The team to beat


Ten years ago tonight, the Phillies lost. That’s not out of the ordinary. The Phillies have the most losses in professional sports history. This loss, a 12-4 blowout to the Colorado Rockies, didn’t really stand out. It was a season that, like many, started with hope. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins had proclaimed the 2007 Phillies the team to beat. He was eating those words. The Phillies were seven games behind the New York Mets with just 17 games to play. No team had ever climbed so steep a mountain.

Then something that happened that was out of the ordinary.

It started with a really bad first inning against the Colorado Rockies. Starter J.D. Durbin got knocked around for three runs in his only inning. It looked like the Phillies were going to limp to the finish line. Then Jimmy Rollins, in the midst of a career season, opened the bottom of the inning with a single. Chase Utley and Jayson Werth followed with a force-out and a strikeout. Then reigning MVP Ryan Howard loped another single. A passed ball and an Aaron Rowand single, a walk and a Wes Helms double gave the Phillies a 4-3 win. They didn’t look back, winning 12-4. They were 6.5 back with 16 games to play.

Now they just had to go on a nine-game road trip.

The Phillies headed to New York for a three-game set against the Mets. A loss would bury them. Greg Dobbs won the first game with a 10th inning sacrifice game. 5.5 back with 15 to play. The next night, Aaron Rowand homered and doubled, driving in two runs in a 5-3 victory. 4.5 back with 14 to play. The Phillies weren’t taking any prisoners. The next night they walked 11 times en route to a 10-6 triumph and a sweep. All of a sudden they were 3.5 back with 13 to play.

Could it be?

Charlie Manuel’s squad travelled to Saint Louis and Ryan Howard got hot. The Big Piece launched two home runs and upped his league-leading RBI total to 120. The Phillies were 2.5 back with 12 to play. Despite getting just three innings from Cole Hamels, the Phillies won 7-4 and were just 1.5 back with 11 left. A 2-1 tenth-inning loss in the series finale made it seem like the Phillies might be running out of gas. They fell back to 2.5 behind the Mets with 10 games to play.

The Phillies arrived in the nation’s capital for a four-game set. Home Runs from Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth gave the Phillies a 7-6 win. Another Mets loss made it 1.5 back again with nine games to go. Howard, Rollins and Pat Burrel homered in a 6-3 victory. The Mets won, though, and the Phillies remained 1.5 back with eight games left. A strong pitching performance from Kyle Kendrick and three hits from Chase Utley got the Phillies a 4-1 victory. But another Mets win kept the Phillies 1.5 back with 7 games to play. Then the Phillies lost and the Mets stayed hot. They were 2.5 back. That Monday, the Phillies were off and the Mets cooled off, allowing the Phils to sneak closer. Two games back with six games to play, all at home.

It might be.

The Atlanta Braves came to town and thumped Jamie Moyer in the opener. The Phillies lucked out as the Mets lost again. They were still two back, but with five games to play. Jimmy Rollins and Kyle Lohse stopped the bleeding. Rollins chipped in three hits. Lohse pitched seven strong innings. The Phillies were 1 game back with four games to play.  Guess who homered in the first inning the next night? Ryan Howard launched a two-run shot off Hall of Famer John Smoltz to cap a three-run first inning. The Cardinals shut out the Mets in a make-up game.

They were tied. The Phillies had made up 7 games. And they didn’t need 17 games to do it. They’d done it in 14. Now they’d play the Nationals, who were coming off a sweep of the Mets, while the Mets played the Florida Marlins.

Cole Hamels took the hill in the opener and tossed eight masterful innings. He struck out 13. He allowed just one walk and six hits. No Nationals touched home plate. After the watching the end of his career, it truly is incredibly easy to forget how dominant Ryan Howard was. He homered again. His 45th of the year. His ninth of the month. The Mets lost, 7-4. The Phillies had the lead. A win and a Mets loss the next night and they would clinch.

The Mets played like they’d been angry they had been pushed around for so long. They won 13-0. The Phillies, however, fell 4-2.

Tied.

One day left. Jamie Moyer, a local who had attended the Phillies only World Series Parade, would take the hill for the Phillies.

Harry Kalas welcomed fans to the broadcast, telling fans they’d be watching  the scoreboard. When the booth came back from a commercial break, the stadium was bedlam and Kalas looked like a proud parent on Christmas morning. The Mets, led by Hall of Famer Tom Glavine, were getting battered. Kalas couldn’t even get his update in because  the Marlins were scoring in such droves.

After Moyer shut down the Nationals in the top of the first, Jimmy Rollins stepped to the plate. He of the guarantee. He led the league in runs scored, and set a record for most extra base hits by a shortstop. He started the inning with a single. Then he stole his 40th bag. He wasn’t done. He scored on a sacrifice fly.

By the end of the day, he’d add a triple and a  walk. Ryan Howard would homer again. Moyer would strike out six in 5 1/3 innings. Brett Myers would jubilantly toss his glove in the air. The players would douse the fans in champagne. Harry Kalas would have another signature moment.

It was the start of an extraordinary run.

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The team to beat

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