by | Oct 21, 1993 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

PHILADELPHIA — The magic ran out after midnight, with the soft thud of the ball in the catcher’s mitt. Lenny Dykstra didn’t even look. He heard the umpire yell strike three, and he dropped his frozen bat and just walked away. After all he had done, including two home runs and four RBIs in this game, after all his team had done, scoring 14 runs in seven innings, sending runners home as if opening a pigeon coop and yelling “Fly, birds, fly!” — after all that, it was strike three, looking. The throats were dry, the tank was empty, and Dykstra heard the distant sound of a glass slipper breaking.

The magic ran out.

And the World Series was over. Not officially. Not even technically. Even after Veterans Stadium emptied sadly Wednesday night, final score Toronto 15, Philadelphia 14, there was at least one more game to play in this Fall Classic
— not that “classic” should be associated with a game in which 29 runs are scored. “Football” might be a better word.

Still, after all the carnage, the Blue Jays had only a 3-1 lead. They must win one more to pop champagne. And yet, you know they will. You know this is over, history tells us so. You lose a game like this, a game that you figured was done, over, in your pocket, well, you don’t come back — you have a hard time breathing, let alone coming back.

The Phillies, a wonderful collection of characters, had been living on a spit-and-glue spirit, and had they held on to the lead Wednesday night that, at one point, was 14-9, they would be snorting and huffing this morning, ready to kill.

They didn’t. And they’re not.

The magic ran out, some time after midnight.

Win, and let’s have a burger

“Do you ever remember a team coming back from a deficit like that?” someone asked Toronto’s Devon White, who tripled in a six-run eighth inning that secured the Blue Jays’ victory. “Have you ever been involved in a game like this?”

“Well, I never played Little League,” White said, laughing, “so I’d have to say no.”

Little League. A good comparison. This was one of those games where it felt like the last team up would win and then we’d all go to McDonald’s. Pitching excellence? Forget it. Pitching competence? Forget it.

This was pitching nonexistence. I half expected to see the fathers standing behind the backstop yelling, “That’s OK, Bobby, just try to get it over the plate!”

Eleven pitchers appeared in this game. Only the last guy standing was memorable. Duane Ward got the final strike on Dykstra in the eighth, and the last three outs of the ninth. The rest of the pitchers were pretty awful.

“It seemed like every guy who came in was going to give up at least a run, or two, or three, or nine,” Ward said. “It was all over the place.”

Indeed. And it started right after the national anthem. Philadelphia’s Tommy Greene loaded the bases, then walked in the first run, a bad sign if there ever was one.

Three runs later, in the bottom of the first, Toronto’s Todd (“Where’s the Plate?”) Stottlemyre began a debacle of his own, throwing something like 1,457 straight balls, walking everybody, giving up four runs in the opening frame.

In fact, thanks to the no-DH rule in National League parks, Stottlemyre got to show his incompetence in two disciplines — pitching and base running. As a career American Leaguer, Stottlemyre has run the bases about as often as Elvis ordered the diet plate. It showed. He tried to go from first to third on a single, dove headfirst towards the bag, and came up bleeding from the chin. Trainers rushed out. Stottlemyre was dazed. He said he didn’t know where

he was.

Considering the way he was pitching, I’d call that selective amnesia.

By the way, he was out at third.

Wild Thing can share this one

But by the time this game was over — which, I believe, came about the time “Morning Benediction” appears on TV — Stottlemyre was a distant memory. There had been Al Leiter, who was useless, and David West, who was useless, and Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams, who was clueless. Williams got tagged with the loss, although, truth be told, a collapse like this should be shared with everyone.

And it will be, on the radio talk shows here in Philly, and in the acerbic newspaper columns, and in the saloons and corner taverns that keep this city breathing and arguing the way it has for years and years — in all those places, the Phillies will be written off. Thanks for a wild and crazy time. It was fun while it lasted. But when you can’t hold a 14-9 lead in your own stadium, you are not destined to win anything.

At one point during this game, the phone lines between the dugout and the bullpen went down. And then it started to rain. And then came that moment in the eighth, when Dykstra — whose tobacco drool and nail-like attitude had come to symbolize this team — struck out looking with the Phils behind by one.

Some will call that coincidence. Not me.

You know what I call that?

Sign from God.

The magic ran out. It’s a trot to the finish line now, and a Canadian sunset, yet again, over autumn’s last ballpark.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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