Friday, January 11, 2008

25 Years of Philly Sports Hell: The Worst Moments, Part IV

The latest in a series of of soul-cleansing moments for Philadelphia sports fans as we complete a 25 year cycle of unmatched sports futility. For a full explanation of this series, look here. Moment III appears here.

October 23, 1993. Yes, I'm going there.

Every Philly sports fan remembers where they were when this happened:

Yes, I had to show the video. If I have to endure the gut-punch of hearing the words, "Touch 'em all, Joe!", so do you (and that was the call by the Blue Jay announcer, which is the one that always gets played nowadays).

Yes, I can re-hash the game if you like, too. But think about the 1993 Phillies for an instant -- yeah, they bring a smile to your face. They embodied the town. Nails spitting tobacco juice everywhere, seemingly on-base every minute. Daulton chewing out the pitchers and running the team, as the fierce and respected leader of Macho Row. Krukker in the All-Star Game and on Letterman -- getting yucks while also getting hits. Wild Thing, driving Fregosi nuts.

I remember that team -- they were so damn memorable and so much fun. They're the team you're supposed to tell your kids about someday. Unlike the Eagles of the Buddy Ryan Era or the Reid Era or the Flyers of the Lindros Era or all the teams in the bygone days before our 25 year run of futility, this team came and went so quickly. They were a special team, perfect for that moment in time, perfect for us... at least until Mitch threw that pitch.

I cannot remember much else that occurred that fall (I was pledging a fraternity) but I remember that team's starting lineup and pitching rotation. I'm serious, I can do it off the top of my head. Dykstra in center, the platoon of Morandini/Duncan at second, Kruk at first, Dutch at catcher, Dave Hollins (Dave, what happened?) at third, Inky/Milt Thompson in left, Jimmy Eisenreich/Wes Chamberlain in right, and Kevin Stocker at short (in the second half, when he replaced the Juan Bell Experiment). The rotation featured Terry Mulholland, Schill, Danny Jackson, Tommy Greene and Ben Rivera (and no one remembers the last one). The bullpen stalwarts were Mitch, David West, Larry Anderson and the unforgettable Roger Mason. Actually, that last sentence explains a lot about why we lost the Series.

That team was a team. Every player had a special moment -- backup catcher Todd Pratt had a huge 4 hit game against the Mets if I recall correctly. Milt Thompson saved a game by climbing the wall to make a catch. Mariano Duncan hit a grand slam to win a game on Mother's Day against the Cards. There were so many crazy things -- Mitch Williams won the second game of a doubleheader at 4 in the morning or so against the Pads with a base-hit. When they clinched on an overcast night in Pittsburgh, the town rejoiced. When they won the pennant by beating the 104-win Braves in the NLCS... in my time as an adult sports fan, there's only been one similarly happy moment, and that was in January 2005 (another time, folks, another time).

Here's the problem with remembering that team -- like so many great Philly sports memories, remembering all the good times means also remembering the bad ending. Hell, you can't reference this team at all without knowing about the ending.

The worst part was that the Phillies kept fighting and were only in the lead because they wouldn't give up. The Blue Jays had basically crushed the team's spirit in Game 4 with a six-run 8th (that may have its own entry on this list -- we'll see). Schilling's sensational two-hit, 146 pitch masterpiece in Game 5 roused the entire town from the dead. Unfortunately, Schill couldn't pitch Game 6.

And the Blue Jays had us in Game Six. They scored 5 runs off Terry Mulholland in the first five innings and held a 5-1 lead into the 7th, and Dave Stewart (a former Phillie) was cruising... and then we got one last rally. Nails drilled a three-run homer as part of a five-run 7th. We were alive! We had momentum! We had... three more innings to pitch (and Danny Jackson going in Game Seven, but one depressing fact at a time).

After Mulholland left, Roger Mason, one of the names every Philly fan knows by heart, pitched scoreless ball in the sixth and seventh. Mason, by the way, has one of the lowest post-season ERAs for a reliever in MLB history, posting a .49 ERA in 18-plus innings. Other than Bobby Thigpen, he was the only reliever to do anything effective in that series. And don't think I'm not bitter that Thigpen didn't get the call in the 8th to relieve Mason -- I don't care if he sucked by then, he was a better option. Jim Fregosi, doing his paint by numbers managing, went to his set-up relievers West and Anderson, both of whom spent most of the World Series watching Alomar and Molitor run the bases. Somehow, we made it through the 8th inning.

So, Fregosi dumps Mason for that combo, then dumps them for Wild Thing. Wild Thing's official ERA in the Series was 20.25. In actuality, it was something like 242.79. Seriously, when I saw Mitch out there, I knew things were going end badly. Even Mitch probably knew it -- the guy had a bum shoulder at that point, and Fregosi still went to him. Part of the reason I remember where I was is because it was at a small party on fall break. House filled with Phillies fans. The second Mitch appeared on the screen to warm up in the 8th, people started looking for shot glasses (not me, of course, since I was only 19 years old).

Four pitch walk to Ricky Henderson. Devon White flies out. Molitor steps up, and at this point I expected Molitor to laugh maniacally every time he entered the batter's box. He hit .500 in the series, including a base hit to center in this at-bat.

Carter strode to the plate. Most people would have been reaching for the bullpen phone, getting Thigpen or Rivera up, but not Fregosi (just typing his name makes me nauseous). Most of Philly was getting drunk. Curt Schilling was hiding his head in his towel.

What's worse about all this is that Carter was a prime candidate to hit into a double-play, so there was hope. Wild Thing even got 2 strikes on Carter. And then, on the 2-2 pitch...

When I watch that video, I keep hoping there's an alternative ending, where Incaviglia somehow scales the wall and makes the catch. It's just like watching The Godfather and hoping Sonny doesn't get in the car and drive up to the toll booth to die. Unfortunately, the ball goes over the wall each time... and that dream season dies.

Take a deep breath, fellow Philly fans. Let this one go, and let's move on to the next. Only 21 more to go.



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