Mike Schmidt

Matt Stairs swings hard, rescues 2008 Phillies with a heart-stopping blast

Matt Stairs swings hard, rescues 2008 Phillies with a heart-stopping blast

Finally, some drama in our showdown between the only two World Series championship teams in Phillies history.

And it comes compliments of a man who has done it before.

With the 2008 Phillies down to their last out and staring at a gaping series deficit, Matt Stairs came off the bench and clubbed a heart-stopping, pinch-hit grand slam in the top of the ninth inning to rescue his team from a two-run deficit and propel it to a 7-5 win over the 1980 club in a Game 4 thriller at Veterans Stadium.

The best-of-seven series, being played out via Strat-O-Matic computer simulation, based on real-life statistics from the 1980 and 2008 seasons, is now tied at two games apiece.

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Stairs’ dramatic Game 4 blast came against Tug McGraw, the ’80 club’s bullpen ace. McGraw enjoyed a brilliant season in 1980 — he had a 1.46 ERA in 57 games and finished fifth in the National League Cy Young voting — and images of him striking out Willie Wilson to clinch the franchise’s first World Series title that season will forever be etched in the minds of Phillies fans. But on this night, in this computer simulation, Tugger could not lock it down.

Both teams received solid efforts from their respective starters, Joe Blanton and Marty Bystrom. 

Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, the NL MVP in 1980, continued his strong series with a three-run homer in the first inning and his club took a 5-3 lead into the top of the ninth inning.

The ’08 team hit just .165 in the first three games of the series and it had just four hits through the first eight innings, but the bats began to rumble in the top of the ninth. Pat Burrell started the rally with a one-out single against Dickie Noles and Pedro Feliz and Carlos Ruiz kept the game alive with a pair of two-out singles.

Needing one out to end the game and take a commanding two-game lead in the series, ’80 skipper Dallas Green waved McGraw in from the bullpen. Charlie Manuel, the 2008 team’s skipper, sent up Stairs to pinch-hit for Ryan Madson.

Stairs, of course, was a real-life hero in the Phillies’ run to the World Series in 2008 and his go-ahead, pinch-hit, two-run blast against the Dodgers’ Jonathan Broxton in Game  4 of the NL Championship Series that year will always be the stuff of legend, one of the biggest and most important homers in Phillies history.

Stairs hit 13 homers in 2008 but only one against a lefty. However, in this matchup, his lefty power stroke figured to be a good match for McGraw’s vaunted left-handed screwball.

BOOM!

Suddenly, the ’08 Phillies had the lead and a few moments later, sure-thing Brad Lidge was locking down a most improbable but highly dramatic win.

Once we saw the result of this Game 4 cross the computer screen, we just had to call Stairs and tell him what happened. 

“Oh, Lord,” he said. “That’s crazy.”

Stairs is living back home in Canada, in his native New Brunswick. He and his wife are volunteering their time delivering prescriptions to elderly residents during the coronavirus health crisis. They are due to become grandparents in a week or so.

We gave Stairs the lowdown on what we were doing, simulating a series between the 1980 and 2008 Phillies. 

“Those were two tremendous teams,” he said.

Yes, we told him, and fans are riveted.

Stairs said he knew all about the greatness of Tug McGraw and regretted that he never met the man.

“I wish I would have,” he said. “I heard so many great things about him. He was a great man, a character and a great competitor. He was a great pitcher.”

Stairs played along with the fantasy of it all.

His approach against McGraw?

“Swing hard, like you live,” he said.

Then he asked a question.

“Did Schmitty give me a high-five when I was rounding third base?” he asked.

Stairs hit 265 regular-season homers in his long career and 24 were pinch-hits. He twice hit pinch-hit grand slams, one for the Phillies in 2009.

Now he has a virtual grand slam in his book and it was a big one, perhaps a series saver for the 2008 Phillies.

We asked Stairs where it ranked in his personal memory bank.

“Just below Jon Broxton,” he said, being a good sport.

The series stays at Veterans Stadium for Game 5. The '80 Phillies need to put the difficult loss behind them quickly. Green used five different starting pitchers in the actual World Series against Kansas City in 1980 and that's what we're doing here. So, Larry Christenson gets the start against '08 ace Cole Hamels. The '08 club, hitting just .183 in four games, needs a good one because '80 Cy Young-winner Steve Carlton is set for Game 6 and he'll surely have a chip on his shoulder after taking the loss in Game 1.

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Cole Hamels outduels Steve Carlton as 2008 Phillies beat 1980 Phillies in Game 1

Cole Hamels outduels Steve Carlton as 2008 Phillies beat 1980 Phillies in Game 1

BOX SCORE

Cole Hamels carried the Phillies throughout the 2008 postseason and he did it again in Game 1 of our Spring Classic, the virtual matchup between the Phillies' World Series championship teams of 2008 and 1980.

Hamels, the real-life MVP in the 2008 National League Championship Series and World Series, led the '08 team to a 4-2 victory with a huge performance on the mound and at the plate at Citizens Bank Park.

On the mound, Hamels outdueled 1980 NL Cy Young winner Steve Carlton in a battle of the two greatest left-handers in franchise history. Hamels pitched eight innings of four-hit ball while Carlton countered with seven innings of five-hit ball on a day when he battled command issues.

At the plate, Hamels doubled twice. Both of the doubles came against Carlton and the first one preceded the game's biggest hit.

The series is being played via Strat-O-Matic computer simulation, based on actual player statistics from the 1980 and 2008 seasons.

During the 2008 season, Hamels hit .224 (17 for 76) with just two doubles.

But, in the batter's box, the numbers came up right for him in this game.

He led off the bottom of the third inning with a double against Carlton. Two batters later, Chase Utley connected for a two-out, two-run homer against Carlton to give the '08 team a 3-2 lead that it would never relinquish.

It was interesting that Carlton struggled to put Hamels and Utley away in the computer simulation. Both are left-handed hitters and Carlton was death on lefties during the 1980 season. They hit a minuscule .183 with just four doubles and one homer against him during the regular season. Carlton allowed just 15 homers in 304 innings over the length of the regular season.

Something tells us Carlton might pitch with a little chip on his shoulder later in this series. That slider might have a little more bite.

While Hamels was economical with his pitches in Game 1 — he walked just one and struck out six on 104 pitches in his eight innings of work — Carlton was not. The Hall of Famer threw 132 pitches (pitch counts were not a thing in 1980) and struck out eight, but he walked five over his seven-inning stay.

One of Carlton's walks proved very costly. The '80 team had taken a 1-0 lead on a solo homer by Mike Schmidt in the top of the first inning. The '08 team tied the game in the bottom of the second. Pat Burrell walked, moved up on a groundout and a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly by Pedro Feliz.

Utley teamed with Hamels to give the '08 club the lead in the third. In the fifth, the '08 club padded its lead as Hamels led off with a double and scored on a base hit by Jimmy Rollins.

The '08 team had just five hits, but they were timely.

Schmidt, the real-life NL MVP in 1980, had two of his team's four hits and both were for extra bases.

The game was played briskly in two hours, 27 minutes. That was a testament to the starting pitching. In the real-life postseason of 2008, Hamels, then 24, made five starts and allowed just seven earned runs for a 1.80 ERA. Though 35 in 1980, Carlton won a league-high 24 games and posted a 2.34 ERA over 38 starts.

Brad Lidge got the final three outs, no big surprise as he went 48 for 48 in save chances during that storybook 2008 season.

The loss put the '80 team in an uncomfortable spot heading into Game 2. Manager Dallas Green would be sending a rookie, Bob Walk, to the mound for that game while his counterpart, Charlie Manuel, was set to go with Brett Myers.

Will the '80 team's bats come alive?

Or will the '08 team's pitching dominance continue?

Come back for Game 2 on Thursday. We're just getting started. 

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Reds' electric rookie Aristides Aquino beats one Phillies record, narrowly misses another

Reds' electric rookie Aristides Aquino beats one Phillies record, narrowly misses another

Mike Schmidt's record is safe. 

Reds outfielder Aristides Aquino, one of only two major-leaguers with more home runs in August than Bryce Harper, hit his 11th on Saturday night. It came in his 58th plate appearance.

Aquino's season began less than three weeks ago. He is the second-fastest player ever to 11 home runs in a season, needing 58 plate appearances to reach that mark. The major-league record belongs to Schmidt, who in 1976 needed just 56 plate appearances to reach 11 home runs. Mixed in there was Schmidt's 4-homer, 8-RBI game in an 18-16 Phillies win over the Cubs.

Aquino, did, however, beat Rhys Hoskins' record. Hoskins in 2017 became the quickest player ever to 11 home runs, reaching the mark in 18 games. No player had ever before gotten to 11 home runs in fewer than 22 games to start a career. Aquino reached 11 dingers in 17 games, one fewer than Hoskins.

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