Stairs Way to Heaven

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

NOTE: I swear I wrote this before checking my Google Reader and finding that Todd Zolecki used the same headline.

Matt Stairs has just penned his name into the lore of Phillies baseball and the hearts of their fans forever. He made his own path to Philadelphia heaven in the city of angels.

One win away from the World Series is where the Phillies now find themselves after last night's game four of the National League Championship Series. If you went to bed early frustrated with the Phillies I don't blame you necessarily, although you should know that a Phillies game is never over until the final out is recorded. The Phillies turned an abysmal loss in which Ryan Howard handed the Dodgers a 5-3 lead into one for the ages with a dramatic come from behind victory. Philadelphia won 7-5.

Talk about a back and forth game. This was it. The Phillies jumped on Derek Lowe and his short rest early, scoring two runs in the first inning. Chase Utley, who has been playing very well in this series, hit a double down the right field line to score Jimmy Rollins and advance Jayson Werth to third. Ryan Howard grounded out but drove home Werth and moved Utley to third. Things were looking good. Giving Joe Blanton a two run lead to start the game would be huge.

Blanton allowed a run in the first inning, cued by a slug bunt hit by Rafael Furcal over the head of Greg Dobbs. But Blanton only allowed the lone run in the first inning and pitched effectively through five innings. Los Angeles was able to score three times off of Blanton who was showing signs of fatigue in the fifth inning. Leaving the game down 3-2 may have been demoralizing for Blanton but the Phillies scored a run in the top of the sixth inning to tie the game when Ryan Howard scored on a wild pitch. When the Dodgers came up in the sixth inning is when the insanity started.

Chad Durbin came in to relieve Blanton and promptly let the Dodgers retake the lead on a lead off home run by Casey Blake, who was pushed by his teammates to take a curtain call. Durbin then gave up a double to Juan Pierre and then a walk to pinch hitting Matt Kemp. With nobody out and two on Charlie Manuel called on Scott Eyre to try and wiggle his way out of Durbin's mess. But the mess was just beginning.

Rafael Furcal put down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners but was safe when Howard picked up the ball and threw wide, glancing off of Chase Utley's glove into right field. Pierre scored and Kemp and Furcal each advanced a base to put two men in scoring position with nobody out. I admit I was yelling "Ryan Howard just threw the game away! He just threw the game away!" Premature obviously. I let my emotions get the best of me. I calmed down a bit and said if the Phillies could get out of that inning without any more damage then they had plenty of time to come back. Genius, right?

Andre Ethier lined out to Howard for the first out. Manny Ramirez was intentionally walked to load the bases with one out in hopes of a double play. Ryan Madson then came in and got the much needed double play when Russell Martin lined to second base where Chase Utley made the play of the game, diving to tag second base to double off Furcal at second. That was the defensive play of the series so far.

After a solid seventh inning from both teams the fireworks were about to start in the eight inning. With the score finding the Dodgers in front with a 5-3, the Phillies were looking to get something going with what was likely to be the meat of the lineup's last try. Howard lead off the inning with a single up the middle in to center field. Shift that. Pat Burrell popped up, failing to advance Howard. Then the villain came to the plate.

Shane Victorino, full of emotions from his grandmother passing and the incident from the previous night, tied the game with a two run home run that lined just over the wall in right field and into the Phillies dugout. All of a sudden the Phillies were breathing a sigh of relief. The game was tied late and who knew what would happen next.

Pedro Feliz lined out sending Carlos Ruiz out to try and extend the inning. Ruiz did just that, sending a single in to left field and setting up Stairs for the most dramatic home run of his career. Stairs, a veteran of the game, showed great patience at the plate in drawing a 3-1 count. Stairs then let loose on the next pitch and drilled one to deep right field midway up the seats in the right field section. It was a moon shot. No question about it. This one will be remembered by Phillies fans for a long time. It was majestic.

With that the Phillies had an improbable 7-5 lead in the eight inning. From there it was all about getting the game to Brad Lidge. J.C. Romero did just that, retiring the first two batters he faced when he got Ethier to ground in to a double play. Now batting, Manny Ramirez.

Rather than have Romero go after Ramirez Charlie Manuel brought in his closer for a four out save opportunity. With a two run lead it did not matter what Ramirez did, and Lidge almost got him but Ramirez made Lidge look like nothing with a double into right center. With Russell Martin up you had to feel good that Lidge would get the third out of the eighth. He did with a strike out but the ball got away from Ruiz and Martin (and Ramirez) each advanced a base. Now all of a sudden the Dodgers had runners at the corner with two outs. But Lidge had no fear. He knows Ruiz makes the stop much more often than not. No need to sweat with a two run lead. Lidge then got James Loney to pop out to left field.

The ninth inning was just played as a formality as Lidge finished the deal with a perfect ninth inning. The Phillies had just stolen a game from the Dodgers and with it a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.

I mean it when I say that this was probably the best baseball game I have ever seen, at least the best Phillies game I have ever seen. Tuesday is a well deserved day off for both teams, but the Phillies have the advantage on Wednesday when they send Cole Hamels to the mound likely against Chad Billingsley.

One win away from the World Series

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