June 8, 1989: A Wild One at The Vet

This is the third in a series of six monthly columns remembering memorable Phillies games on their milestone dates. This column spotlights the Phillies comeback from a ten-run deficit to beat the Pirates in 1989. Today is the 15th anniversary of that classic game.

By all accounts, 1989 was part of the lean years for the Phillies. They were six years removed from their World Series appearance in 1983, and were still four years away from facing the Blue Jays in the 1993 Series. On May 28th, the great Mike Schmidt announced his retirement from baseball in a teary press conference, and it seemed that the season was all but lost. On June 8, 1989, the Phillies hosted the Pittsburgh Pirates in a meaningless game at Veterans Stadium, and after the first inning, it appeared that it would be another typical Phils performance.

The Phillies and Pirates were both mired at the bottom of the National League East standings as the sun rose on Thursday, June 8, 1989. Through 55 games, Pittsburgh was in fifth place, ten games behind division leader Chicago (who would go on to win the East that year) and a game in front of the phaltering Phils. This was to be an off day for both teams, but on Monday, with the game tied 3-3 in the eighth inning, the rains came and forced a postponement, and a make-up game on Thursday. The Phils had won on both Tuesday and Wednesday to creep within a game of fifth place, and a win tonight would tie them with the Pirates.

Phils manager Nick Leyva chose journeyman Larry McWilliams to start for the Phils against ex-Phil and 1980 World Series hero Bob Walk. In the top of the first, McWilliams showed why he was a journeyman pitcher. Larry Mac walked leadoff hitter Barry Bonds (yes, you read that correctly), and got Jose Lind to ground back to the mound for the first out. That would be the only out McWilliams would record in the game. Andy Van Slyke, Bobby Bonilla and Gary Redus followed with singles, plating two runs. Pirate first baseman Jeff King was walked intentionally to load the bases and set up a double play situation (in the first inning!!). But shortstop Rey Quinones foiled the plans with a double to the left field corner, scoring Bonilla & Redus. Leyva saw enough of McWilliams, and brought in journeyman (there's that phrase again) Steve Ontiveros to get the Phils out of the inning.

Ontiveros kept the nightmare alive by walking catcher Junior Ortiz, then allowed Walk to single up the middle to score King and Quinones. Now, it was 6-0 Pittsburgh and there was still only one out. Barry Bonds promptly followed with a three-run homerun, and just like that, it's 9-0, Pirates. Lind, the eleventh batter of the inning, grounded out for the second time, but Van Slyke singled (again), Bonilla walked, and Redus singled (again) to score Van Slyke (again) to make it 10-0, Buccos. King walked (again), but Quinones popped up to Randy Ready at third to end the carnage.

It was at this point that Pirates radio announcer Jim Rooker made the bold statement, "If the Pirates lose this one, I'll walk home to Pittsburgh." One would wonder what Rooker was wearing on his feet, because the Phils' Von Hayes hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the first to cut the lead to 10-2. Ontiveros settled down in the second and third innings and kept Pittsburgh off the board. With the Pirates ahead 10-2 in the bottom of the third, Hayes hit another two-run blast, and it was now 10-4.

Ontiveros pitched another solid inning in the fourth, and lo and behold, in the bottom of the inning, with a runner on first, Steve Jeltz, who had replaced Tommy Herr at second base after the first inning, knocked one out of the park for the Phils third two-run homerun in four innings. What had once seemed an insurmountable ten-run deficit was now down to four.

Greg Harris replaced Ontiveros in the fifth and surrendered a run on a Van Slyke double, giving Pittsburgh an 11-6 lead halfway through the game. Recently acquired John Kruk's leadoff double in the bottom of the fifth was wasted, but Harris got the Pirates out in the sixth, and the two teams started making wholesale changes.

That's when the fun started.

Darren Daulton led off the sixth with a single and was sacrificed to second by Harris. New Phil Randy Ready drew a one-out walk from Bob Kipper, who had relieved Walk in the fourth. That brought up Jeltz, the light hitting utility man, who had surprisingly homered earlier in the game. Kipper made a mistake, and Jeltz belted it over the fence for a three-run homer, his second four-bagger of the night, and it was now an 11-9 game. Kruk lined a two-out double to left, and that was all for Kipper. Bill Landrum came on, and was greeted by a Juan Samuel infield single. Ricky Jordan followed by singling to center and scoring Kruk, cutting the Pittsburgh lead to one.

In the seventh, a John Cangelosi single with two outs ended Harris' day, and Don Carman came on to retire the side. The bottom of the seventh and Pirates half of the eighth were uneventful, and Jeff Robinson came on for Pittsburgh to try and shut down the Phillies.

The Phils would have nothing of it.

After Von Hayes led off the eighth by grounding out, Kruk, Bob Dernier, and Dickie Thon (intentionally) drew consecutive walks, with a Robinson wild pitch during Thon's at bat allowing Kruk to score and tie the game at 11. Pirates manager Jim Leyland had seen enough, and brought Roger Samuels on to finish the inning. Darren Daulton greeted him with a two-run single to center, giving the Phillies the lead for the first time at 13-11. With runners at first and third and one out, Curt Ford hit a pitch by Samuels to the left field corner, clearing the bases. Ford was thrown out at third on the play, but the damage had been done. Ready followed with a single, but Samuels got Jeltz to ground out to end the inning (and Roger Samuels never threw another pitch in the major leagues after this game).

Steve Bedrosian came on in the ninth to close the game and gave up a single to Quinones, but forced Cangelosi to fly to left to end the game. The Phillies had overcome a ten-run first inning deficit to pull out a 15-11 win in a battle of NL East cellar dwellers.

And Jim Rooker did walk from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, albeit in the 1989 offseason, taking donations for charity in the process.

A week before this game, the Phillies started laying the groundwork for the 1993 pennant winning team by getting John Kruk from San Diego for Chris James. Ten days after this game, more of the foundation was set when Bedrosian was traded to San Francisco for, among others, Terry Mulholland. Juan Samuel was traded the same day to the New York Mets for the guy who would turn out to be one of the most exciting players in Phillies history, Lenny Dykstra. Dave Hollins was drafted in the Rule V Draft in the winter of 1990, and solidified third base after Schmidt departed.

Nick Leyva finished his first season in Philadelphia with a 67-95 record, in sixth place and 26 games behind the division-winning Cubs. In 1990, the Phils improved slightly, to 77-85 and a fourth place finish, but 13 games into the 1991 season, Jim Fregosi replaced Leyva, and another vital cog was added to the Phillies future.

The 1989 Phillies didn't provide much excitement for the fans that year, but this one memorable game in June showed what guys like Kruk, Daulton, and Jordan had the potential to do. In 1990, when Dykstra flirted with .400, Mulholland threw a no-hitter, and Mickey Morandini was recalled from Scranton, one could begin to see the start of something special. The pieces were being fitted for one wild, wacky year in 1993.

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