The Philadelphia Phillies had a losing 1998 season, but for one night they were more powerful than any team in franchise history.
Those ’98 Phillies would finish with a record of 75-87, 3rd place in the National League East Division, 31 games behind the front-running Atlanta Braves.
The club had been surprisingly competitive that season under 2nd year skipper Terry Francona. The Phillies still had a winning record in early August. But an 11-22 finish after August 22nd would doom the team to a 5th straight losing campaign.
The power on that club was generated by three sources. The 3rd baseman, Scott Rolen, banged out 31 homers in just his second full MLB season. Rico Brogna at 1st base would hit 20 homers, while right fielder Bobby Abreu would go deep 17 times. No other Phillies hitter reached double digits that season.
So it might come as a bit of a surprise to fans of the team to learn that it was this team that would set an all-time franchise record when it clubbed 7 home runs in one game. That they did it with none coming from either Rolen or Abreu is even more surprising. On September 8th, 1998 at Veteran’s Stadium in a 16-4 shelling of the 2nd place New York Mets, that is exactly what those Phillies accomplished.
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Mets manager Bobby Valentine sent Hideo Nomo, a big trade acquisition from the Dodgers earlier in the year who would prove to be one of the season’s biggest busts, out to the mound that evening in front of a mixed crowd of 18,611 Phillies and Mets fans.
The Japanese pitcher who had been a wunderkind in his first three seasons with the Dodgers from 1995-97 would not fare well on this night. He lasted just 2.2 innings, and was battered for seven earned runs on six hits and two walks. A solo home run off the bat of Brogna helped the Phillies to a 3-0 lead after the 1st inning.
In the bottom of the 2nd, Nomo actually set the Phillies bats down in order. But he wouldn’t get out of the 3rd frame. With one out, light-hitting Kevin Sefcik would hit just his 2nd homer of the season to make it a 4-0 game.
The Phillies tacked on another run, and had two runners on base, when Valentine had seen enough. He replaced Nomo with Willie Blair, but it wouldn’t help. With two outs, Phils’ catcher Bobby Estalella drove a 3-run homer down the left field line to make it an 8-0 game. It was just Estalella’s 6th home run of the season.
After Rolen led off the bottom of the 5th with a single against Mets’ reliever Brad Clontz, Brogna drove his 2nd homer of the game out to deep left center, upping the Phillies lead to 10-1 at that point.
It was 11-1 in the bottom of the 6th when, incredibly, Sefcik did it again, taking Mel Rojas out on a line to deep left field, making it a 12-3 game. That one was the Phillies 5th homer of the game, leaving them just one shy of a franchise record that had been accomplished on nine previous occasions, the most recent by the 1993 ‘Macho Row’ NL pennant winners.
When the Phillies came to bat in the bottom of the 7th, Rojas was still in the game. With one out, Estalella again pulled a line drive down the left field line that went into the stands, giving the Phils a 13-3 lead and tying the team record.
Shortstop Desi Relaford followed with a double, and Francona decided to send up newly promoted Marlon Anderson as a pinch-hitter for pitcher Yorkis Perez. It would be the 24-year old Anderson’s first career big league plate appearance.
On a 2-2 pitch, the lefty swinging Anderson ripped a ball down the right field line that was a no-doubter from the minute it left the bat. Not only did Anderson have a 2-run homer in his first at-bat, but in the 116th season of the club’s existence, this team on this night had set the all-time franchise record by hitting 7 home runs.
The beneficiary of all this offense was Paul Byrd, a 27-year old who was making just his 5th start after coming over in a trade from the Braves. Despite a powerful generation of Phillies emerging over the next decade, the record set on that night over 17 years ago now remains the franchise record to this day.