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.
Game 158 vs. Houston at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 30)
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.
Game 161 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 27)
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.
Game 162 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 30)
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.
Game 157 vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 28)
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.
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.
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.
Game 161 vs. Montreal at Olympic Stadium (Oct. 4)
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.
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.
Game 157 vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 27)
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.
Game 155 vs. Montreal at Parc Jarry (Sept. 26)
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.