Phillies not ready to give up title yet
Like Rocky, defending champs rise up, fight off Yankees to force a Game 6 in New York
PHILADELPHIA -- The leadoff man stood in the on-deck circle Monday night as the theme from "Rocky" thundered through the PA system -- almost loud enough for Sly Stallone to hear it in Hollywood.
When times get dicey in Philadelphia, you can never go wrong with a good ear-splitting chorus of "Gonna Fly." We think Benjamin Franklin said that once.
So the music blared halfway through the first inning of Game 5 of the 2009 World Series. And it couldn't have been more fitting, because the time had come for the local baseball team to (ahem) climb off the mat -- or else.
Through two magical postseasons, this was a danger zone the Phillies never reached. Through two magical postseasons, they had never found themselves in the mess they were in Monday night:
Down 3-games-to-1 time. Win-or-else time.
Through two magical postseasons, they'd never trailed in any series. Not one. For five postseason series in a row -- a streak believed to be the longest in the history of baseball. So, who among us didn't wonder how they'd handle that win-or-else pressure if their world ever turned upside-down? Well, on the first Monday night in November, in the fifth game of this World Series, in the first game they got to play after their ugliest postseason loss since The Bad Old Days, the Phillies had an answer. And it looked like this:
Phillies 8, Yankees 6
Chase Utley did his two-homer, four-RBI Mr. November schtick. Cliff Lee shut down the best lineup in baseball for seven innings before hitting the wall in the eighth. The closer du jour, Ryan Madson, found a way to stagger through a 24-pitch 1-2-3-4-5 ninth inning. And whaddayaknow, the Phillies were still breathing.
Maybe 24 hours from now, in a stadium up the Turnpike, the Yankees will find a way to kill this team off. But if we learned anything from Monday night at Citizens Bank Park, it won't be easy. Just ask the leadoff man.
"How hard is it to kill this team? Hopefully it's like trying to run over an armadillo," said Jimmy Rollins, after his team had lived to play another ballgame. "Just roll up and put our shells on. And after the car goes over us, we unfold and walk away."
Just one night before he uttered those words, the Phillies' clubhouse didn't look like this, sound like this, feel like this -- not after New York's stunning three-run ninth inning had kicked them into the depths of a 3-games-to-1 canyon.
For a long time afterward, the mortuary atmosphere in the room had normally low-key manger Charlie Manuel so concerned he was talking openly about delivering some kind of pregame pep talk.
Uh, never mind.
"I know people were saying Charlie would come in and say something," Rollins reported. "I don't know. About an hour before the game, it looked like Charlie was going to come in and say something. But then he walked in, and the music was loud, and everything was just the same. And he went like, sheesh, and walked away, 'cause nothing needed to be said."
Yes, by the time Charlie Manuel got out his stethoscope and got ready to take the pulse of his team, his troops had already flipped themselves back into a state of mind the manager had been preaching for years: The heck with yesterday. Just win today.
So on Monday afternoon, the atmosphere in that same clubhouse "was great," said Madson. "It was like we were up 3-1. That's the kind of leaders we've got on this team. We show up. Actually, before we left [after Game 4] it was over. It was a tough loss, but when I came in this clubhouse [Monday], it was business as usual."
Of course, it helped that it was Clifton Phifer Lee's turn to pitch.
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Much the way the ace of another Phillies generation, Curt Schilling, once took the baseball and wouldn't give it back the night after his '93 Phillies kicked away a five-run lead in Game 4 of their World Series, Cliff Lee had that same give-me-the-ball look on this night.
"I really like his attitude out there," said his catcher, Carlos Ruiz. "He's like: 'That's my mound right here. I want the ball.'"
On this night, though, Lee scuffled through a 20-pitch first inning, allowing a run on a Johnny Damon's single and an A-Rod RBI double. So it was Yankees 1, Phillies 0, faster than you could say, "Joe Carter."
It was the first time in this entire postseason that Lee had thrown a pitch with the other team leading. And you could feel the tension reverberate through a nervous ballpark.
And then it was time for the theme song from "Rocky."
"You know, I was just saying the other day, 'Why don't we play more 'Rocky?'" said right fielder Jayson Werth.
"I was actually in the bullpen thinking, 'They've got to quit playing that. It's 30 years old,'" laughed reliever Scott Eyre. "But no. Seriously, man. 'Rocky' -- it's great. I can still hear him saying: 'Yo Adrian, I did it.'"
There were no Art Museum steps for the leadoff man to climb. But after the music faded, Jimmy Rollins promptly stomped up there, ground his way through a six-pitch at-bat against Yankees starter A.J. Burnett, stroked a single up the middle and got the Phillies rolling.
Approximately 12 seconds later, Rollins was taking off for second, Shane Victorino was squaring to fake a bunt to help Rollins swipe a base, and Burnett was letting the world know just how much shakier his command was going to be on short rest -- by drilling Victorino in the right index finger.
"When he first hit me, the trainer looked and it was big and nasty," Victorino would say three hours later. "And I was like, 'Oh, no.'"
But after a quick second-inning trip to the X-ray machine revealed no broken bones, he would stay in this game -- for the first seven innings, anyway.
So it was first and second, nobody out, with Mr. November rocking in the batter's box.
Only three times in World Series history -- once in 1910 (Danny Murphy), once in 1969 (Donn Clendenon) and once in 2005 (Paul Konerko) -- had any hitter immediately followed a hit-by-pitch with a home run. But one four-seamer down the middle later, you could add Chase Utley's name to that list.
"Chase -- he's just Superman," said Rollins with a chuckle. "He really is."
Superman's fourth homer of this World Series descended to earth deep in the right-field seats. It was 3-1 Phillies. And even the hearts of Utley's teammates were pounding a little harder than usual.
"Chase's homer -- wow," Madson said. "That whole inning. For me, that was probably the most exciting inning since we won it last year."
Uh, wait. More exciting than Rollins' game-winning double off Jonathan Broxton two weeks ago in the NLCS against the Dodgers? More exciting than the three-run ninth-inning reawakening that won the division series for the Phillies the week before that?
"You know," Madson admitted, "I don't really remember. You ask bullpen guys stuff like that, we don't have a very good memory. But all I know is, that hit, that home run, was way up there for me."
OK, whatever. The pandemonium in the seats told you he sure wasn't alone.
By the third inning, the Phillies would stretch that lead to 6-1. By the seventh, they would stretch it some more, to 8-2, with the help of Utley's second homer of the night and fifth of this World Series. (This is a man, by the way, who has two multihomer games in his past 296 regular-season games -- and now has erupted for two in this World Series. Go figure.)
Lee had his standard seven-inning four-hitter going at that point. He was also 103 pitches deep into his evening. But Manuel has been making it clear for months now that he likes it when Cliff Lee is holding the baseball. And he isn't quite so upbeat when anybody else is holding the baseball.
So, of course, the manager sent Lee out for the eighth. And, of course, this being life in Philadelphia, Damon, Mark Teixeira and A-Rod immediately went single-double-double off him to finish his evening.
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Then, of course, that lead would shrink to 8-5 against reliever Chan Ho Park by the end of the eighth. And, of course, Manuel would decide that his official closer, Brad Lidge, needed "a break" and call for Madson in the ninth, just to make certain all their lives would turn as eventful as possible.
Madson's infielders huddled around him on the mound. Ryan Howard tapped his chest emphatically. The 46,000 paying customers around them began looking up the numbers of their cardiologists. And what was the word that best described Ryan Madson's feelings about this epic moment?
"I've got the chills right now just thinking about it, really," Madson would say afterward. "I couldn't ask for anything more. He's one of the best hitters I've ever faced. It was fun."
Yeah, sure it was. But it got more fun after Jeter bounced a fastball into a rally-deflating 6-4-3 double play. And then, at last, after Madson put one more fun-filled runner on base, he ended the thrill ride with a grand-finale strikeout of Teixeira.
And the World Series was heading for its first Game 6 in six long years -- thanks to a team that just wasn't ready to have its reign as champion end. Not yet. Not ever.
"Nobody here," said Scott Eyre, "wants to go home."
These Phillies hadn't faced an elimination game of any kind since the 2007 NLDS. The franchise had won just four elimination games in its history. But when it came time to win or else, the champs weren't ready for all that or-else entails.
"That's who we are," Rollins said. "It comes from confidence. It comes from winning. It comes from belief in our ability. It comes from the top -- Charlie being loose. But this bunch of guys know when to turn it on.
"Not," said Jimmy Rollins, "that it was ever off. The 'Little Red Machine' was never going anywhere."
Where it's going now, of course, is 108 miles north, for a dramatic Game 6. And the job ahead is as tough as it gets:
Win two more games in a row against a Yankees team that hasn't lost three straight to the same opponent in more than three months. Win behind Pedro Martinez in Game 6. Win behind Cole Hamels or J.A. Happ or who-knows-who in Game 7.
And, if it can do all that, it can make a little history -- by becoming only the fourth team in World Series history to climb out of a 3-1 hole by winning Games 6 and 7 on the road.
But it's amazing how fast the atmosphere of a series can turn when the team on the ropes awakens to win a game like this one. So as the Phillies headed off into the night Monday, they could almost hear that theme from "Rocky" playing in their heads.
"If we win [Games] 6 and 7," said Scott Eyre, "I will run up those [Art Museum] stairs. I don't even know where they're at. But I'll grab somebody and run up there. And that's a promise."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
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WORLD SERIES GAME 5: PHILLIES 8, YANKEES 6
There were definitely some tense moments at the end, but the Phillies held on to win Game 5, forcing this World Series back to New York for a Game 6. World Series page »