This afternoon I watched an early spring Phillies game on my parents’ TV. My share of the family’s season tickets have not led me to the stadium itself within the first 12 games of our much anticipated 2010 season. My last visit to Citizens Bank Park was in early November of 2009 for the final victory of that post-season. I didn’t blog that game in the following days out of fear of jinxing game 6 (or game 7, should we be so lucky). I didn’t blog all winter as the loss of that sixth game against the Yankees kept my optimism for 2010 more on this familiar side of cautious.
But, as I wait another two weeks before riding my bike down to Pattison Avenue, I thought I’d reflect on that final win in November, even though the inning by inning details are fuzzy.
For the 2009 World Series against the Yankees, which I’d never thought I’d see, my family shared three pairs of tickets we purchased through our increasingly friendly MLB connection. I arranged to go to the latest possible game, talking my own big game about the luck I bring the team (see: NL Champs 1993, World Series 2008 and NLCS 2009 Game 4) As the crowd warmed up for the TV cameras, I remember my cheers were particularly emotional. I wanted the win on this night as much as I wanted another championship.
Cliff Lee, the real good luck charm who gets paid to be an effective one, was on the mound. The Yankees had A.J. Burnett on their then signature post-season short rest. We were used to amazing things from Lee. Shut out, complete game, defensive magic types of amazing things. What we got that night worked, but was by no means the sure thing we’d come to see since acquiring the ace a few months earlier.
Chase Utley tied history that night, hitting two home runs and tying Mr. October himself with 5 home runs in a single World Series. (Now addicted to the radio coverage rich in factoids, Aaron had a radio with him that night. Upon repeating the insights he would share with me to the surrounding fans, I came off as quite knowledgeable.)
The Phillies offense was looking good, and Charlie Manuel was looking his usual faithful self as he let Lee pitch into the 8th, giving up three runs for which his team had created a nice cushion. Seeing an 8-2 lead going into that inning was certainly too good to be true, but basically what we’d come to expect from Lee and this Philadelphia team we had called champions all year.
But quickly it was a closer ball game than we wanted this late in the night, our 6 run lead is now just 4. Lee left for Chan Ho Park to clean up his mess, which he does and cuts our lead by another run. (And now, how cruel that Chop is wearing pinstripes in 2010?) When we couldn’t add more insurance in the bottom of the 8th, things were looking grim and the few Yankees fans around us were piping back up.
The Brad Lidge we’d counted on in 2008 had let us down over and over and over again this year and thankfully we were saved the stress and potential disaster of seeing him at this game. Ryan Madson came to the mound, and almost contagiously he added another run to the wrong side of the scoreboard thanks to Derek Jeter. Now, we were down to one out, 2 runs, and Johnny Damon managed to get on base.
At this moment, I know what the Yankees and their checkbooks are capable of. Through this feeling of dread, being raised as a Phillies fan that knows not to expect too much, I still tell myself that I didn’t come here to see the Phillies lose the World Series. Should that be our fate, please let it not happen at our stadium, with our rally towels waiving, not while I’m wearing a maroon tracksuit with a homemade light blue P on the back. I took these tickets for a reason: to get the Phillies to game 6.
Madson strikes out Mark Teixeira. Madson does his job of reassuring this stadium and this city.
This elation lasts nearly 48 hours until the end of game 6, which I watched quietly with friends in a living room. That sense of defeat, the desire to avoid anyone who wasn’t rooting for my team, I got to experience practically alone. In our stadium, we deserved our victory.
Now months have passed. The hopes we hung on Lee have settled onto Roy Halladay’s shoulders. We assume last season’s problems have been settled by trades, practice, surgery, rest. We are all re-energized, the team and the fans. We’ve had just enough loss to keep us from transforming into the cocky city we pit brag that we’re not. We’re still the team with the most losses in baseball, with the historic collapses we can’t forget, with only two world championships in our 110+ year existence. I expect this changed team to bring me win after win as I bike south this spring, summer and fall. And when they fail, fail me, I’ll remember the fall evenings that they won, won for me.