Milwaukee Brewers

Phillies hitters were 'tight as bleep' until Jimmy Rollins calmed things in 2008 NLDS clincher

Phillies hitters were 'tight as bleep' until Jimmy Rollins calmed things in 2008 NLDS clincher

The Phillies had a powerhouse offense in 2008. They ranked first in home runs (214), second in runs (4.93 per game) and third in OPS (.770) in the National League that season.

But through the first three games of the NL Division Series that fall, they'd hit just .234 and scored only nine runs. They had won two of those first three games against the Milwaukee Brewers on the strength of their pitchers, who'd held the Brewers to a .198 batting average and seven runs, and a couple of quick-strike big hits, one being Shane Victorino's grand slam against a fatigued CC Sabathia in Game 2.

Looking back, there was some noticeable anxiety around the Phillies before Game 4 of the series, which will be re-aired Thursday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia. The Brewers had won Game 3 in their home park. Another win in Game 4 would make it a whole new series where anything could happen in a winner-take-all Game 5.

In a hallway outside the clubhouse at Miller Park that October day in 2008, a Phillies team official captured the team's anxiety.

"Our hitters are tight as (bleep)," the guy said.

He was right. Phillies hitters needed to relax.

Enter the human chill pill, Jimmy Rollins.

The man who would eventually become the Phillies' all-time hits leader, led off the game with a full-count home run against Milwaukee starter Jeff Suppan. Miller Park, previously pulsating with excitement, got so quiet you could almost hear a collective exhale in the Phillies' dugout.

"I can't tell you how big that was to put an early number on the board,'' general manager Pat Gillick said after the game.

The Phillies went on to win the game, 6-2, and the series, three games to one, to earn a spot in the NL Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After the game, a champagne-soaked Rollins basked in the victory and charted a course forward.

"This is one step in the right direction," he said. "We don't think we should be looking at anything less than a World Series. And that's a World Series win. We're geared to win."

Power fueled the Phillies' clinching win in Game 4 of that 2008 NLDS. All six of their runs came on four homers. (They had hit just one homer in the first three games.) In addition to Rollins, the Phillies got a homer from Jayson Werth and a pair of them from Pat Burrell.

Burrell's first homer was a game-changer. It came with two outs in the third inning after the Brewers and Suppan walked Ryan Howard intentionally with a runner on second and first base open. Howard led the majors with 48 homers and 146 RBIs that season so walking him was standard play. Burrell made the Brewers pay for the move and his three-run shot gave the Phils a 4-0 lead. Werth immediately followed with a haymaker solo homer and the Phils went up 5-0. Burrell homered again in the eighth to complete his four-RBI day.

Burrell was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft and 2008 was his last season with the club. Though rising stars like Howard, Rollins, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels got much of the attention on the '08 club, Burrell was an important complementary player and he went out in style, riding down Broad Street as a World Series champion.

"I couldn't be more thrilled," he said in the clubhouse after his two-homer day in Milwaukee all those years ago.

Another important complementary piece, Joe Blanton, pitched six innings of one-run ball that day for the victory. His contributions, and Burrell's, would continue in the weeks to come. The Phillies punched their ticket to the NLCS with their Game 4 NLDS win in Milwaukee and it all started with Jimmy Rollins' chill-pill leadoff homer.

"That series got our postseason going in '08," Rollins said years later. "We lost the night before and the stadium was so loud with the roof closed and those boom-boom sticks. We didn't want Game 5. We didn't want to face CC Sabathia. Being down 1-0 in the first inning wasn't in their plans."

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Even Jamie Moyer, King of Clinchers, couldn't lead '08 Phillies to sweep of Brewers

Even Jamie Moyer, King of Clinchers, couldn't lead '08 Phillies to sweep of Brewers

The Phillies went into Milwaukee for Game 3 of the 2008 National League Division Series looking to complete a sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Phils had won the first two games of the best-of-five series at home. Cole Hamels pitched a gem to backbone the Game 1 victory and Shane Victorino led the charge against CC Sabathia in the Game 2 victory.

Looking to clinch the series in Game 3, the Phils had the guy they wanted on the mound.

Jamie Moyer was their King of Clinchers. He had been the winning pitcher in the team's NL East division clinchers in 2007 and 2008.

Anyone for a trifecta?

Not this time.

At age 45, Moyer led the Phillies with 16 wins in 2008. He did it by upsetting hitters' timing with an artful changeup and the ability to locate his pitches with precision.

But in Game 3 of the NLDS that day in Milwaukee — you can watch a complete re-airing of the game Wednesday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia — Moyer lacked command of his pitches and the champagne stayed locked in the back room as the Phillies suffered a 4-1 loss to the Brewers.

"I just couldn't create any consistency,'' Moyer said in front of his locker after that game. "I was erratic early in the game."

Moyer wasn't the only Phillie who struggled that day.

The offense had just one hit in 12 opportunities with a runner in scoring position. A few hits in those situations could have gotten Moyer off the hook and maybe the outcome would have been different. Right-hander Dave Bush, a product of Conestoga High School in Berwyn, got the win for the Brewers. He allowed just one run in 5⅓ innings.

The Brewers had 11 hits on the day and all were singles. They also drew five walks. Three of those walks were issued by Moyer and two of them came in the first inning as the Brewers put up a quick two-spot. Moyer needed 34 pitches to get through that inning and was gone after four. He threw a first-pitch strike to just two of the Brewers' first 11 hitters.

Manager Charlie Manuel did not like home plate umpire Brian Runge's strike zone and let that be known during the game, but Moyer used no excuses.

"Ball one, ball two," Moyer said afterward. "That's not good. And their hitters were patient."

That was the Brewers' game plan with Moyer. Don't chase his tantalizing off-speed pitches off the plate. Make him throw the ball over the plate.

"Sometimes it's easier said than done,'' Milwaukee shortstop J.J. Hardy said after that game. "Every time we face Moyer or guys like him, we try to soften our approach and hit line drives up the middle."

Though Moyer did not deliver the clinching effort he'd hoped to that day in Milwaukee, he was still a major contributor during his four-plus seasons in Philadelphia. He won 56 games for the Phillies. In addition to leading the team in wins in 2008, he tied Hamels for the team lead in starts (33) and finished second behind Hamels (227⅓) with 196⅓ innings pitched.

Moyer was a stalwart down the stretch in 2008. He went 9-1 in is final 15 starts and the Phillies won 12 of those games.

So though it didn't happen for him in Game 3 of the NLDS that season, it still happened for him an awful lot in 2008 and his place on that championship team will always be secure and strong.

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Phillies had 2 massive extra advantages in 2008 NLDS vs. Brewers

Phillies had 2 massive extra advantages in 2008 NLDS vs. Brewers

You need a lot to break right to win a championship in any sport but particularly in baseball, where we routinely see the best team fail to win it all. It doesn't matter how you've performed in the preceding six months and 162 games, any team is susceptible to a bad week in October.

The 2008 Phillies were not the favorite to win the World Series when that postseason began. They had won 92 games with a prolific offense. The Cubs won 97, and in the AL, the Red Sox, Rays and Angels all won 95-plus.

The teams with the two best records in baseball that year (Angels at 100-62, Cubs at 97-64), were dispatched quickly in the playoffs, with the Cubs suffering a sweep to the Dodgers in the NLDS and the Angels going down in four games to the Red Sox in the ALDS.

Who knows how much differently the 2008 playoffs would have gone for the Phillies if they drew the Cubs or Dodgers in the NLDS, or the Red Sox instead of the Rays in the World Series. It obviously doesn't matter because reality > hypotheticals, but that 2008 postseason was a good example of timing being everything.

The 2008 Phillies were a better team than the 2008 Brewers, but they also had two huge benefits in that series beyond home-field advantage. Those benefits were the Brewers' top two starting pitchers.

CC Sabathia was the blockbuster trade acquisition in '08. The Brewers acquired him on July 7, three weeks before the deadline, and he dominated for more than two months. In 17 starts with Milwaukee, Sabathia went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Ridiculously, he pitched seven complete games with three shutouts in those 17 starts.

But by the time the postseason began, Sabathia was spent. His start against the Phillies in Game 2 of the NLDS was his fifth straight start on short rest. Four days earlier, Sabathia had thrown 122 pitches in a complete game.

It was clear pretty early in that game that Sabathia was not the pitcher he was down the stretch, and Phillies fans will never forget the second inning. (We will explore the famous nine-pitch Brett Myers walk and Shane Victorino grand slam in more depth Tuesday.)

The other advantage the Phillies had was that the Brewers' rock that year, Ben Sheets, found out at the end of the regular season that he needed Tommy John surgery and would be unable to pitch in the playoffs. Sheets, who had a 3.24 ERA in 128 starts from 2004-08 and was a four-time All-Star, never ended up making a postseason start. 

Had he been healthy, Sheets would have started Game 1 for the Brewers ahead of Sabathia. Instead, that Game 1 start went to Yovani Gallardo, who had torn his ACL on May 1 and was unable to return until the final week of the regular season. 

Gallardo went on to have a decent 12-year career but he wasn't ready for that big moment in enemy territory in '08. The Phillies scored three runs off of him (unearned because of a Rickie Weeks error), and that was plenty of run support for Cole Hamels.

The Phillies clearly benefitted from the Brewers' starting pitching situation that October, but that doesn't discredit the business they took care of. In the NLDS, Prince Fielder went 1 for 14 (.071). Ryan Braun, who would go on to become a career Phillie-killer, had just an OK series, reaching base in five of 17 plate appearances and going hitless with runners in scoring position until his final at-bat of the series, an RBI single with the Phillies up five runs in their Game 4 clincher.

The Brewers hit just .206/.271/.254 as a team in that series with one home run against the Phils.

The re-airs of the Phillies' entire 2008 playoff run begin tonight on NBC Sports Philadelphia. The NLDS runs this week from Monday-Thursday, followed by the NLCS next week and the World Series the week after.

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