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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