07/12/09 12:50 AM ET
High five: Late rally lifts Phillies
Vice President Biden sees 'incredible' Philadelphia win
By David Gurian-Peck / MLB.com
He had told his wife, Jill, that Ryan Howard was going to hit a home run in the ninth inning.
Howard did just that, a 420-foot, three-run, game-tying shot to left-center field. Raul Ibanez then doubled, and two batters later, Paul Bako singled him home to cap off an improbable comeback. The Phillies scored five in the ninth off Pirates closer Matt Capps to beat the Bucs, 8-7, in front of 45,209 fans and one vice president.
"It was incredible," said Biden, donning a Phillies cap and posing for a photo with Howard outside the home clubhouse. "I loved it. You know, the thing about the Phillies is, you never gave up."
The pitch to Howard was a fastball low and inside, and the Phils slugger said he was sitting on a fastball.
So was Matt Stairs, who began the inning by doing what he does best: hitting a pinch-hit home run, his fourth of the season. Trailing by four, Stairs turned around Capps' 3-1 offering and sent it well beyond the right-field wall, a carryover of what the veteran described as a strong batting practice.
"The fans came alive there," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I think Stairs' homer kind of woke 'em up a little bit -- and woke the dugout up, too."
Jimmy Rollins, who had matched a career high with three stolen bases, walked. The crowd got louder.
Shane Victorino hit a fly ball deep to the right-center-field warning track. The ball barely stayed in the yard and was caught, but the crowd got louder.
Chase Utley singled to the opposite field. The crowd got louder.
Then came Howard, readying himself for Monday's Home Run Derby in grand fashion.
"I was talking to him during the game about his hitting and seeing the ball good," said Manuel, describing a conversation nearly as prescient as the vice president's.
For Ibanez, it was a triumphant return to the lineup after a three-plus-week absence because of a strained left groin. He doubled in a run and scored in the sixth inning. Manuel was planning on taking him out, not wanting the 37-year-old All-Star to play a full nine innings. But Ibanez told his manager in the dugout that he was feeling fine and wanted to remain in the game.
Manuel obliged, and Ibanez rewarded him with another double and the game-winning run in the outfielder's first game since June 17.
Then there's Bako, a journeyman who came to the plate with his 11th team in 12 years and had a .174 batting average entering Saturday. But the Citizens Bank Park faithful chanted his name -- "BA-KO, BA-KO" -- with the bases loaded. And hours after Manuel had praised the light-hitting backstop's ability to hit effectively enough, Bako delivered a line-drive single through the drawn-in Pirates infield.
"My approach goes to survival mode," Bako said. "I'm glad my ball went through, but as I said, the hard part was already done."
The Phillies' fourth walk-off win of the season was, as Manuel said, "a big pick-me-up, of course."
It also erased an ineffective outing from starter Cole Hamels, who was touched for three home runs and four doubles by one of the least powerful offenses in the National League. Pittsburgh entered the night ranked 15th in homers and 13th in slugging percentage. The three players who homered -- Garrett Jones, Delwyn Young and Andrew McCutchen -- had combined for just six long balls prior to Saturday.
But even if it wasn't pretty, Hamels battled. He bounced back from his early command issues, tossing four scoreless innings after allowing five runs his first two frames.
"I know every time I came in after putting up a zero, the guys kept saying, 'Good job. You're keeping us in there. We're going to get those runs,'" Hamels said. "And they did."
Indeed, they did.
It was Philadelphia's 26th come-from-behind win, fourth in as many nights and most dramatic in a while. The Phillies have a four-game lead in the National League East, as the second-place Marlins lost to the D-backs on Saturday.
"We know we have the capability of getting guys on [base], and we have the power in the lineup," Stairs said. "Is it going to happen again? Who knows? It's just a good night for us to do it."
David Gurian-Peck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.