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The Amazing Race
TOM VERDUCCI
October 08, 2007
In a riveting final weekend, the streaking Phillies earned the right to host the even hotter Rockies in the playoffs, and Jimmy Rollins put the finishing touches on his case for the NL MVP
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October 08, 2007

The Amazing Race

In a riveting final weekend, the streaking Phillies earned the right to host the even hotter Rockies in the playoffs, and Jimmy Rollins put the finishing touches on his case for the NL MVP

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JIMMY ROLLINS does not look like a typical Most Valuable Player, having lost 10 pounds from a 175-pound frame since the start of the 2007 season, the toll exacted by starting every game at shortstop for the Phillies and coming to bat more times than anybody else in baseball history. Rollins is so small (5'7") and his bat so large (35 inches, 34 ounces) that when he drags the bat by its knob through the clubhouse, as he did before the season finale against the Nationals on Sunday, he resembles a child pulling a wagon. ¶ Appearances aside, Rollins is a professional troublemaker, not only for his preseason boast that Philadelphia was the team to beat in the National League East—a pronouncement that irritated many opponents, given that the Phillies had not won a title of any sort since 1993—but also for his hand in making Philadelphia the most dangerous offensive team in the league. The last game, which began with the Phillies and the Mets tied for first place, was as good as any of the previous 161 at explaining why Rollins is the best, not to mention most fitting, MVP candidate in a bizarre National League season.

Rollins began Philadelphia's first turn at bat against Washington with a single. He promptly stole second base, stole third and scored on a fly ball out by Chase Utley. That is how the Phillies, to borrow from Rollins's handle, J-Roll. The 6--1 division-clinching win marked the sixth time in Philadelphia's final seven victories, each one of them necessary, in which Rollins either scored or drove in the game-winning run. The Phils won only five games (of 26) all year—and none after June 9—in which Rollins did not get on base.

"He's the most integral part of this team," says Jamie Moyer, the winning pitcher in the clincher, "because he makes things happen, especially in the first inning. I can't tell you how big that is."

As a fitting coda to a season that began with his brash prediction, Rollins came up for the last of his 778 plate appearances knowing exactly what he needed to do to set a franchise record for triples (20) and become the first player ever with 200 hits and at least 20 doubles, triples, homers and stolen bases. "The [Nationals'] outfield plays so deep, I told myself the only way I could get a triple was to hit it off the concrete part of the [rightfield] wall and have it bounce back toward the infield," Rollins says.

The concrete makes up only a sliver of the wall at Citizens Bank Park, near the foul line. Naturally, that's where Rollins whacked the ball with his final swing of the year, and it caromed toward the infield, giving him time to race into third with his historic triple.

The play epitomized the weirdly entertaining 2007 season in the National League. Just how strange was it?

• No club won more than 90 games. It was the first time that had happened in either league in any full season since the 162-game schedule was instituted in 1961. "There's a lot of parity in the league," Philadelphia G.M. Pat Gillick says, "though some would say mediocrity."

• Only four days before the season ended, every playoff spot remained up for grabs, and nearly half of the league's 16 clubs were still in contention.

• Meet the Melts: New York, up by seven games with 17 to play, suffered the biggest collapse in major league history. No team had ever blown a lead that large that late.

• The last day of the regular season was not, in fact, the last day. Another game was necessary on Monday, after San Diego and Colorado tied for the wild card thanks to the Padres' own spectacular collapse (they led Milwaukee 2--1 with one strike to go on Saturday and 4--2 with 15 outs to go on Sunday but lost both games) and the Rockies' nearly running the table in their last 14 games (in which they went 13--1). Colorado won the seventh tiebreaker in history, 9--8, with a three-run rally in the bottom of the 13th off alltime save leader Trevor Hoffman—who blew his second save in three days—to advance to a Division Series against the Phillies.

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