Monday, October 13, 2008

Stairs Case: Better Than Ricky Ledee

Remember when we were watching that ESPN Sunday niter earlier this season -- y'know, the game at The Cit vs. the N.Y. Mess when the Fightin's were w/o Rollins, so Bruntlett was playin' SS and Werth was battin' leadoff -- and journeyman outfielder T.J. Bohn made his Phillies' debut (after Utley hit the two homers to stake Eaton to the 4-0 and before FELIZ snapped the 4-4 tie with a solo HR) ... and remember how we not only found it odd that T.J. Bohn was wearin' Mickey Morandini's #12 (or, more recently, Tad Iguchi's #12), but how a guy who was hittin' .193 for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs was brought up to the big ballclub?

Not surprisingly, T.J. Bohn struck out in that critical AB.

We were equally puzzled five days earlier when a meaningful pinch-hit AB was given to a journeyman named Chris Snelling as the Fightin's trailed the 'Stros, 3-0, in the 9th inning ... but then we all figured that maybe somebody was onto something when Chris Snelling homered in that AB (his second Phillie AB).

Because Burrell then hit the 2-run homer to tie the game ... and then FELIZ doubled home the game-winner moments later (after Jenkins struck out for what would've been the final out in the 9th to then force extra innings, only Jenks scrambled to first base after Strike 3 got away).

Funny how, 4-1/2 months after the week when Bohn and Snelling made their Phillie debuts within a 6-day span, that Big Yokel who manages the Fightin's didn't have a Bohn or a Snelling to send up as a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 9th in that ESPN Sunday niter vs. L.A. -- so Chuck (middle name: Fuqua) sent somebody named Andy Tracy up make his Phillies' debut as a PH for Ruiz (with Victorino at second) as the Fightin's trailed, 2-1, and Jonathan Broxton was lookin' to get the final out and nail down the victory.

We discovered that Andy Tracy, unlike Bohn, was not a .193-hittin' IronPig, but, instead, possessed some minor-league, fence-bustin' credentials -- which seemed to matter not when he coaxed that walk off of Broxton (which prompted Mgr. Yokel to remove Tracy and insert pitcher Kyle Kendrick as a pinch-runner), putting runners at first and second for FELIZ, who hit a flare to RF for the game-tying single.

Two innings later, Big Yokel didn't have a T.J. Bohn or a Chris Snelling or an Andy Tracy to save his bacon when he had two runners on base w/ two outs, so he dispatched Cole Hamels as a PH.

Hamels struck out -- which had a lot of Fightin's phans fightin' mad and ready to chuck the nearest Phillie bobblehead at the TV the next time that Chuck's big yokel face appeared on the TV screen.

That is, until FELIZ (yup ... same Feliz as thrice earlier) followed the Hamels K with a long, 3-run, walk-off HR to LCF.

WHAT WE'VE JUST OUTLINED HERE IS WHAT'S COMMONLY REFERRED TO AS "THE BACKDROP" -- which served itself well as the Big Yokel, two wins from a berth in the World Series, called NOT upon a journeyman named T.J. Bohn or a journeyman named Chris Snelling or a journeyman named Andy Tracy, but rather a journeyman we've all heard of -- MATT STAIRS.

And when Matty cut loose against Broxton (yeah ... same Broxton as before) in the top of the 8th of a 5-5 ballgame, well, whaddya know ... Joe Buck gave us a quasi-respectable call.
"Stairs rips one into the night!" as the FOX cameras panned back and showed the tiny white dot against he black sky before it disappeared into the mass of humanity and disbelievers, three-quarters of the way up the RF pavilion.

It sure made a lot of us wonder which traveled further: That ball -- or the one which Jack Clark hit into the LF pavilion (off of Niedenfuer) in the '85 NLCS?

Stairs, looking like a left-handed Incaviglia in terms of home-run mechanics, destroyed that pitch so completely that it had a lot of us recalling what the good book sez about the importance of putting a good baseball swing on a pitched baseball.

Stairs authored the type of swing where Phillie Phan found himself/herself raising his/her arms and signaling "Touchdown!" the very split-second that the ball jumped off the bat -- and, once Phillie Phan was finished signaling "Touchdown!," he/she was simultaneously pumping his/her fist and shaking his/her head in an amused state of amazement.

Y'see, when we think of all of our favorite Phillie PH's who could never do THAT, we think of Ricky Ledee and Midre Cummings ... or maybe Jason Michaels or Marlon Byrd.

Of course, the biggest home run of Matt Stairs' life was made possible only because his 2-run blast followed the game-tying, 2-run shot which Shane Victorino lined into the Phillie bullpen only moments earlier (not to mention the way that Carlos Ruiz kept the inning alive with his 2-out single off of Broxton).

Throughout the land, Phillie Phan was rejoicing -- everywhere from the living room where he/she was sittin' not far from his breast-cancer-survivor spouse (w/ a mini-Phanatic plush toy on the shelf below the regular-def TV; Phillie bobblehead on the Hitchcock chair; that Snoopy-looking dog "Henry" wearin' the mini-Phillie helmet w/ protective flap for L ear) to a Buffalo Wild Wings in either Bryn Mawr, Bala Cynwyd or King of Prussia.

However, the Southland was quiet ... and there was a silent solemnity inside the Buicks and Chevys which transported Dodjerk fans to their homes in Canoga Park or Tarzana or Pico Rivera.

Interestingly, there were three other households where the Shane n' Stairs' homers were not embraced.

At George Vukovich's home, he puffed out his chest and told the neighbors, "Hey ... it wasn't a walk-off homer. I'm STILL the only guy with a walk-off homer in Phillies postseason history." (Game 3, 1981 NLDS vs. Montreal)

Moments earlier, Bake McBride saw Victorino's HR and told everybody, "Hey, I've done that" ... just in case they didn't remember his PH HR into Dodger Stadium's visitor's bullpen (Game 4, 1978 NLCS ... who could forget?)

As if this entire scenario couldn't get any more fascinating, it was when the Flyin' Hawaiian's HR was flyin' over the fence that Sixto Lezcano turned to his Puerto Rican amigos (as well as some Puerto Ricans who he maybe wasn't all that friendly with) and proclaimed, "Hey ... that guy ain't the first Phillie to have a sac bunt and a homer in the same playoff game. I was the first." (Game 4, 1983 NLCS vs. L.A.).

It's nice to catch up with Georgie Vook, Bake and Sixto -- but, it seems as though they're trying a little too hard to connect with this team.

After all, what were those guys sayin' in August LAST year when the Phils signed Russell Branyan, America's Quintessential Strikeout Machine?

It stands to reason that this one crucial PH AB was Pat Gillick's way of saying "Stairs '08 is what Branyan '07 was SUPPOSED to be" -- y'know, kinda like the way that Ryan Howard is the anti-thesis of The Failed Mark Whiten Home Run Experiment of the Mid-'90s.

It's so easy to get lost in this melange of HRs and believe that the Phillies are solely about the longball.

Although they haven't always done it consistently, they can cook up some small-ball now and then -- such as the way that they scratched across those 2 runs in the first and then pieced together the run which tied the game, 3-3, following a sac by Victorino and the WP by Chan Ho Pork.

(**Note: Every time we look at Chan Ho Pork or talk about Chan Ho Pork behind his back, it's impossible not to chuckle when we rewind to that sunny Dodger Stadium Sunday back in '99 when Chan Ho Pork served up two grand slams to Fernando Tatis during St. Louis' 11-run, 3rd inning. Definitely ... two grand slams by one player in an inning almost never happens on the softball diamond, but served up by the same pitcher in an MLB game??? It's safe to assume that Fernando Tatis wasn't on steroids or anything in '99 -- he was high on life and grand slams -- because he never came close to 34 homers before or after that season ... and, oddly enough, J.D. Drew was the on-deck hitter for both of those slams ... and he made 2 outs in that inning and everybody knows that, as a batter, it's a cardinal sin to make two outs in the same inning ... and Chan Ho Park? He pitched in one game in 2007 ... for the N.Y. Mess ... and he was awful ... and this was a very fun sidebar ... )

[ ** ... although it's anybody's guess as to whether the previous sidebar can match this sidebar, the second sidebar in the sidebar series, wherein we discuss the time when we saw on TV the first grand slam of Matt Stairs' career ... back in '96 when his 4-run homer ruined the career of a young Ryan Hancock ... alas, we didn't see his most recent grand slam -- earlier this season when he was a Blue Jay and wrecking the evening of Boof Bonser by connecting for a bases-loaded blast in the top of the first at the Metrodome ... two pitching careers ruined by Stairs Slams ... ]

Crazy playoff wins like this do crazy things to a Phillie Phan's brain. The mind wanders and it wonders if, in terms of Phillies' postseason homers hit in enemy ballparks, if these two tonight can outrank the top-of-the-10th, solo shot hit by Nails in the direction of the Royal Oak Charcoal sign in Atlanta in '93 or Schmidty's 2-run jack in the top of the 4th in Game 5 of the '80 World Series, one batter after Bake hit that comebacker to Gura and Willie Mays Aikens' possible cocaine-induced thought-process hindered his decision-making ability ... such as which of three first-base bags he should step on to retire McBride ... ooopsie ...

As long as we're ranking road HRs, we now have to add the ones which Rollins and Burrell hit in Milwaukee, right?

Rather than categorizing, we should merely embrace 'em all.

But, let's never lose sight of the fact that even if the Phils HAD lost tonight, they woulda still been 2-2 with Hamels on the hill tomorrow -- which in no way should dimish the drama/thrills/whatever.

We'd be remiss if we didn't rank Utley's diving-stop, unassisted DP (diving to the second-base bag to double up the diving Furcal) with the Victorino/Stairs homers, especially with the way that Howard lollipopped that throw halfway to El Segundo (or was it Garden Grove?).

And, we'd be remiss if we didn't rank Victorino's HR tonight and his grand slam vs. Sabathia as two of "The Top 5 Most-Important Homers in the History of Hawaii" (right behind the walk-off job that catcher Mike Memea hit to give the Ewa Beach L.L. All-Stars the championship in '05, but ahead of the solo job that K.C.'s Kila Ka'aihue hit off of Gavin Floyd last month for his first MLB HR).

We're still looking for the appropriate place on the food chain to rank the homer that Iolana Akau lined in this year's LLWS -- after it was feared that the bone fracture he sustained on a HBP in the first game would sideline him for the series.

It's very stimulating when the outcome elevates itself from epic to Biblical -- such as when we bear witness to the Utley's DP & Victorino/Stairs HRs as part of a master plan orchestrated by The Big Yokel (middle name: Fuqua).

The Stairs decision wasn't a difficult one, considering that Dobbs and Jenkins were already out of the game (Jenkins had merely been announced as a PH before Joe Beimel -- whatever a "Joe Beimel" is -- came in to pitch and then Skip chose to PH Taguchi ... but, only because it was Taguchi, not Iguchi, on the postseason roster ... and only because Lehigh Valley IronPigs coach Greg Gross is 56 years old ... and only because Del Unser -- 5 for 11 in the '80 postseason -- is 63 years old and, as a member of the Phillies' scouting staff, probably doesn't have much time to keep his PH stroke sharp ... ).

These circumstances were the reason why it was necessary for the tender hand of June Forrest Manuel to reach down from Heaven and gently guide Stairs' drive over the fence.

Gently guide it 36 or 37 rows over the fence, June did ...

As that ball was exiting the field of play (Stairs didn't "hit it out of the park" ... only Willie Stargell has accomplished that feat ... twice in the '70s ... ), just for a minute, Phillie Phan thought he/she saw Jerry Martin catching Manny Mota's deep drive at the wall to end Game 3 ...

We thought we saw Garry Maddox making the waist-high catch of Ron Cey's liner which came out of the shadows and into the sunlight.

Those were hallucinations, we 'spose ... though there was nothing surreal about the manner in which Stairs took off his short-sleeved, red warmup shirt, socked one over the fence, circled the bases, received 56 poundings to the shoulders and back and then walked back to the bench, put on his short-sleeved, red warmup shirt and plopped his ass back onto the bench.

Ya kinda sorta half-expected him to light up a Marlboro and crack open an Oly (that, of course, being a reference to Olympia Beer -- from Tumwater, Washington -- which was a former Dodger sponsor ... this, we learned, before we were "of age," when Vin Scully, via our yellow Panasonic transistor radio, told us so ... "it's the water ... and a lot more" ... )

While we realize that nuthin's clinched yet in La-La Land, we're excited (but not TOO excited) about the prospect of being 27 outs away from phoning up the ex-mom and taunting her about her worthless F-ing Dodjerks.

Of course, doing so would require breaking 27 consecutive years of givin' the ol' broad the cold shoulder ... and, if what they're sayin' is true, the Alzheimer's is exacting quite a toll (which means that Joe Beimel might as well be Doug Rau).

Still, if it's true that we're the type of person who'd run over his mom to score a run in softball (or run over her just for the hell of it), ya gotta relish the sweet payback for 15-3 in '79 (although, in some circles, it is believed that the 15-3 Phillie win in L.A. last year, not to mention "9 In The 9th" in '90 probably evened the score ... ).

It was one wild ride out there in Chavez Ravine tonight -- and a fantastic way for the red-n'-gray warriors to post their first win in that ballpark this season -- yet, it was a little typically unfortunate that the celebrity who we saw most often tonight couldn't rally her Think Blue Crew by sitting motionless and expressionlesss near the Dodger on-deck circle.

Jeez ... Penny Marshall was wearin' her black Dodger jacket (not a team color, Toots) and her sunglasses (it's nighttime, Hon) ...

The attitude is so lax near LAX that nobody should expect any Southland natives to angrily (or profanely) mutter Stairs' name -- in fact, the only way that they'll use any form of the word "stairs" is to tell the bimbo behind the counter at Bally's that one of the stairclimbers isn't working.

Naturally, almost nobody in attendance tonight could appreciate the significance of the game's final out -- when future Hall of Famer Jeff Kent lined out to -- ("complete the circuit, kids!") -- Pedro FELIZ!

And, with that, the Phillies are on the verge of achieving greatness in the Southland ... the place where NOT every street is lined with palm trees and NOT every next-door neighbor is one of the Olly Girls waitin' to give you a hummer.

Some of us Phillie Phans were born n' raised there in the era of Manson Family murders, the rapes and hillside dumpings of slain women by Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi, the canyon fires, the Sylmar quake, etc ...

Now, it's time for the Fightin's to complete this L.A. invasion ... and shut down the Dodjerks for the winter.

Then, we'll feed their genitals to the kyyy-yoats ...


No comments: