PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Phillies are a phenomenon. Perhaps that is the only way to describe the last-to-first, rough-and-tumble run that finally carried them to the National League pennant last night.
The Atlanta Braves had all the horses, but it will be a bunch of junkyard dogs who will travel to Canada this weekend to open the World Series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Right-hander Tommy Greene pitched a strong seven innings and the Phillies roughed up 20-game winner Greg Maddux on the way to a 6-3 pennant-clinching victory before a rowdy sellout crowd of 62,502 at Veterans Stadium.
How improbable it must have seemed seven months ago, when the Phillies arrived at spring training in Clearwater, Fla. They had finished the 1992 season in sixth place -- 26 games behind the division-winning Pittsburgh Pirates -- but they came back to dominate the National League East and dispatch the Braves in six games.
"They've been called a lot of characters," said manager Jim Fregosi, "but they have a lot of character. They can look back 10 years from now and say they were winners."
How disappointing it must have been for the Braves and their fans. They have been to the party each of the past three years and they have come up short each time. This is the first time in those three years that they have come up short of the World Series, which had to be particularly disheartening for an organization that stretched itself to the financial limit to acquire Maddux and assemble the best starting rotation in baseball.
Maddux became the last line of defense after the Phillies won two of three games in Atlanta to come home for two shots at the clincher, but he took a line drive off his knee and struggled with his control throughout 5 2/3 innings of work.
So much for the regrets. The Phillies used several cases of champagne to wash off the accumulated dust of the 101 victories required to get them into the World Series for the first time since 1983.
No doubt, they raised a toast to catcher Darren Daulton, who delivered a two-out, two-run double to put them ahead in the third inning. Then there was Dave Hollins, whose two-run home run in the fifth made sure that they stayed ahead. And don't forget Greene, who was cuffed around rudely in Game 2, but came back to show why he has been all but unbeatable at the Vet this year.
Finally, the game and the pennant was placed in the hands of relief closer Mitch Williams, who had made the series much more interesting than it had to be. This time, he pitched a perfect inning and delivered the perfect ending.
It was not just about last night, of course. The party would not have taken place without former Orioles pitcher Curt Schilling, who delivered two outstanding performances and was named the Most Valuable Player of the NLCS. It would not have happened without leadoff man Len Dykstra, whose 10th-inning home run won Game 5 and whose hard-scrabble personality is the heart and soul of the team.
They were all there, bubbling with confidence and ready to take on the Blue Jays in an all-artificial turf war for the world championship.
If the Phillies were in a charitable mood, they might have lifted a glass to Braves shortstop Jeff Blauser, who was the only Atlanta player who wouldn't give in to their magic. He drove in all three Braves runs with an RBI single and a two-run homer.
"We have played the Atlanta club very tough last year and this year," Fregosi said. "They are a great team and a great organization. We should take a lot of pride that we beat that ballclub, because they are a great ballclub."
, The Braves had to like their
chances going into the game. They had the National League ERA champion on the mound against a pitcher who was hammered by the Braves in Game 2.
Maddux had given up just two runs on five hits over seven innings in the first matchup with Greene, but he may have been knocked off balance last night when he took a hard shot off his right knee in the first inning.
The sharp grounder by Mickey Morandini hit Maddux solidly enough to bring manager Bobby Cox and trainer Jeff Porter to the mound. Maddux shook it off, but he immediately walked first baseman John Kruk and struggled with his control throughout the early innings.
He gave up a pair of line drives in the second and made a very costly mistake in the third, walking Greene to start a two-run Phillies rally. Dykstra followed with an AstroTurf chopper over the right side of the infield and Maddux loaded the bases with a two-out walk to Hollins before Daulton dropped a line drive right on the right-field foul line for a two-run double.
Daulton is coming off a tremendous regular season, but he had not been an impact player in the first five games of the series. He hit a home run in Game 5, but had just three hits in 15 at-bats coming into last night.