The Philadelphia Phillies' life passed before their eyes tonight. All 97 years of it.
In the eighth and ninth innings of this sixth and final game of the World Series, the Phillies not only had to beat the Kansas City Royals, 4-1, they had to defeat their own history and renounce a century of baseball antitradition.
Who says that you cannot live down the past -- that man, by his deeds, cannot create a rebirth of his own dignity? Philadelphia -- the city that played and of course lost the first game in the annals of the National League in 1876 -- won its first world championship tonight in delirious, barely believing Veterans Stadium.
The heartbreak Phillies, the franchise born to failure in 1883 and firmly entrenched as baseball's 97-year weaklings ever since, went down twice tonight as though they were drowning. Twice, as the Royals loaded the bases, every true Phillie fan had to think of his decades of sadness. Fifty-one seasons in the Baker Bowl and nary a Series win. Thirty-two years in Shibe Park, later Connie Mack Stadium, and nothing in the way of diamond-centered rings.
Those buildings, which lasted longer than the lives of many men, are torn down now. That is how you measure real failure -- not in seasons, but in buildings crumbled down under the weight of defeat. And now, 10 more seasons in the Vet, perhaps the most painful of all because of the playoff flops of '76, '77 and '78.
In each of those final two innings this night of redemption, Royals danced off every base as little exhausted Tug McGraw, so frazzled that he almost begged his manager to take him off the mound, battled the best hitting team in 30 years with just one pitch -- his nothing ball. It was McGraw, as a New York Met, who said, "You gotta believe." Such words would seem foreign in a Phillie's mouth. When the bases were jammed with blue-clad Royals this night, their names might as well have been Failure, Frustration and Lost Faith.
When McGraw got Kansas City cleanup man Hal McRae to ground to second base to end the eighth, it was a punch in the teeth to that trio of dark Phillie Phates. When Pete Rose made a miraculous kneehigh reflex grab of a foul pop after it popped out of catcher Bob Boone's glove on the lip of the Phillie dugout for the second out of the ninth, nearly every soul of the 65,838 in this park began to feel a tingle. Rose, symbol of victory and of imdominitability, is the emblem of the new, blessedly forgetful Phillies -- the team that wouldn't die.
This time, the Phils didn't go down for the third time. When McGraw finally stuck out Willie Wilson -- the indisputable goat of this Series -- in the ninth, the Phillies, and all who have stayed with them throughout the most troubled of baseball love affairs, burst through to the surface and gulped the fresh air.
The long, long bad dream was over. In a scene as ambiguous, prickly and hard to embrace as this Phillie team, the new champions screamed and hugged on a field encircled by police dogs, police horses, helmeted guards as numberless as Phillie defeats. Anybody who wanted to kiss this team would have to get billy clubbed to do it.
The final score of this game is so deceitful. Years from now, who will guess that a 4-1 lead could feel like less than one run? Few fans will remember how the Phillies built their 4-0 lead. Mike Schmidt, the Series MVP with his seven RBI, got the game-winning, bases-loaded, two-run single to right field way back in the fourth inning to knock out starter Rich Gale, who only got six outs. In the fifth, it was Bake McBride scoring Lonnie Smith from third with a one-out grounder to short for an insurance run. And in the sixth, Larry Bowa doubled and Bob Boone scored him with a rifle single to left for a 4-0 lead.
Never did a four-run margin seem so superfluous, or prove so necessary. The winner, Steve Carlton, worked seven of the most overpowering innings imaginable, a four-hit, seven-strikeout performance worthy of the legendary Lefty, the man with more strikeouts than any southpaw in history.
But in the eighth, those bad memories, those Phillie nightmares began. After a walk and single with no outs, Manager Dallas Green relieved Carlton after his 109th pitch. In retrospect, it was probably a blunder worthy of Phillie skippers such as Gavvy Cravath, Wild Bill Donovan or Kaiser Wilhelm. Or Danny Ozark. Carlton was great, but tiring. McGraw was exhausted from his first pitch McGraw bounced curves. He threw fast balls head high. Nobody would chase his screwball. He was in a world of trouble and he knew it.
"I kept getting in trouble, falling behind hitters, so I had to come in with a fat pitch. I kept telling myself, 'Use your fielders,'" said McGraw, who has pitched in nine of the Phillie 11 postseason games. "I felt somewhat in control of the inning in the eighth. But, after the first hitter in the ninth, my arm got really tired."
Anybody's arm would be tired with 97 years worth of ghosts sitting on it.
The first hint of drama, of possible Phillie disaster, came on McGraw's second batter. He started by getting hopeless Frank White (two for 25) to foul out to Rose. But when he walked the ineffectual Wilson to load the bases with one out, it was obvious that McGraw was laboring worse than the man he'd replaced. McGraw got U.L. Washington to hit a meaningless sacrifice fly to center field for the second out.
However, even as the only K.C. run was sprinting home, all eyes were on George Brett -- the tie run stepping up. McGraw, the only pitcher of '80 to fan Brett on consecutive at bats when they met on Sunday, had a triumph, of sorts. Brett only hit a rocket in the hole toward right field. It should have been a clean hit, but Manny Trillo, with the range of radar, sped left, then threw to first in time to beat Brett. w
That is, if Rose hadn't gotten his feet tangled, stumbled over the bag, and missed tagging it by an inch. That's when this became the World Series. Had Pete Rose, in his old age, become a cursed and bedeviled Phillie, too?
When McRae, who stepped up with a career average of .450 in three Series, fouled off three full-count pitches, with all runners blazing, this park was drained of emotion. His routine ground ball to Trillo seemed like a blessed dispensation. Surely, that was the last test.
Never for the Phillies.
McGraw's whiff of Amos Otis is start the ninth was illusion. The truth began to show when Willie Aikens walked and two sad Series hitters, Duke Wathan and Jose Cardenal, ripped singles to right and to center to load the bases.
Nobody had the least doubt. McGraw had nothing. Nothing but the one thing Phillies aren't supposed to have. "The only reason it's impossible to hate the Philies' guts," the saying goes here, "is because they don't have any."
McGraw had plenty. Maybe he couldn't overpower, but he could change speeds. He could prey on overanxiousness.
To the Phils' eternal great good luck, the two last Royals batters were the worst -- White and Wilson (four for 26). They had ghosts, too. The worst kind. Not team ghosts, but personal ghosts. White was a desperate man. He swung at the first pitch for the second consecutive time against McGraw and popped it up foul for the second time. Boone drifted over. Plenty of time. Nice easy squeeze . . . oooops!
It happened almost too fast for the eyes, this play that may have saved a Series game, even saved a world championship since the Phils might well have unraveled had they lost tonight.
Rose stood a yard from Boone, overseeing the Phillies' fate, as is his wont. In a tenth of a second, Rose earned all of the $3.2 million he is being paid for four seasons here. His glove flicked out, quick as a lizzard gobbling a fly, and snatched the ball just as it was about to plop symbolically into the Phillies' laps.
Every Royal heart must have sunk as Wilson stepped to the plate. He threw in the towel long ago, flipping his hat and bat away in resigned, limp disgust after Carlton struck him out twice tonight. Wilson's final strikeout, chasing a shoulder-high fast ball, was his 12th strikeout of this Series -- a record. In all 77 Classics, it is possible that no player ever came into a Series with such mammoth numbers (.326, 230 hits, 79 steals) and was so completely eaten alive by October pressure.
And, perhaps, the right man to capture this night was team president Ruly Carpenter, a second-generation owner who has spent his life immersed in trying to overcome invisible enemies.
Soaked with champagne, he rode back up to the Phillies' offices in a tiny elevator. How do you feel? he was asked.
"Fine," said Carpenter, numb for the moment. Then his face came alive, he smiled, the realization of victory growing.
"Finally," he said.