October 12, 2009

Living on a thin line.

After missing out on several run-scoring opportunities, including leaving the bases loaded in the third, the Philadelphia Phillies' margin for error was thin.

And then Raul Ibanez bobbled a routine line drive to left, adding at least 10 unnecessary pitches to Cliff Lee's escalating pitch count. And the game got even tighter.

And then they left the bases loaded AGAIN in the eighth. And now it was back to the tightrope, one the Phillies walked for the bulk of Game 3 of the NLDS on Sunday night/Monday morning. They navigated it then, but it was terrifying, and it was wobbly. And it's a dangerous place for a playoff baseball team to be.

Finally, they fell. They had to. A beautiful diving catch from Ben Francisco saved some runs, but a Jason Giambi single and Yorvit Torrealba double gave the Colorado Rockies a 4-2 lead going into the ninth.

The game felt over. The offense felt stagnant. Their remaining opportunities were limited. And Huston Street, while shaky in his two previous NLDS appearances, had been a top-tier closer in 2009. It was going to take a miracle.

And we got one.

While my roommate and I sat back on the couch, seething, absolutely furious about having to return to Philadelphia for a very up-in-the-air Game 5, Greg Dobbs struck out swinging. But then Jimmy Rollins, after a great at-bat, reached on an infield single. Shane Victorino grounded into a fielder's choice and took Jimmy's place on first. Victorino took second on fielder's indifference. Chase Utley walked, on another great at-bat. And all of a sudden, through sheer perseverance, the Big Man, Ryan Howard, was staring down Street, and the tying run was on first base.

And Ryan Howard provided the biggest hit of his career. As far as I'm concerned, the most clutch hit of his career, and maybe the second biggest hit I've ever seen, behind Matt Stairs' home run in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS.

His two-run double tied the game. Jayson Werth got him home. And Scott Eyre and Brad Lidge finished off the bottom of the ninth in the only way the 2009 Philadelphia Phillies know how -- painfully, drawn-out, with several baserunners and a constant aura of dread surrounding it all.

But it's over now. The Phillies have vanquished Rocktober, and in doing so, at least to me, they've validated last year's world championship.

It was no fluke. We're no one-year wonder, a team that got lucky. We just won an NLDS that, I have to imagine, will be thought of as one of the most grueling NLDS's ever played.

2008 didn't need validation. But for someone like me, who lives and dies with this team, it couldn't have hurt. And now, a team hurt by injuries, a team that hadn't really faced true adversity all season, stared down a worthy adversary and destroyed them bit by bit.

They're ready for Los Angeles. We're ready for the Dodgers. For another day, awaiting yet another walk on that tightrope they might as well call home, the World Fucking Champions live.

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