Ten years ago this month, the Phillies won their second World Series title in franchise history. Over the next few weeks, Jim Salisbury will look back at the team’s run through the NLCS and World Series.
A decade later, my knee still hurts and it’s all Matt Stairs’ fault.
We were squished like so many sardines in the press box at Dodger Stadium, hacking away on our laptops trying to make tight East Coast deadlines. It was the eighth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS. Shane Victorino had just added another highlight to his impressive postseason resume with a game-tying, two-run homer to right. Now, hard-throwing Dodgers’ right-hander Jonathan Broxton was coming out of the bullpen to face Phillies’ pinch-hitter Matt Stairs with a man on base.
You know the rest.
Stairs, who had been acquired late in the regular season for moments just like this, worked the count to 3-1 and looked for a fastball. He got one, 95 mph. He swung hard, as he always did, and hit it halfway to Pasadena. As the ball rose off Stairs’ bat in a majestic arch, the huge crowd of 56,800 fell completely silent. All these years later, I can still hear that sound of silence interrupted by only a few cheers coming from the Phillies family section under the press box.
And I can still feel the lump on my kneecap because when Stairs made contact with the pitch, I jumped (just like everyone else in the ballpark) and smashed my knee into an electrical junction box under my seat. (I still curse at that thing every time I go to Dodger Stadium.) It hurt like heck, but adrenaline kicked in and I started typing:
Philadelphia, meet your new favorite player, Matt Stairs.
The 40-year-old slugger was looking to hit a home run on a 3-1 count and in the dugout his teammates knew it.
“In the back of my mind, I’m thinking he might hit one here,” Pat Burrell said after the game.
As Stairs rounded the bases, Burrell led a raucous dugout eruption. Ten years later, his initial reaction to Stairs’ cannonading blast, as told by people who were in the dugout, remains NSFW. Sorry. But Geoff Jenkins summed up the feeling, saying, “The dugout went nuts. I felt like I jumped 20 feet in the air.”
Stairs provided a memorable quote after the game saying there was no better feeling for a hitter than coming back to the dugout and having a bunch of guys beat you up.
His homer, one of the biggest in Phillies’ history, gave the team a 7-5 lead and Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge locked it down. The Phils were up three-games-to-one on the Dodgers and there would be no holding them back in Game 5, not with the momentum that Stairs had given them and not with Kid Cole on the mound.