Looking Back at the Philadelphia Phillies World Series Run 12 Years Later
They say you’ll always remember your first. The first sports team I remember was the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies, and boy does that saying ever ring true.
At 9:58 PM, a dozen years ago, Brad Lidge stood on the pitcher’s mound at Citizens Bank Park, holding a perfect season and the weight of an entire organization on his shoulders. One strike separated the Phillies from their second-ever World Series championship. Lidge had saved each of his first 47 save opportunities in a Phillies uniform since coming over from Houston in December 2007. But if number 48 were to be, it would undoubtedly be the biggest.
A Curse to Reverse
The history of the Philadelphia Phillies franchise is defined by failure. No team in professional sports has lost more games than their impressive 11,032 defeats. In the 116 seasons where there has been a World Series, they have missed the Postseason 102 times. They were founded in 1883 but didn’t win a World Series until 1980. After striking out Willie Wilson to win that World Series, closer Tug McGraw said the clinching pitch was the slowest he’d ever thrown; it took 97 years to cross home plate.
Unfortunately, the Phillies failures extended to the rest of the city. After the Phillies’ 1980 title, the 76ers did win the 1983 NBA title. But as Lidge looked in for the sign from catcher Carlos Ruiz on that fateful October night twelve years ago, Doctor J was still the most recent Philadelphia superstar to bring home a title. In the interim, six Philadelphia teams made championship appearances, including the 1983 and 1993 Phillies. All six lost.
But something felt different about the 2008 Phillies, in large part because something felt different about the 2007 Phillies. After coming agonizingly close to their first Postseason appearance since 1993 the prior two seasons, shortstop Jimmy Rollins declared the Phillies “the team to beat” for the 2007 NL East. Somehow, the club backed it up, overcoming a 7-game deficit with 17 games left to usurp the Mets on the last day of the season, winning the NL East Title behind Rollins’ MVP season.
In hindsight, and the moment, the 2008 Phillies were loaded. 2006 NL MVP Ryan Howard led the Majors with 48 home runs. The team’s heart and soul were in the middle infield, with Utley leading the Majors in All-Star votes and Rollins backing up his MVP season with a league-leading 47 stolen bases. In the outfield, former No. 1 overall pick Pat Burrell socked 33 homers. Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth were trusted with full-time starting roles for the first time in their careers; both delivered breakout years. Catcher Carlos Ruiz and third baseman Pedro Feliz were defensive stalwarts capable of a big swing.
On the mound, the team was buoyed by a mix of old and new blood. Second-year starter Cole Hamels emerged as the ace of the staff. Trade deadline acquisition Joe Blanton provided the last bit of stability the rotation needed all year. Following a great 2007 season as the closer, Brett Myers returned to the rotation, and after struggling to start the year, clutched up with a dominant September. And who could forget 43-year old Jamie Moyer leading the staff with 16 wins?
No team had more pinch hits in 2008 than the Phillies’ bench, led by versatile slugger Greg Dobbs and former 33-year old rookie Chris Coste. Meanwhile, the bullpen was just as stacked. JC Romero and Ryan Madson were quality set-up men all season, creating the “Bridge to Lidge.” GM Pat Gillick bought low on Lidge after two subpar seasons in Houston and (spoiler alert) was rewarded with a perfect season from his closer in save situations.
After being swept in the NLDS by Colorado, the Phillies had the typical “learning experience” year under their belts and were ready to dominate. Though the 2008 regular season produced another nail-biting conclusion, the Phillies once again bested the Mets for the division title. This time, they clinched with a whole day to spare. Whew.
Picture Perfect Postseason
It wasn’t until they reached the Postseason where the Phillies proved that they had turned a corner. Cole Hamels’ dominant starting pitching performance gave the Phillies their first Postseason victory since the ’93 World Series in Game 1 of the NLDS. In Game 2, pitcher Brett Myers worked an improbable 10-pitch walk off elite hurler C.C. Sabathia, setting up Shane Victorino’s electric grand-slam.
It all but put the game and the series out of reach; three days later, the Phillies won Game 4, 6-2 on the strength of a lead-off home run from Rollins and two long balls by Pat Burrell. The Phillies had won just their fifth Postseason series in franchise history, setting up a date with the Dodgers in the NLCS.
Sixth-inning homers by Utley and Burrell turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 Phillies lead in Game 1. Victorino and Myers starred in Game 2; Victorino drove in four and made a game-saving web gem in the 7th, and while Myers allowed five runs in as many innings, he drove in three at the plate (as a pitcher!). It would only be the second most memorable Postseason hitting performance from a 2008 Phillies pitcher.
After a blow-out defeat in Game 3, the Phillies found themselves trailing 5-3 in the sixth, with the Dodgers loading the bases with only one out. But the team’s never-say-die attitude never came in bigger. Utley turned an unassisted double play to escape the jam. Victorino’s two-run homer tied the game in the 8th, and later that inning, well, Matt Stairs hit a ball that still hasn’t come down.
The very next night, just like he did in the NLDS clincher, Rollins led off with a home-run. Hamels was untouchable, and a three-error 5th inning by LA shortstop Rafael Furcal doomed the Dodgers. Nomar Garciaparra’s foul-out caught to Ruiz officially ended the series. The Phillies were going back to the Fall Classic.
Another long-timer loser awaited them there in the Tampa Bay Rays, who were making their first Postseason appearance in their 11-year history. The Rays made up for their lack of experience with an AL-best 97 regular-season wins. Leading the way were speedy outfield sluggers Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton, AL ROY Evan Longoria, and a strong starting rotation.
But Utley got to that strong rotation pronto in Game 1, launching a 2-run home-run just three batters into the game. Hamels pitched seven outstanding innings, even getting Upton to bounce into a bases-loaded double-play to escape danger in the third. Madson and Lidge sealed the deal with 1-2-3 frames in the 8th and 9th, giving the Phillies the series lead.
Tampa Bay responded with a Game 2 win to even the series, sending the series to Philadelphia. Game 3’s start time would be pushed back 91 minutes due to rain (if that sounds like a lot, you don’t know what comes next), but the wait was worth it. Moyer rebounded from disappointing NLDS and NLCS appearances, pitching 6 1/3 effective innings. Utley and Howard launched back-to-back homers, Howard’s first of the Postseason. Things looked briefly bleak when the Rays overcame a 4-1 deficit to tie the score. Still, the biggest little hit in Phillies history by Carlos Ruiz (who had also homered earlier that game) ended the contest at 1:47 A.M. It didn’t even leave the infield, but it gave the Phils the series lead.
Game 4 was all Philadelphia. Howard launched two home runs and drove in five, marking his breakout performance of the Postseason. And remember what I said about Myers’ hitting exhibition being the second most memorable by a Phils pitcher? That’s because Joe Blanton, in his own words, “closed my eyes and swung for the fences.” It’s the only World Series pitcher dinger since 1974, and with the universal DH’s adaptation in 2020, it may be the last.
Romero finished off the 10-2 victory, setting up a chance for the Phillies the next night at home. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first, the Rays clawed back as the rain came down. An absolute downpour drenched the dirt of Citizens Bank Park’s infield. Carlos Pena tied the game with just his second hit of the series in the 6th; after the next batter (Longoria) flew out to center, the game was sent into a rain delay, and shortly after, suspended.
It took 46 hours for the rain and snow to pass through the City of Brotherly Love. Ninety-one minutes doesn’t seem so bad now. But once again, the wait proved to be worth it. The Phillies near-instantly regained the lead when play resumed in the bottom of the 6th on a bloop single by right fielder Jayson Werth. But Tampa’s right-fielder Rocco Baldelli responded with Madson’s solo in the 7th, re-knotting the score. With two outs and a man on second, the Rays tried to get cute and sneak their first lead of the game. Chase Utley had none of it.
In the bottom of the inning, the Phillies finally seized control. In his final at-bat in his 9-year Phillies career, Burrell launched his first hit of the Fall Classic, a double off the very top of the high-wall in left-center. Two batters later, another unsung Phillies infielder came through in the clutch. Pedro Feliz laced a single past a drawn-in Bartlett at shortstop, restoring Philly’s one-run edge.
An uneventful eighth gave way to the climactic conclusion Philadelphia waited a quarter-century for. After a lengthy lead-off Longoria at-bat (try saying that five times fast) ended in a harmless pop-up, an equally innocuous bloop by Dioner Navarro found daylight. Two pitches later, pinch-runner Fernando Perez swiped second. Oh no. They aren’t going to get this close just to blow it, are they?
Pinch-hitter Ben Zobrist absolutely scorched the next pitch to right field. But baseball isn’t about hard you hit the ball, as Hall of Famer Willie Keeler said, it’s about hitting it where they ain’t. Jayson Werth was in perfect position to haul in Zobrist’s missile. The Phillies were an out away.
Up stepped another pinch-hitter, Eric Hinske, whose only previous at-bat of the Postseason ended in a home-run to dead center in Game 4. The Phillies were going to have to win this one the hard way. Lidge dealt his signature slider to start the at-bat. Hinske tapped it foul down the first base line. On 0-1, Lidge went back to the well, and Hinske was unable to check his swing.
And so we return to where this article started. Ninth inning, tying run 180 feet away, one more strike to end the quarter century curse of William Penn and give a generation of Philadelphia fans their first championship, myself included. Ruiz signaled for last slider. Lidge took a deep breath, wound up, and let if fly.
Take it away, HK.
What made the 2008 Phillies so special wasn’t just the long drought they overcame. This was an incredibly likable team who was greater than the sum of their parts. Their star power was extremely potent, but their depth was just as important in their championship run. You truly never knew who was going to be the hero on any given night. Their defense and base running were outstanding, but they also could blow teams away with the long ball and electric pitching.
And if their stars on the field weren’t hard enough, the Phillies had humble but hard-worker Charlie Manuel that knew exactly what buttons to press as manager. Some shrewd moves by Gillick, like trading for Moyer and Blanton, blended well with the previous regime’s drafting and developing homegrown stars like Utley, Rollins, and Howard. Oh, and when they spent money, they weren’t stupid about it.
The epilogue, of course, is less euphoric. The Phillies made the Postseason each of the next three seasons, even returning to the World Series in 2009. But despite their regular season success and historic moments like Utley’s 5-homer performance in the ’09 Fall Classic and Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in the 2010 NLDS, they always came up short. Philadelphia hasn’t been in the Postseason since 2011, as the current core’s flashes of excitement haven’t been anywhere near consistent enough to make a serious run.
But on October 29, 2008, the day that I turned seven years old, none of that mattered. On that night, everything was perfect. Years of hardship and heartbreak not erased, but displaced for a joyous celebration. The Eagles Super Bowl celebration in 2018 was larger, but having the Phillies lift the title burden off the city’s shoulders a decade prior made it better. Maybe one day they will return to glory. But there will never be another team quite like, as Chase Utley put it, “World (bleeping”) champion!” 2008 Philadelphia Phillies.
(Oh, and thanks to @2008Philz on Twitter for all of the nostalgic content and the title inspiration. “2008 tho” forever.)