Jimmy Rollins has had his up and down performances this year, but he saved his best act for the biggest stage and created one of the biggest moments in Philadelphia sports history. Trailing by a run with two mates aboard and down to their last out, squaring off against the National League's top relief pitcher throwing 100 mph seeds at him, J Roll rocketed a liner that landed in the right-center field gap to vault the Phillies to a dramatic come from behind victory. As Carlos Ruiz bounced across home plate with the winning run, Rollins raced around third to jubilantly jump into the middle of his teammates welcoming party.
In the space of seconds, J Roll had lifted his team from a 2-2 dead lock to a commanding 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS. From the moment the barrel of Rollins' bat cracked against Jonathan Broxton's triple digit fastball, it was apparent that the ball was returning faster at a speed and location that was not going to be caught. The 45,000 Phillies faithful knew they were witnessing one of those truly spectacular moments for the ages unfold in front of them. The crowd exploded into boisterous celebration, overtaken by indescribable joy. It was pure bedlam throughout the stadium, on and off the field, with the notable exception of the Dodgers dugout.
Although the previous night's game was laced with excitement throughout the game as the Phillies continued their onslaught from start to finish, last night's game made up for any lull with a heroic finish of epic proportions. Considering the dramatic agony of defeat to thrill of victory ending, the import of the game, and the setting in Citizen's Bank Park, last night's game was arguably the most thrilling victory in Philadelphia sports history. Game ending, World Championship clinching strikeouts by Brad Lidge and Tug McGraw are surely special, but suddenly going from loser to winner in a handful of frantic seconds in the NLCS is stunningly momentous.
The night started out with the two teams following the same script from the previous night. Joe Blanton set the first 10 Dodgers down in order. Meanwhile, Ryan Howard smoked a line shot into the right field bleachers to give the Phils a 2-0 lead. Howard and Blanton had the crowd feeling the song still persistently playing in their head, "I gotta feeling that tonight's gonna be a good night." Of course, little did they know what was in store for them a couple hours later.
The Dodgers weren't ready to roll over, though, and strung 3 hits together with a pair of walks to tie the game in the fourth. Blanton finally got Casey Blake to ground out to end the threat after a 38 pitch inning. Matt Kemp hit a solo home run to dead center in the 5th inning to stake them to a 3-2 lead.
After surrendering Howard's homer, former Phil Randy Wolf made things tough on his former team, retiring 12 batters in a row. The Dodgers tacked on a run in the 6th, capitalizing on a Pedro Feliz error, a Texas League single by Ronnie Belliard and Blake's soft single to right.
The Phillies countered in the bottom half of the inning, though, when Shane Victorino tripled into the left field corner and Chase Utley knocked him in with a line single to right. Howard drew a walk, and was forced at second by Jayson Werth. Raul Ibanez then smashed a sinking liner to left, but Manny Ramirez immediately broke in and made a somewhat improbable shoe string catch to end the inning.
With George Sherrill on the hill, the Phillies mounted a threat in the home 8th. Victorino was a hit by a pitch and Utley walked to put a couple runners on with one out and Howard coming to the plate. Sherrill used an assortment of off speed pitches and fanned Howard on a pitch out of the strike zone. Joe Torre made the slow journey to the mound and summoned Broxton into face Werth, who battled valiantly to fight off 99-102 mph fastballs, but eventually flied out to right.
After Scott Eyre recorded an out and then yielded a single, Charlie Manuel opted for Brad Lidge to pitch to Kemp and Andre Ethier. Lidge made another strong case that he has re-found his 2008 form by striking both hitters out, sending the game to the fateful bottom of the ninth.
Broxton got Ibanez to ground out to start the frame. Manuel then sent Matt Stairs up to pinch hit for Feliz, and seemingly fearing a repeat of last year's events, Broxton walked him on four pitches. Ruiz was hit by a pitch, but pinch hitter Greg Dobbs lined out softly to Blake for out number two. The stage was set and up stepped Rollins to the roar of the crowd still trying to coax a last ditch rally out of the team. J Roll proved up to the challenge, smacking a blistering line shot on a 1-1 fastball between Kemp and Ethier that hopped against the right-center field fence. Pinch runner Eric Bruntlett and Ruiz raced around the bases and scored easily, with deafening noise echoing throughout the Bank.
It was truly a spectacular moment to cherish, one that will be remembered for many, many years to come. An 11-0 demolition the previous night, featuring a pitching gem by Cliff Lee and various pyrotechnics from Phillies hitters, was fabulous. A two out, bottom of the ninth inning, come from behind win via a walk-off double by J Roll was....priceless.