Taking a look back at the Philadelphia Phillies’ last hurrah at Veterans Stadium, which happened 16 years ago today as they played their final game at “The Vet”.
Maybe you remember it differently. Perhaps, in your mind, “the end” of Veterans Stadium came when the Philadelphia Eagles fell flat against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game on January 19, 2003.
I wouldn’t blame you.
The sheer pain of that loss really felt like the death knell of that concrete and steel edifice, brought down so abruptly by a shocking defeat.
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But there was still an entire Philadelphia Phillies season to play after that! Great.
And it actually turned out to be a pretty good year for the Phils, as new arrival Jim Thome helped the team stay in the playoff race until the season’s final week before coming up a few games short.
The season is basically over as the sun comes up on Sunday, September 28, 2003. But there is one game left to play, as the Phillies will take to the turf one final time at Veterans Stadium for a game against the Atlanta Braves. My dad and I are there to soak in all of the sights, sounds, and all-too-familiar smells of the Vet for the last time.
Kevin Millwood is toeing the rubber for the Phillies, and he starts the game off with a clean inning. Millwood, who you may remember as having thrown a no-hitter earlier in the season, is wrapping up a decent first year with the Phils, but it’s a far cry from the huge year that he had posted for the Braves in 2002. To this day, I still maintain that he was a cyborg sent to Philadelphia by the Braves to ruin the Phillies from within.
Future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux gets the mound assignment for the Braves, and I feel like I’ve seen him pitch about 100 times in person. But that was really fortunate for me because he was truly one of the greatest ever. Still, the Phillies plate a run in the bottom of the first against him to take a 1-0 lead.
Millwood allows a run to come around in the second inning, and the game stays tied until the bottom of the third when Bobby Abreu knocks in Marlon Byrd to put the Phillies up 2-1. We don’t know it at this point, but the Phillies have just scored their final run in Veterans Stadium.
Abreu becomes the answer to a trivia question about who had the Phillies’ last RBI at the Vet as he joins Don Money (first Phillies RBI at the Vet) in immortality.
The Phillies’ lead would prove to be short-lived, however, as Millwood runs into big trouble in the fourth inning. Javy Lopez, Robert Fick, and Jesse Garcia start the frame with three consecutive hits, and they all come around to score, putting the Braves up 4-2.
The Phillies go down in order in their half of the fourth, and Millwood allows back-to-back hits to the Jones brothers to start the fifth inning. That’s it for Millwood, as he’s lifted from the game in favor of Turk Wendell, who I’m sure started talking to the rosin bag and doing other numerous weird things upon entering the game.
Wendell allows one inherited runner to score, and it’s 5-2 Atlanta. Maddux puts up another 1-2-3 inning in the fifth, and that’s all for him as well. He’s only thrown 72 pitches, but it’s basically a tune-up for the playoffs for him, so there is no need for him to go deep. And maybe Bobby Cox bet against his team that day. That’s just speculation, though.
Nothing much happens until the bottom of the seventh, when the Phillies have two men on base with one out. Tomas Perez hits a hard ground ball between first and second base that actually hits Chase Utley. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this in person at an MLB game. Utley’s out, and Perez takes his place at first base with what officially goes down as a single. Weird.
The two runners advance on a wild pitch, but the threat ends when Ricky Ledee strikes out to bring the inning to an end. Johnny Estrada, the man who the Phillies traded to the Braves for Millwood, makes an appearance in the 8th inning and singles. But the Braves strand him, and the Phillies don’t score in the bottom of the inning either.
And so it’s on to the final inning of the final game at Veterans Stadium. Mike Williams gets the first two outs in the top of the ninth for the Phillies, and then Larry Bowa brings in elder statesman Dan Plesac to get the final out of the inning in what must have been some pre-arranged deal for Plesac to throw the Phillies’ last pitch at the stadium.
Jason Marquis emerges from the Braves’ bullpen in an attempt to record the final three outs before the whole place becomes a smoldering pile of rubble. He gets off to a good start by retiring Mike Lieberthal. But then Pat Burrell singles up the middle to nab what will turn out to be the final hit at the Vet.
Next up for the Phillies is Chase Utley. Here’s a guy who will hopefully be an important figure for years to come for this franchise. Maybe he can come up big in this spot as sort of a harbinger of things to come?
He does not.
In fact, he goes one step below “not coming up big” by grounding into a game-ending, season-ending, stadium-ending double play. I guess this guy will never amount to anything.
Phillies lose 5-2, the 1,199th and final time that they’d walk off the rock-hard turf of the Vet as losers. But they had still managed a .541 winning percentage over the 33 years that they had spent in their now former home.
As for this game itself, I can still envision Harry Kalas giving the recap, “Greg Maddux the winner, Kevin Millwood the loss, Jason Marquis saved it. The game took 2 hours and 51 minutes to play in front of a crowd of 58,554 fans for the final time at Veterans Stadium. Also, I hate you, Chris Wheeler“.
That last part may have just been wishful thinking.
Some months later, the Vet was imploded for real, and the Phillies ushered in the Citizens Bank Park era of their history.
But we’ll never forget where we came from. And on this day 16 years ago, we said a tearful goodbye to a place that served as the backdrop to our earliest baseball memories; It was truly our dump.