Here they were again: Trailing by one run in the ninth inning, facing an excellent closer, the Phillies seemed ready to lose. And if this team did not possess a strange, almost illogical self-assurance, it might have.
"Borderline extremely cocky that they're going to come back every single time," Brad Lidge said when asked to describe the mind-set of his offense.
The Phils are known for a sudden uptick in intensity late in games - and last night's 5-4 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers might be remembered as one of the era's signature comebacks.
This one began quietly, when Matt Stairs drew a one-out walk against closer Jonathan Broxton, whom he embarrassed with a memorable playoff home run last October. Broxton hit Carlos Ruiz with a pitch, then got pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs to pop up.
That quieted the sellout crowd and dampened the team's hopes of late drama. Jimmy Rollins represented his team's last chance of taking an intimidating lead of three games to one in the National League Championship Series.
And what did Rollins do? He sent a 1-1, 99-m.p.h fastball to right field, scoring both runners with a double and winning the game. His teammates met him at third base, collapsing on top of the shortstop, whose already-impressive legacy will be forever elevated by that moment.
Now, just one more win stands between the Phils and an unprecedented second consecutive World Series appearance.
"The pileup and beat-down that happens afterwards, that can be dangerous," a smiling Rollins said later. "Especially when Ryan Howard is the first one out. . . . I didn't want to get crushed, so I just got in a fetal position and started throwing punches."
Minutes later, the players toasted Rollins in the clubhouse dining area, saluting the former MVP, whose personality has long been a strong force for these Phils.
"He likes the moment," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He wants to be there, and he can control his adrenaline and handle the moment. . . . Jimmy Rollins, he strives. The bigger the stage, the better he likes to play. The more people watching him, he likes the mike, he likes to talk, that's the way he is. I like everything about his personality."
Rollins agreed that he was able to focus in on moments as significant as the one that faced him last night. "Things so slow down," he said. "You already have it planned out in your head how you want things to go. Sometimes it goes that way, sometimes it doesn't. But being confident in your ability helps a lot."
In this case, Rollins planned on seeing inside fastballs from Broxton, the closer's usual plan against him. Rollins was somewhat surprised when Broxton began the at-bat with a fastball away, but the righthander came in with his next pitch.
The 1-1 heater arrived exactly where Rollins expected it to. "I just said that I'm going to sit on this pitch," he said. "A fastball in, sit there and catch it."
He did just that, scoring pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett and Ruiz to win the game.
The comeback was made possible by an effective night from Phils relievers Chan Ho Park, Ryan Madson, Scott Eyre, and Brad Lidge. They kept the game close after Joe Blanton left after six trailing, 4-3.
Along with lefthander J.A. Happ, Blanton was the Phils' most reliable rotation member this season, but he had not started since Oct. 2. Manuel viewed Blanton as a solution to his bullpen issues during the division series, believing the righthander to be durable and unflappable enough to plug leaks caused by injuries.
When Park's hamstring healed in time for the NLCS, Manuel had another reliever capable of quieting the Dodgers for several innings at a time. So Blanton returned to the rotation, and received his long-awaited first starting assignment of this year's playoffs last night.
He was perfect through the first 31/3 innings but allowed runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth. The tone of the game had begun to shift by the middle innings. Former Philllie Randy Wolf solidified after Howard homered in the first, and pitched well for 51/3 innings.
The Phils drew closer in the sixth, but missed a chance to take the lead. Shane Victorino hit a one-out triple, and later scored on Chase Utley's single. Batting with two on and two out, Raul Ibanez laced a ball into left field that appeared likely to tie the game. But Manny Ramirez made an unlikely grab, reaching to pick the ball from just above his shoes.
That kept the score at 4-3, where it would remain until the ninth. For Rollins, the ending ranked among his very favorite moments. "Last at-bat I had, victory for the Phillies," he said. "So it would probably have to be at the top by far."