Monday, June 27, 2011

Random Past Game: April 27, 2009

Date of Game: Monday, April 27, 2009
Location: Citizens Bank Park
Opponent: Washington Nationals
Final Score: Phillies 13, Nationals 11
Winning Pitcher: J.A. Happ
Losing Pitcher: Joel Hanrahan
Save: Ryan Madson
Home Runs: Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, Ryan Zimmerman (2), Elijah Dukes, Nick Johnson, Adam Dunn

Phillies Starting Lineup

Jimmy Rollins, ss
Shane Victorino, cf
Chase Utley, 2b
Ryan Howard, 1b
Jayson Werth, rf
Raul Ibanez, lf
Greg Dobbs, 3b
Lou Marson, c
Joe Blanton, p

Nationals Starting Lineup

Anderson Hernandez, ss
Nick Johnson, 1b
Ryan Zimmerman, 3b
Adam Dunn, lf
Elijah Dukes, cf
Austin Kearns, rf
Jesus Flores, c
Alberto Gonzalez, ss
Shairon Martis, p

About This Game: The Philadelphia Phillies as we know them at this current moment are not a team that engages in very many slugfests. A dominant pitching staff keeps opposing tallies to a minimum on most nights while the offense struggles to dent the plate themselves, though they do manage scrape across enough runs to come out on the winning side of things more often than not. That is not exclusive to the Phils, as the game has been trending more towards pitching over the past couple of seasons. We naturally tend to scrutinize our own team more, and poor production on any side of the ball can be exasperating. The lack of offense is a bit of a culture shock for Phillies fans, who had grown accustomed to seeing the ballclub light up the scoreboard on a regular basis for several seasons prior to 2010. It was an attack that could be relentless, and opposing teams were best served taking advantage of every scoring opportunity presented to them. Sometimes, even doing so wasn't enough. This was especially true on April 27, 2009.

The early part of the 2009 season was somewhat of a surreal experience for the Phillies and their fans. The club entered the campaign as defending World Series Champions for just the second time in franchise history and with that came the usual pomp and circumstance. Before the novelty had a chance to wear off, the team and the city were hit with a devastating dose of reality on April 13 when beloved broadcaster Harry Kalas died suddenly while preparing to work that day's game against the Nationals in Washington. A somber and distracted ballclub struggled to find its footing on the field, getting off to a 6-8 start. The pitching staff encountered its share of difficulty in the early going, not allowing fewer than four runs in any of the season's first dozen games, including a stretch of four in a row when opponents crossed the plate eight times. The Phils also had trouble in their own home as '09 got underway, losing their first three series at Citizens Bank Park as they dropped two of three to the Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres, and Milwaukee Brewers. By the time the Nationals came to visit in late April, the Phillies appeared ready to bust out of the doldrums and make some history while they were at it.

This Monday night tilt in South Philly was the opener of a three-game series between the Phillies and Nationals. The Phils were riding a three-game winning streak coming in, having swept a weekend road set against the Florida Marlins to put them at 9-8 on the young season, 1.5 games behind Florida in the National League East. The Nationals had finished last in the NL East with a 59-102 record in 2008 and again brought up the rear in the division heading into this one with a record of 4-13, 6.5 games out. They'd snapped a three-game losing streak the previous day with an 8-1 victory over the New York Mets at Citi Field. Joe Blanton would be taking the mound for the Phils, with Shairon Martis getting the ball for Washington. The two pitchers had previously squared off at Nationals Park on April 16, with the Nats coming out on top by a score of 8-2. It was their first win of 2009 after opening the season with seven consecutive losses.

As the game got underway, one might be led to believe a pitchers duel was in store as Blanton struck out the side in order in the top of the first and Martis was unharmed by a two-out walk to Chase Utley in the bottom half. It turned out to be apropos of nothing as the Nationals scored twice in the second thanks to a sacrifice fly by Alberto Gonzalez and RBI single by Martis. The Phillies matched the Nats in their half of the frame as Greg Dobbs singled home Jayson Werth before Raul Ibanez scored on a Lou Marson double play grounder to tie it.

Washington wasted little time breaking the deadlock, as a Nick Johnson walk to lead off the third was followed by a booming two-run homer off the batter's eye in center by Ryan Zimmerman to give the Nationals a 4-2 lead. Two batters later, Elijah Dukes made it 5-2 when he sent a soaring blast onto Ashburn Alley beyond the seats in left-center. The score remained the same until the top of the fifth, when Zimmerman led off with his second homer of the night, a cannon shot off the facing of the second deck in left to make it 6-2. Adam Dunn followed with a single before a one-out walk to Austin Kearns brought Blanton's night to a close. Jack Taschner took over and got out of the inning without any further damage to keep the Phillies at arm's length.

The Phillies didn't get their half of the fifth off to quite the start the Nationals did, as Taschner batted for himself and popped out to open the frame. The Phils got a threat going, however, by playing station-to-station baseball as singles by Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Utley loaded the bases with one out. Ryan Howard made sure the opportunity wouldn't go to waste, as he deposited a hanging two-strike breaking ball from Martis into the bushes beyond the fence in center for a grand slam and just like that, the game was tied at 6-6. Ibanez would add a two-out single in the fifth, but the inning ended without any further scoring.

Both teams would score in the sixth, but were ultimately left wanting more. The Nationals used a double by Anderson Hernandez and walks to Zimmerman, Dunn, and Dukes to go on top by a score of 7-6. The last of those walks was issued by Clay Condrey, who came on to replace Taschner and escaped further trouble by getting Kearns to fly to center with two outs and the bases loaded. Marson led off the home half of the sixth with a walk, at which point Martis was relieved by Julian Tavarez, who served up a double to Pedro Feliz, which sent Marson to third. Rollins followed with a pop fly to shallow left that landed safely for another double to score Marson with the tying run while Feliz held at third. After Victorino grounded back to the mound, Mike Hinckley was called upon to replace Tavarez and promptly hit Utley with a pitch to again load the bases for Howard. There'd be no repeat performance this time, though, as a bullet by Howard was snared by Johnson at the first base bag for an inning-ending double play as Utley had no chance to retreat.

Things settled down in the seventh, as Condrey worked a perfect top half of the frame while Kip Wells took over for the Nationals and did the same in the bottom half. Again, this turned out to be an aberration, as there were some serious fireworks still to come. In fact, the best were saved for last.

Scott Eyre got the call for the Phillies in the eighth, but it was safe to say he didn't have it on this night. Hernandez walked to start the inning and would soon trot home ahead of Johnson, who dropped a bomb into the second deck in right to put the Nationals back on top, 9-7. The pattern repeated itself when Zimmerman walked and Dunn unloaded a drive deep to the seats in right for Washington's fifth homer of the night and an 11-7 lead. It seemed like deja vu all over again Dukes followed with a walk, but by that point J.A. Happ had warmed up sufficiently enough to take over for the bewildered Eyre. Happ would issue a two-out walk to Gonzalez, but got through the remainder of the eighth unscathed. For the second time, the Phils found themselves trailing by four runs. They had six outs to work with, and as it turned out, one more dramatic comeback left in them.

The bottom of the eighth began with Garrett Mock on the mound for the Nationals, with Justin Maxwell taking over for Dunn in left. Inserting the speedy Maxwell for the lead-footed Dunn seemed like a sensible enough move, and it would end up playing a factor, though not in the way intended. After Mock struck out Marson leading off the inning, Feliz singled and advanced to third on a double by Rollins. Victorino lifted a sacrifice fly to make it 11-8 before Utley singled to score Rollins and send Mock to the showers with the score now 11-9. Feeling things starting to slip away, Washington manager Manny Acta summoned his closer, Joel Hanrahan, from the bullpen. Hanrahan would be plagued by control issues, as he uncorked a wild pitch to send Utley to second before walking Howard and Werth to load the bases for Ibanez. Perhaps sensing the struggling Hanrahan would groove a pitch to get ahead in the count, Ibanez jumped on a first-ball fastball and sent a screaming line drive to right just inside the foul pole for a grand slam and a stunning 13-11 Phillies lead that sent the home crowd into a frenzy. It was the second slam of the night for the Phils, the fourth time in franchise history they'd accomplished that feat. Hanrahan struck out Matt Stairs (pinch-hitting for Happ) to end the inning, but not before six runs had crossed.

Despite all the heroics, the Phillies weren't out of the woods as the Nationals had the top of the order due up in the ninth. To that point, the second through fifth spots in Washington's order were responsible for five homers and nine RBI. With Brad Lidge unavailable due to a knee injury, Ryan Madson would handle the closing chores for the Phils. On a night where power took center stage, Hernandez tried to start a last-ditch rally by bunting his way on, which he did successfully to give the Nats a leadoff baserunner and bring the tying run to the plate. Madson came back to get Johnson on a fly to left and Zimmerman on a liner to center, and because of the defensive switch made in the previous inning, would face Maxwell instead of Dunn with two outs. Maxwell went down swinging to end the game as the Phillies came away with a resilient 13-11 victory in a game they never led until Ibanez's big swing in the eighth. Happ got the win, Hanrahan the loss, the first decision for either pitcher on the season. Madson's save was his first of 2009.

The Phillies would have a much easier time the next night, as they cruised to a 7-1 win over the Nationals. Washington would avert a sweep by salvaging a 4-1 victory in the series finale. After an up-and-down first half of the 2009 campaign, the Phils caught fire in the second half, ultimately taking home their third straight NL East title with a record of 93-69, six games ahead of the second-place Marlins. They'd defeat the Colorado Rockies (three games to one) in the NLDS and Los Angeles Dodgers (four games to one) in the NLCS, but were denied a second straight World Series crown as the New York Yankees prevailed in the Fall Classic, four games to two. The Nats were never able to escape the NL East basement nor improve on the previous season's win total, finishing 34 games behind the Phillies at 59-103.

As previously mentioned, this was the fourth time in which the Phillies hit two grand slams in the same game. The others were Ralph Miller and Lee Meadows in an 11-6 win over the Boston Braves on April 28, 1921; Billy McMillon and Mike Lieberthal in a 12-3 win over the San Francisco Giants on August 18, 1997; along with Tomas Perez and Jason Michaels in an 18-5 win over the Atlanta Braves on September 9, 2003.

Personal Recollection: I've said before that the majority of Random Past Games I write about will be games I saw in person. A good amount of those games will be ones I attended while on the Sunday plan that my family had from 1979-2001 before switching over to our current plan in 2002. This game against the Nationals happened to be on the plan, and I wanted to mix in a game from the current era at some point, so there you go.

The first thing that I remember is that it was unseasonably hot on that April night, with temperatures near 90. An early start to "Hittin' Season" maybe. The ball was flying out that night, but there was nothing cheap about any of those home runs. The shortest one as far as distance is concerned was the grand slam by Raul Ibanez, but that was hit so hard it never had time to do anything else. It was just not a night for the pitchers, especially Scott Eyre. He probably could've gone through the Nationals order three or four times and not gotten anyone out. That's just the way it works sometimes. Eyre had a lot more good outings than bad ones in his time as a Phillie, and he's the type of guy who could always just laugh off a game like this, especially considering the Phillies came out on top.

Since I was at the game, I didn't know about Tom McCarthy's "Piazza Territory" remark until after the fact. See, the Elijah Dukes homer reached Ashburn Alley on a fly, which is not something that's happened very often at Citizens Bank Park. The first player to do it was Mike Piazza in 2005 while he was still with the Mets. T-Mac, of course, grew up a Mets fan and spent some time broadcasting for them between stints with the Phillies. Put two and two together, and you get quite a reaction. I certainly have my issues with T-Mac as an announcer, though I don't hold his past affiliation with the Mets against him. I mean, Chris Wheeler is the only current Phillies broadcaster who actually grew up as a fan of the team and you see how that's worked out. But yeah, "Piazza Territory" is a definite no-no. You say the ball lands in Ashburn Alley and leave it at that.

Back to the game, I've never made a secret of the fact that I'm a pitching/defense first kind of guy, but there's just that special feeling you get from a grand slam. All through the years I was playing, I always wondered what it would be like to experience it firsthand. It took me about 11 years to find out, but I eventually did and it was awesome. Let's face it, though, the Devlin League is much different than Major League Baseball. As great as the reaction was to Ryan Howard's that night, the ballpark was in an absolute state of delirium after Ibanez hit his. I took a long time for what we just saw to really sink in. There's always that buzz leaving the park after a win. Sometimes it lingers longer than others, depending on the circumstances. This was probably the craziest I've ever seen it for a game so early in the season, with only the Mariano Duncan grand slam off Lee Smith on Mothers Day in 1993 and Kevin Millwood's no-hitter in 2003 coming anywhere close.

With all the World Champions stuff going on and the death of Harry Kalas, this was a pretty hectic time for the Phillies, as the entire 2009 season seemed to be. A game like this served as a good reminder that it was OK to focus on what was happening on the field as well. Maybe the reaction was a release of some pent-up emotion and energy. In any case, it was absolutely memorable.

That's my story on April 27, 2009. Do you remember this game? If so, feel free to share your own recollections!


  1. Box score for this game:

  2. Howard hit another grand slam off Martis on May 30, 2009, which is best known for landing in the third deck at Citizens Bank Park. It was also the eighth slam of Howard's career, which gave him the all-time franchise lead. He currently has 10