonight. But, alas, they did.
As Ryan Howard said, “I don’t know how to explain it.” And sometimes, you just can’t. But let’s hope that moving forward, Howard and team will keep struggling to find answers and stop struggling to get wins.
In October we could look back and say, hey remember that night back in July, where the fireworks came a little sooner than folks were expecting?