Phillies rally late, grab 3-1 NLCS lead
After Victorino's tying homer, Stairs delivers pinch-hit dinger
LOS ANGELES -- Shane Victorino clapped his hands vigorously as he made his way around the bases. Hitting a game-tying home run made such a trek pleasurable.Matt Stairs' 360-foot trek seemed much longer, by comparison. A 40-year-old journeyman, Stairs completed perhaps the most important journey of a 16-year career, and each step brought him closer to where he's wanted to be.
Thanks to his no-doubt-about-it, pinch-hit, two-run homer, Philadelphia earned a 7-5 win on Monday over Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium in a game that screamed October baseball. Stairs and his teammates took a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.They're one victory away from a World Series, courtesy of a player known in some circles as "The Wonder Hamster." "I have no idea where that came from," Stairs said. "I'm short and chubby. I get up there and I'm a little guy. I don't get cheated, I swing as hard as I can." The moment was perfect for Stairs, who grew up a proud Canadian, dreaming of a Stanley Cup, not a World Series trophy. By high school, the focus turned to baseball. Playing for his 11th Major League organization since being acquired at the end of August, Stairs had 17 at-bats for the Phillies in the regular season, and two in the playoffs. He came to the plate against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton with an .083 career postseason average. With the game already tied on Victorino's two-run home run of reliever Cory Wade, teammates loved the matchup of Stairs, a dead fastball hitter, against Broxton, a dead fastball pitcher who has hit triple digits. "Power vs. power," Jayson Werth said. "He's a fun guy to watch in BP," Brad Lidge added. "He hits moon shots. To see him do it in a game is just awesome."
3-1 edge significant in NLCS
|With the Phillies' victory in Game 4, an NLCS stands at 3-1 for the 12th time since it became a best-of-seven series in 1985. Nine of the previous 11 teams went on to win its NLCS, with only the 2003 Marlins and 1996 Braves rallying from the 3-1 deficit to win three straight and take the series.|
|Year||Team up 3-1||Opponent||Final|
|NLCS winners in bold.|
Stairs swatted a Broxton 95-mph fastball that flew out of Dodger Stadium. It sucked the noise out of the 56,800 fans with dreams of a series-tying win. Call it an anti-Kirk Gibson moment.Hearing Gibson's name still makes lifelong A's fan Jimmy Rollins cringe, so perhaps seeing a similar moment happen can bring some relief. "We have to win the World Series first, but I was glad this happened at Dodger Stadium and I was here," Rollins said. Stairs' approach was the same one he's had for 16 years. "I swing for the fences," he said. "That's how I've been my whole career. I think of home runs. It carries over from batting practice. I try to hit every ball out of the ballpark. I'm not going to lie, it's fun when you're there and you're hitting balls out of the ballpark. The biggest thing is to see how far you're going to hit the ball." His ball went pretty far, and it may carry the Phillies to their sixth World Series. Stairs' swing capped a four-run eighth inning and erased what might've been a momentum-turning loss. Victorino's game-tying swat came with the Phillies five outs away from the NLCS being tied. His shot just cleared the right-field fence and nearly smashed rookie Lou Marson's helmet in the Phillies bullpen. "Shane hit a breaking ball and he hit it real well," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I didn't know if it was going to go or not, but once it cleared that gate out there, it was a tremendous, big hit." Then came Stairs. "That put an exclamation point on it," Victorino said.
Matt's Lucky 13
|Matt Stairs' pinch-hit home run was the 13th in NLCS history:|
|Source: David Vincent, SABR|
The Phillies have wrested the momentum in the series, finally winning after being turned away at Dodger Stadium in four regular-season meetings and Game 3 on Sunday. Los Angeles needs to win the remaining three games to advance.Philadelphia doesn't intend to let that happen. "This is the first game we've won here," Manuel said. "This was the biggest game we've won, but the next one is even bigger. That's how we look at it."
The difference between being up 3-1 and tied at 2?"It's drastically different," Werth said. "I don't have that big a vocabulary to come up with another word for you. We wanted to come out here and win one game. Now we have a chance to clinch it." As for Stairs, the short but stout veteran, he promises not to revel in his moment. He's entered the pantheon of big NLCS moments. Victorino has a more impressive body of work this postseason, but Stairs will always have his swing. Stairs won't let it consume him, not when he knows he might be in a similar situation in two days. After answering questions for 20 minutes, he sat in his locker and took a breath, realizing he had to get back to his hotel room, where his wife Lisa and two of his three daughters were waiting. "Seeing my daughters will be nice," Stairs said. "We'll spend some time together. They'll probably watch a movie, and my wife and I will probably watch 'Without a Trace' or something on TV. It was a special eighth inning and a special win, but it's over. "I may do a cartwheel when I get home tonight, but I'd hurt myself. It's day-to-day. You enjoy it, but you know tomorrow is a different day. I know that every time I take the field, it could be my last time."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.