Rich Hofmann: Rollins' moment is one for the ages

Phillies rush from the dugout to celebrate after Jimmy Rollins' game-winning hit against the Dodgers.
Phillies rush from the dugout to celebrate after Jimmy Rollins' game-winning hit against the Dodgers.
Posted: October 21, 2009

THIS IS WHY people get into my business, to witness history, to write about things that people will talk about forever. It is what happened late Monday night at Citizens Bank Park, beyond deadline, beyond easy comprehension.

Sports writers root for very few things, truth be told: fast games, exit-row aisles and late-closing restaurant kitchens being three of the more prominent. We also root for stories.

If you are fortunate, you will write about a handful of them that match what Jimmy Rollins did when he hit that ball into the gap in right-center. Anybody in this town who has watched the Eagles tiptoe to the edge before failing, time after time, knows just how rare this kind of thing is. The Phillies have "it," whatever "it" is. Impossible to define, the whole thing falls under the same standard set by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when he wrote in a famous opinion in a case about pornography: "I know it when I see it."

That is, I know the Phillies have it and I know the Eagles have not had it - which is less an indictment of the Eagles than an expression of amazement at what the Phillies have been doing.

Think about it: Ryan Howard and then Jayson Werth knocking in the ninth-inning, series-winning runs in Game 4 at Colorado on Oct. 12, and then Rollins bringing home Eric Bruntlett and Carlos Ruiz with two outs in the ninth inning on Oct. 19. For the Phillies, for Philadelphia sports, it really has been 8 days that shook the world.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel says, "We play 27 outs; we think we can win. We're never down and that's a tribute to those guys." And if that all sounds like pap to you, like unquantifiable nonsense, not measurable enough, not intellectually rigorous enough, well, all that means is that you were not here on Monday night.

It has now happened only five times in major league baseball history, five times when a player came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth as the potential final out of a postseason game and managed to drive in the game-winning run. While it must be devastating to be on the losing side, you also can kind of understand when Dodgers manager Joe Torre says, "I just feel very blessed to have had as many opportunities to suffer in a lot of these games, but it's something I wouldn't trade for anything."

One of those five historic games comes to mind immediately: Kirk Gibson, limping out of the Dodgers' dugout in the 1988 World Series, hitting the home run that Jack Buck couldn't believe he just saw. I remember where I was when it happened: in a huge bar in Cleveland, the night before an Eagles game. I also remember what happened when Gibson hit it. Hundreds of people in the bar went predictably crazy, while about a dozen sports writers all sneaked a glance at their wristwatches and shook their heads, wondering what it felt like in that press box as thousands of words of able prose, right on deadline, were suddenly being sacrificed upon the altar of history.

Because that is what it is: sports history. It was like that here on Monday night - a shout of amazement as Rollins hit the ball in the gap, a quick stare at the field as the runs scored and the celebration commenced, and then this furious, violent clattering of keys on laptops, dozens of laptops, all accompanied by a silent prayer that you somehow come close to matching the moment.

One of the things that always attracted me to sports writing was a collection of Red Smith columns I read when I was in high school, and one column always stood out for me, because of one line at the end. It was a column about the first of these five historic baseball comebacks, during the 1947 World Series.

On that day, a New York Yankees pitcher named Bill Bevens was pitching a no-hitter until there were two outs in the ninth inning, when a Brooklyn Dodgers pinch-hitter named Cookie Lavagetto hit a two-run double that wrote the most improbable of endings.

In the column, Smith described teammates mobbing Lavagetto, and stadium ushers running onto the field to mob Lavagetto, and policemen mobbing Lavagetto, and soda vendors celebrating by throwing their white hats in the air. He said Bevens was nowhere to be seen.

Then, Smith wrote, "The unhappiest man in Brooklyn is sitting up here in the far end of the press box. The 'V' on his typewriter is broken. He can't write either Lavagetto or Bevens."

That was in 1947. This was in 2009. There are no V's in Rollins. There are no typewriters. There is only history, in all of its improbable forms. *

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