When grandest of slams brought loudest of roars

Posted: May 01, 2003

During Veterans Stadium's final summer, The Inquirer will look back weekly at memorable Phillies-related moments.Had Hugh Stubbins, the refined, Alabama-born architect who designed Veterans Stadium, been present that afternoon, he would have been both proud and nervous.

Proud that, just as he had envisioned, the massive circular stadium's acoustics could convert the roaring voices of 43,648 fans into a kind of rolling thunderclap that gave you goose bumps.

But nervous for fear that, as it quivered like a runaway subway car that sunny Mother's Day, May 9, 1993, his South Philadelphia creation might collapse in the vocal earthquake that followed Mariano Duncan's grand slam.

The Phillies' three-decades-plus history at Veterans Stadium has been accompanied by a vivid sound track. There have been the deafening cheers that leave a permanent imprint in spectators' memories; the great, rumbling, trademark boos; and, for too many desultory seasons, the indifferent silences.

On what has become known as Black Friday, 1977, a taunting sellout crowd booed a sour-faced Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, Burt Hooton, off the mound during the playoffs. When Mike Schmidt's No. 20 was retired and when John Kruk returned from cancer treatment, the big bellows were tinted with heartfelt warmth.

The first home game after the beloved Richie Ashburn's death produced a tearful hush. And no Philadelphian will ever forget the "We've Reached the Promised Land at Last" explosion that erupted when Tug McGraw's fastball hit Bob Boone's mitt late on Oct. 21, 1980, making the Phillies World Series champions.

But for sheer spontaneous combustion, it's doubtful any noise in those 32 years matched the din that greeted Duncan's eighth-inning slam off the St. Louis Cardinals' Lee Smith late on that Sunday afternoon 10 years ago this month.

"That sound," Phillies second baseman Mickey Morandini said, "was scary."

For the gritty 1993 Phillies, who went on to win the National League pennant and captivate the city so completely that a franchise-record total of 3,137,674 fans flooded the Vet to watch them, it might have been their signature moment.

An improbable year, marked by improbably spectacular victories - which saw Milt Thompson's game-saving leap in San Diego, the comeback from an 8-1 hole against the San Francisco Giants, and reliever Mitch Williams' game-winning hit against the Padres at 4:41 a.m.- reached its jaw-dropping, ear-splitting apex that afternoon.

"There were some games that we won we had no business winning," said Phils manager Larry Bowa, then the team's third-base coach. "I think the first thing that went through my mind [that day] is that when you start seeing things like that happen . . . it's almost a foregone conclusion that you're going to win."

The 21-7 Phillies, off to the franchise's best start since 1911, had taken the first two games of the weekend series with St. Louis, a team most baseball experts predicted would win the title in the National League East.

But much to the dismay of a crowd whose enthusiasm had been stifled time and time again, the Cardinals' junk-tossing Bob Tewksbury had frustrated the Phillies with off-speed pitches. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, the Phils trailed, 5-2.

There was stirring in the stands when Darren Daulton singled. Wes Chamberlain, who on the previous Mother's Day had been demoted to Scranton even though his mother had been feted before the game, doubled to right.

The noise built as Cardinals manager Joe Torre, hands in his back pockets as he ambled to the mound, replaced his starter with Smith. The big, intimidating closer, who had been suffering from a bad spring cold, hadn't pitched in 10 days.

"He was one of the best closers in baseball," Bowa said.

The count on Thompson went to 3-2. Smith snapped off a nasty slider that fooled the hitter and, perhaps, home-plate umpire Charlie Williams. Williams called it a ball, loading the bases and prompting a bewildered, hands-on-hips stare from Smith.

That brought Duncan to the plate.

By then, months before Kevin Stocker would appear, manager Jim Fregosi had wearied of the defensive inconsistencies of Juan Bell and Kim Batiste and handed the shortstop's job to Duncan, the gregarious ex-Dodger.

Duncan loved loud clothes, practical jokes and fastballs. In 14 previous at-bats against the hard-throwing Smith, he had seven hits.

"I always hit pretty good against Lee Smith," said Duncan, now a hitting instructor with the Dodgers' single-A team in Vero Beach, Fla. "I remembered Milt Thompson had battled him and got a walk. When I came to the plate, the bases were loaded, and I knew I wouldn't see a breaking ball. I was looking for a fastball on the first pitch."

Ninety feet away, at third base, Bowa and Daulton were performing the same baseball calculus in their heads.

"This place will go crazy if he hits a bomb," Bowa said.

Daulton nodded in agreement.

In the bullpen, a hasty telephone call from the dugout got Mitch Williams out of his seat. After throwing one pitch, and still wearing sunglasses, he turned to watch Smith face Duncan.

Behind the clubhouse, in a room where out-of-the-game players liked to gather, the Phillies' starting pitcher that day, Curt Schilling, sat watching on TV with Pete Incaviglia, Terry Mulholland, Tommy Greene and Larry Andersen.

They were all thinking the same thing.

"He's got to get a fastball here," Andersen said.

When Smith delivered the anticipated pitch, Duncan swung his black bat fiercely and connected.

"I knew it was gone," he said.

This is how the next morning's Inquirer described what happened next:

A roar, at first disbelieving but ultimately ecstatic, grew with each foot the drive traveled. Midway between first and second, as the ball dropped into the stands, Duncan pumped his right fist in the air.

On the mound, Smith didn't look quite so large anymore.

"I usually throw him breaking balls," said Smith.

Shouts of joy filled the clubhouse anteroom.

At third base, Bowa practically leaped out of his shoes to high-five Duncan as he passed. The Phillies' players spilled out of the dugout to greet him. In left field, spectators scuffled for the ball, which had slammed off an empty brown seat.

With the noise still so thick that it practically shimmered, Duncan was summoned for a curtain call.

"Just the other night, my son told me he wanted to watch me play baseball," said Duncan, who lives in Miami and, until this season, had been out of baseball for five years. "I put in the tape of the Phillies' highlights of '93. He saw that grand slam and the excitement. I told him that it was one of the greatest moments in my career."

Eventually, when the tumult faded to an excited buzz, Williams retired the stunned Cardinals in the ninth. The Phillies were now 22-7, having won 12 of their last 15 and 10 of 11 one-run games.

They were 7 1/2 games ahead of St. Louis and 6 1/2 in front of second-place Montreal. The 1992 Phillies had not swept a series as long as three games. Already, in fewer than 30 games, the '93 Phils had done it four times.

"We've had a lot of games like this already," said Fregosi, who had a congenital aversion to superlatives. "This was just one more."

Just another game?

He must have been hard of hearing.

Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.

Staff writer Todd Zolecki contributed to this article.

comments powered by Disqus