Whenever Phillies fans feel like developing a swelled head with the team's performance come late-September, one need only say the name "Chico Ruiz" to remind them how they should never take any late-season lead for granted. Ruiz was far from a baseball immortal--he only played sporadically throughout eight seasons as a utility player with the Cincinnati Reds, and hit a whopping total of two home runs in his 1255 career plate appearances (or one every 627.5 PAs--even makes Carlos Ruiz look like Babe Ruth). But he will continue to haunt the dreams of older Phillies fans for what he did on September 21st, 1964, when his straight steal of home plate in a Phils-Reds game ended up foreshadowing one of the great collapses in sports history.
The score was tied at 0-0 in the top of the sixth inning, when Ruiz singled off of Phils starter Art Mahaffey with one out. After Ruiz advanced to third on a single by centerfielder Vida Pinson, left fielder future hall-of-famer Frank Robinson came to bat. But despite having one of the most feared sluggers in baseball history at the plate, Ruiz shocked the Phils (as well as his own team, apparently) by attempting to steal home--and somehow succeeding. Amazingly, Ruiz's run was the game's only, and the Phils lost the contest 1-0. (The steal was ranked as #4 by Sports Illustrated in a list of the Ten Most Significant Steals of Home in Baseball History).
This stunning incident might not have lingered in fans' memories quite as long as it has, however, if not for what came after. Before the game against the Reds, the Phillies were a comfortable six and a half games up in the NL pennant race, and with only 12 games left in the season, their first appearance in the World Series since 1950 seemed imminent. But the loss to the Reds was merely the first of ten straight games tanked by the Phils, as the team blew the lead and the playoffs (in what has come to be known as either the Philly Phlop or Philly Phold), earning manager Gene Mauch an infamous spot in baseball history.
So while we all look at the standings and laugh, merely debating who it is that we'd rather face in the first round--remember the case of Chico Ruiz, and bite your tongue until that magic number drops to zero.