By Chris Murray
For the CM Report
ABOVE PHOTO: Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (6), center, is helped off the field after tearing his Achilles tendon while making the last out during the ninth inning of Game 5 of the National League division baseball series with the St. Louis Cardinals, Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, in Philadelphia. Cardinals won 1-0.
(AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Philadelphia’s sports fans have had some moments over the years that have probably led to record profits for bars and liquor stores.
Pick your poison—the 1964 Phillies losing the pennant in the last week of the season despite having a six and a half game lead, Joe Carter’s walk-off homerun that beat the Phillies in the 1993 World Series; the Eagles losing the 2002 NFC Championship game (and the final game at Veterans’ Stadium) to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXIX.
You can also throw in the 1981 76ers blowing a 3-1 lead to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals and “Black Friday” 1977 when the Phillies blew a two-run lead in the ninth against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLCS.
And don’t even get folks started on a more recent example; the Phillies stunning loss to the San Francisco Giants in the 2010 National League Championship Series.
But while all of these sports losses are still stuck in the craw of Philadelphia’s sports fans, my guess is that they’ll pale in comparison to the week of Oct. 2 to Oct. 9—which included the horrendous two-game slide of the Eagles, part of a four-game losing streak, and the Phillies unceremonious exit from the Major League Baseball playoffs.
Those seven days represent arguably one of the most miserable weeks to be a Philadelphia sports fans in the city’s storied sports history.
While most of Philadelphia’s sports fans were able to observe the carnage from a safe distance, I had front-row seats.
Here’s how it went:
Sunday, Oct. 2. I started my day at Lincoln Financial Field to cover the Eagles-49ers game. By the third quarter of that game, Eagles had taken a 23-3 lead and it looked like they were going to stop the bleeding of losing two straight games.
I mean, this current incarnation of the 49ers is being led by Alex Smith. He’s gonna beat you? Really? A guy who has been labeled as a bust is going to lead a team from 20 points down to win. Joe Montana was not coming through that door at Lincoln Financial Field, right?
The 49ers also had a gimpy leg running back in Frank Gore, who was a playing on a sore ankle. Surely, he wasn’t going to be busting through the Eagles defenses for big yardage.
That’s exactly what happened… and don’t call me Shirley.
Smith, looking like the second-coming of Montana, John Elway, and John Unitas combined, led the 49ers on three second-half scoring drives. He threw two touchdown passes and wound up passing for 291 yards on 21-of-33 passing.
Meanwhile, Gore gashed a poor tackling Eagles defense for 127 yards on 15 carries. He averaged eight-yards per carry. On Gore’s game-winning 12-yard touchdown run, he ran over Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel and dragged him into the end zone.
The Birds offense couldn’t get out of the way of itself. They were 2-of-7 in the red zone and they committed three turnovers, including Jeremy Maclin’s fumble on the Eagles last possession of the game that sealed the defeat. The Eagles new kicker Alex Henery also missed two easy second-half field goals that might have won the game for the Birds.
Instead, the Eagles left Lincoln Financial Field to resounding boos and chants of “Let’s Go Phillies.”
About three hours later, I was in the press box at Citizens Bank Park and it’s the top of the fourth inning. The Phillies are up 4-0 with Cliff Lee on the mound. Surely, the rest of the game is a mere formality, right? The Phils would be heading to St. Louis with a 2-0 lead.
Again, this is Cliff Lee, the same Cliff Lee who back in late August went through a stretch of three straight outings where he didn’t allow an earned run.
Lee gave up five runs over the next three innings—three in the fourth, one in the sixth, and one the one that tied the game in the seventh. I thought that after Lee gave up the tying run in the sixth it might have been time for him to hit the showers for the night. He may have had nine strikeouts, but he didn’t have his best stuff.
As it turned out, the Phillies relievers allowed just one hit for the remainder of the game.
But after the second inning, the Phillies offense got just two hits for the rest of the game. Instead of a 2-0 lead, the Phillies go to St. Louis with a 1-1 tie. Phillies’ fans didn’t know it or even want to think about it, but Lee blowing that lead would ultimately cost the Phillies.
In game three, Cole Hamels and Ben Francisco gave Phillies fans a reason to think all was right with the world. Hamels didn’t allow a run in seven innings and Francisco hit a three-run homer in the top of the eighth. The Phillies held onto for a 3-2 win and they were one game away from advancing to the National League Championship Series.
But the joy was short-lived.
Twenty-four hours later, the Phillies gave Roy Oswalt 2-0 lead in the first inning and that was it for the Phillies offense.
After that the Cardinals third baseman David Freese owned the show, driving in five runs with an RBI double that gave the Cards their first lead and a two-run homer that put the game away for good and sent the series back to Philly for Game 5.
With the second largest crowd in the history of Citizens Bank Park warming up for a huge Phillies victory, the Cardinals needed just one run in the first inning and a good nine innings by their ace Chris Carpenter.
Even as Roy Halladay brilliantly recovered from giving up a triple to Rafael Furcal and a run-scoring double to Skip Schumaker, 46,530 towel-waving Phillies fans were tortured for nine painful innings at the inability of their hitters to come up with a run-scoring hit of any kind.
Whether you’re talking about the long fly ball that Ibanez hit with runners at the corner, Ryan Howard, who was 0-for-his last 15 at bats in the series, swinging at bad 3-0 pitch or Chase Utley smacking the ball to the wall in the ninth inning, it was like watching a slow, tortuous death.
And of course, the piece de resistance for this debacle was Howard making the last out and rupturing his Achilles Tendon in the process, which means he could be out for half of next season. It was a horrific end and a monumental disappointment for a team that won 102 games and had the best pitching staff in baseball.
But Philly’s sports fans weren’t going to get a break from their heartache anytime soon.
By Sunday, Oct. 9, Philly’s sports fans, still hurt over the Phillies stunning exit from the playoffs, found no solace in the Eagles who lost another game they had no business losing to the Buffalo Bills.
The Eagles committed five turnovers including four interceptions by Michael Vick and the defense complicated things by not tackling anybody and letting the Bills run and pass all over them. The Birds did almost as good a job of beating themselves as the Bills did in beating them. They committed big penalties in crucial situations including a silly holding penalty that cost the Eagles a touchdown.
But the worst came late in the game. The Bills had a fourth and one at the Eagles 49 with one minute, 23 seconds left in the game. Everybody with an inkling of football knowledge knew that Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn’t going to snap the ball and he was calling out signals to draw the Birds offside.
And sho’ nuff, sho’ nuff, veteran defensive end Juqua Parker fell for it and leaped across the neutral zone and was flagged for encroachment. C’mon, man! Huh? The oldest trick in the book and you fell for that. C’mon, maaaaaaaan!
Philly’s sports fans may need help from Dr. Phil, Oprah, the Rev. TD Jakes, the Wizard of Oz or their local bartender to get past this week of infamy.
But with the Eagles heading to Washington to face the Redskins this week, they might want to wait until Sunday to get that pint of Jack Daniels. After Sunday, they may need a quart.