The Boyertown Area Times
Matt Stairs recalls iconic 2008 playoff HR at Reading Hot Stovers banquet
Matt Stairs knew the question was coming, kind of like a 3-1 fastball from Jonathan Broxton.
That’s what happens when Stairs, the former big league hitter, finds himself in southeastern Pennsylvania, as he did recently as one of the featured speakers at the 61st annual Reading Hot Stovers Banquet at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Reading.
In these parts, he’ll long be remembered for the monstrous, tiebreaking home run he hit off Broxton in Game 4 of the 2008 National League Championship Series.
The pinch-hit, two-run shot in the eighth inning lifted the Philadelphia Phillies to a 7-5 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers and a 3-1 series lead on the way to the pennant and a World Series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
“You’re probably the sixth person since I’ve been here in a half an hour or so,” Stairs said when asked how often he’s asked about the homer. “I have no problem with that. But you know, when I leave Pennsylvania and I go back to (his home in) Canada, I talk hockey. To me, what’s nice about it is that everyone has a different spot where they were and saying, ‘Oh my god, I was at so and so’s house and, you know, when you hit the home run, we almost (crapped) our pants,’
or whatever it was.
“So it’s fun to talk about, I can break down that swing and that home run like there’s no tomorrow. It’s nice to talk to people about it and see how happy they are.”
Every year on Oct. 13, the homer’s anniversary, clips of the left-handed hitter’s blast are posted on social media, complete with Joe Buck’s call: “Stairs rips one into the night. Deep into right. Way outta here.”
It’s one of the top home runs in Phillies history and a signature moment of that postseason run.
“I tell people the pitch that set it up, I think it was a 1-1 count,” Stairs said, “and he threw me a slider, a backfoot slider, which is the big sucker swing for us, for lefthanders, because it looks so good, (then) it disappears, and I took it really well. And I kind of surprised myself.
“But I was telling a gentleman earlier, everything was in slow motion. The first pitch I thought was like 90, 91. It was 96. I’m like, ‘Well, that’s a good spot when everything slows down.’ You know what I mean? So luckily, he missed his spot and I hit the (crap) out of it.”
Did he ever. He later commented that had he hit it in Philadelphia, it would have landed in New Jersey.
That situation is exactly why the Phillies acquired the burly Stairs from the Toronto Blue Jays for lefthander Fabio Castro on Aug. 30. They wanted a guy who could come off the bench and instantly make an impact at the plate.
“I was known as a guy that could be a game changer late in the game or whatever it is,” said the 54-year-old Stairs. “And I accepted it and I loved it. If I struck out, so what. I have tomorrow. I never took atbats home with me. I never left the ballpark (hissed) off. I have a wife and three daughters, now two granddaughters, so if I struck out, big (whoop). I got tomorrow to get ’em. If I hit a home run tonight. Big (whoop). I gotta do it again tomorrow or try to. I accepted it. And I wanted it. I wanted to pinch hit. I wanted to be that guy that I have the big shoulders and that attitude of, ‘Hey, bring your best on.’ ”
That attitude, as well as a grip-it-and-rip-it philosophy, led to a major leaguerecord 23 pinch-hit home runs in a 19-year career that saw him play for 12 big league teams (13 if one counts Montreal and Washington as two teams, though it’s the same organization). He finished with 265 home runs. His final season was 2011, when he was 43.
Of his 1,895 major league games, just 115 were with the Phillies (plus 13 more in the postseason) in his little more than a season with the team. He hit seven regular season homers for the Phils, plus the one in the postseason.
Still, he provided several other memories in that short time.
Stairs hit the final home run called by Harry Kalas, a two-run, pinch-hit homer that broke a ninth-inning tie in a 7-5 win at Colorado on April 12, 2009.
Kalas, the team’s legendary broadcaster, died of heart disease prior to the following day’s game in Washington.
“That was a tough one because I was new to the team,” Stairs said. “I talked to him in the morning. I talked to him about pinch hitting, about hitting the home run. I think he was going to do something in the segment for that game, then he passed away “
That season in the playoffs, the Phillies again got to Broxton to turn around another NLCS Game 4, and Stairs was in the middle of that rally, too.
The Phillies went into the bottom of the ninth down 4-3 and in jeopardy of falling into a 2-2 series tie.
With one out, Stairs was called on to pinch hit for the right-handed Pedro Feliz.
Broxton walked him on four pitches.
“First pitch he threw inside,” Stairs said. “I guarantee you he tried to hit me. He missed me, then he babied all three pitches outside. … So yeah, he probably had memories.”
After Stairs was replaced by pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett, Carlos Ruiz was hit by a pitch. Following a lineout by Greg Dobbs, Jimmy Rollins split the gap in right-center for a game-winning double. The Phillies clinched their second straight NL title in Game 5.
Stairs, who spent three seasons as a Phillies broadcaster (2014-16) and one as the team’s hitting coach (2017), returned to Citizens Bank Park to throw out the first pitch at Game 3 of last fall’s NLCS against the San Diego Padres.
Who else caught that ball, but another lefty power hitter who wears No. 12, Kyle Schwarber.
“I brought my whole family and my grandkids,” Stairs said. “And I haven’t been nervous since playing defense behind Roy Halladay. The only thing I can think of is if I bounce the ball and hit this guy (Schwaber) in the chin or break his nose, I’m in trouble.
“So then I didn’t realize how far it was from home plate to the pitcher’s mound. And I’ve thrown out the first pitch many times, but it was pretty sweet. It was electric.”
Adding to the electricity, according to Stairs, was a conversation he had with Schwarber, who hit a leadoff homer in the bottom of the first.
“Told him to get on the board early,” Stairs said. “He’s said, ‘I’m gonna try,’ and I said, ‘My sister can try. Just do it.’ He hit the home run. I had fun. And I threw a strike. Close.”
Stairs said he followed the Phillies during their run, but before that hadn’t watched a major league game in four years.
Like a lot of former players, he’s not enamored with the rule changes and some of the other things that are going on in the game today.
“Launch angle and exit velocity have been around since the game started,” he said. “‘My God, he hit the ball hard.’ There’s your exit velocity. ‘That ball was crushed over the lights.’ There’s your launch angle.”
Stairs does remain involved with the game in his hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, where he is the technical director for a program that includes about 645 kids.
“I love it,” said Stairs, who also coaches high school hockey. “I absolutely love it. I’m at the ballpark every night for two hours. I love working with anywhere from 8- to 18-year-old kids that are willing to learn.”
Those kids get a chance to learn from one of the best pinch hitters in major league history, and a guy who is a hero to a generation of Phillies fans.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” he said. “I never saved anyone’s life. I made lives happy.”