It had been a dry ten years for baseball in Philadelphia. Since a great eight-year run from 1976-83 that saw the Phillies win five NL East titles, two National League pennants and the World Series in 1980, the Phils had fallen off the radar. Over the next decade they had just one winning season and never seriously contended. The 1993 Philadelphia Phillies were a delightful surprise, coming out of nowhere, winning with flair and color and putting the franchise back into the World Series.
Success started with an offense that scored more runs than anyone in the National League. First baseman John Kruk’s stat line included a dazzling .430 on-base percentage and a .475 slugging percentage. Centerfielder Lenny Dykstra had a final line of .420/482 and stole 37 bases in the process.
Dykstra set the table and Kruk cleaned it up (in both figurative baseball terms and quite literally at the dinner table). But they weren’t alone. Darren Daulton was a productive catcher, hitting 24 home runs and driving in 105 runs. Dave Hollins played third and his stat line was .372/.442. Jim Eisenreich was in rightfield and the final numbers read .363/.445.
Pete Incaviglia officially came off the bench, but the outfielder got plenty of at-bats and he hit 24 homers of his own. Wes Chamberlain provided more depth with a .493 slugging percentage. Kevin Stocker and Mariano Duncan handled platoon duties at short, with Stocker’s OBP coming in at .409. The Phillie lineup was deep, they hit for average, hit for power, hit the ball in the alleys and drew walks. There was nothing not to like.
The pitching wasn’t quite as dominant, but was still reliable. Curt Schilling was at the top of the rotation and Schilling was still just coming into his own. He won 16 games, but the 4.02 ERA was a touch high. Danny Jackson, who had enjoyed some big years in Kansas City and Cincinnati, came to Philly for 1993 and won 12 games with a 3.77 ERA. The best overall ERA was Terry Mulholland’s 3.25 and the best overall statistical line belonged to Tommy Greene, who went 16-4 with a 3.42 ERA in thirty starts.
Manager Jim Fregosi had two reliable setup men in David West and Larry Andersen, each of whom posted sub-3.00 ERAs. And the closer Mitch Williams? Well, “reliable” is probably not the word to describe a loose cannon whose nickname was “The Wild Thing.” But even though Williams could give everyone heart failure, he still saved 43 games and the final ERA of 3.33 was respectable. Philadelphia’s staff ERA was sixth in the 14-team National League.
1993 marked a threshold year for major league baseball. For the past 25 years, each league had been split into just two divisions, an East and a West. Only the first-place finisher went to the postseason. Next season would usher in the current three-divisional alignment and a wild-card. But for now, ’93 would be the last season of the old, more stringent order.
That meant the Phils shared the NL East with not only current members in the New York Mets, Florida Marlins (an expansion team in ’93), Montreal Expos (today’s Washington Nationals), but with future Central Division members in the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. The Atlanta Braves were in the NL West under the geographically tortured alignment of the day.
Pittsburgh had won the NL East for three straight years, but gradual free agent losses reached their apex when the infamous Barry Bonds left for San Francisco prior to 1993. No one was looking at Philadelphia to step up, but there was a clear vacuum at the top and everyone in baseball knew it coming into the season.
The Phils wasted no time in making their mark. They won eight of their first nine games. By Memorial Day, they were a staggering 34-14, seven games ahead of the Expos and plus-nine on the Cubs and Cardinals.
When Philadelphia swept New York four straight in mid-June, the lead in the NL East soared as high as 11 ½ games. The Phils finally started to slow down when they lost a series in Montreal and dropped three of four in St. Louis. Both the Expos and Cardinals played well enough to at least keep in shouting distance of Philadelphia. By the All-Star break, the Phillies were sitting on a 57-32 record. But the Cards were only five back and the Expos still in striking distance at 8 ½ out.
When Philadelphia went to lowly San Diego out of the break and lost three straight, the NL East lead was trimmed to three games. It nudged back up to a four-game margin when St. Louis came to old Veterans Stadium for a three-game series at the end of July.
The Phillie bats were ready. On Tuesday night, Kruk went 5-for-5, Philadelphia was up 7-1 by the second inning and won 10-7. Wednesday night saw the Phils trailing 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh. With Dykstra and Duncan each having three-hit nights at the top of the order, Philadelphia scored nine runs in the late innings and won 14-6.
Thursday afternoon’s getaway day finale wasn’t quite as dramatic, but the end result was the same. In a 4-4 tie in the eighth, Incaviglia and Chamberlain each worked walks. A sac bunt and intentional walk loaded the bases. Dykstra dumped a bloop single over the infield for two runs and a 6-4 win.
Philadelphia’s lead was back up to a comfortable seven games and they went on to sweep Montreal in mid-August. By Labor Day, the Phils were in complete control, 9 ½ ahead of the Expos and up 11 on the Cardinals. But this race was going to get interesting before it was over.
A week at home against the mediocre Cubs and Astros should have been a time to deliver a knockout blow. Instead, the Phillies lost five of seven. The Expos took advantage and sliced the lead down to five games. By the time Philadelphia got to Montreal for a three-game weekend series on September 16, the lead was at four.
Philadelphia grabbed a 7-3 lead in the sixth inning on Friday night, but the bullpen melted down and lost 8-7 in twelve innings. On Saturday night, behind three hits from Stocker and good pitching from Greene, the Phils led 5-1 in the eighth. A three-run homer cut the lead to 5-4 before West and Williams finally closed out the win. On Sunday, a 5-4 lead in the ninth, thanks to a big home run from Hollins, ended up a 6-5 loss.
A series that could have easily been a sweep—or at least two of three—had instead tightened the race further. Philadelphia was plus-three with two weeks to play.
The expansion Marlins were a needed schedule breather and Philadelphia won three straight. They lost a series to Atlanta, who was waging an epic pennant race battle with San Francisco over in the NL West. But Montreal stumbled. When the final week arrived, the Phils were back ahead by five games.
They were in Pittsburgh to open the week with the chance for a symbolic changing-of-the-guard clinching. The Phils won 6-4 on Monday. When the Expos lost, at least a tie for first was assured. On Tuesday, with a Duncan grand slam leading the way, Philadelphia won 10-7. The champagne could finally flow.
To the surprise of most baseball fans, Philadelphia was not done pouring champagne. They went into the National League Championship Series against Atlanta as a clear underdog to the Braves, who had 104 wins and back-to-back pennants. Instead, with Schilling pitching brilliantly and Jackson delivering a clutch performance, the Phils took home the pennant in six games.
Philadelphia was an underdog again in the World Series against the defending champion Toronto Blue Jays. The Phils had their opportunities to win this one, but the play-with-fire qualities of the pitching staff—especially Williams—finally caught up to them. They lost a wild 15-14 game in Game 4. In Game 6, three outs from forcing a seventh game, Williams gave up a walkoff home run to Toronto’s Joe Carter.
The ’93 Phillies were still an unqualified success and this colorful cast of characters, especially Kruk, made them fun to follow and root for fans beyond the eastern Pennsylvania market. What they didn’t have was staying power. The Phillies disappeared from the scene as fast as they had arrived. Their next winning season wasn’t until 2001. And their next playoff appearance didn’t come until 2007, when they finally began another sustained run of success.