This is my first piece for TBOH, and as with all new staffers, I’ve been asked to tell the story of my introduction to Phillies baseball. My story starts with Charlie Manuel‘s 2007 club, the Jimmy Rollins “team to beat” group that rallied down the stretch to win a division crown.
Back in 2006, I used to go to a friend of mine’s house fequently. Each member of his family was a die hard sports fan. My friend, his older brother, and his mother were all Philadelphia sports fans. His dad, however, was a New York fan.
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At the time, I did not fully comprehend the weight of that divide; Philadelphia versus New York. I was 13 years old, and I had just begun to appreciate professional sports.
My father was and still is a walking sports encyclopedia. He would always talk about sports with me, and eventually, our relationship became very sports-centric.
I have always loved sports. Up until college, I had been involved in some sort of organized sport, whether it was baseball, football, soccer, or basketball. Baseball has always been my personal favorite.
In 2007, I decided to devote my time to watching as much Phillies baseball as I could. Back then my only responsibilities were school and homework, so I had plenty of time on my hands.
Watching baseball was easy for me. I knew all of the rules, the ins and outs of the sport. But watching professionals day in and day out gave me a new perspective on the game, and just how beautiful the sport truly is.
The 2007 Phillies were a team on the rise. They had a solid core of young, talented position players led by 28-year old middle infielders Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley, and 27-year-old 1st baseman Ryan Howard.
Howard was an early favorite of mine, coming off a 2006 season in which he had won the National League MVP with 58 home runs, 149 RBIs, and a ridiculous OPS of 1.084.
On the mound, the Phils featured two lefty pitchers at the top of the rotation who were polar opposites of each other. 44-year old Jamie Moyer, whose fastball topped out at about 84 MPH, and a young, budding star in 23-year-old Cole Hamels.
Following those two were a less talented 29-year old Adam Eaton, who seemed to get hammered every time I watched him pitch, 22-year old rookie Kyle Kendrick, and 37-year old Jon Lieber. The club eventually added 28-year old Kyle Lohse to the mix.
The 2007 Mets didn’t believe in the Phillies…until September.The pitching rotation in 2007 endured a combination of inconsistency and injury. Freddy Garcia, who was aquired from the Chicago White Sox in the offseason, turned out to be a total bust, going 1-5 with a 5.90 ERA before going down with a shoulder injury. Lieber suffered a foot injury in June, which ended his season. Former starter-turned-closer Brett Myers missed the first two months of the season due to injury.
All of this resulted in a mediocre pitching rotation, aside from Hamels. That rotation finished 23rd in MLB with a 4.91 ERA. Hamels was by far the best of the bunch, finishing with a 15-5 record and a 3.39 ERA.
The bullpen wasn’t much better, finishing with a 4.50 ERA. In his first season as the closer, Myers finished with 21 saves and a 4.33 ERA. Righty Ryan Madson and lefty J.C. Romero, however, were budding stars out of the bullpen. In 89 appearances, the two combined for a 2.15 ERA in 92.1 innings.
Pitching wasn’t what made the 2007 Phillies such a joy to watch, however. Offense was their calling card. The team finished first in the National League in home runs (213), runs scored (892), and OPS (.812). Hitting the long ball is what those Phillies did best. Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Pat Burrell combined to hit 129 of the team’s 213 home runs.
Aside from the stars, the Phillies had a number of contributing players who slowly became fan favorites. Personally, backup catcher Chris Coste was one of my favorite players. The 34-year-old had finally found a home in the majors in Philadelphia, and began to make a name for himself.
Another favorite of mine was Aaron Rowand, who became a folk hero after a gutsy catch where he ran face-first into the center field fence, breaking his nose. His style of play is what I loved about him, but he also enjoyed a very productive season, producing a .309 batting average, 27 home runs, and 89 RBI.
The more that I watched Utley, the more I realized just how great of a player he was. Eventually, he supplanted Howard as my favorite player. Chase could do everything on the diamond: driving home runs, hitting for average, running out infield hits, flashing the leather at second base. He was a true gamer, and his style of play embodied the blue-collar work ethic that Philadelphia cherishes in its favored athletes.
After narrowly missing the playoffs in 2006, the Phillies and their fans were confident that the club would make a run in 2007. Rollins conveyed this confidence in an interview before the season started, stating that the Phillies were the “team to beat” in the NL East.
Rollins backed up his talk by doing everything in his power to actually make it happen. He finished with a .296 batting average, 30 home runs, and 94 RBIs. His stellar season earned the shortstop the National League Most Vauable Player award, the second straight year that the accolade was awarded to a Phillies star.
During the last month of the season, I truly realized the rivalry between New York fans and Philadelphia fans. In late August, the Phillies and Mets faced off in a crucial four-game series at Citizens Bank Park.
After winning the first three games, the Phils completed the sweep in a dramatic ninth-inning comeback where the team scored two runs to win 11-10. Utley got the game winning knock, a single to right field scoring Tadahito Iguchi.
With 17 games left in the regular season, the Phillies were still staring at a 7-game deficit behind those Mets in the National League East race. Many fans, including myself, thought the task would be too daunting to complete. The team then proved everyone wrong.
The Phillies kept chipping away at the Mets lead, and completed the divisional comeback by beating the Washington Nationals in the final game of the regular season as the Mets lost, giving the Phils the division crown.
The final pitch by Myers, a curveball that dropped in for a called third strike, and the call by Harry Kalas, is a moment that I will never forget. When it happened, I was back in my friend’s basement. His Mets-fan father and Phillies-fan mother watched upstairs, and as my friend and I let out a scream of excitement, I could hear his father let out a scream of disappointment.
The Phillies finished the 2007 regular season with a record of 89-73 and their first divisional title since 1993. The postseason was cut short, as the team was swept in three games by the Colorado Rockies.
Despite the disappointing playoff finish, the 2007 team showed a lot of promise for the future, and transformed me into a devout Phillies fan. Little did I know that just one year later, I would be in tears celebrating a Phillies World Series championship.