Phillies

10 years ago today: Matt Stairs made time stop with 1 swing

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10 years ago today: Matt Stairs made time stop with 1 swing

Ten years ago this month, the Phillies won their second World Series title in franchise history. Over the next few weeks, Jim Salisbury will look back at the team’s run through the NLCS and World Series.

A decade later, my knee still hurts and it’s all Matt Stairs’ fault.

We were squished like so many sardines in the press box at Dodger Stadium, hacking away on our laptops trying to make tight East Coast deadlines. It was the eighth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS. Shane Victorino had just added another highlight to his impressive postseason resume with a game-tying, two-run homer to right. Now, hard-throwing Dodgers’ right-hander Jonathan Broxton was coming out of the bullpen to face Phillies’ pinch-hitter Matt Stairs with a man on base.

You know the rest.

Stairs, who had been acquired late in the regular season for moments just like this, worked the count to 3-1 and looked for a fastball. He got one, 95 mph. He swung hard, as he always did, and hit it halfway to Pasadena. As the ball rose off Stairs’ bat in a majestic arch, the huge crowd of 56,800 fell completely silent. All these years later, I can still hear that sound of silence interrupted by only a few cheers coming from the Phillies family section under the press box.

And I can still feel the lump on my kneecap because when Stairs made contact with the pitch, I jumped (just like everyone else in the ballpark) and smashed my knee into an electrical junction box under my seat. (I still curse at that thing every time I go to Dodger Stadium.) It hurt like heck, but adrenaline kicked in and I started typing:

Philadelphia, meet your new favorite player, Matt Stairs.

The 40-year-old slugger was looking to hit a home run on a 3-1 count and in the dugout his teammates knew it.

“In the back of my mind, I’m thinking he might hit one here,” Pat Burrell said after the game.

As Stairs rounded the bases, Burrell led a raucous dugout eruption. Ten years later, his initial reaction to Stairs' cannonading blast, as told by people who were in the dugout, remains NSFW. Sorry. But Geoff Jenkins summed up the feeling, saying, “The dugout went nuts. I felt like I jumped 20 feet in the air.”

Stairs provided a memorable quote after the game saying there was no better feeling for a hitter than coming back to the dugout and having a bunch of guys beat you up.

His homer, one of the biggest in Phillies' history, gave the team a 7-5 lead and Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge locked it down. The Phils were up three-games-to-one on the Dodgers and there would be no holding them back in Game 5, not with the momentum that Stairs had given them and not with Kid Cole on the mound.

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Phillies prospect Cole Irvin is an old-school lefty focused on getting outs

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Phillies prospect Cole Irvin is an old-school lefty focused on getting outs

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Wondering how many Phillies fans are aware of this ...

Last year, the organization could boast having the International League Pitcher of the Year.

That's pretty good stuff.

Cole Irvin is his name. He led the IL in ERA (2.57) and WHIP (1.05) while pitching 161⅓ innings for Triple A Lehigh Valley.

The left-hander will get the ball Friday when the Phillies open their Grapefruit League schedule against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte.

Irvin, who turned 25 three weeks ago, is pumped.

“First game of the spring, that’s what is really cool about it,” he said. “I love baseball season. I think we all do. And to be the guy starting the Phillies baseball season, whether that’s spring training, it doesn’t matter to me. This is the first game of the year for us and it’s going to be fun.”

The Phillies selected Irvin in the fifth round of the 2016 draft out of the University of Oregon. He does not have to be protected on the 40-man roster until after this season but is in camp as a non-roster invite.

Despite his accomplishments last season, Irvin is not the most ballyhooed Phillies pitching prospect. You won’t find his name on Baseball America’s list of the team’s top 10 pitching prospects.

Irvin, bright and articulate, has an explanation for that.

“I’m not known as a prototypical prospect,” he said. “I’m a guy that gets outs. I don’t care how hard I throw. I don’t care about my spin rate. I care about the guy’s swing coming through the zone. I care about the guy leaning out over the plate to get the away pitch. I care about the stuff that actually matters in games. And I felt that there’s been a little bias toward some guys that can’t find the strike zone and I’m a guy that pitches in the strike zone and gets outs just the same.

“I’m not a hard thrower. I pitch at 88 to 94, 95 (mph). What’s wrong with a guy that goes out there and gets outs? That’s kind of where I stand.”

Irvin throws a deep repertoire of pitches. He relies on command. He doesn’t stress over velocity, though he can sneak a 95-mph heater up in the zone when he has to. Phillies minor-league pitching instructors love the way Irvin prepares for starts. He keeps a book on his outings — what worked, what didn’t — in his locker.

“I stick to the old-school thing about baseball,” he said. “I’m a big fan of breaking down hitters and swings. I’ve always been taught to pitch first, not throw. Everyone wants to prove they can throw hard.

“You have to understand who you are. I’m a pitcher. Get outs.”

Irvin will likely be applying his methods of pitching back at Triple A at the start of this season. On paper, the Phillies' rotation seems set with Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez. Jerad Eickhoff, Ranger Suarez and Enyel De Los Santos are all on the 40-man roster if the Phils need immediate depth and it’s not out of the question the team would try to sign Dallas Keuchel.

As the saying goes, you can never have enough pitching. So it would not be surprising to see Irvin get a shot in Philadelphia sometime this season.

“We have a really good rotation,” he said. “I want to see my teammates do well. I’m excited to see what this team can do. My role right now is minuscule compared to the guys on the 40-man roster. All I can do is put myself in position to be the next man called up and be able to win that game if need be.

“In the business of baseball, the player doesn’t make the decision (when he’s called up). All you can do is focus on what you can do to get better.”

And that is what Irvin is focused on this spring.

It all starts for him Friday in the Grapefruit League lid lifter.

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Despite rumors, Bryce Harper has no issues playing in Philly

Despite rumors, Bryce Harper has no issues playing in Philly

CLEARWATER, Fla. — It's time to address longstanding rumors that Bryce Harper does not want to play in Philadelphia.

Surely, you've heard them. They have hovered all winter like a pesky fruit fly around a rotting banana, and they continue to linger even as the Phillies ramp up their pursuit of the free-agent slugger.

Are the rumors true?

"No," a person close to the free-agent slugger told us this week.

Harper, the person said, has no aversion to playing in Philadelphia. He is familiar with the city after visiting it three times a year with the Washington Nationals over the last seven seasons and he likes hitting in Citizens Bank Park where he has a .930 OPS, 14 homers and 32 RBIs in 50 career games.

Now, if Harper were able to write his own storybook script, he may lean toward signing with a California-based club like the Dodgers. He is from Las Vegas and would value playing close to home. In glitzy Los Angeles, he could also be the LeBron James of baseball.

The Dodgers have had interest in Harper in the past, but it is not clear if they are still a player. The San Francisco Giants have interest, but it is not clear if they would meet Harper's price tag — which is likely more than the $325 million that Giancarlo Stanton is guaranteed in his deal. The Nationals remain an X-factor — are they in or out? Some reports say they are out, but Harper's agent Scott Boras has had success selling deals to Washington ownership in the past. There may be a mystery team or two.

The Phillies, spurned by Manny Machado earlier this week, are in rock-solid, full-speed-ahead pursuit of Harper and there is enormous public pressure to bring him to Philadelphia.

According to the aforementioned person who is close to him, Harper would have no qualms coming to Philadelphia if the Phillies win these sweepstakes. The person said that Harper has gotten good reports on the city and the fans from current and former Phillies with whom he maintains friendships.

Money will still be the driving force in this deal. Concerns over destination appear to be overblown.

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