It’s a clincher! Looking back at party time for the Phillies

Clinch 09 Baring a collapse of New York Mets proportions, the Phillies will clinch the NL East for the fourth season in a row. This will likely go down as early as Saturday and as late as next Monday or Tuesday in Washington.

Nevertheless, we are riding on unchartered waters here in Philadelphia. The Phillies have never been in the playoffs for four straight seasons, nor had Connie Mack’s Athletics ever been to the postseason in four straight seasons. For the A’s, they had to move twice before pulling off such a stunt.

Now here’s the crazy part… since the Phillies won the NL East in 1993, only the Braves and the Mets have won the division. In other words, the NL East resembles the NBA Finals during the 1980s when only the Celtics, Sixers, Rockets and Lakers ever got there. Eventually the Pistons and Bulls broke through, but for a long time it seemed as if only a handful of teams ever made it to the big dance.

But like a team that has been there before, the Phillies aren’t getting too worked up over their fourth straight title. At least not yet. In fact, last season the Phillies seemed a little unnerved about going into Miller Park in Milwaukee to find protective plastic sheeting above the lockers ready to be pulled down like a cheap shade.

It never happened. By the end of the series in Milwaukee, the plastic was gone from the clubhouse and packed into a storage closet somewhere in the bowels of the ballpark.

Nevertheless, if the Phillies can get it done on Saturday with a win over the Mets coupled with a loss by the Braves, it will go down as the earliest clincher in terms of games played in team history. To capture their first playoff berth in 26 years in 1976, the Phillies wrapped up the East in Game 155 and their 95th win.

As it stands, the Phillies are 93-61 heading into Game 155 this season.

Meanwhile, if the Phillies clinch before Sunday, it will be the earliest the team ensured a playoff berth ever. Even in 1950, before the advent of divisional play, the Phillies needed the full slate of games to get to the postseason.

Anyway, here’s a look at the playoff-clinching games since Major League Baseball started divisional play.

 ***

Lidge 2009

Game 158 vs. Houston at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 30)

Box score

This should have gone down in Milwaukee, but the job got done just as well. Nevertheless, the clincher in a 10-3 rout over the Astros was all but over in the fourth inning when Pedro Feliz cleared the bases with a two-run, one-out double off of Brian Moehler. From there, the Phillies piled on with back-to-back triples in the fifth inning from Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino, a triple in the sixth from Chooch Ruiz, and a two-run bomb in the seventh by Raul Ibanez.

However, the best parts about this one was that Pedro Martinez started the game and ran onto the field after the third out, bouncing like a kid with his arms raised in the air.

Apropos of nothing, how much fun would the 2010 team be with Pedro as the teams’ fifth starter?

The best part was when Charlie Manuel waved in Brad Lidge with two outs in the ninth inning. It was a classy move by Manuel for a classy ballplayer like Lidge. Moreover, Lidge has been on the mound to throw the last pitch in seven straight clinching games… a streak that still lives on.

 ***

2008
Game 161 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 27)

Box score

Remember this one? Remember how you felt when Brad Lidge loaded the bases with one out and the go-ahead runs in scoring position and how the shot by Ryan Zimmerman looked like it was going to ruin the closer’s perfect slate?

Aside from Jimmy Rollins’ heroic diving stop to spin the game-ending double play, this one is remembered for Jamie Moyer’s second straight win in a clinching game. Aside from his effort in Game 3 of the World Series, the finales in 2007 and 2008 will be the old lefty’s legacy with the Phillies.

 ***

2007
Game 162 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 30)

Box score

The fact that the Phillies were even in a position to win the East took an unprecedented collapse by the Mets. Couple the huge comeback (down 6½ games with 17 to go) with a 14-year playoff drought, and the clubhouse scene was one of the all-time great parties in the history of Philadelphia clinchers.

The truth is a lot of us never saw such a thing. Champagne corks popping and flying all over the room. Beer spray dousing everyone and anything that moves. Pharmaceuticals and English bulldogs show up and drag low-end celebrities and political chaff around, too.

In other words, it’s no different than the parties you threw in college only without the bonfire. Where this party had it over those from back in the college days is that Jade McCarthy and J.D. Durbin made it to this one, and, well… when Jade and J.D. show up then it’s a party.

Of course by the time the fog cleared and the playoffs began, the Phillies were gone in four days.

 ***

1993
Game 157 vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 28)

Box score

Get a load of this… I watched this one from the balcony at the Troc at a Fugazi show. Some guy sitting in front of me had a Sony watchman TV and we got to see Mariano Duncan crush the game-winning grand slam before the band took the stage.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Commonwealth, Harry Kalas was singing High Hopes after the Phils finally wrapped it up. But since this was the Macho Row era of club, the party didn’t end with the sing-a-long. Oh no. Check out the box score for the day after the clincher and check who IS NOT in the lineup.

That oughta tell you how long into the night this one went.

 ***

Al 1983
Game 160 vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 28)

Box score

Who would have guessed that there would have been just one more clincher for the Phillies in the next 24 years after this one? Sheesh.

Regardless, this one was in the days before there were lights at Wrigley Field so it’s likely that Larry Andersen took the guys over to The Lodge after the clubhouse celebration ended.

Here’s what I remember from this one – Mike Schmidt hit his 40th homer of the season and Bo Diaz clubbed two of them all off ex-Phillie Dick Ruthven. The last out was caught by Greg Gross in left field with Al “Mr. T” Holland on the mound. I guess Holland looked like Mr. T to get a nickname like that. Seemed like a fun guy.

 ***

1981
Won first half

This was the strike year so by virtue of being in first place by the time the work stoppage occurred, the Phillies went to the first-ever NLDS. They lost in five games to the Expos, though St. Louis had the best overall record in the NL East.

***

1980
Game 161 vs. 
Montreal at Olympic Stadium (Oct. 4)

Box score

If we were ranking the best regular-season games in Phillies history, this one would have to be in the top three. Maybe even the top two. Frankly, it had everything. Comebacks, drama, suspense, crazy manager moves and then Mike Schmidt’s home run in the 11th to give the Phillies the lead they never gave up.

Oh, but if Schmidt’s homer were the only highlight.

  • Bob Boone laced a two-out single in the top of the 9th to tie the game and force extra innings.
  • Tug McGraw pitched the last three innings allowing just one hit to go with four strikeouts to get the win.
  • September call up Don McCormack came in to catch in just his second big league inning in the ninth when Dallas Green yanked Boone for a pinch runner. McCormack got the first of his two Major League hits after Schmidt’s homer in the 11th. From there, McCormack went on to play in just 14 big league innings the rest of his career over three game.

How the hell did Don McCormack get into that game?!

  • The top four hitters in the Phillies lineup (Rose, McBride, Schmidt, Luzinski) went 11-for-19.

 ***

Lerch 1978
Game 161 vs. 
Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 30)

Box score

Here was the scenario for this one – if the Pirates won, then Game 162 would decide the NL East. Instead, the Phillies wrapped up division title No. 3 thanks to a clutch three-run homer from Greg Luzinski in the sixth inning.

The game started rather inauspiciously, too. Willie Stargell hit a grand slam in the first inning to give the Pirates the quick lead, but pitcher Randy Lerch made up for his pitching with a homer in the second and another in the fourth to cut the deficit to a run and set the table for Luzinski’s homer.

The game was not without drama at the end, either. Tug McGraw game on in the seventh and was within two outs of closing it out until the Pirates rallied for four runs and had the tying run at the plate when manager Danny Ozark went to Ron Reed to get the last outs.

 ***

1977
Game 157 vs. 
Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 27)

Box score

I don’t remember this one, but from a look at the box score it looks like one of those old fashioned Wrigley Field games that used to be unique. Now those Wrigley Field games can break out anywhere in any ballpark. And since they play mostly night games at Wrigley these days, those wild games are a thing of the past.

Still, the second clincher for the Phillies featured five RBIs and a homer (and seven solid innings for the win) from Larry Christenson and a homer from Mike Schmidt in a 15-9 final.

***

1976
Game 155 
vs. Montreal at Parc Jarry (Sept. 26)

Box score

The was the first and maybe the best of the Phillies clubs that won all those division titles. The Phils won a franchise-record 101 games, but they didn’t quite match up well enough against The Big Red Machine, who were on their were to becoming the last National League team to win back-to-back World Series titles.

Anyway, this clincher was the first game of a doubleheader, highlighted by a complete game from Jim Lonborg. So needless to say the nightcap had a slightly different lineup after the Phillies wrapped up their first playoff berth since 1950. In fact, John Vukovich started in the second game for his season debut. Vuke went on to start in 13 more games over five years for the Phillies – all but three came in 1980.

So there it is… looking forward to adding the new one at the top of this list over the weekend. The good part is the Phillies are old veterans at this and Charlie Manuel promised to make sure the scribes covering the team would be brought champagne.

Sixth inning: Crusing

jimmyLast weekend Paul Hagen if the Daily News wrote that the Phillies took 10 cases of Domaine Ste. Michelle to Milwaukee in case they needed to have a party or something. As we know, it didn’t really work out that well. They even had to tear down the plastic sheeting they placed over the lockers at Miller Park.

Nevertheless, the plastic was back up over the lockers at Citizens Bank Park before Wednesday’s game. It looks like they are going to need it, too. After all, not only are the Phillies leading by four runs, the Marlins are shutting out the Braves. This game could be rendered moot by the time the ninth inning rolls around.

Of course the Phillies need to get home field for the NLDS now. Sure, guys like Chase Utley will get some rest, but as Charlie Manuel said before the game, it’s more important for the team to get home field than it is for guys to rest.

Fair enough.

So as we head into the late innings, I’m heading over to my other tabs on this laptop to begin composing my stories for the web site. We’ll be back tonight/tomorrow to sum it all up for everyone.

Anyone want to make a bet that Brad Lidge is on the mound in the ninth inning tonight?

Sixth inning: Phillies 8, Astros 3

Fifth inning: Kendrick in for Pedro

We have Sarah Baicker over here doing some baseball stuff. She’s writing the official, CSNPhilly.com epic on Jamie Moyer while I just write until my hands fall off.

Ew.

Either way, it’s fair to say Pedro didn’t exactly dial it up in his first game back. In fact, he started slow as he normally does in what might be his final start of the regular season. As far as the playoffs go, we’ll see. My guess is Pedro will be the fourth man in the rotation behind Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton.

If it were me, I’d go old-school manager in the bullpen and have J.A. Happ give me a few multi-inning saves if the situation arose.

Nevertheless, if Pedro gets the ball again he has to do something about those first innings. This season hitters are 14-for-40 against him in the first. That’s not too good.

Meanwhile, Kyle Kendrick came on for the fifth and continued his strong work in relief for the Phillies since his recall from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He wasn’t great in last Saturday’s start in Milwaukee, but as a reliever he’s ben pretty good. Heading into Wednesday’s game, Kendrick appeared in five games out of the ‘pen for a 2.89 ERA in nine innings. Take away his first outing of the year against the Red Sox in June and Kendrick has not allowed a run in relief.

That includes the scoreless inning he tossed in the fifth, too.

Who knows… he very well might find his way onto the playoff roster if he isn’t careful.

That playoff berth seems a lot more likely now thanks to back-to-back triples to start the inning from Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino.

Fifth inning: Phillies 7, Astros 3

Fourth inning: Moyer finished for the year

moyerThe news on Jamie Moyer was much worse than expected when he landed awkwardly on the mound during his final pitch in the seventh inning last night. Though he limped off the field quite gingerly, it was expected to be a strained muscle or something.

Who would have guessed that it very well could be the final pitch of his career?

According to team physician, Dr. Michael Ciccotti, Moyer tore three muscles. Two of those are in his groin and one torn muscle is in his stomach. He’s going to have surgery in the next week and could be back in time for spring training.

I don’t think it’s the swan song for Moyer because I think he likes to play and always thinks he has something to prove. He loves that very much like Michael Jordan always liked proving people wrong.

The thing about Jamie is that he is quite arrogant, too. Clearly that’s part of the reason why he has been so successful during a baseball career that bucked the odds.

I have had the chance to talk to Moyer a lot over the past few years and most of the time it was always illuminating. Even this season when he wasn’t as friendly as in the past or feeling somewhat slighted because the team got Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez and spouted off about being “misled” that day at Wrigley Field, something was easily gleaned.

Moyer than anything else, Jamie Moyer is a competitor.

I wrote this after a game in Washington last year:

Moyer has no timetable for retirement and may even seek another contract when the current one ends.

“Look, I feel great and I’m pitching well and I love playing so I have no plans to stop,” he told me in a late-season interview. “But I could come in here tomorrow and the desire could be completely gone.”

Clearly that’s not the case. Moyer prepares and competes at 46 no differently than he did when he was a green rookie coming up with the Cubs in 1986. However, if there is something behind Moyer’s motivation to continue to pitch (and to pitch well) it seems to be the slights he took from baseball people back when he was struggling in the early 1990s. No, Moyer didn’t cite it as a motivating cause, but then again he didn’t have to.

“Fourteen years ago I was told to retire,” Moyer said with a smirk in a recent interview.

If Moyer hangs ’em up, his legacy will be those two clinchers he pitched at the Bank in 2007 and 2008 as well as his great effort in Game 3 of the World Series in ’08.

While we were contemplating Moyer, the Phillies rallied for four runs in the fourth and Pedro Martinez was yanked for a pinch hitter.

Pedro’s line: 4 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 HR, 1 HBP, 84 pitches (54 K)

Fourth inning: Phillies 5, Astros 3

Sixth inning: Crusing

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Last weekend Paul Hagen if the Daily News wrote that the Phillies took 10 cases of Domaine Ste. Michelle to Milwaukee in case they needed to have a party or something. As we know, it didn't really work out that well. They even had to tear down the plastic sheeting they placed over the lockers at Miller Park.

Nevertheless, the plastic was back up over the lockers at Citizens Bank Park before Wednesday's game. It looks like they are going to need it, too. After all, not only are the Phillies leading by four runs, the Marlins are shutting out the Braves. This game could be rendered moot by the time the ninth inning rolls around.

Of course the Phillies need to get home field for the NLDS now. Sure, guys like Chase Utley will get some rest, but as Charlie Manuel said before the game, it's more important for the team to get home field than it is for guys to rest.

Fair enough.

So as we head into the late innings, I'm heading over to my other tabs on this laptop to begin composing my stories for the web site. We'll be back tonight/tomorrow to sum it all up for everyone.

Anyone want to make a bet that Brad Lidge is on the mound in the ninth inning tonight?

Sixth inning: Phillies 8, Astros 3

Fourth inning: Moyer finished for the year

image from fingerfood.typepad.com The news on Jamie Moyer was much worse than expected when he landed awkwardly on the mound during his final pitch in the seventh inning last night. Though he limped off the field quite gingerly, it was expected to be a strained muscle or something.

Who would have guessed that it very well could be the final pitch of his career?

According to team physician, Dr. Michael Ciccotti, Moyer tore three muscles. Two of those are in his groin and one torn muscle is in his stomach. He's going to have surgery in the next week and could be back in time for spring training.

I don't think it's the swan song for Moyer because I think he likes to play and always thinks he has something to prove. He loves that very much like Michael Jordan always liked proving people wrong.

The thing about Jamie is that he is quite arrogant, too. Clearly that's part of the reason why he has been so successful during a baseball career that bucked the odds.

I have had the chance to talk to Moyer a lot over the past few years and most of the time it was always illuminating. Even this season when he wasn't as friendly as in the past or feeling somewhat slighted because the team got Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez and spouted off about being "misled" that day at Wrigley Field, something was easily gleaned.

Moyer than anything else, Jamie Moyer is a competitor.

I wrote this after a game in Washington last year:

Moyer has no timetable for retirement and may even seek another contract when the current one ends.

“Look, I feel great and I’m pitching well and I love playing so I have no plans to stop,” he told me in a late-season interview. “But I could come in here tomorrow and the desire could be completely gone.”

Clearly that’s not the case. Moyer prepares and competes at 46 no differently than he did when he was a green rookie coming up with the Cubs in 1986. However, if there is something behind Moyer’s motivation to continue to pitch (and to pitch well) it seems to be the slights he took from baseball people back when he was struggling in the early 1990s. No, Moyer didn’t cite it as a motivating cause, but then again he didn’t have to.

“Fourteen years ago I was told to retire,” Moyer said with a smirk in a recent interview.

If Moyer hangs 'em up, his legacy will be those two clinchers he pitched at the Bank in 2007 and 2008 as well as his great effort in Game 3 of the World Series in '08.

While we were contemplating Moyer, the Phillies rallied for four runs in the fourth and Pedro Martinez was yanked for a pinch hitter.

Pedro's line: 4 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 HR, 1 HBP, 84 pitches (54 K)

Fourth inning: Phillies 5, Astros 3

Fifth inning: Kendrick in for Pedro

image from fingerfood.typepad.com We have Sarah Baicker over here doing some baseball stuff. She’s writing the official, CSNPhilly.com epic on Jamie Moyer while I just write until my hands fall off.

Ew.

Either way, it’s fair to say Pedro didn’t exactly dial it up in his first game back. In fact, he started slow as he normally does in what might be his final start of the regular season. As far as the playoffs go, we’ll see. My guess is Pedro will be the fourth man in the rotation behind Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton.

If it were me, I’d go old-school manager in the bullpen and have J.A. Happ give me a few multi-inning saves if the situation arose.

Nevertheless, if Pedro gets the ball again he has to do something about those first innings. This season hitters are 14-for-40 against him in the first. That’s not too good.

Meanwhile, Kyle Kendrick came on for the fifth and continued his strong work in relief for the Phillies since his recall from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He wasn’t great in last Saturday’s start in Milwaukee, but as a reliever he’s ben pretty good. Heading into Wednesday’s game, Kendrick appeared in five games out of the ‘pen for a 2.89 ERA in nine innings. Take away his first outing of the year against the Red Sox in June and Kendrick has not allowed a run in relief.

That includes the scoreless inning he tossed in the fifth, too.

Who knows… he very well might find his way onto the playoff roster if he isn’t careful.

That playoff berth seems a lot more likely now thanks to back-to-back triples to start the inning from Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino.

Fifth inning: Phillies 7, Astros 3

Second Inning: Instant replay

pedroAnd so the Astros regained the lead very quickly in the second when catcher J.R. Towles belted one just over the fence in left-center. It also was reviewed upon the request of Astros’ manager Dave Clark.

From the naked eye, Towles’ blast looked as if it hit the very top of the fence and bounced back into play. The review, however, proved otherwise.

Maybe they ought to do something to make the replay system work better in baseball. Like how about if every play can be challenged and if the manager proves to be wrong, he loses a visit to the mound or a bench player. Better yet, how about if one of those players is a reliever?

To give a manager one less pitching change per game if a challenge is wrong could really speed up the game. Then again, the whole bit on replay kind of negates any speed a lack of a pitching change would bring.

While we’re on the topic, I wouldn’t mind seeing the warning track be replaced with quick sand.

So in his first outing since Sept. 19, Pedro coughed up runs in the first two innings.

Interestingly, Pedro drilled pitcher Brian Moehler with a pitch after Towles’ homer. The pitch sailed behind Moehler and appeared to get him on the backside.

No harm, though. Moehler went out and got the Phillies in order thanks to a double play grounder by Jayson Werth.

FYI: Werth is 4-for-10 in his last three-plus games, but 5 for his last 34.

Is that a slump or a hot streak?

Second inning: Astros 2, Phillies 1

First Inning: A select club

Get this… only one other manager in Phillies history has guided the team to three straight titles in the NL East (before Charlie, of course). In fact, no other manager in team history has taken the team to the playoffs three times.

There’s Charlie and there is Danny Ozark.

When I first learned about what baseball was, Danny Ozark was the manager of the Phillies. Better yet, when I was a kid, Danny Ozark took the Phillies to the playoffs every year.

It was because of Ozark, who died at age 85 last May, that I also learned the time-tested idiom of baseball that managers are hired to be fired. In August of 1979 Ozark was released from his job as manager of the Phillies, which at the time was baffling to me. My youthful naïveté just saw the three consecutive playoff appearances and the back-to-back 101-win seasons, which is a feat never duplicated before or since in team history

I can’t say I have too many memories of Ozark’s work other than the time I went to game at The Vet when I was a kid and he came onto the field to argue a call or maybe he got ejected. I can’t recall though through the magic of the web site that is Baseball-Reference, I dug up the box score.

Anyway, it seemed as if Ozark was the right man at the time to build up the Phillies to a playoff caliber team. He took them right up to the crest of the hill, but had to step aside so Dallas Green could push them over the top.

From the sound of things, Charlie Manuel nailed it when describing Ozark after his death last May.

“I knew Danny Ozark and I considered him a friend of mine,” Manuel said. “He used to talk to me a lot. I was a player when he managed in the minor leagues. He was great guy – a great baseball guy. He was a dedicated baseball guy. He was a good teacher, too. He loved the game and had a good personality about him, too.”

Calling someone a “good baseball man” is one of the highest words of praise from the baseball fraternity. When one hears another call someone a baseball man, well, you can tell a lot about that guy immediately. So it sounds like Danny Ozark was a good guy and Philadelphia was lucky to have him for a few glorious years.

Ballgame: Pedro got into a jam in the first, but then again that’s just what he does. Three one-out singles loaded the bases, which forced Pedro to bear down. After a strikeout, Hunter Pence worked the count to 3-0, before it got to 3-2 where he fouled off three in a row.

The nice little battle ended when the eighth pitch of the at-bat was outside.

It’s worth noting that those white towels they gave out as fans walked into the park tonight look pretty cool when everyone waves them around. The fans also appeared to believe that Pedro got pinched on a couple pitches to Pence and Kaz Matsui.

The Phillies got that run back, though. Jimmy Rollins led off with a double and moved up to third on a bunt by Victorino. Why bunt so early in the game when the Phillies are known for their ability to score runs?

Simple. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard wear out Astros pitcher Brian Moehler. Headed into the game, Utley was 7-for-20 with a 1.108 OPS against the veteran righty, and Howard was 10-for-20 with three homers, three doubles and seven RBIs.

Of course Victorino was 7-for-14 heading in, too, so who knows if the bunt was a little too conservative. Besides, the Phils manufactured a run on Utley’s ground out to knot it.

First inning: Phillies 1, Astros 1

First Inning: A select club

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Get this… only one other manager in Phillies history has guided the team to three straight titles in the NL East (before Charlie, of course). In fact, no other manager in team history has taken the team to the playoffs three times.

There’s Charlie and there is Danny Ozark.

When I first learned about what baseball was, Danny Ozark was the manager of the Phillies. Better yet, when I was a kid, Danny Ozark took the Phillies to the playoffs every year.

It was because of Ozark, who died at age 85 last May, that I also learned the time-tested idiom of baseball that managers are hired to be fired. In August of 1979 Ozark was released from his job as manager of the Phillies, which at the time was baffling to me. My youthful naïveté just saw the three consecutive playoff appearances and the back-to-back 101-win seasons, which is a feat never duplicated before or since in team history

I can’t say I have too many memories of Ozark’s work other than the time I went to game at The Vet when I was a kid and he came onto the field to argue a call or maybe he got ejected. I can’t recall though through the magic of the web site that is Baseball-Reference, I dug up the box score.

Anyway, it seemed as if Ozark was the right man at the time to build up the Phillies to a playoff caliber team. He took them right up to the crest of the hill, but had to step aside so Dallas Green could push them over the top.

From the sound of things, Charlie Manuel nailed it when describing Ozark after his death last May.

“I knew Danny Ozark and I considered him a friend of mine,” Manuel said. “He used to talk to me a lot. I was a player when he managed in the minor leagues. He was great guy – a great baseball guy. He was a dedicated baseball guy. He was a good teacher, too. He loved the game and had a good personality about him, too.”

Calling someone a “good baseball man” is one of the highest words of praise from the baseball fraternity. When one hears another call someone a baseball man, well, you can tell a lot about that guy immediately. So it sounds like Danny Ozark was a good guy and Philadelphia was lucky to have him for a few glorious years.

Ballgame: Pedro got into a jam in the first, but then again that’s just what he does. Three one-out singles loaded the bases, which forced Pedro to bear down. After a strikeout, Hunter Pence worked the count to 3-0, before it got to 3-2 where he fouled off three in a row.

The nice little battle ended when the eighth pitch of the at-bat was outside.

It’s worth noting that those white towels they gave out as fans walked into the park tonight look pretty cool when everyone waves them around. The fans also appeared to believe that Pedro got pinched on a couple pitches to Pence and Kaz Matsui.

The Phillies got that run back, though. Jimmy Rollins led off with a double and moved up to third on a bunt by Victorino. Why bunt so early in the game when the Phillies are known for their ability to score runs?

Simple. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard wear out Astros pitcher Brian Moehler. Headed into the game, Utley was 7-for-20 with a 1.108 OPS against the veteran righty, and Howard was 10-for-20 with three homers, three doubles and seven RBIs.

Of course Victorino was 7-for-14 heading in, too, so who knows if the bunt was a little too conservative. Besides, the Phils manufactured a run on Utley’s ground out to knot it.

First inning: Phillies 1, Astros 1

Second Inning: Instant replay

image from fingerfood.typepad.com And so the Astros regained the lead very quickly in the second when catcher J.R. Towles belted one just over the fence in left-center. It also was reviewed upon the request of Astros' manager Dave Clark.

From the naked eye, Towles' blast looked as if it hit the very top of the fence and bounced back into play. The review, however, proved otherwise.

Maybe they ought to do something to make the replay system work better in baseball. Like how about if every play can be challenged and if the manager proves to be wrong, he loses a visit to the mound or a bench player. Better yet, how about if one of those players is a reliever?

To give a manager one less pitching change per game if a challenge is wrong could really speed up the game. Then again, the whole bit on replay kind of negates any speed a lack of a pitching change would bring.

While we're on the topic, I wouldn't mind seeing the warning track be replaced with quick sand.

So in his first outing since Sept. 19, Pedro coughed up runs in the first two innings.

Interestingly, Pedro drilled pitcher Brian Moehler with a pitch after Towles' homer. The pitch sailed behind Moehler and appeared to get him on the backside.

No harm, though. Moehler went out and got the Phillies in order thanks to a double play grounder by Jayson Werth.

FYI: Werth is 4-for-10 in his last three-plus games, but 5 for his last 34.

Is that a slump or a hot streak?

Second inning:  Astros 2, Phillies 1

Party like it’s 1976

charlieBaring a collapse of New York Mets proportions, the Phillies will clinch the NL East for the third season in a row. The Three-peat in the East has occurred just one other time in team history and continues a string of a dearth of champs in the East. Following the Phillies’ victory in 1993, only the Braves and Mets have won the division aside from the current batch of Phillies.

In other words, the NL East resembles the NBA Finals during the 1980s when only the Celtics, Sixers, Rockets and Lakers ever got there. Eventually the Pistons and Bulls broke through, but for a long time it seemed as if only a handful of teams ever made it to the big dance.

Nevertheless, the clincher for the Phillies will likely come this weekend in Milwaukee. And as a result of sewing things up with a week to go in the season (at least), it will go down as the earliest clincher in terms of games played. To capture their first playoff berth in 26 years in 1976, the Phillies wrapped up the East in Game 155.

If the Phillies clinch before Sunday, it will be the earliest the team ensured a playoff berth ever. Even in 1950, before the advent of divisional play, the Phillies needed the full slate of games to get to the postseason.

Anyway, here’s a look at the playoff-clinching games since Major League Baseball started divisional play.

2008
Game 161 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 27)

Box score

Remember this one? Remember how you felt when Brad Lidge loaded the bases with one out and the go-ahead runs in scoring position and how the shot by Ryan Zimmerman looked like it was going to ruin the closer’s perfect slate?

Kind of feels a lot like this year, doesn’t it?

Aside from Jimmy Rollins’ heroic diving stop to spin the game-ending double play, this one is remembered for Jamie Moyer’s second straight win in a clinching game. Aside from his effort in Game 3 of the World Series, the finales in 2007 and 2008 will be the old lefty’s legacy with the Phillies.

jimmy2007
Game 162 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 30)

Box score

The fact that the Phillies were even in a position to win the East took an unprecedented collapse by the Mets. Couple the huge comeback (down 6½ games with 17 to go) with a 14-year playoff drought, and the clubhouse scene was one of the all-time great parties in the history of Philadelphia clinchers.

The truth is a lot of us never saw such a thing. Champagne corks popping and flying all over the room. Beer spray dousing everyone and anything that moves. Pharmaceuticals and English bulldogs show up and drag low-end celebrities and political chaff around, too.

In other words, it’s no different than the parties you threw in college only without the bonfire. Where this party had it over those from back in the college days is that Jade McCarthy and J.D. Durbin made it to this one, and, well… when Jade and J.D. show up then it’s a party.

Of course by the time the fog cleared and the playoffs began, the Phillies were gone in four days.

19931993
Game 157 vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 28)

Box score

Get a load of this… I watched this one from the balcony at the Troc at a Fugazi show. Some guy sitting in front of me had a Sony watchman TV and we got to see Mariano Duncan crush the game-winning grand slam before the band took the stage.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Commonwealth, Harry Kalas was singing High Hopes after the Phils finally wrapped it up. But since this was the Macho Row era of club, the party didn’t end with the sing-a-long. Oh no. Check out the box score for the day after the clincher and check who IS NOT in the lineup.

That oughta tell you how long into the night this one went.

1983
Game 160 vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 28)

Box score

Who would have guessed that there would have been just one more clincher for the Phillies in the next 24 years after this one? Sheesh.

Regardless, this one was in the days before there were lights at Wrigley Field so it’s likely that Larry Andersen took the guys over to The Lodge after the clubhouse celebration ended.

Here’s what I remember from this one – Mike Schmidt hit his 40th homer of the season and Bo Diaz clubbed two of them all off ex-Phillie Dick Ruthven. The last out was caught by Greg Gross in left field with Al “Mr. T” Holland on the mound. I guess Holland looked like Mr. T to get a nickname like that. Seemed like a fun guy.

1981
Won first half

This was the strike year so by virtue of being in first place by the time the work stoppage occurred, the Phillies went to the first-ever NLDS. They lost in five games to the Expos, though St. Louis had the best overall record in the NL East.

schmidt1980
Game 161 vs. Montreal at Olympic Stadium (Oct. 4)

Box score

If we were ranking the best regular-season games in Phillies history, this one would have to be in the top three. Maybe even the top two. Frankly, it had everything. Comebacks, drama, suspense, crazy manager moves and then Mike Schmidt’s home run in the 11th to give the Phillies the lead they never gave up.

Oh, but if Schmidt’s homer were the only highlight.

  • Bob Boone laced a two-out single in the top of the 9th to tie the game and force extra innings.
  • Tug McGraw pitched the last three innings allowing just one hit to go with four strikeouts to get the win.
  • September call up Don McCormack came in to catch in just his second big league inning in the ninth when Dallas Green yanked Boone for a pinch runner. McCormack got the first of his two Major League hits after Schmidt’s homer in the 11th. From there, McCormack went on to play in just 14 big league innings the rest of his career over three game.

How did Don McCormack get into that game?!

  • The top four hitters in the Phillies lineup (Rose, McBride, Schmidt, Luzinski) went 11-for-19.

lerch1978
Game 161 vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 30)

Box score

Here was the scenario for this one – if the Pirates won, then Game 162 would decide the NL East. Instead, the Phillies wrapped up division title No. 3 thanks to a clutch three-run homer from Greg Luzinski in the sixth inning.

The game started rather inauspiciously, too. Willie Stargell hit a grand slam in the first inning to give the Pirates the quick lead, but pitcher Randy Lerch made up for his pitching with a homer in the second and another in the fourth to cut the deficit to a run and set the table for Luzinski’s homer.

The game was not without drama at the end, either. Tug McGraw game on in the seventh and was within two outs of closing it out until the Pirates rallied for four runs and had the tying run at the plate when manager Danny Ozark went to Ron Reed to close it out.

1977
Game 157 vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 27)

Box score

I don’t remember this one, but from a look at the box score it looks like one of those old fashioned Wrigley Field games that used to be unique. Now those Wrigley Field games can break out anywhere in any ballpark. And since they play mostly night games at Wrigley these days, those wild games are a thing of the past.

Still, the second clincher for the Phillies featured five RBIs and a homer (and seven solid innings for the win) from Larry Christenson and one from Mike Schmidt in a 15-9 final.

jvukovich1976
Game 155 vs. Montreal at Parc Jarry (Sept. 26)

Box score

The was the first and maybe the best of the Phillies clubs that won all those division titles. The Phils won a franchise-record 101 games, but they didn’t quite match up well enough against The Big Red Machine, who were on their were to becoming the last National League team to win back-to-back World Series titles.

I suppose there is some irony in there somewhere that the Phillies are in the mix to match the 1975-76 Reds… just don’t feel like looking.

Anyway, this clincher was the first game of a doubleheader, highlighted by a complete game from Jim Lonborg. So needless to say the nightcap had a slightly different lineup after the Phillies wrapped up their first playoff berth since 1950. In fact, John Vukovich started in the second game for his season debut. Vuke went on to start in 13 more games over five years for the Phillies – all but three came in 1980.

So there it is… looking forward to adding the new one at the top of this list over the weekend. The good part is the clubhouse in Milwaukee is plenty big enough to find a dry spot from all party shrapnel flying around.

Party like it’s 1976

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Baring a collapse of New York Mets proportions, the Phillies will clinch the NL East for the third season in a row. The Three-peat in the East has occurred just one other time in team history and continues a string of a dearth of champs in the East. Following the Phillies’ victory in 1993, only the Braves and Mets have won the division aside from the current batch of Phillies.

In other words, the NL East resembles the NBA Finals during the 1980s when only the Celtics, Sixers, Rockets and Lakers ever got there. Eventually the Pistons and Bulls broke through, but for a long time it seemed as if only a handful of teams ever made it to the big dance.

Nevertheless, the clincher for the Phillies will likely come this weekend in Milwaukee. And as a result of sewing things up with a week to go in the season (at least), it will go down as the earliest clincher in terms of games played. To capture their first playoff berth in 26 years in 1976, the Phillies wrapped up the East in Game 155.

If the Phillies clinch before Sunday, it will be the earliest the team ensured a playoff berth ever. Even in 1950, before the advent of divisional play, the Phillies needed the full slate of games to get to the postseason.

Anyway, here’s a look at the playoff-clinching games since Major League Baseball started divisional play.

2008
Game 161 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 27)

Box score

Remember this one? Remember how you felt when Brad Lidge loaded the bases with one out and the go-ahead runs in scoring position and how the shot by Ryan Zimmerman looked like it was going to ruin the closer’s perfect slate?

Kind of feels a lot like this year, doesn’t it?

Aside from Jimmy Rollins’ heroic diving stop to spin the game-ending double play, this one is remembered for Jamie Moyer’s second straight win in a clinching game. Aside from his effort in Game 3 of the World Series, the finales in 2007 and 2008 will be the old lefty’s legacy with the Phillies.

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com 2007
Game 162 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 30)

Box score

The fact that the Phillies were even in a position to win the East took an unprecedented collapse by the Mets. Couple the huge comeback (down 6½ games with 17 to go) with a 14-year playoff drought, and the clubhouse scene was one of the all-time great parties in the history of Philadelphia clinchers.

The truth is a lot of us never saw such a thing. Champagne corks popping and flying all over the room. Beer spray dousing everyone and anything that moves. Pharmaceuticals and English bulldogs show up and drag low-end celebrities and political chaff around, too.

In other words, it’s no different than the parties you threw in college only without the bonfire. Where this party had it over those from back in the college days is that Jade McCarthy and J.D. Durbin made it to this one, and, well… when Jade and J.D. show up then it’s a party.

Of course by the time the fog cleared and the playoffs began, the Phillies were gone in four days.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com
Game 157 vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 28)

Box score

Get a load of this… I watched this one from the balcony at the Troc at a Fugazi show. Some guy sitting in front of me had a Sony watchman TV and we got to see Mariano Duncan crush the game-winning grand slam before the band took the stage.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Commonwealth, Harry Kalas was singing High Hopes after the Phils finally wrapped it up. But since this was the Macho Row era of club, the party didn’t end with the sing-a-long. Oh no. Check out the box score for the day after the clincher and check who IS NOT in the lineup.

That oughta tell you how long into the night this one went.

1983
Game 160 vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 28)

Box score

Who would have guessed that there would have been just one more clincher for the Phillies in the next 24 years after this one? Sheesh.

Regardless, this one was in the days before there were lights at Wrigley Field so it’s likely that Larry Andersen took the guys over to The Lodge after the clubhouse celebration ended.

Here’s what I remember from this one – Mike Schmidt hit his 40th homer of the season and Bo Diaz clubbed two of them all off ex-Phillie Dick Ruthven. The last out was caught by Greg Gross in left field with Al “Mr. T” Holland on the mound. I guess Holland looked like Mr. T to get a nickname like that. Seemed like a fun guy.

1981
Won first half

This was the strike year so by virtue of being in first place by the time the work stoppage occurred, the Phillies went to the first-ever NLDS. They lost in five games to the Expos, though St. Louis had the best overall record in the NL East.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com 1980
Game 161 vs. Montreal at Olympic Stadium (Oct. 4)

Box score

If we were ranking the best regular-season games in Phillies history, this one would have to be in the top three. Maybe even the top two. Frankly, it had everything. Comebacks, drama, suspense, crazy manager moves and then Mike Schmidt’s home run in the 11th to give the Phillies the lead they never gave up.

Oh, but if Schmidt’s homer were the only highlight.

  • Bob Boone laced a two-out single in the top of the 9th to tie the game and force extra innings.
  • Tug McGraw pitched the last three innings allowing just one hit to go with four strikeouts to get the win.
  • September call up Don McCormack came in to catch in just his second big league inning in the ninth when Dallas Green yanked Boone for a pinch runner. McCormack got the first of his two Major League hits after Schmidt’s homer in the 11th. From there, McCormack went on to play in just 14 big league innings the rest of his career over three game.

How did Don McCormack get into that game?!

  • The top four hitters in the Phillies lineup (Rose, McBride, Schmidt, Luzinski) went 11-for-19.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com 1978
Game 161 vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 30)

Box score

Here was the scenario for this one – if the Pirates won, then Game 162 would decide the NL East. Instead, the Phillies wrapped up division title No. 3 thanks to a clutch three-run homer from Greg Luzinski in the sixth inning.

The game started rather inauspiciously, too. Willie Stargell hit a grand slam in the first inning to give the Pirates the quick lead, but pitcher Randy Lerch made up for his pitching with a homer in the second and another in the fourth to cut the deficit to a run and set the table for Luzinski’s homer.

The game was not without drama at the end, either. Tug McGraw game on in the seventh and was within two outs of closing it out until the Pirates rallied for four runs and had the tying run at the plate when manager Danny Ozark went to Ron Reed to close it out.

1977
Game 157 vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 27)

Box score

I don’t remember this one, but from a look at the box score it looks like one of those old fashioned Wrigley Field games that used to be unique. Now those Wrigley Field games can break out anywhere in any ballpark. And since they play mostly night games at Wrigley these days, those wild games are a thing of the past.

Still, the second clincher for the Phillies featured five RBIs and a homer (and seven solid innings for the win) from Larry Christenson and one from Mike Schmidt in a 15-9 final.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com 1976
Game 155 vs. Montreal at Parc Jarry (Sept. 26)

Box score

The was the first and maybe the best of the Phillies clubs that won all those division titles. The Phils won a franchise-record 101 games, but they didn’t quite match up well enough against The Big Red Machine, who were on their were to becoming the last National League team to win back-to-back World Series titles.

I suppose there is some irony in there somewhere that the Phillies are in the mix to match the 1975-76 Reds… just don’t feel like looking.

Anyway, this clincher was the first game of a doubleheader, highlighted by a complete game from Jim Lonborg. So needless to say the nightcap had a slightly different lineup after the Phillies wrapped up their first playoff berth since 1950. In fact, John Vukovich started in the second game for his season debut. Vuke went on to start in 13 more games over five years for the Phillies – all but three came in 1980.

So there it is… looking forward to adding the new one at the top of this list over the weekend. The good part is the clubhouse in Milwaukee is plenty big enough to find a dry spot from all party shrapnel flying around.