The Philadelphia Phillies' last gasp as a World Series contender ended on a frigid late October evening in 1993 with one swing of the bat as the Blue Jays' mighty Joe Carter launched a fastball hurled by reliever Mitch Williams into the left-field seats of Toronto's Sky Dome for a walk-off three-run homer.
Williams, known with an affection atypical of Philadelphia sports nuts as "The Wild Thing" for his habit of throwing the ball as hard as he could with little concern for finesse, was so unpredictable with such predictability that fans and players alike took to covering their heads with towels when he pitched into one of his frequent jams during the Phillies' improbably pennant run that year.
My children, then 11 and nine, who of course had their heads under towels, broke into tears as Carter circled the bases. I merely grimaced, being a long suffering Phillies fan who had bowed to the inevitable even before it arrived.
The Wild Thing was emblematic (or should I say symptomatic?) of the 1993 team, which was longer on characters (as opposed to character) than talent, the polar opposite of this year's edition, who while also having their share of characters, ooze talent and display a steely self confidence even when they fall behind.
To no one's surprise -- save for the stunned Rays and a bunch of sports pundits in awe of Tampa Bay's Cinderella run this year -- the Phillies have galloped to the 2008 World Championship, only the second in the franchise's loss-sodden 125-year history -- by taking four of the five games of a best-of-seven series whose outcome was never in doubt.
The 4-3 clincher last night -- the longest Series game in history -- had the feel of a sudden-death drama with play resuming at the bottom of the sixth inning after being suspended because of a downpour on Monday evening.
The victory capped an amazing run of seven consecutive post-season victories at Citizens Bank Park in South Philadelphia where fans were feverishly twirling and not wearing towels during a raucous celebration on another frigid late October night thanks to just enough hitting and superb pitching.
Lanky left-handed started Cole Hamels, who won Game One and started the abbreviated Game 5, ended with an overall 1.80 earned-run average to be named Series most valuable player, while reliever Brad Lidge smoked the Rays in the bottom of the ninth inning to seal the win with an unbelievable 47th straight regular- and post-season save.
The championship was the first for the Phillies since their only other Series win in 1980 when Hall of Dame third baseman Mike Schmidt was the MVP and the first for any of the city's professional teams since the 76ers won the National Basketball Association Championship in 1983, supposedly the longest sports drought for any big city -- some 100 seasons of futility in all.
But as my late great Phillies phanatic mother would say with varying degreees of conviction, baseball "is only a game," was is a damned good thing because her team lost an awful lot and was awful a lot during her lifetime, reaching the post season only four times in her 73 years on the planet.
But compared to 1993 or 1980, baseball is only a game in another respect.
This is supposed to be a celebratory post, but even as I cheered on my Phillies the weight of a world far different than those years has never been far away. Then there are the nail-biting closing days of the most important presidential election since my mother was five years old.
So a twirl of the towel for Philadelphia, but God save America.
Top photo: John G. Mabanglo
European Pressphoto Agency
European Pressphoto Agency