So it's the last day of the baseball season, and everyone already knows who's going to the postseason and who's going home. The Marlins are in Philadelphia in their final tune-up game before going to the postseason; the Phillies are running out the schedule. Nothing important is on the line. Nothing has been for this entire series.
Two days earlier, Scott Rolen hit a home run to give the Phillies the lead over the Marlins, and the next batter was promptly hit by a pitch. Everyone who follows baseball closely knows that the first batter for the Marlins in the top of the next inning is going to be hit by a pitch. Marlins manager Jim Leyland certainly knew, and rather than let one of his best players get hit, he sent up a pinch hitter who also knew what was coming, who in fact volunteered to take the pitch. He got hit and Schilling was promptly ejected to end his season. They may be in last place, but their hearts are still in the game.
But that was two days ago, and it's done and forgiven. No one is dwelling on it as the season's final game starts. Being the final game, it's fan appriciation day, and everyone in the stadium is hoping for a good and memorable game to finish the season in Philadelphia with. And they're going to get it. With nothing else on the line, this game is going to be played for the love of the game, and it's going to be played for the fans.
Fans love offense, and boy did they get it early. The score was 1-1 after one inning and 2-1 Phillies after two. A Bobby Bonilla grand slam in the top of the third was countered by a Kevin Jordan home run in the bottom, and after three it was tied 5-5. This is when things started to get special.
Phillies fans are famous for booing, and deservedly so. You know all the lines... "Phillies fans would boo a wake," "On Easter Phillies fans boo the little kids who can't find eggs," "After rainouts, Phillies fans go to the airport and boo landings," etc. Well, what they don't get credit for is knowing when to cheer. In the top of the fifth inning (I think), manager Terry Francona called infielders Mickey Morandini and Kevin Stocker back from their positions on the field to the dugout. He could have just sent out the replacements at the start of the inning, but instead he waited, so that as they came off the field the crowd gave them both a standing ovation, recognizing the great work they've done this year for a terrible team. Credit where credit is due. Francona did the same thing for Scott Rolen a couple of innings later, and the crowd gave another ovation.
Late in the game, Jim Eisenreich hit for the Marlins. He is one of the most popular people ever to play for the Phillies, and the crowd cheered for him, too. He lined out to third and walked back to the dugout amidst the cheering with a broad smile on his face.
My personal favorite moment came in the bottom of the 8th. Kevin Sefcik tried to score from third on a grounder. There was a play at the plate and even though the game doesn't matter, Sefcik still gave it all he had, bowling over the catcher, Zaun. But Zaun held onto the ball and Sefcik was out. As Zaun was sitting there, Sefcik gave him a pat on the shoulder, and Zaun tapped Sefcik with his glove as he walked away. Two competitors acknowledging and respecting each other.
Finally, in the last inning, one out away from the end of the game, Marlins manager Jim Leyland sent Darren Daulton up to pinch hit. There is no strategic reason for this move; frankly, there is no reason to pinch hit at all. But Daulton is another fan favorite in Philly, and his trade earlier this season saddened a large number of people. In fact, he had been in the Phillies organization longer than a number of Phillies fans have been alive. And on fan appriciation day, at the end of the season, Leyland knows what the fans want. Daulton's last at bat, the night before, he hit a home run to give the Marlins the lead, and the crowd wasn't quite sure how to respond, but mostly they cheered. Today, there is no doubt. Daulton walked up towards the plate, and the crowd went wild. He quickly popped out to end the inning, the game, and, for the Phillies, the season. Several Phillies went over to him and said a few words to him before he goes on to the postseason.
And for the seventh-inning stretch, for the TV broadcast, the parrot owned by the girlfriend of Phillies broadcaster Chris Wheeler sang Take Me Out To The Ballgame. (And he did a much better job than Harry Caray ever does.)
So the postseason begins, and the eyes of the world will be watching eight teams, including the Marlins. For the Phillies, this game gave them a better record this year than last, and a second half record 11 games over .500. They earned a lot of respect these last few months, and have given fans hope for the future, which is a hell of a lot more than they had three months ago. For the Marlins, the future is now, as they set their sights on the World Series.
But for one day, the focus wasn't on winning and it wasn't on money and it wasn't on competition. It was on baseball, the fans, the love of the game. The owners may be tearing the business apart at the seams, but on the field, where it truly counts, where the GAME takes place, baseball is doing just fine.
It may have been a nothing game that most will soon forget, but as far as I'm concerned, it was the best game of baseball I have ever seen in my life.