There were some big Omens at the Big O on Sunday. The 1993 Philadelphia Phillies were playing the 1993 Montreal Expos at Olympic Stadium, but, like it or not, they were also playing the part of the 1964 Phillies. The starting leftfielder for the '93 Phils is Ruben Amaro Jr., who was fathered by an infielder for the '64 Phils that very season. For the third straight game Phillie manager Jim Fregosi called on reliever David West, whose record was 6-4, and closer Mitch Williams, who has grown to 6'4" since his birth in '64.
Williams was trying to protect a 5-4 lead in the ninth, but a single, a walk and an error loaded the bases with one out. Although Williams got Sean Berry, batting .264, to pop up, he could tempt fate for only so long. The next batter was Wilfredo Cordero, who the night before had accounted for the 1,964th total base against the Phillies this season with a three-run homer off Tommy Greene, whose customs form declared that his birthday was 6/4 (Canadians put the day first and the month second).
O.K., O.K., maybe we're making too much of this '64 thing. But on the field, so were the Phillies. Cordero lined a Williams fastball down the third base line, sending home the tying and winning runs. As the Expos rushed onto the field, so too did the ghosts of '64. Cordero had four or five teammates climb on his back as he rounded first. Williams had Allen, Bunning, Callison and Mauch on his back as he shuffled toward the dugout. Had Williams saved the game, the Phils would have left Montreal with a lead of 6 games in the National League East. Instead, it was down to, yes, 4.
For those of you who might need reminding, the '64 Phillies blew a 6½-game lead with 12 games to play by going into a 10-game tailspin. (They fell out of first place on Sept. 27 when they lost 14-8 to the Milwaukee Braves. One of the hitting stars that day was first baseman Felipe Alou, who is now the manager of the Expos.) Since that season the Phils have finished first in the East five times and won a World Series (1980). But if you think that Philadelphians should have forgotten '64 by now, you don't know Philadelphia.
This season the Phillies have performed above and beyond anybody's expectations. They took over first in the East on April 11, and on Aug. 20 they led the St. Louis Cardinals by nine games and the third-place Expos by 14½. But then Montreal got hot, the lead began to melt, and Johnny Callison's phone rang. As related by Callison, a star outfielder for the '64 Phils, the conversation went something like this:
"Hi, Johnny. Dick Allen here."
"Well, Richie, here we go again."
"Yeah, same old garbage."
Callison, who lives in the Philadelphia suburb of Glenside, says that 25 different people reminded him last week of that ill-fated season. And what did he tell them? "I just tell them, 'Hell, it's a different team. If they lose, it's their fault. It's not the ghost of '64. They're on their own.' "
So the stage was set for the Phillies' three-game weekend series in Montreal. The Philadelphia Daily News heralded the confrontation on Friday by putting Alfred E. Neuman, wearing a Phillie earring, on its front page along with the classic Mad magazine mantra: WHAT, ME WORRY? Inside, the newspaper offered some helpful French phrases for fans traveling to Montreal: Ils sont tombés à plat (they choked) and mil neuf cent soixante-quatre (1964).