An In-Depth Account Of The Most Heart-Wrenching Game I've Ever Attended: 2011 NLDS Gm. 5 - STL @ PHI
Updated: Sep 21
After coming up short in the 2009 World Series against the Yankees and with the crushing defeat in Game 6 of the 2011 National League Championship Series versus the Giants still stinging, the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies seemed determined to bring a second Commissioners Trophy to the City of Brotherly Love in four years, which would cement themselves as a dynasty. Riding high on a franchise-best 102-win regular season on the backs of one of the best pitching staffs ever assembled and a potent offense, this club was built to get the job done in October. Yet, they had to get past the underdog St. Louis Cardinals first in the National League Division Series. The Cards were nowhere near the juggernaut that the Fightin' Phils were but they were dangerous. Having a ton of momentum after an improbable run in September, erasing an 8-game deficit to swipe the Wild Card away from the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis was playing with house money and scorching hot at the perfect time. After trading blows in the first four games the series came home to Philly for Game 5. Confident with our Clydesdale ace Roy Halladay on the bump, the ball and the city’s hopes were in no better hands. Doc was matched up against his former Blue Jays teammate and longtime friend, Chris Carpenter. It was the first time in their careers that the two Cy Young Award winners had ever dueled each other setting the stage for a classic do-or-die bout.
I can remember being so goddamn stoked and anxious as all hell entering the gates of Citizens Bank Park that night. Before the game, D$ and I huddled around the monitor above Section 325 amid a crowd of onlooking fans on the concourse to catch the ending of Game 5 of the other NLDS series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers. Nyjer Morgan’s walk-off single made the mission clear; take care of business tonight and the boys will welcome Prince Fielder and the Brew Crew to CBP in the next couple nights for Game 1 of the NLCS. That was the mentality. After the national anthem and pregame ceremonies, The Bank was rockin’. With 46,530 rally towels waving in a frenzy, first pitch was on its way. A Rafael Furcal triple to right-center to leadoff the game sucked the life right outta the stadium like a Dementor. Not ideal. Skip Schumaker stepped in the box next. Doc quickly got ahead in the count 0-2 but the scrappy Schumaker kept battling. Doc threw everything in his arsenal around the edges but Schumaker continued fouling off whatever Doc had to offer to stay alive. Finally, after working the count full, on the tenth pitch of the at-bat Schumaker yanked a hanging curve down the right field line and into the corner to drive Furcal in for an RBI double. Just like that, the Phils were down 1-0. Deflating to say the least. But, it’s a long game and we knew Doc had a tendency to struggle out of the gates. Once he settles in, though? The man was damn near invincible. Doc got into a little more trouble in the top of the 1st, allowing a couple more base runners aboard but he managed to get himself out of the jam, limiting the damage to only one run. Alright, so what? Big whoop. The way our lineup could produce? We’ll get it right back no problem. At least that's what we thought.
Schumaker’s RBI double would wind up being the lone run Halladay would surrender all night. As the game drug on, despite Doc stoically gutting it out through seven scoreless frames – allowing six hits and fanning seven over the course eight innings pitched - the Phils couldn’t get one on the board. They threatened a few times and I can recall jumping up fists-clenched out of my seat when Raul Ibanez came oh-so-close to giving the Phils a 3-1 lead when he cranked a towering fly ball to left with runners on the corners. I swore it was gone from our overhead vantage point. Raul got under it just a bit too much and Lance Berkman camped under it on the warning track right before the fence to end the inning. At this juncture, I was getting ticked off at how Carpenter just kept finding ways to remain unscathed with a heavy dosage of off-speed stuff and his defense bailing him out with web gems on multiple occasions.
Fast forward to the top of the 9th and Ryan Madson enters the game in relief of Doc. Mad Dog retires the side 1-2-3 and we head to the bottom of the 9th. Our 2-3-4 hitters are due up; Utley, Pence and Howard. I probably said, “We got this, we got this” to D$ I don’t know how many times as I looked like Forest Gump after drinking too many Dr. Peppers, nervously unable to stand still. Carpenter’s still in the game and visibly exhausted. I can’t recollect if Cardinals manager Tony La Russa even had anybody getting loose in the pen. He was going to roll the dice with Carpenter and let him finish what he started. I really felt deep down the Phils were going to breakthrough and get to him being gassed. So, Utley steps in the box and smokes an absolute piss rocket to one of the farthest parts of the park in right-center field in front of the bullpen. Already positioned deep, Jon Jay ranges over and puts it away. 1 out. Alright, alright. Pence is up next, Howard on deck. Just get on base and let The Big Piece do his thing. Pence rolls one over to third. David Freese handles it with ease and tosses it over to Pujols. 2 down. At this moment I felt like I was about to puke. Like a shaman performing a ritual I've got my hands to my face rocking back-and-forth, praying to the baseball gods that Howard knots this thing up with one mighty hack. Please, PLEASE don’t let this dominant season that seemed destined to culminate with another raucous parade down Broad Street come to an end like this.
The crowd is on it's feet as it had been for virtually the whole game, holding onto hope that Howard can deliver. On a 2-2 pitch, Howard pulls a grounder to second base and abruptly crumples on the base path after busting it out of the box, immediately grabbing his lower left leg. "What the fuck just happened?!" is my immediate response. Nick Punto routinely fielded it, runs over towards first after noticing Howard is down and flips it to Pujols for the final out. Dunzo. Game over, man. Game over. The surreal scene that unfolded of the Cardinals streaming out of the dugout to mob Carpenter and ripping his jersey off while Howard is writhing in agony on the ground as team trainers and coaches rushed off the bench to his aid is singed in my brain forever. The Big Piece looked like a bear caught in a snare. D$ and I stared frozen at the diamond below for what felt like an eternity. We couldn't believe it.
Now, I like to compare this game to a ripe onion. It’s bound to bring a tear to my eye whenever I dice it up, it contains layer upon layer of haunting ramifications and the stench has lingered in the schnoz of Philly sports fans ever since. And I’m not talking about the beautiful aroma of fried onions that hits you as you walk through the shiny doors of Jim’s Steaks at 2 a.m. that seeps into the fabric of your clothes for you to savor the next morning whenever you wake up in a still-drunken stupor. Nah. I’m talking about the kind of foul body odor that you can imagine would radiate off a lard-ass umpire who forgot to apply Old Spice in his pits before calling both games of a double-header behind the plate in 100°+ heat and both games went into extras. Yeah … lots of dead flies around tubby. On the broadest layer, the Phils' World Series dreams were dashed in an excruciating 1-0 shutout in an elimination game from the confines of their home ballpark. But to add instant insult to injury the powerful slugger who had been a vital cog in the heart of their order over the past seven seasons ruptures his Achilles on the last play of the game, leaving a cloud of uncertainty looming over the franchise heading into that off-season and beyond. A steep decline ensued for Howard as residual effects of the injury impeded him from ever regaining his status as a one of the premier, most fearsome power hitters in Major League Baseball.
Although Howard's injury will obviously be the one that sticks out like a thorn for Philly sports fans as it signified the window closing shut on the greatest era in team history, there is another player who got hurt that dropped into an even more devastating tailspin off the field. That player was none other than Roy Halladay. As revealed in the ESPN E:60 documentary, 'Imprefect: The Roy Halladay Story', Doc's wife, Brandy, said that he felt a "pop in his back" early on in the game. The pain was so intense that Halladay collapsed to all fours on their bedroom floor later that night after he sneezed and remained on the floor for some time unable to pick himself up. This chronic back pain persisted and forced Doc to retire in 2013 following two injury-riddled campaigns along with being the root of his addiction to prescription pills. As we all know, Doc's life would be tragically taken in a fatal plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Clearwater, Florida in November of 2017. He was performing aerial stunts in his cherished ICON A5 aircraft while under the influence of a handful of pills. So, not only did this loss usher out the most successful span in club history but it ipso facto lead to death of one of the most revered players to ever don red pinstripes. I mean, think about it. Due to Doc's workhorse demeanor he resorted to pain killers to numb the agony because he felt indebted to the fans in this city and their overwhelming adoration drove him to do whatever it took to win a championship, even if that jeopardized his own well-being. This defeat literally killed Roy Halladay.
D$ and I finally left our seats and shuffled into the somber mass exodus of pissed off, sulking fans out of the stadium. We snapped out of the trance we were in once we got onto the concourse. Both of us exploded into expletives in unison with the drone of venting fans. Genius me decided to punch, kick and smack whatever metal trash can, pillar or sign I walked past. When we approached the stairs, D$ is muttering in strange tongues by now. He's fuming. We reach the landing of the first set of steps. D$ suddenly crow hops and hurls his rally towel over the railing. I lean over to watch the piece of cloth slowly drift and fall to the ground. You know the feather tranquilly floating in the wind in 'Forest Gump'? This was the polar opposite. A sad, depressing score like 'The Lonely Man Theme' from 'The Incredible Hulk' TV series would do the moment justice. Better yet, Simon & Garfunkel's 'The Sound of Silence'. I was living in a "Hello darkness, my old friend" meme before it was even a thing. It is the quintessential heartbreak of my Philly sports fandom thus far. The rally towel - an emblem that we waved proudly and collected as souvenirs from all the playoff games D$ and I attended throughout those five golden years - fluttering from at least three stories high down into a sea of zombified fans below. Nothing could've been more bleakly symbolic of that chapter of Phillies baseball closing. The next two seasons I was in denial, convincing myself that their run wasn't over. But, after the final out was recorded that night, deep down ... I knew.
So! Want even more dreary content?! Stay posted for a countdown of the most heartbreaking losses in Philly sports over the past 20 years to see where this soul-crusher ranks. It might be wise to keep a couple cold ones ready. You'll need 'em!