matt stairs

The unforgettable moment when Matt Stairs lifted a burden on Mitch Williams

The unforgettable moment when Matt Stairs lifted a burden on Mitch Williams

Monday, Oct. 13, 2008. I remember it like it was yesterday. 

I was 27 years old in my first year as a show producer at Comcast SportsNet. This particular night I was producing the pregame and postgame shows for Game 4 of the NLCS between the Phillies and Dodgers. I had produced quite a few Phillies pregame and postgame shows during the 2008 regular season and postseason up until that point. For a guy who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs as a lifelong Phillies fan, producing these playoff shows was a dream come true. 

One of the coolest things about producing the pregame and postgame shows is you get to watch the game with the host and analysts. I take this for granted now, hanging out with Michael Barkann, Ricky Bottalico and Ben Davis. They're all terrific guys with an extraordinary amount of baseball knowledge. I always learn things watching games with guys who played at the major-league level.

Back in 2008, I was working with Michael, Ricky and Mitch Williams, who was our top baseball analyst at the time. I thought it was so cool watching games with Michael and a couple of former All-Star closers. Mitch basically had the same personality as an analyst that he had as a player. He told it like it was and could be a little rough around the edges. But he always treated me great and that was something I appreciated as a young producer. 

I was in seventh grade when Mitch gave up the home run to Joe Carter. It was probably the most devastated I'd ever been watching a sporting event. So when I met Mitch and started working with him, that home run was always at the front of my mind. I was impressed with how Mitch owned it, both in front of the cameras and in private conversations. He was on the wrong end of one of the most famous home runs in baseball history and he owned it. He never made excuses, never blamed it on being out of gas at the end of the season. He would just say he didn't execute his pitch and Carter made him pay for it. 

Back to Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS. Myself, Michael, Ricky and Mitch did the pregame show then watched the game in the old CSN green room, a small room with a table and some chairs where guests would wait before going on one of our shows. 

There wasn't much to cheer about in the first seven innings as the Dodgers built a 5-3 lead. But then Shane Victorino tied the game with a two-run home run in the top of the eighth. Two batters later, Carlos Ruiz singled to bring pinch hitter Matt Stairs to the plate to face Dodgers reliever Jonathan Broxton. 

As soon as the 40-year old Stairs worked a 3-1 count, I remember Mitch saying, "Broxton better not give in here because this old dog can still hunt a fastball." Sure enough, Stairs hunted Broxton's fastball perfectly, turning it around for a mammoth two-run home run deep into the right field stands at Dodger Stadium. 

Back in Philadelphia, the CSN green room erupted. The whole newsroom erupted. The Phillies took a 7-5 lead and were well on their way to grabbing a 3-1 series lead. After the celebrations and high-fives died down, Mitch looked at me and said something that stuck with me to this day. 

"I'm off the hook," he said. "This team is going to win the World Series and I'm going to be off the hook."

Mitch knew a lot of people blamed him for the Phillies not winning the 1993 World Series. Fifteen years later, a lot of those hard feelings were about to dissipate. He understood the magnitude of what just happened and how it would impact him personally.     

It's crazy to look back at the timing of Mitch's statement. The Phillies still needed to win another game in the NLCS, then win four more in the World Series against either the Rays or Red Sox. But when Stairs hit that home run in Game 4 of the NLCS, Mitch knew the Phillies were going to win the World Series. 

He wasn't alone. A lot of people point to the Stairs home run as the moment they realized the Phillies were going to win it all. Ruben Amaro Jr., who was the Phillies' assistant GM in 2008, said as much in our documentary about the 2008 Phillies. 

Of course, Mitch had a different perspective than the rest of us. He had to live with blowing Game 6 in Toronto. But after Stairs hit one deep into the night, Mitch knew that burden wouldn't be quite as heavy moving forward. 

The fact that I was standing next to him the moment he realized that is something I'll never forget. 

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New grandpa Matt Stairs takes us inside his legendary at-bat vs. Jonathan Broxton

New grandpa Matt Stairs takes us inside his legendary at-bat vs. Jonathan Broxton

On October 13, 2008, Matt Stairs had one of those nights that you sit on the front porch and tell the grandkids about someday.

Surely, you remember it. And if want to relive it and feel the euphoria and adrenaline again, tune in to NBC Sports Philadelphia on Thursday night when Game 4 of the 2008 National League Championship Series will be replayed in its entirety at 7 p.m.

Watch again as the Phillies go from two runs down in the top of the eighth inning to two runs up, on the strength of a pair of unforgettable two-run home runs. Watch again as the Phillies win that game, 7-5, over the Los Angeles Dodgers to pull within one win of the NL pennant.

Shane Victorino tied the game with a two-run homer against rookie Dodgers reliever Cory Wade with one out. Carlos Ruiz kept the inning alive with a two-out single against Wade.

The scene was set.

In from the bullpen trotted hard-throwing Dodgers bullpen ace Jonathan Broxton. He had pitched 69 innings that season and allowed just two home runs, none since May 31.

Off the Phillies' bench came Stairs, looking to do one thing — crush the ball over the wall.

He worked the count to 3-1 then hit one of the biggest home runs in Phillies history, a two-run, pinch-hit blast to give the Phillies the lead.

These eyes will never forget the sight of the ball rocketing off of Stairs' bat and soaring over the right-field wall.

These ears will never forget the sound of raucous Dodger Stadium, with 56,800 in the seats, becoming so quiet you could hear the eruption of joy in the Phillies' dugout all the way to Pasadena.

Stairs had barely reached home plate when these fingers typed these words:

Philadelphia, meet your new favorite player.

Stairs had arrived in an August 30 trade from Toronto, just beating the deadline for postseason eligibility. He was 40 years old and had been with the club for less than six weeks when he went from veteran, stretch-drive bat off the bench to beloved hero who'd never pay for a beer again in Philadelphia.

Six weeks ago, Stairs became a grandfather when little Miss Harper Monroe Holland arrived all happy, healthy and beautiful.

What a story she's going to hear on the front porch someday.

From his home in New Brunswick, Canada, Stairs took us inside his dramatic showdown with Broxton earlier this week on our Phillies Talk podcast. Give it a listen here. You won't be disappointed.

"I knew Broxton liked his fastball," Stairs said. "His secondary pitch was this little slider. 

"I think the pitch that set up the whole at-bat was after he threw the first pitch for a strike low and away, he tried to throw a back-foot slider, which is a sucker pitch for left-handed hitters because you swing at it almost all the time. I took it nicely. It was a quiet take, meaning I didn't move a whole lot, and after that everything just kind of slowed down for me. 

"It's amazing when a hitter gets in that zone. I hadn't had an at-bat in like eight days, but when you get in a zone, you see the ball well and everything is quiet. Your head is quiet, your body is quiet, your hands are alive.

"He made a mistake. He wanted a 3-1 fastball away. He pulled it a little bit and the rest is history."

Victorino's home run earlier in the inning was huge, as well.

What a postseason the Flyin' Hawaiian had.

"I remember being surprised they left that rookie pitcher (Wade) in to face Victorino," Stairs said. "Victorino was a very good breaking ball hitter and a low-ball hitter and he threw a curveball right in that little happy area down in the zone. When Shane hit that home run, all of a sudden that bench turned around with momentum and Chooch got that big hit with two outs then Broxton comes in with 56,000 people cheering."

Stairs said he was so locked in that he did not hear the crowd.

"You know you're in a good spot when you don't hear anyone cheering. You don't hear booing, you don't hear music," Stairs said. "I was on deck and I didn't even stand up. I stayed on one knee and watched him warm up. 

"I didn't think I was going to hit a home run, but I knew something good was going to happen."

And something good did happen.

Pat Burrell witnessed Stairs' home run from the top step of the dugout. The day after, he told us, "I'm thinking, 'Gosh, what if he hits a home run here?' In the back of my mind, I'm thinking he might hit one."

It was just the type of contribution Phillies officials were looking for when they acquired Stairs from Toronto for young pitcher Fabio Castro six weeks earlier.

"We had talked about him for a couple of years," assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said the day after Stairs' big home run. "But they always wanted a little more than we wanted to give up.

"We've always liked his bat. His approach and his swing are ideal for late in the game. He's compact to the ball. He doesn't have to play a lot and he can still be sharp off the bench."

See it all again Thursday night.

The swing that launched Matt Stairs into the pantheon of Philadelphia sports heroes.

The swing that he'll tell his new granddaughter about someday.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Matt Stairs joins to talk about that storybook 2008 season

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Phillies Talk podcast: Matt Stairs joins to talk about that storybook 2008 season

This week, we are re-airing the 2008 NLCS between the Phillies and Dodgers. Thursday night, it's the famous Game 4 in L.A. when Matt Stairs took Jonathan Broxton deep for one of the most memorable home runs in MLB playoff history.

We spoke with Stairs on the Phillies Talk podcast ahead of that re-air.

• Stairsy is a new grandpa

• Stairs on the trade to Philly and that '08 World Series run

• Who Stairs thinks was the leader of the 2008 Phils (somewhat surprising answer)

• Role players who stepped up in big moments

• Best trash-talking fans

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