With two bang-bang plays at the plate, I may have been an eyewitness to the week when we see the crowning of the Philadelphia Phillies as repeat NL East Champions amidst another historic Mets breakdown.
Friends will know that a couple of years ago I started on a quest to visit every Major League ballpark. And in the last week of the 2008 season, I was lucky enough to squeeze in my fourth new stadium visit of the year.
Don and Nancy, friends and great preservationists from Philadelphia, read of my goal on More to Come. Don called a week ago and said “I have three tickets – two for Nancy and me and one for you if you can make it.” That was all I needed to hear, and I was on I-95 for the short two-hour drive to Philly yesterday afternoon.
Citizens Bank Park is a beautiful stadium, opened a couple of years ago. After a short walk around the park and picking up my free “Fightin’ Phils” rally towel, I joined Don and Nancy for dinner and baseball in terrific seats right behind the plate. Getting to see the ballpark was a treat in itself. Experiencing a fantastic game in the last week of a red hot pennant race was heaven.
The Phillies entered last night’s game 1 1/2 games ahead of the Mets for the NL East title with 7 games left to go. The Mets were playing the Chicago Cubs (who’ve already clinched the NL Central title) in New York, trying desperately not to fall out of the playoffs as they did last year when they squandered a 7 game lead with 17 games left to play. The Phillies jumped to a quick one run lead in the first and the home fans were ready for more.
In a crisply played game (how many American League games are over in two and a half hours), the Atlanta Braves battled back and tied the game 2-2. It stayed that way until the eighth. In the meantime, scoreboard watching was required, as the fans cheered when the Cubs took an early lead and then became restless when the Mets came back to tie it 2-2 in New York.
Two bang-bang plays gave a clue as to how the night was going to turn out. In the middle innings, the Braves had a runner on third with less than two outs, and the Phils had the infield in. On a sharp grounder, Phils Shortstop Jimmy Rollins fired to the catcher just in time to beat a sliding runner for the out. The crowd roared.
In the meantime, careful scoreboard watchers noted that the Cubs had loaded the bases against the Mets in the 4th inning, and when the Cubs-Mets score changed from 2-2 to 6-2 in one fell swoop, the crowd exploded. The score was highlighted on the big screen, and only later would we learn that it was the Cubs pitcher who hit the grand slam. Incredible! Maybe those two losses to the Nationals last week really rattled the Mets.
The bottom of the eighth arrived in Philadelphia with the score still tied at 2-2. The crowd was getting nervous. But a leadoff single, followed by a throwing error on a pick-off move, put pinch runner Greg Golson on third base. Time for the second bang-bang play. On a grounder to third, Golson broke for home. The throw beat him, but Golson got his foot on home plate just before the tag, and the crowd erupted (see opening photo). Two very similar plays. Two vastly different results.
To make sure the run stood, Pat Burrell added a three-run home run later in the inning and the celebration was on (see photo above) with rally towels in abundance. Mopping up in the 9th was simple, and I headed back down I-95, listening on XM Radio to Kerry Wood of the Cubs throw three heaters past a hapless Mets batter to wrap up a Cubs win and to give the Phils a 2 1/2 game lead in the division. Great night, great pennant race, and great ballpark. It only seemed appropriate – given that Don and Nancy are big bluegrass music fans – to crank up XM Bluegrass Junction on Track 14 for the ride through Delaware and Maryland. Thanks Don and Nancy!
More to come…