I have a charm bracelet of sports memories. Each charm is an unforgettable moment I’ve witnessed first hand. There are silver charms–trips to different ballparks and arenas, near no-hitters, milestone hits, regular season games that lasted long into the morning (one of which ended with an inside the park home run long after last call). But the gold charms, they are the supposedly once-in-a-lifetime moments–a cycle, a triple play, a nearly perfect no-hitter.
All of these are on my bracelet. Each is a gift. And today, I added a 24k charm.
Today was an absolutely perfect day for baseball, mostly sunny, low 70s, pleasantly breezy. I was at the raggedy old Vet on a Sunday afternoon only because I really want to be there for the last game in the building at the end of the season and could only manage to get a ticket for that otherwise sold-out game by buying a 13-game Sunday season ticket plan.
A mass of local mascots and hilarious group of so-called Zooperstars gathered with the Phanatic and a few hundred of his fans on the field pregame to celebrate the big green guy’s birthday. (I am the rare baseball purist who loves mascots.) Because of the weather, the Phillies’ promising start, and the Phanatic’s birthday party, there were 40,016 paying customers in the much maligned stadium.
Of course, the kids might have preferred a slugfest, but the adults were in for a very special party favor.
Phillies ace Kevin Millwood walked Ray Durham, the first Giant he faced, but Durham was caught stealing on the third pitch of Marquis Grissom’s at bat. Grissom struck out, and Rich Aurelia flew out to left. And even then, after one-half inning, I had that funny feeling I was about to see something special.
In the bottom of the first, Giants starter Jesse Foppert made one mistake, and Ricky Ledee blasted it to right center, just over the wall. That one run was all the Phillies would need.
After Millwood faced the minimum nine hitters through three, I started to get aggravated. If I was going to see another no hitter in which the pitcher faced 27 batters and didn’t get the perfect game, I was going to be annoyed. Yes, I know it was early, but Millwood had struck out five through three and was clearly confusing the best offensive NL team to date in 2003. Millwood was kind enough to walk Aurelia in the fourth, so I was no longer worried about near perfection spoiled.
Even then, after Barry Bonds flew out to deep right to end the top of the fourth, I turned to the fellow next to me and said, “The hardest part of that guy’s day is going to be getting Bonds out again.” Apparently, Millwood agreed. He later said he started thinking it was possible after he struck Bonds out to end the seventh.
The seventy-second pitch of the game was the closest Kevin Millwood came to missing his date with his own destiny. On the first pitch of the seventh inning, Grissom drove a ball deep to center field, and Ricky Ledee (remember him?) made the all-out running away from the plate leaping backhanded catch (it looked much better in person than it does on replay) to prevent the Giants from putting a number in that middle column of the scoreboard.
Now the game had everything required. I was quite calmly convinced Millwood would finish out. The hit-saving catch needed for any no-hit bid had been provided by the guy who put the only run of the day on the board.
For some reason, the two guys to my right picked the bottom of the seventh to move down a row. I was very concerned they were messing with the mojo, but they blithely discounted my fears.
Millwood came to bat in bottom of the seventh and received his due from the by-now buzzing crowd. I’ve never so wanted for a pitcher not to get a hit. It almost seemed that the flow of the game, with both pitchers moving fairly well through each other’s lineups was allowing Millwood to keep his rhythm. And I didn’t want any time on the base paths to interfere with that. Millwood kindly flew out to center to end the seventh.
All day, except for the Ledee play in the seventh, the hardest hit balls by the Giants were liners pulled foul down the right field line. A couple of those came in the eighth and had the crowd gasping and moaning until it was clear they were foul. San Francisco was getting ahead of Millwood’s 89-mile-per-hour fastballs.
In the ninth, adrenaline had added 4 mph to Millwood’s fastball, and a bit of wildness expressed his nerves. If it isn’t enough to know you’re about to do something you’ve always dreamed of, you have to do it with nearly 40,000 people screaming in wild joy for you to make their dreams come to, as well. Millwood admits the “great” crowd made him nervous.
With two out in the ninth, and one strike on Durham, Millwood threw a fastball to the screen. This was greeted with some murmurs and quite a few laughs. I remember Terry Mulholland, after his no-hitter, saying he had jelly legs on that last out. So I wasn’t surprised to see Millwood suffering from the same disorder. He ended up walking Durham. But Grissom flew out to center (not nearly as exciting a fly ball as his previous one) and the player with second billing on the day, Ricky Ledee, fittingly squeezed the last out.
I didn’t end this game jumping up and down and crying in wild joy, like I did the Mulholland no-hitter. But I did call my best friend and fellow baseball junkie Dare as I walked to the subway. As I said, “I’m on my way out of the Phillies game, and I just saw a no-hitter,” my voice did crack a bit. My ride home was spent grinning madly.
Another thrilling baseball memory, in gold, added to the charm bracelet.