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March 23, 2022

Phillies baseball changed forever 15 years ago

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Jimmy Rollins Big Ol' Smile SIPA USA/for PhillyVoice

Jimmy Rollins: all smiles, as always.

July 15, 2007. The Phillies, in a home contest against the St. Louis Cardinals, lost their 10,000th game in franchise history. If that number seems daunting, it's because it is. They were the first North American sports team to do so. What a horrid mark to go down in history with.

The Phillies were sitting at 46-45 after that game. They would drop to a losing record within the week. The organization hadn't made the playoffs since 1993, a season that ended infamously with Joe Carter's World Series Game 6 walk-off home run. For any children of the Delaware Valley that were born in 1994 (*raises hand*) or after, they had never seen meaningful October baseball in Philadelphia. 

They were the losingest organization in the losingest sports city in the country. This was the squad that shortstop Jimmy Rollins said was the "team to beat" in the National League East back in January? Beat what? The traffic after another inevitable poor Sunday afternoon outing?

Something changed during that middle of that 2007 season though. Was it the team's electric double-play tandem in the middle infield? Maybe it was the first baseman who hit moonshots unlike any player to ever come through Philly. It could've been the guy in center field who'd rather break his nose than see a ball fall for a base hit. Perhaps it was the California kid on the mound who looked more like a movie star than the best homegrown pitcher the franchise had seen in forever. 

It was all of those things though, right? All of those little things that needed to go right coalesced at once to deliver the most memorable late summer in Philadelphia in 14 years. 

After that 10,000th loss, things went full Disney Channel Original Movie for the Phillies.

The offense was raking. Everyone was delivering. Chase Utley was the best second baseman in the sport. Ryan Howard went yard 47 times. Pat Burrell slugged 30 homers. Rowand hit 27 home runs while playing Gold Glove defense. Scrapheap pickups Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth showcased why they'd eventually become All-Stars in red pinstripes. 

Then there was Rollins. A player who had been in the Phillies organization for 11 years at that point, Rollins led the league in runs and triples while hitting 30 home runs and stealing 41 bases. He was later crowned National League MVP. 

The Phillies flipped the script on their season. By the end of August, they were 10 games over .500.

The issue there? The Mets. It was New York, of course, always looming over Philly and hogging the spotlight. It felt too little too late for the Phillies' second-half resurgence. Phillies fans were on edge into September. At one point, the Mets held a seven-game lead in the NL East with just 17 games. "Good job, good effort," right?

Not for these Phillies. These weren't your older cousin's Phillies. I'd love to hear Charlie Manuel in his classic Appalachian drawl say, "What do we say to the god of death? Not today."

The Mets pulled an all-time choke job. They went 5-12 in those last 17 games. The Phillies, conversely, went 17-11 in the month of September, inching and inching their way closer to the top of the division. They didn't have the division lead to themselves until the last series of the season. 

The Phillies and Mets were tied going into the last day of the 2007 campaign. I was in the stands at Citizens Bank Park that day on September 30. In an era before everyone had a smartphone in their pocket, keeping up with other teams' games was a bit harder, relying on old-school scoreboard watching. The Mets were melting down though. Tom Glavine, a pitcher who had been a thorn in the side of Phillies fans for more than 15 years, imploded, surrendering seven runs in the top of the first inning to the Marlins and only recording one out. The Mets were done. When the game was finally shown as final on the right field scoreboard, the crowd erupted. That enthusiasm would be topped not long after.

The Nationals' Wily Mo Pena struck out looking to end the game. For the first time in my life and in the lives of all my friends, the Phillies were going to the playoffs. It was a sea of red outside CBP after, as tens of thousands screamed and cheered and drank and acted as if they got a new lease on life. 

What happened when the Phillies reached the playoffs? Well... that didn't go as planned. The Phillies were swept in the NLDS by a Colorado Rockies team that eventually won the pennant. The Phils lost the battle, but armed with that playoff experience, a roster full of guys hitting their primes and the knowledge of how to overcome adversity, the war would be won in 2008. The Phillies would go on to win the franchise's second World Series in its 106-year history the following season. They would make the World Series yet again in 2009 and deliver perhaps the two greatest regular season teams in Phillies history in 2010 and 2011. 

A football city, for a brief five-year period, became a baseball city. Citizens Bank Park was the place to be in Philly on a summer night. Ashburn Alley was routinely stuffed with Phils fans trying to grab a cheesesteak or a cold one or a new throwback jersey from that Mitchell & Ness store. Endless ice cream in mini battling helmets were eaten. Parents took their kids for a magical night to the ballpark full of "Field of Dreams" vibes. 

J-Roll. The Big Piece. The Man. The Bat. The Flyin' Hawaiian. Chooch. Lights Out. The Four Aces. An unbreakable bond was formed between those guys and Philly. 

2007 didn't bring the Phillies to the Promised Land, but it laid the foundation for Matt Stairs ripping one into the night, Utley's fake-out throw, Roy Halladay's playoff no-hitter and countless memories that'll be preserved in the minds of a generations of Phillies fans forever.

The Phillies are in the midst of the longest playoff drought in the National League at 11 years. I saw a 14-year stretch of futility snapped in front of my eyes as an eighth grader. The city needs the 2022 Phils to party like it's 2007 and bring back that direly missed energy to CBP. 

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