Anger, pain washing away as Phillies stand on brink of title
PHILADELPHIA -- They stood there in the ninth inning -- all 45,903 of them. They swirled their rally towels in the October night. They shredded what was left of their vocal cords. They counted down the outs.Many of these red-shirted souls have waited a generation for this moment to come around again, just once. Many more have spent their whole lives wondering what it would feel like. One win away. In Philadelphia, nothing is ever certain. Nothing ever feels safe. Not when your team is the losingest franchise in the history of pro sports. Not when its fabled collapses are far more legendary than its one moment of triumph. But in Citizens Bank Park, on this perfect autumn Sunday evening, all those usual fears, all that traditional dread, seemed to dissolve into the euphoria of a night millions of Philadelphians are almost completely unfamiliar with. One win away. The Phillies hung a 10-2 whomping on that team from Tampa Bay on Sunday in Game 4 of a World Series that could redefine the psyche of an entire city. So the Phillies now lead this Series 3-1 with their ace, Cole Hamels, about to head for the mound Monday with a chance to seal this deal.
So when they look now into the faces of the people in those seats, they're astonished by what they see."It's awesome," third baseman Greg Dobbs said. "You can see the excitement, the intensity, the passion, the anticipation. You can see the sheer joy on people's faces. It's a great thing to see." Then again, these people haven't seen their baseball team lose in person for a long, long time now. Since Sept. 24, to be exact -- a 10-4 regular-season loss to Atlanta. Since then, the Phillies have won nine home games in a row. The first three of those wins, against Washington, clinched the NL East in the final weekend of the season. The past six have all come in October, against the Brewers, Dodgers and Rays. A win Monday would make the Phillies the first team since the '99 Yankees to win a World Series while going undefeated in their home park in the postseason.
"I'm trying not to look too far ahead because that's a good team we're playing," Myers said. "That team is very capable of winning three straight. They won 97 games this year. ... So yeah, it's exciting. But at the same time, I'm trying to control the excitement, because we still have a job to do. It's not over yet."Nevertheless, every night, something seems to happen to this team that has no logical business happening. You would have thought the Phillies couldn't possibly top winning Game 1 while going 0-for-13 with men in scoring position. Then you would have thought they couldn't possibly do anything stranger than winning Game 3 on a 60-foot dribbler at 1:47 a.m. But they might just have pulled off the all-timer in Game 4. A home run by Joltin' Joe Blanton? In a World Series game? C'mon. Who wrote this screenplay? Will Ferrell? "I just close my eyes and swing hard in case I make contact," Game 4's unlikely home run hero said. "That's really the only thing I can say." And when, he was asked, did he think it was safe to open those eyes again? "I think when I went out and had to throw the next warm-up pitch in the next inning," Blanton said. All right, let's try to assess what exactly happened here. No pitcher -- AL or NL -- had launched a home run in a World Series game in 34 years, since Oakland's Ken Holtzman got to unveil his trot in 1974. Since then, those sweet-swinging pitchers marching toward home plate had gone a scenic 40-for-424 -- which computes to a batting average of .094 if you're calculating along at your cubicle. Meanwhile, no National League pitcher had hit a World Series homer in four decades -- since Bob Gibson did it way back in 1968. So you had to figure that was going to change one of these Octobers. But c'mon. Joe Blanton? A guy with two hits in his whole career (in 33 at-bats)? A guy with no home runs at any professional level? A guy who had never even swatted an extra-base hit? How'd that happen? "You know, I told him after his first couple of at-bats that he was trying to hit the deep ball," Blanton's buddy, Myers, deadpanned. "So I told him, 'Just try to stay short and sweet, like you do in BP. Try to go back up the middle.' Well, I don't think I got through to him." Yeah, that's safe to say.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy.
WORLD SERIES GAME 4: PHILLIES 10, RAYS 2
Ryan Howard hit two of the Phillies' four homers in a 10-2 victory over the Rays. Philadelphia stands one win away from its first World Series title since 1980.
Story | Series page
• Jayson Stark: New era up next in Philly?
• Jim Caple: Howard in a groove
• Jerry Crasnick: Rays' sluggers 0-for-the-Series
• Gene Woj: Yeah, the Rays are done
• Amy K. Nelson: Rays to rely on Kazmir
• Inside Edge reports: Phillies | Rays
• Game 4 blog
• Baseball Tonight Clubhouse: Game 5 preview
• Phillies blow out Rays in Game 4
• BBTN breaks down Phillies' win
• Howard, Rollins talk about the win
• Blanton's bat, arm pace Phillies
• BBTN Minute: A look ahead to Game 5
• Jim Caple on a busy day in Philly
• Interviews with Blanton, Howard, Rollins