Phillies

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.

READ GAME 1

READ GAME 2

READ GAME 3

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.

Subscribe and rate the Phillies Talk podcast:
Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19 / YouTube

More on the Phillies

An asterisk for the champions? Larry Bowa isn't alone in his opinion

An asterisk for the champions? Larry Bowa isn't alone in his opinion

One of the beautiful things about following sports is that there are certain people that are a part of your life for decades and you never actually know them. Larry Bowa is one of those people for me. I am not old enough to have seen him play. But I remember him vividly as a 3rd base coach for the Phillies, then later as the club’s manager and eventually a coach with the Yankees, Dodgers and Phillies again.

You can always count on Bowa for a passionate and thoughtful response on a baseball issue. That’s why I stood up and took notice when he told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark that the champion of this Major League Baseball season will require an asterisk next to their name in the record books because of it being shortened due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Bowa is hardly alone in sharing that view and the logic is understandable. A 60-game slate represents just over 37 percent of the standard 162-game season. As we all know, even the worst teams in baseball typically put together a fair-to-average 60-game stretch during a normal season. So, there is legitimate reason to worry that a mediocre team or two will make their way into postseason. 

But it’s also fair to note that the second wild card, instituted in 2012, has already opened the door to middling teams making the postseason. Furthermore, if we truly want to hold up the value of the regular season, why even have a postseason in the first place? How many times have we seen dynamic teams like the 2011 Phillies or the 2019 Dodgers dominate from April through September only to see their season end in a week’s time because of three losses? 

One could easily argue the path to the truest champion would be for each team to play the other 29 clubs home and away in 3-game series. Best record at the end of the 174 games would be the champion.

Of course, if that happened, the majority of sports fans would question how you could crown a champion without having the finality of the postseason. There would be retired player after retired player saying the true test of a team is the pressure cooker of the October tournament. 

Ultimately, we all tend to assume what we have known is best and the only legitimate path. But it would be in everyone’s interest to wait and see if this season deserves an asterisk. 

Perhaps Bowa will be right and this shortened campaign will not pass the eye or stink test. Then again it might just lead to three months of exhilarating tension as every game matters substantially more than in years past.

Let’s not knock it until we try it.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies

American Century Championship 2020: Odds, live stream, TV info, player list, schedule

American Century Championship 2020: Odds, live stream, TV info, player list, schedule

In the 2007 offseason, Jimmy Rollins famously said the Phillies were the “team to beat”. Those comments became the motto that helped catapult the Phillies to five straight postseason appearances, including a 2008 World Series title. Guys like Rollins, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino were a big reason for that success.

Well, the band is back together.

This time they’ll be paired together on the golf course starting Friday at the American Century Championship in Nevada. This is the first time Utley is taking part in the celebrity event. Other first timers include Chiefs quarterback and new $503 million dollar man Patrick Mahomes.

William Hill Sportsbook in Nevada has placed odds on this weekend’s festivities and the trio of former Phillies are not getting much respect. Then again, for most participants this tournament is all fun and games. Utley has odds of 300-1 ($100 wager will pay $30,000) while Victorino is listed at 1500-1 ($100 wager will pay $150,000). Rollins is part of the field at 50-1 ($100 wager will pay $5,000).

American Century Championship TV, live stream and time

Friday: First round coverage -- 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBC Sports app
Saturday: Second round coverage -- 3 p.m. ET on NBC10, NBC Sports app
Sunday: Final round coverage -- 3 p.m. ET on NBC 10, NBC Sports app

Unfortunately, Rollins, Utley and Victorino don’t stand much of a chance against opponents like former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and two-time defending champion of this event Tony Romo. Romo is an excellent NFL broadcaster and highly skilled golfer who has played in four PGA events so it’s no surprise he’s the even money favorite. He also has zero Super Bowl appearances (just stating the facts). Former Cardinals and A’s pitcher and three-time champion of the American Century Championship Mark Mulder is the second choice on the board at 13/5.

Charles Barkley is an annual participant at this weekend’s events. Sir Charles and his awkward golf swing are a long shot with odds of 7500-1. I think it’s safe to say save your money. Nonetheless, this event is always fun seeing all the celebrities having a good time on the links. Who doesn’t like Steph Curry draining 3’s into the boats docked alongside Lake Tahoe?

American Century Championship selected odds (via William Hill Sportsbook)

  • Tony Romo - EVEN
  • Mark Mulder - 13/5
  • Mardy Fish - 15/2
  • John Smoltz - 17/2
  • Stephen Curry - 12/1
  • Derek Lowe - 15/1
  • Aaron Rodgers - 100/1
  • Chase Utley - 300/1
  • Patrick Mahomes - 400/1
  • Roger Clemens - 500/1
  • Oscar De La Hoya - 500/1
  • Shane Victorino - 1500/1
  • Sean Payton - 2000/1
  • James Blake - 3000/1
  • Field - 50/1

American Century Championship first round pairings, tee times

1st tee

  • 1:55 p.m. ET: Oscar De La Hoya, Michael Peña, Kira K. Dixon
  • 2:05 p.m.: Chauncey Billups, Deron Williams, Patrick Peterson
  • 2:15 p.m.: Jerome Bettis, Eddie George, Terrell Davis
  • 2:25 p.m: Mardy Fish, Canelo Álvarez, James Blake
  • 2:35 p.m.: Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Charles Barkley
  • 2:45 p.m.: Steve Young, Anthony Lynn, Mike Vrabel
  • 2:55 p.m.: Cooper Kupp, Adam Thielen, Case Keenum
  • 3:05 p.m.: Stephen Curry, Dell Curry, Aaron Rodgers
  • 3:15 p.m: Tony Romo, Larry Fitzgerald, Jerry Rice
  • 3:25 p.m.: John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens
  • 3:35 p.m.: Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino
  • 3:45 p.m.: Mark Mulder, Jack Wagner, Derek Lowe

10th tee

  • 1:50 p.m. ET: Doug Flutie, Jim McMahon
  • 2:00 p.m.: Joe Don Rooney, Jay DeMarcus, Bret Baier
  • 2:10 p.m.: Kyle WIlliams, AJ Hawk, Brandon McManus
  • 2:20 p.m.: Reggie Bush, Carson Palmer, Marcus Allen
  • 2:30 p.m.: Joe Buck, Jay Bilas, Vinny Del Negro
  • 2:40 p.m.: Tim Brown, Andre Reed, Ozzie Smith
  • 2:50 p.m.: Eric Weddle, Kyle Fuller, Troy Mullins
  • 3:00 p.m: TIm Wakefield, Kevin Millar, Brian McCann
  • 3:10 p.m.: Miles Teller, Chace Crawford, Kathryn Tappen
  • 3:20 p.m.: Charles Woodson, Kyle Rudolph, DeMarcus Ware
  • 3:30 p.m.: Alfonso Ribeiro, Rob Riggle, Ray Romano
  • 3:40 p.m.: Larry the Cable Guy, Brian Baumgartner, John O'Hurley