Rollins looking to own October
Phillies shortstop wants to make World Series memories
PHILADELPHIA -- Jimmy Rollins can't forget the "uh oh" moment of Oct. 15, 1988, when as a 9-year-old, he watched Kirk Gibson hobble to the plate against Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the World Series between the Dodgers and A's.
The closer for his beloved Oakland club had to retire a broken-down outfielder with a long postseason resume of big moments. There was the home run off Goose Gossage in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series and the shot in the 1987 American League Championship Series off Frank Viola. Though Gibson had batted .154 in 26 at-bats for the National League Championship Series for Los Angeles, he smacked two home runs.Uh oh. "I knew something bad was going to happen," Rollins said. "I just had that feeling. 'Man, this isn't good. ... Don't throw a slider. ... Oh, no, he threw him a slider. ... Please be a fly ball.'" When he saw A's right fielder Jose Canseco turn his back to watch, he knew. "I cried," Rollins said. "I was sad for a long time. I'm still upset about it." Though he has met Gibson, now the bench coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, many times, Rollins said he's never brought up his tortured childhood moment. Why should he? To Rollins, it was just a "great player who had an opportunity to do something special and did." It was October, Gibson's time to shine. Though he'd play for seven more seasons after 1988, he'd never have another postseason at-bat, and that fist-pumping trot around the bases in '88 defined his productive Major League career. Injuries prevented Gibson from reaching Hall of Fame numbers, but not from making a Hall of Fame moment. This is the month for moments like that, and Rollins would love the chance to make a kid's baseball childhood, even if that indirectly ruins another's. His hardships center around 1988-90, when Oakland advanced thrice to the World Series. He quickly smiles bringing up 1989, when "West Bay beat East Bay" in the World Series, then shakes his head at the thought of 1990. Bring up Reds third baseman Chris Sabo (.563 batting average and two homers in the '90 series) or Jose Rijo (0.59 ERA in two starts) and his brown eyes lose some of their twinkle. "That was another bad World Series," he said. "I used to hate Chris Sabo, with those big ol' bifocals. I couldn't stand him. He just raked us. And Jose Rijo, you couldn't get a hit off him." Rollins has a chance to be that guy in 2008. He can channel Kirby Puckett, who twice carried the Twins to a World Series, Derek Jeter (a .309 career postseason hitter) and David Ortiz (11 postseason homers and a .317 average).
Or he can be Alex Rodriguez, who is often criticized for poor Octobers, despite a .279 average with seven homers, or Barry Bonds (.245 average and nine homers, with four coming in the 2002 World Series).In the 2007 NL Division Series, Rollins went 2-for-11 (.182), part of a three-game team malaise that forced a first-round exit to the Rockies. Rollins, a player who relishes the spotlight, said he won't let that define who he is as a player. "No matter how many postseasons you play, you're going to play a lot more regular-season games," he said. "The stakes are just higher in the postseason. Every little thing is magnified, whether it's justifiable or not. October doesn't define who you are as a player, just who you are when you had that opportunity." "You look at [Rodriguez's] numbers and say, 'Well, he doesn't do it when it counts.' Well, it counts for something to get there, too. If you have six great months and happen to struggle for one week, hopefully, it's not that week, because if it is, you will get crushed. All of a sudden, you can't do it anymore. Sometimes you get tired. You've got to carry a team for a long season. That's why we've got to uplift Ryan Howard, to make sure he's not tired yet." Rollins said this while sitting in the Phillies' dugout Tuesday, less than 24 hours away from the Phillies' second playoff appearance in as many seasons. He has a second chance at a special opportunity, one he and his teammates can share together. He shrugged off a left ankle injury and a summer slump this season to bat .313 in September. He stole a career-high 47 bases. He sent his team to the playoffs with a division-winning double play, which served to prove his point about moments meaning more because of the calendar. He's heard teammates and announcers call the play "amazing" and "spectacular." That doesn't suit him. "I've seen the play," he said, with a laugh. "I wasn't impressed. I've made that play a number of times with a runner in scoring position. It's not like I was laid all the way out, and flipped it over my head. It's almost a routine play, a ground ball up the middle, and I make that play." Blame the time of year. Another good month and the Phillies will be the first of the four major Philadelphia sports teams to win a championship since 1983, when the 76ers did it. If they do, Rollins and his teammates will own a city hungry to celebrate. Maybe that will quiet what Rollins called the "noise" of playing in Philadelphia. "There's always noise in Philly, always," he said. "Nothing is ever going to be just great. There's always going to be something. That's how the town operates. [With a championship], we'd get probably a year break. We'd get about a year." And if Rollins could have a Gibson moment? "That would be fine," he said. "Because you know what that means? I have some rings."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.