CD's Connect the Dots... A Message From Above?

The scene was eerily right out of a Charlton Heston movie. The full fury of Hurricane Isabel began to strike the Eastern seaboard and the winds and rain clouds were threatening to pick up steam. It appeared that the Philadelphia Phillies wild card chances would drift away along with the savage winds blowing through Veterans Stadium. The score was 3-0 Florida Marlins and the skies were getting darker. Yet the old saying, "its always darkest before the light" was about to prove true once more.

The Oakland Raiders have been a dominant professional football team for many years, yet long time Silver and Black fans till speak in hushed tones about the day they came of age. The year was 1963 and the powerful San Diego Chargers made a visit to play an upstart band of Raiders. The Chargers, who would go on to win the American Football Conference in ‘ 63, came into the game with a 10-2 record while the Raiders, perennial doormats of the AFL West, were at 8-4.

Few fans were surprised as the Chargers began the fourth quarter with a seemingly insurmountable 27-10 lead. Certainly this Raider team, long on heart but short on talent, was no match for the Keith Lincoln and Paul Lowe-led Chargers. Suddenly, as if a message from above, a sunny, clear day became dark and foreboding. The sky became as solid black as the Raider uniforms and lightning and thunderbolts lit up the sky.

In an almost surreal scene, the Raiders, as if on cue, stormed back and scored 31 unanswered points in less than 10 minutes to win a wild 41-27 game. To this day, Raider fans who witnessed the game, said that as the skies opened up, the Raiders viewed this as a sign of an oncoming fury and a victory preordained from the football gods on high.

Our Philadelphia Phillies were participants in a game of equal importance and strikingly similar circumstances as they fought for their playoff lives on a cold, windy, rainy Thursday afternoon. Though the schedule indicated that there were still nine important games to play, no one was presupposing that they would have much significance if the Phils failed to win this game. Simply put, this game against the Wild Card leading Florida Marlins was a game that the Phils had to win.

A loss would have put the Phils 2 ½ games behind the Marlins with but nine to play, including three in Miami next week. Frankly, things did not look bright for the Phightens as they came to bat in the bottom of the fifth inning trailing 3-0. Florida rookie Dontrelle Willis was at the top of his game and the three runs seemed more than enough to pin another disappointing loss on free-agent in waiting Kevin Millwood and his band of frustrated Phils.

Suddenly a day that was a bit overcast turned downright nasty. The winds picked up to a furious pace, the clouds turned dark and ominous, the rain began to pelt the field and one could almost hear Heston scream from the mountain top, "Let my team score!" And score they did. Super-sub Tomas Perez, he of the good glove and light bat, abruptly struck a lightning bolt into the heavens, and the score stood 3-1.

With the rain beginning to dampen even the most optimistic of Phillie fan's hopes, a baseball miracle took place as with two outs and two on, Mike Lieberthal's "excuse me" pop up was captured by Isabel's swirling winds, and a ball that seemed caught, was suddenly dropped. As Marlin first baseman Derek Lee scrambled to recover the bouncing sphere, the Phils had recaptured the momentum, amid a 3-3 tie!

Though the weather grew more and more menacing, the Marlins struck another cord in their musical playoff rendition when dynamic rookie, Miguel Cabrera homered of Millwood in the sixth inning and the score stood 4-3, Fish. How ironic that in a game where "water, water, all around" was becoming the central theme, the Fish were once again swimming downstream.

Even darker the skies grew and the fear of a downpour made every pitch grow in extreme importance. The Phils were playing for their playoff lives and if they could not mount a comeback soon, all might be washed away. As weather reports of Isabel's impending onslaught intensified, the Phils gathered every ounce of the resiliency that has marked their season and struck again.

This time, the thunderous sky was offset by the crashing blow off Placido Polanco's bat, and as the ball crashed against the backdrop behind the left field fence, Phils fans everywhere began to believe they were all backdrops to a Hollywood movie. Literally and figuratively, there was a feeling of electricity in the air and fans realized they were witnesses to a game that would be talked about long after the last raindrop had fallen.

Still threatened by the inclement weather, the game weaved its way into the bottom of the eighth inning, score still 4-4. Both starting pitchers, Millwood and Willis, were in the clubhouse as the Phils mounted one last thunderclap. In this season of controversy, acrimony and inconsistency, there has been one beacon of light throughout the turmoil. When Jim Thome was signed to a very large free agent contract in November, people close to him said the money would be well spent. Truer words were never spoken and in a moment when he had to deliver, deliver he did! With one compact swing of the bat, Thome literally placed his name among the hallowed heroes of Philadelphia baseball lore.

His towering home run to right field immediately placed him in the rarified air of past Phils greats Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Richie Ashburn and Johnny Callison. When it was imperative that a hit be struck, Thome struck his, and as he tipped his cap for the third curtain call in this three game series, the Phils were suddenly three outs from a victory that seemed as improbable as Hurricane Isabel losing its fury before reaching the East Coast.

With a 5-4 lead and a looming 7-0 record on his horizon, lefty ace reliever Rheal Cormier made short work of the Fish in the ninth and the Phils had survived a storm warning and escaped with a 5-4 triumph. The implications of this victory will be ongoing but this much is known. In a series that Phils absolutely had to win, they won two of the three games and on a day that was fit for neither Fish nor Phil, the Phils had conquered the elements to live another day.

As has been mentioned many times, baseball is a very strange and unpredictable game. Momentum can be as fleeting as the storm clouds, quickly blowing over and back out to sea. Yet it is also true that champions are made during a journey that often appears impossible to complete. The Phillies are alive today because they refused to die yesterday and the confidence gathered from this mini-playoff series may serve them well over the next nine games.

Regardless of the outcome of the future games, the game played on a stormy Thursday afternoon will be remembered long after the balls and bats are put away for winter hibernation. It will be remembered for Thome's heroics and a day that the sky literally opened up and quite possibly brought the Phils "a message from above".

Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD


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