Monday, May 23, 2011
Random Past Game: July 8, 2001
Date of Game: Sunday, July 8, 2001
Location: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Opponent: Baltimore Orioles
Final Score: Phillies 5, Orioles 4
Winning Pitcher: Randy Wolf
Losing Pitcher: Buddy Groom
Save: Jose Mesa
Home Runs: Travis Lee, Chris Richard
Phillies Starting Lineup
Doug Glanville, cf
Jimmy Rollins, ss
Bobby Abreu, rf
Scott Rolen, 3b
Travis Lee, 1b
Pat Burrell, dh
Marlon Anderson, 2b
Gary Bennett, c
Eric Valent, lf
(Starting Pitcher: Robert Person)
Orioles Starting Lineup
Brady Anderson, lf
Brian Roberts, ss
David Segui, 1b
Jay Gibbons, dh
Chris Richard, rf
Tony Batista, 3b
Melvin Mora, cf
Brook Fordyce, c
Jerry Hairston, Jr., 2b
(Starting Pitcher: Jose Mercedes)
About This Game: When it comes to attending sporting events, few if any experiences are as unique as seeing your favorite team play on the road. Even in instances where the away team's fans seemingly outnumber those of the home team, the fact remains you are in enemy territory. Cheering for your team in an unfamiliar locale can take some getting used to, and it is most definitely uncomfortable hearing the crowd and blaring music whenever the home team does well. When the road team comes out on top, however, there's a satisfying feeling that may even border on smugness that one can get leaving the ballpark. If they pull out a win in dramatic fashion, well, that only increases the level of satisfaction. On July 8, 2001, it seemed as though all the Phillies fans who made the trek to Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards would have a long trip up I-95 back home. One swing of the bat would change all that, and provided the Phils with one of their most stunning wins in what was a very surprising season.
The Philadelphia Phillies entered play on July 8, 2001 as one of Major League Baseball's biggest success stories that year. After finishing 65-97 in a humiliating 2000 season, first-year manager Larry Bowa's club sat in first place in the National League East at 49-37, one game ahead of the Atlanta Braves. The Orioles, meanwhile, were looking towards the future after Cal Ripken, Jr. had announced he would bring his legendary career to a close at the end of the season. They entered play on this date with a record of 40-47, fourth in the American League East and 12.5 games behind the division-leading New York Yankees.
This Sunday afternoon tilt at Camden Yards was to be the conclusion of a three-game weekend set that would lead into the All-Star break. The series opener had gone to the Phillies, 3-2 in 10 innings. Travis Lee delivered the deciding blow in that game with a solo home run off Mike Trombley after Jimmy Rollins had tied it with a two-run shot off Willis Roberts in the seventh. The Orioles took the middle game by a score of 4-3 as a three-run sixth put Baltimore ahead to stay as they held off a late Phillies rally. Little did anyone know the first two contests would end up providing a little glimpse into the future.
Robert Person would start for the Phillies in the rubber match, while Jose Mercedes took the hill for the Orioles. The best scoring chance for the Phils in the early going came in the first inning, when they put a pair of runners on base with two outs before Lee lined to first to retire the side. Person retired the first seven batters he faced before running into some trouble in the third, as Baltimore loaded the bases with one out. The Orioles would be denied, though, as Person struck out Brian Roberts and David Segui to end the threat.
The Phillies would break into the run column in the fourth thanks to some small ball and shaky Orioles defense. Pat Burrell and Marlon Anderson started the inning with singles before a sacrifice bunt by Gary Bennett put runners at second and third with one out. After Eric Valent was called out on strikes, Doug Glanville legged out a grounder to short for an infield single to score Burrell, with Anderson coming home when Roberts threw wildly to first. It didn't take very long for Baltimore to cut the lead in half, as Chris Richard connected for a solo homer with one out in the bottom of the fourth. The 2-1 score held up until the bottom of the sixth, when things started to unravel for the Phils.
Roberts led off the sixth with a single, moving to second when Segui walked and to third when Jay Gibbons flied to right. Segui advanced to second on a wild pitch (Roberts held at third), after which Richard was walked intentionally to load the bases with one out. Tony Batista followed with an unintentional walk to bring Roberts home with the tying run and send Person to the showers. Amaury Telemaco took over on the mound and was greeted by Melvin Mora, who gave the Orioles a 3-2 lead with a sacrifice fly. Brook Fordyce walked to reload the bases before Telemaco hit Jerry Hairston, Jr. with a pitch to score Richard and put Baltimore up by a score of 4-2. Ed Vosberg relieved Telemaco at that point and stopped the bleeding by getting Brady Anderson on an inning-ending grounder to first. The leadoff single by Roberts turned out to be the only hit for the Orioles in the sixth, but four walks, a hit batter, and a sacrifice fly paved the way for a three-run inning.
The Phillies had at least one baserunner in six of the first seven innings against Mercedes, but were unable to push anything across aside from the two runs they scored in the fourth. Chad Paronto worked a 1-2-3 eighth for the Orioles while Randy Wolf tossed two perfect frames of his own in a rare relief appearance for the Phils. Trombley came on for the ninth and retired Glanville on a grounder to third before walking Rollins. O's manager Mike Hargrove then lifted Trombley in favor of lefty specialist Buddy Groom, who got Bobby Abreu on strikes for the second out before Scott Rolen kept the game alive with a single, sending Rollins to third and bringing to the plate the go-ahead run in the person of Travis Lee.
Though the Phillies were kicking up a little fuss in the ninth inning, the Orioles still had the matchup they wanted as the lefthanded-hitting Lee stepped in to face Groom with two outs. Keeping the game alive for Burrell would've been perfectly fine, but Lee took matters into his own hands as he jumped all over a hanging 1-1 slider and launched it well over the scoreboard in right field for a three-run homer and a shocking 5-4 Phillies lead. Just like that, the sizable Philadelphia contingent had been whipped into a frenzy while the hometown crowd could only look on in disbelief. There was no further scoring for the Phils in the ninth, but that became moot as Jose Mesa finished things off by retiring the O's in order in the bottom half of the frame. Wolf got the win in relief, moving his record to 5-9 while Groom fell to 1-3 with the loss. Mesa's save was the 24th of 42 he would earn in 2001.
With the win, the Phillies improved to 50-37 and remained a game ahead of the Braves in the NL East. They hadn't held the top spot in the division at the All-Star break since their pennant-winning campaign of 1993. In what would be a back-and-forth race, neither the Phils nor Braves led the East by more than 3.5 games at any point after June 21. The upstart Phillies were tied for first as late as September 24, but Atlanta would ultimately prevail with a record of 88-74, with the Phils finishing second at 86-76. Though there was understandably some disappointment over not winning the division, it was still a pretty impressive season for the Phillies, who finished above .500 for the first time in eight years while winning 21 more games than they had in 2000. The Orioles, on the other hand, lost for the fifth time in six games that day and never recovered, as they staggered home with a 63-98 mark. It was their fourth consecutive season below .500. That streak continues as of this writing, as the O's are still seeking their first winning campaign since taking home their last American League East title in 1997.
Personal Recollection: This was the second Phillies away game I ever attended. The first was in 1997, also at Camden Yards. The Phils lost that game, 8-1, which was best remembered for Gregg Jefferies misplaying a Cal Ripken fly ball to left into a grand slam. It was one of those towering drives that kept carrying. Jefferies drifted back and appeared to have just enough room, but he stumbled on the warning track and the ball hit the top of the short wall before bouncing over. And of course, the bases happened to be loaded. It gave the Orioles a 5-0 lead in the third inning and the game was never close after that.
Back to this game, Robert Person seemed like he was going to cruise along after stranding the bases loaded in the third, but things fell apart for him in a hurry in the sixth. Larry Bowa came out to the mound before Person faced Tony Batista, but decided not to make a pitching change. I think everyone in the ballpark was stunned by that, as it was pretty apparent by then Person had lost it. He walked Batista to force a run home, then Amaury Telemaco came in and was all over the place. Definitely one of the uglier innings by Phillies pitching I've seen over the past decade.
As it got to the late stages of the game, I have to admit I was thinking about how bad it was going to suck walking out of there after a loss again. Even after Scott Rolen singled, the last thing I was thinking about when Travis Lee stepped to the plate was a home run with a tough lefty-lefty matchup. I was really just hoping for a walk or a bloop hit, then leave it up to Pat Burrell. Then Lee got that hanging slider and absolutely crushed it, a no-doubt-about-it shot that almost made it on to Eutaw Street for what would be his second game-winning homer of the series.
Lee had a weird season in 2001. He didn't put up great numbers, but he hit some big home runs that year. He hit a three-run walkoff against Ugueth Urbina to beat the Expos, 10-8, after the Phillies had entered inning down 8-6 and the first two batters were retired. He hit a grand slam off Eric Gagne (back when Gagne was a starter) to spark a win over the Dodgers. Then, late in the season against the Marlins, the Phils were down to their last out against the Marlins when Lee took Antonio Alfonseca deep to the opposite field to tie it before Johnny Estrada won it with a walkoff in the 10th.
I guess Lee was just a weird player in general. Tons of talent, outstanding defensively, but it just seemed like he didn't enjoy playing the game. Now, a lot of guys are stoic and don't play with a lot of emotion, and sometimes that can be mistaken for a lack of passion. In Lee's case, though, it just seemed like he didn't want to be there. He was a highly-touted prospect who was represented by Scott Boras and gained notoriety after he was drafted second overall by the Minnesota Twins in 1996, as he was declared a free agent due to a draft loophole (it was determined the Twins hadn't tendered Lee a contract within the necessary 15 days after selecting him) and was signed to a lucrative deal by the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks nearly two years before the franchise began play. Maybe Lee was burnt out by the time he became a Phillie. He was cut loose by the Phils when they signed Jim Thome after the 2002 season and would retire at the age of 31 during Spring Training in 2007.
That game in Baltimore was the first of seven straight road wins I witnessed by the Phillies in person. They'd take two more in Baltimore (one in 2003, the other in 2005), three in Milwaukee (2004), and one in Washington (2005). However, the Phils are just 4-9 in away games I've attended since then. My next shot will come August 1-3 this season when the Phillies take on the Rockies in Denver. No matter how many more Phillies road wins I witness, the first one will be very hard to top.
That's my story on July 8, 2001. Do you remember this game? If so, feel free to share your own recollections!