The 2000 Philadelphia Phillies: Pat Burrell’s MLB debut

The Philadelphia Phillies' Pat Burrell hi-fives his teammates AFP PHOTO / Tom MIHALEK (Photo by TOM MIHALEK / AFP) (Photo credit should read TOM MIHALEK/AFP via Getty Images)
The Philadelphia Phillies' Pat Burrell hi-fives his teammates AFP PHOTO / Tom MIHALEK (Photo by TOM MIHALEK / AFP) (Photo credit should read TOM MIHALEK/AFP via Getty Images) /

In the latest edition of this series, we commemorate the 20th(!) anniversary of Pat Burrell’s first game with the Philadelphia Phillies.

We’re all getting old. There’s no way that Pat Burrell debuted in the majors for the Philadelphia Phillies twenty years ago today, but a quick check reveals that it’s true.

With the club reeling at 15-28 on the year, the Phillies called up the former first overall pick, making one of their few good decisions during the 2000 season. Of course, they also did it during a three-city road trip, presumably to insulate Pat the Bat and get him a few games before having to face the horrors of his home fans. Burrell’s debut would come on May 24, 2000 against the Houston Astros at brand new Enron Field, which is now Minute Maid Park.

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On the mound facing the Phillies’ lineup that night was Octavio Dotel. It was one of just 34 career starts for Dotel before he was converted to a reliever, a role in which he’d go on to make over 700 career appearances. Burrell was penciled into the lineup by Terry Francona batting fifth and playing first base. It was “go-time”. But all anticipation was killed almost immediately when Curt Schilling allowed five runs in the bottom of the first before Burrell even got to the plate. When he did, in the top of the second, he popped up in his first at bat. In his next trip to the plate, he struck out, and Phillies fans everywhere were asking for a do-over. Let’s just count the next game as Burrell’s debut.

Things got even worse in the bottom of the fifth, with Schilling serving up a pair of home runs before finally getting the hook. It was 7-0 Houston, and this one was looking like a perfect microcosm for the whole season. But then a funny thing happened.

The Phillies got a rally going in the top of the sixth, and Burrell came to the plate with the bases full. He came through with his first MLB hit, driving in a run, and the Phils were on the board. They’d chip away and get the score to 7-5 by the time that Burrell came up again to lead off the eighth inning. He struck out again, however, and it appeared that his debut was in the books at 1-for-4 unless the Phillies had some tricks up their sleeves.

Turns out, they did.

Protecting a two-run lead, the Astros of course trotted out their all-star closer Billy Wagner, a guy we’d get to know well a few years later (unfortunately), for the ninth. But the Phils got to him immediately in this one, plating a run to make it 7-6, with Doug Glanville on base as the potential tying run. Following a groundout by Ron Gant (who never did anything), the Phillies were down to their final out, with Bobby Abreu coming to the plate. Abreu homered to the opposite field to give the Phillies their first lead of the ballgame, something that seemed improbable after the Astros’ five-run first inning.

Then, after a Mike Lieberthal single, Burrell came to the plate for one final shot in his first MLB game. On the sixth pitch of the at bat, he launched a ball to center field that would have been a home run in any other park in the league, but instead it landed on Tal’s Hill, the curious grassy incline where the fence was 436 feet away from center field and which featured a flagpole whose base was on the field and in play. Tal’s Hill isn’t there anymore, but Burrell’s ball is remembered as one of the first to reach it.

As a result of his mammoth shot, Pat Burrell found himself at third base at the end of the play. This was notable, because Pat Burrell would go on to be known for never stopping at third base. And I say this because he would only collect 15 more triples over the course of his 12-year major league career, and not because of any other meaning that you might assign to that statement. Burrell’s RBI triple gave the Phillies an insurance run, and Jeff Brantley would nail down the 9-7 victory in the bottom half of the inning, finishing off one of the greatest comebacks in team history.

Pat Burrell would go 4-for-24 over the remainder of the Phillies’ road trip, but he did collect his first two major league home runs during that time. Then, when the Phillies finally returned home, Burrell was not in the starting lineup for his first game at the Vet, and he only entered the game later as a pinch hitter. Just a wonderful job by the organization to withhold the object of excitement from the fans. Presumably, they wanted to wait until the next game (a Saturday night) for the bigger crowd to see him start, which is what they did.

Another quick postscript to the 2000 season: Burrell would make his first 58 career appearances in the field at first base, but was then shifted to the outfield after the team acquired Travis Lee in the Schilling trade. He’d go on to log 1327 career games in left field (and one in right field), never again appearing at first, even for an inning. He’d also switch from #33 to his more familiar #5 after the 2000 season.

Next. The Gregg Jefferies cycle game. dark

As for the rest of the tale, Pat Burrell’s nine seasons with the Phillies saw many ups and downs, but ultimately everything worked out as we last saw him at the head of the parade following the 2008 World Series victory. Along the way, even during difficult times, Burrell’s toughness and commitment could never be doubted. We didn’t realize at the time just how much Pat the Bat was Burrelling his way into our hearts, but he was. Deep. And it all started 20 years ago today with a road debut in Houston and a ball to the wall that capped off what was probably the best victory for the 2000 Philadelphia Phillies.