Bill Conlin: Stairs steps into Phillies' home-run history

Lenny Dykstra helped the Phillies to a 3-2 NLCS lead over the Braves in 1993 with his 10th-ining homer in Game 5.
Lenny Dykstra helped the Phillies to a 3-2 NLCS lead over the Braves in 1993 with his 10th-ining homer in Game 5.
Posted: October 15, 2008

NOW YOU KNOW how Columbus felt when he sailed the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria past the Azores. In 1492, the Global Flattening crowd considered anything west of the Azores sail-off-the-edge territory.

The Phillies find themselves in the open ocean of 3-1. It is an edge they have never enjoyed in any postseason since the franchise was cobbled together by Al Reach in 1883.

Hey, I'm all for renaming the Art Museum's Rocky steps "Matt's Stairway." Every Oct. 13, fans can run up them and face the Parkway waving their rally towels.

And maybe the folks who run Montreal's Windsor Station will lend us the replica of antiquity's Winged Victory statue, which was erected to honor Canada's World War I dead. And since the original honored the Greek goddess Nike, we can paint a swoosh on it and rename it the "Winged Victorino."

What Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs did in the lovely, crooked, four-spot eighth inning that turned uh-oh-all-even to holy-bleep-we-might-not-play-another-home-game-until-next-weekend is the stuff of legend in a town where the Book of Legends is comic-book thin. A pair of two-run homers, the first off jittery Dodgers reliever Cory Wade, the second off hyperventilating, not-quite-ready-to-close Jonathan Broxton, a Bunyanesque flamethrower elevated to the endgame role because Takashi Saito was not far enough back from an injury to make the NLCS roster.

And, suddenly as Los Angeles Times attack dog T.J. Slimer turned on Joe Torre, here is Cole Hamels pitching what could be the Dodgers' last game until March. Pitching on full rest, going against Chad Billingsley, who was racky-tacked in Game 2.

I have been asked by numerous e-mailers if the salvos fired by 27-year-old Shane and 40-year-old Matt represent the biggest home runs in Phillies history. Exciting? Hell, yes. You're sitting there, and the old double-chin bouncing off chest is starting and you realize you missed a pitch, a hitter or maybe an entire inning. I kept myself refreshed by flipping to the massacre of the Giants between pitches. Laughter is always a great elixir.

A handy gauge is to match the homer to its importance in baseball's Grand Scheme. At the top is the matchless 1960 World Series Game 7 walkoff by the Pirates' Bill Mazeroski that beat the mighty Yankees. And some guy named Joe Carter in 1993. Touch-em-all-Joe's Game 6 bomb left your favorite team draped under a mushroom cloud of shock. Dodger Kirk Gibson's limping 1988 walkoff to beat Oakland is in the second rank only because it was a Game 1.

But we're talking Phillies, and here is one man's ranking of historic homers with the caveat that the only regular-season homers that count are ones that clinched pennants or division titles:

* 1. Mike Schmidt's two-run homer in the top of the 11th with one out and Pete Rose on first that reliever Tug McGraw made hold up for an East Division-clinching, 6-4 win in Montreal in the 161st game of the 1980 season. Expos manager Dick Williams was second-guessed for not ordering Stan Bahnsen to walk Schmidt with rookie catcher Don McCormack on deck. But few managers would walk the potential winning run, and the hitter after McCormack was dangerous rookie Lonnie Smith. McCormack lashed his first major league hit.

* 2. Dick Sisler's three-run homer in the top of the 10th off ace Dodgers righthander Don Newcombe, giving the Phils a 4-1 lead in the final game of the 1950 regular season. Robin Roberts pitched a scoreless 10th to clinch the Phillies' first pennant in 35 years. It would be their last National League title for 30 more.

* 3. Lenny Dykstra's 10th-inning homer in Game 5 of the 1993 NLCS against the favored Braves that held up for a 4-3 victory and a 3-2 lead. "Nails'' set up the home clincher and that joyous, final-out, spread-eagle leap by Mitch Williams.

According to impeccable research by Archive Hoover Bob Vetrone Jr., Matt Stairs hit the fourth game-winning homer, in the eighth inning or later, in Phillies postseason history, including Dykstra's.

One was hit by a player I had long forgotten in a key game in history's first Division Series. It was an event the Lords of Baseball created to restore some luster to a 1981 season tarnished by the 50-day players strike. They created what manager Dallas Green famously labeled the "Split-fluffing-season." The Phillies were in first place and playing brilliant baseball when the players walked. MVP Mike Schmidt appeared to be on his way to 50 homers. Baseball declared the standings clock would restart when the schedule resumed and the Expos won the second half.

I remember virtually nothing of the best-of-five playoff won by Montreal in five games. Steve Rogers outpitched Steve Carlton in a 3-0 game I remember only because Green announced after the loss he was going to Chicago as Cubs GM.

I definitely do not remember George Vukovich hitting the only walkoff homer in Phillies postseason history. That would be George, a reserve outfielder, not John, the beloved utility infielder and clubhouse cop. Nor were they related. It was 5-5 in Game 4 at the Vet in the 10th when Vukovich batted for McGraw leading off the inning. Home run. Wild celebration? I guess. Don't remember a minute of it.

The other postseason game winner I do remember. The Phillies drew first blood in the 1983 World Series against Baltimore when Garry Maddox led off the eighth with a homer that snapped a 1-1 tie. The O's ran the table from there.

Matt Stairs has joined one of baseball's smallest, most elite clubs. When you climb "Matt's Stairway" at the Art Museum, don't forget your rally towel.

Oh, yes. Move Matt into a tie for No. 3 with Lenny K. Dykstra. *

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