In the interest of full disclosure, I appear in two of the four programs in this immensely important set, and I even get a close-up in the last one.
I thought that being at Game Five of the 2008 World Series, a game that took place on two nights over a three day period, would be the highlight of my life as a Phillies' fan. You'd think it would be difficult to beat attending a World Series clincher, only the second in franchise history, and lingering for hours afterward soaking in the euphoria and even getting sprayed with champagne by Greg Dobbs as he ran a victory lap down the first base line.
But in 2010 the Phillies had Roy Halladay, soon to become only the fifth player to win a Cy Young in both leagues, and on October 6 at 5:08 PM, I had just settled into my seat to watch him throw his first-ever post-season pitch . By the sixth inning I began taking pictures of a scoreboard pleasantly dotted with zeroes. And right around 7:42 PM I realized that for the rest of my life I would now be able to say “I've been to half of the no-hitters in post-season history.” And that, I think, tops even a World Series win, though I can still taste that champagne.
There have only been two great eras in Phillies baseball. The first one was marked by a whole lot of playoff frustration and one glorious and unexpected victory. The current one has rolled in waves, with the Phillies chasing down the hapless Mets in 2007, winning with their home-built core in 2008, and then adding superstars as they became an unlikely NL juggernaut, spending like drunken Steinbrenners and winning 102 games behind one of the greatest rotations of the modern era. A second championship hasn't followed, but the only fans who are complaining are the ones too young to remember all the years with Ricky Jordan batting cleanup and Omar Daal starting on opening day.
This “Essential” set commemorates both golden eras as well as the desert bloom of 1993, a World Series appearance that marked the team's only winning season of the decade. In reverse chronological order, the four games in the set are:
2010 NLDS Game 1 vs. CIN , October 6, 2010
The Phillies were coming off consecutive World Series appearances and gave fans every reason to expect a third one as they faced off against the Reds. Roy Halladay had proven his regular season dominance, but some experts predicted that his lack of playoff experience would be a problem. To be fair, he did walk a guy. When Halladay got Brandon Phillips to hit a nubber in front of the plate for the final out of a no-hitter, fans were certain this was a team of destiny. They were wrong, but what a moment.
2008 WORLD SERIES Game 5 vs. TB, Oct 27 and Oct 29, 2008
It was even colder than it looked. I sincerely believe I was on the verge of hypothermia when the game was finally suspended after the 6th inning thanks to a freezing rain that the local weather team promised wouldn't be a problem. But it was worth it for bragging rights; I spent the next two days telling people I was still at the game. Geoff Jenkins's double, Chase Utley's fake to first and gun-him-out-at-the-plate, Eric Hinske's strike out, Carlos Ruiz and Brad Lidge with a hug for the ages. And all of that happened in about an hour once the game finally re-started.
1993 NLCS Game 6 vs. ATL, Oct 13, 1993
A team full of “throwbacks” magically stayed healthy all year long, hit the cover off the ball, and pitched well enough to go from worst in 1992 to first in 1993. So did the Braves. The Braves were about to embark on more than a decade of total regular season dominance. The Phillies would revert to being the Phillies. But for this series, the throwbacks took charge and Mitch Williams punched out Bill Pecota to give the team a shot at glory. For a generation of fans, this was just about the only major highlight over a quarter century of baseball. It wasn't bad. F*** you, Joe Carter.
1980 NLCS Game 5 vs. HOU, Oct 12, 1980
In the deciding game of one of the greatest playoff series ever, the Phillies entered the top of the 8th down 5-2 and facing Nolan Ryan. Their top three hitters would finish the game with one hit. Mike Schmidt went 0 for 5. They had a light-hitting second baseman batting fifth. Even a team dubbed the Comeback Kids had little hope, but as the inning kicked off, Phillies announcer Harry Kalas wasn't buying into the gloom: “The Phillies have bounced back all year. Don't quit on 'em yet!” Give 'em hell, Harry!
Larry Bowa flipped a single into left field, fleet-footed Bob Boone grounded one off Ryan's glove for an infield hit, Greg Gross dropped a perfect bunt single, Pete Rose worked a lengthy bases-loaded walk, and five runs would score before the Astros finally ended the misery. The Astros naturally stormed right back to tie it in the bottom of the inning, forcing the fourth consecutive extra-inning contest of the series, and making the Phils work just a little harder to earn their first trip to the World Series in thirty years.
The games are presented as originally broadcast, from MLB's archives. The quality of MLB video from all but the most recent seasons is often shockingly mediocre. The 1980 game has poor image detail and several significant defects, including some missing footage (Terry Puhl's AB in the 10th inning is mysteriously skipped). It's certainly still watchable, but it looks like a third-generation VHS dub. The other games are better, but the 1993 broadcast is still not flawless. 2008 and 2010 are stronger, though certainly not razor sharp.
The best feature about many of these MLB sets is the choice of alternate audio streams provided. For the 1980 game, you can select the National TV broadcast or the Local TV broadcast with Harry Kalas, Richie Ashburn, and Tim McCarver. The local feed cuts out very quickly at the end of innings and even drops out entirely at some points – there are a few minutes missing right after the Phils take the lead in the 8th.
The 1993 game offers the National TV Play-by-play and the Phillies Radio Call. For some reason, the radio option is plagued with interference – loud buzzes and other interference every few minutes. Otherwise, it's OK.
The 2008 game offers the most options: English and Spanish National TV Play-by-play, Phillies Radio and Devil Rays Radio. These audio streams are pretty solid.
The 2010 game carries both the National TV Play-by-play and the Phils Radio Call. These are also pretty solid overall.
Aside from the audio options, there are no extras included.
Each game is housed in its own slim disc. Each disc sports cover art featuring the cover of a Phillies' playoff program, which is a nice touch.
The first three games in this set have been released over the years in other packages, so Phils fans with a full DVD library are being asked to pony up just to get their hands on the Halladay no-hitter. At the very least, a significant number of fans already have the 2008 World Series on disc so they're paying for at least one partial double-dip. But the four games included certainly live up to the adjective “essential.” Did I mention that I've been to half of the no-hitters in post-season history?