The last time the New York Yankees came to town the Philadelphia Phillies were “World Champions of Baseball,” as the late beloved announcer Harry Kalas would say.
That was back in 2009 when the Phils were trying to become the first National League team to successfully defend their crown since the Big Red Machine of 1975-76, which featured Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, and Joe Morgan.
When newcomer Cliff Lee, who had replaced 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels as the staff ace, stifled Joe Girardi’s club 6-1 at Yankee Stadium to open the 2009 World Series, they seemed on their way.
However, the Yankees took the next three games, twice coming from behind.
Lee kept the Phillies alive in Game 5, leading them to an 8-6 win, and forcing the series back to the Bronx. That’s where eventual World Series MVP Hideki Matsui crushed a homer and had six RBIs as the Yankees clinched their 27th world title.
“It was a memorable series because that Philadelphia club was so good and it was two cities that were very passionate about their sports,” said former Yankees’ bench coach Rob Thomson, now serving in that same capacity for Gabe Kapler’s Phillies.
“There was such high energy every night, it didn’t matter where we were playing. Coming down here we saw it was a really nice ballpark, just like the new Yankee Stadium. That was a special year for us.”
Three Yankees from that 2009 team still wear the pinstripes. Pitchers C.C. Sabathia and David Robertson and outfielder Brett Gardner – along with bullpen coach Mike Harkey. But there’s no one remaining in Philadelphia from that 2009 group.
While there was every reason to believe that both clubs would be contenders for years, neither has returned to the Fall Classic since.
In the meantime, the San Francisco Giants have won three titles, joined by the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Royals, Houston Astros, and even the Chicago Cubs.
“It’s crazy how it’s worked out like that,” said Gardner, who went 0-for-10 in the series. Gardner also admitted that he let his nerves get the best of him.
“At that time I don’t want to say you take it for granted and think it’ll be something that happens every year. But it’s harder now than ever before.”
“We’ve been close. It’s hard to get back,” shrugged Sabathia, then in his first season in New York after coming over from the Milwaukee Brewers.
“It was intense,” he added. “It’s the World Series. I’m glad we came out with the win.”
In the process, New York foiled Phillies’ revenge plans 58 years in the making.
“Growing up a Phillies fan and thinking of the Whiz Kids, they played one of those great Yankees teams in 1950 and lost four close games, the first three by one run,” recalled longtime public address announcer Dan Baker.
“It was a good series, but Brad Lidge wasn’t the same as the previous year. Cole Hamels wasn’t the same as he’d been the previous year, but it was exciting,” said Baker.
It’s unlikely this week’s meeting at Citizens Bank Park is a preview of what’s to come—at least this year. But perhaps, sooner rather than later, the Phillies and Yankees will again be on a collision course.