Friday, August 13, 2010

The Ghost of Matt Stairs

Remember this?

And this?

Jonathan Broxton does. Yeah, he sure does. Now he can add this to his memory bank.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, Jonathan Broxton is still haunted by the ghost of Matt Stairs, and by the looks of things, he always will be. First, it was Stairs hitting the hardest ball in the history of the universe that turned a sure loss to tie up the NLCS out in Los Angeles into a dramatic, improbable victory to take a commanding 3-1 series lead en route to becoming World Fucking Champions — and becoming a god here in Philadelphia. Then, Broxton shit his pants again in the NLCS last year when he saw Stairs come to plate, walking him on four pitches, eventually leading to Jimmy's exhilarating walk-off double. And last night, even with Matt Stairs now residing in San Diego, about as far away from Philadelphia as a MLB team can get (though very close to the Dodgers), you just know Broxton had Matt Stairs on his mind. And the result was the same.

With the Phillies trailing 3-1 in the second inning, my roommate and I headed to McCrossen's Tavern to meet Adam EatShit for some beers and food near his new home. Before we could blink, Joe Blanton, Chad Durbin, J.C. Romero and Jose Contreras blew up for six runs, and the Phils trailed 9-2 heading into the bottom of the 8th. Surely, this game was over. At least we were enjoying good food and good beer.

Turns out, that wasn't all we were about to enjoy. In came Ronald Belisario to begin the bottom of the 8th, the hard-throwing righty whose pitches dart every which way. Adam said how good this guy looked against the Phils last year, how hard he throws and the movement. I saw Polanco step in the box and said, "Polanco will definitely get a hit off this guy." Almost as if on cue, Polanco ripped a two-strike pitch up the middle for a single. From there, I wasn't so confident, expecting Belisario to get out of it with minimal damage.

But a funny thing happened. The newest first baseman in town, veteran Mike Sweeney, followed Polanco's lead by singling up the middle. Then Jayson Werth made it three straight singles, driving in Polanco and Sweeney after they had advanced on a wild pitch. Suddenly, this game didn't look quite as over as it seemed. Still though, the Dodgers were up 5 with just six more outs needed. Belisario would not be able to get any of those required outs, allowing Werth to advance to second on a balk, and surrendering a double to Ben Francisco to plate Werth, 9-5. Now things were really starting to get interesting.

Belisario got pulled for Kenley Jansen, essentially the same type of pitcher as Belisario, but one who had not given up any earned runs in his 7 innings of big league work. He quickly got Carlos Ruiz to ground out, but did surrender an RBI single to Wilson Valdez to make it a 9-6 game before getting pulled. Suddenly it was a three-run game, well within reach. And as George Sherrill came in, the camera panned to Broxton. I said, "I want to see that guy come in the game," precisely because of his history against the Phils.

Sherrill got Dom Brown to fly out, but then walked Jimmy Rollins, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Raul Ibanez. Suddenly my focus shifted from wanting to see Broxton enter the game to envisioning Raul replicate his at-bat against Sherrill in game 1 of last year's NLCS, when he hit a three-run home run off Sherrill to give the Phils an 8-4 lead in the 8th.

Instead Raul grounded out on the first pitch, and my hopes went up in flames when I saw Danys Baez come into the game. There was no doubt in mind, Baez was going to give some of those hard-earned runs right back. It's what he does. He's terrible and I hate him. There was no possible way he was going to not screw this up and piss me off.

Except he didn't. In fact, Danys Baez pitched a 1-2-3 9th inning. I swear to god. It really happened. I know, I couldn't believe it either. And that set the stage we were all hoping for — Jonathan Broxton, with visions of Matt Stairs in his head, entering the game in a save situation. Against most teams, that's a frightening proposition. Broxton is a flame-throwing, lockdown closer on most nights, the type of pitcher most teams are loathe to see on the mound. But not the Phillies. Not after two Octobers of making Broxton their bitch. No, the Phillies aren't scared of Broxton the way some teams are. It's the complete opposite, in fact: Broxton is scared of the Phillies.

How else can you explain him hitting Placido to start things off? And how else do you explain him walking Mike Sweeney immediately after that? And by the way, what a hell of an at-bat by Sweeney. We keep hearing about how much of a professional hitter he is, and man, that was the epitome of a professional at-bat. He worked a full count on one of the hardest throwers alive, fouling off three 96-plus mph fastballs on the black before taking his base on balls. It was really an awesome at-bat.

After that, the wheels didn't just come off, they rolled past the car and caused a pile-up. Broxton followed up the HBP to Polanco and walk to Sweeney with yet another walk to Werth, loading the bases for Ben Francisco — a guy who had doubled to score a run his last at-bat.

Well this time, Francisco didn't put quite the same swing on the ball, hitting a grounder right to third baseman Casey Blake, a sure out and potential double-play ball off the bat. But what should have been wasn't, as Blake lifted his glove too early, and ball went right through his legs and into leftfield, scoring Polanco and Sweeney, 9-8. At that point, everyone in the bar, everyone in Philadelphia, hell, everyone in Los Angeles knew the Phillies were going to win. And they wasted no time, as Curbball absolutely smoked a double to the gap, easily scoring Werth and Francisco to win the game. The bar exploded in sheer joy. I'm not one that enjoys watching games in public places (besides actually being there), preferring to watch them at home, so much so that I'll never go to a bar or party to watch a playoff game, but I have to say, it was pretty cool being in McCrossen's and hearing the reaction. What a rally. What a comeback.

Chooch was the unquestionable hero of the game, going 3-for-5 with a run and 3 RBIs, of course highlighted by plating the game-tying and game-winning runs with his walkoff double to more than make up for his throwing error. But the star, as anyone watching knows, was this youngster, who had started his hexing in the 8th and carried it over all the way to the finish. It sure seemed to work. The Phanatic taught him well. It's just a shame he's so young, because if he was a little older, he'd definitely be getting laid by some ladies that love the Phils. Regardless, he'll be the most popular kid in his class come September.

Almost as popular as Matt Stairs. Somewhere in San Diego, you know Stairs was watching with a big smile on his face, knowing that Broxton was thinking about him, trying not to pee his pants.

BallHype: hype it up!

No comments:

Post a Comment