It had been a long time coming for the great sports city of Philadelphia. The Phillies might have won the World Series back in 1980 and the 76ers taken the NBA title in 1983, but the intervening quarter-century had been title-less, in a town whose passion for sports is exceeded by none. The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies broke the 25-year slump and won the World Series.
The Phillies had been a consistent winning team since 2003, but it wasn’t until 2007 that they turned winning years into a playoff appearance. The lineup was stacked and led by Ryan Howard, who hit 48 homes runs with 146 RBIs. Pat Burrell hit 33 homers of his own. Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino and Chase Utley were well-balanced offensive threats who got on base and drove the ball to the alleys. It added up to an offense that finished third in the National League in runs scored.
Pitching had been a problem in the non-playoff years, but was gradually improving and nearly matched the bats in 2008, coming in fourth in the league in ERA. Cole Hamels won 14 games with 3.09 ERA as the staff ace in a park that favored hitters. 45-year-old Jamie Moyer posted 16 victories with a 3.71 ERA and closer Brad Lidge was a perfect 41/41 on save opportunities.
Philadelphia was in a tight race in the NL East, trailing the New York Mets by two games at the start of September. The Phils went 17-8 in the final month and won the division by three games with a 92-70 record.
The wild-card Milwaukee Brewers were the opponent in the Division Series and Hamels set an immediate tone for the postseason by throwing eight shutout innings in a 3-1 win. The following afternoon, Victorino hit a second-inning grand slam off Brewer ace C.C. Sabathia to key a 5-2 victory.
Victorino’s heroics would take on added historical significance five years later when he hit another postseason grand slam, this one to win a pennant for the 2013 Boston Red Sox in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
The series reverted to Milwaukee, and the Phils lost Game 3. But a four-homer barrage in Game 4, two by Burrell, keyed a 6-2 rout that wrapped up the series. Victorino went 5-for-14, drew three walks and would have been Division Series MVP if such awards were given in this round.
Philadelphia got homefield advantage for the 2008 National League Championship Series when the Los Angeles Dodgers upended the top seeded Chicago Cubs. Hamels again got the ball for Game 1, and was again sharp, going seven innings and giving up two runs. Philadelphia trailed 2-0 in the bottom of the sixth when an error was followed by a game-tying home run by Utley and then a solo shot from Burrell that gave the margin of victory.
Game 2 saw the Phillies offense pepper away. The scored eight runs in the second and third inning, doing it with nine hits and four walks, and they won the game 8-5. When the series went west, Philadelphia dropped Game 3 and trailed Game 4 by a 5-3 count in the eighth inning, when they got the momentum shift that won a pennant.
Howard singled and Victorino homered to tie the game. Then with two outs, catcher Carlos Ruiz singled and left-handed hitting specialist Matt Stairs hit another home run. Philadelphia won 7-5 and kept the momentum going into Game 5 the next night. Rollins homered to lead off that game, and Hamels seven strong innings keyed a 5-1 win, got him NLCS MVP and put his team in the World Series.
The Tampa Bay Rays were the darlings of America, having suddenly burst on the scene after having been nothing but terrible in their short existence. The Rays won the American League pennant over the Boston Red Sox and were riding a wave of momentum into the 2008 World Series.
Nothing stops momentum like pitching and Hamels did it again, with seven solid frames at Tropicana Field in Game 1. Utley hit a two-run homer and Philadelphia won 3-2. Even though the Rays grabbed Game 2, the Phillies had done what they needed to do in earning a split before the Fall Classic went north.
Game 3 saw the Philadelphia setup relievers cough up a 4-1 lead in the seventh and eighth innings. But in the bottom of the ninth, a hit batsman, wild pitch and two intentional walks gave Ruiz a chance to drive in the game winning run with an infield hit. It was the softest rally possible, but Philly again had the Series lead. Another home run barrage followed in Game 4, with the Phils going deep four times, twice by Howard, in a 10-2 rout.
The fifth game would be one of the strangest in World Series history. Victorino drove in two runs with a first-inning single, but Tampa chipped back and it was tied 3-3 going into the bottom of the sixth. At this point, the rain that had been threatening all night, came pouring down. The game had to be delayed that night and the following night, before play could be resumed in the bottom of the sixth.
Burrell doubled to lead off the seventh and moved to third on a productive out by Victorino. Pedro Feliz then drilled a single to center that gave Philly a 4-3 lead. Tampa Bay would get the tying run to second base with one out in the ninth, but Lidge slammed the door one more. It might have taken an interminable rain delay to get there, but the city of Philadelphia finally had a champion again.