Enter Jim Thome
After more than a century of mostly losing baseball, Phillies’ management did the unthinkable: they opened the bank vaults and signed what looked like some guys who might make the team competitive with the rest of baseball. Start with Thome – the big first sacker slugged 52 home runs for Cleveland last year; this guy is too good to be true, what is he doing in Philly? In his first Phillies at-bat, he slugged a two-out RBI double off the Marlins’ Josh Beckett; for the year he had 47 homeruns, 131 RBIs, 111 walks, 111 runs scored, and an astonishing 182 strikeouts.
Next, there was Kevin Millwood who won 75 games for the Atlanta Braves over the last five years. Millwood went 14-12 for the 2003 Phillies, including a no hit, no run game at Veterans Stadium on April 27 against the 18-4 San Francisco Giants.
On June 3rd at the Vet, in an interleague game with the Seattle Mariners, Millwood was beaten 4-0 by Seattle lefty Jamie Moyer. Moyer pitched seven innings, gave up four hits, no walks, and eight strikeouts. Millwood was 0-4 against his former teammates in Atlanta who won 101 games and their 12th consecutive division title.
On April 24th at the Vet, Chase Utley got his first major league hit; it was a grand slam home run off righthander Aaron Cook in a 9-1 Phillies win over the Colorado Rockies.
So if Atlanta was out of reach, there was a wild card race, and the Phillies were in it. On Tuesday, September 23rd, they opened a three-game series with the Florida Marlins trailing the Fish by one game. In Game One it was Millwood against the Marlins shining rookie lefthander, Dontrelle “D-Train” Willis. Millwood was cruising with a 3-0 lead into the seventh when suddenly the strike zone got tighter and he walked the first two batters, followed by a game-tying home run from Jeff Conine. Larry Bowa then turned it over to a shaky bullpen who handed out two more walks and a sac fly to complete an ugly five-run, season-wrecking inning. Two more defeats followed and the beaten Phillies limped out of town wondering what hit them.
A final humiliation came on the final game ever at Veterans Stadium on September 28, 2003. Fittingly it was another loss to Greg Maddux and the Braves. Millwood took the hit, exiting in the fourth inning under a barrage of Atlanta line drives. The guy who was cheered in April for his no-hitter, got booed in September and did not take it well; in a fit of anger he fired his glove and cap into the seats behind the dugout as he left the field to the sound of 58,554 boos.
In short, the 2003 Phillies were exciting to watch, with lots of home runs and some good pitching, but in the end they were exactly where they were the year before, in third place behind Atlanta, this time only 15 games behind. A six-game losing streak in late September dropped their final record to 85-75.By max blue
- Atlanta Braves, Chase Utley, Jamie Moyer, Jim Thome, Kevin Millwood, Larry Bowa, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Veterans Stadium