When Darren Daulton put on a Phillies uniform for the first time, he was doing it in a locker room populated by men named Rose and Schmidt and Carlton and Perez – men who barely knew he was around.
“I can’t even remember that time,” says Daulton now. “Too long ago.”
Ten years have passed since then – 10 years that seemed like a hundred years, 10 years that didn’t come close to ending like this one.
Until this year, Daulton, who only had three at-bats in ’83, had never played on a Phillies team that finished within 15 games of first place. Until this year, Daulton had never even been on a Phillies team that won on opening day.
He’d seen Bo Diaz come and go. And Ozzie Virgil. And Lance Parrish. And John Russell.
He’d seen his friendly knee surgeon half a dozen times. He’d seen a parade of mediocre Phillies pitchers that would stretch from here to North Dakota.
He’d seen just about everything a guy could see – except the sight he finally witnessed last night inside turbocharged Veterans Stadium.
It was the sight of the Phillies – his Phillies – winning a ball game that would send them to the World Series.
They chopped up the mighty Atlanta Braves, 6-3. They finished off the most heralded team in baseball to win a National League playoff series that practically nobody in America expected them to win.
And there wasn’t a man in that stadium who appreciated that triumph more than Daulton, the man who thumped the two-run double last night that put them ahead for good.
“I’ve never had a feeling like that on a baseball field,” said Daulton afterward. “Never. Never. Never. Never.
“I went crazy out there after the last out. I’ve never had that kind of emotion. But I looked around, and I saw that house rocking. And that was an unbelievable feeling. You can take the personal accolades home and have pride in them. But this here is something special. This here, you can look in the mirror and say, ‘Wow, we really did this. ‘”
But they never could have done it without the guy with the No. 10 on his back – a guy who has truly symbolized the revival of this franchise.
“To me,” said pitcher Larry Andersen, “this guy has epitomized the Phillies since he’s been here.”
Their lowest lows paralleled his lowest lows. When 2 million people were showing up just to fill the team’s ears with boos, they filled his ears with more of those boos than anyone else.
But then Lee Thomas arrived to become the general manager of this team. And only one player is left from the group Thomas inherited when he first walked in the door 4 1/2 years ago.
That player is Daulton. And that is not a coincidence.
As Daulton began the rise from .208 hitter to all-star catcher, Thomas began assembling a nucleus around him. John Kruk arrived. And Lenny Dykstra arrived. And Dave Hollins arrived. And 20 other guys arrived to form the team that completed the journey from last place to the World Series last night.
But there is no mistaking which guy is the No. 1 leader of this motley crew. He is the man in the shinguards, the man who has lived through it all.
“He’s like E. F. Hutton on this team,” said Andersen. “When he speaks, everyone listens. He has a presence about him. It’s like he’s the godfather, and we’re all a bunch of thugs.
“But the thing that’s made him so important to this team is the respect he gets, the respect he’s earned over his career. He earned it just with all he’s been through, all the things he’s overcome. For what he’s endured in Philly, for all the injuries he’s come back from, for doing what he’s done the last couple of years – that’s how you earn the respect he’s earned.”
And he earned it one more time last night, with a memorable third-inning at-bat against Greg Maddux – a man he called “the best pitcher in the game. ” In retrospect, it will be that at-bat that will stand as the pivotal moment of a game this team will never forget.
Until that at-bat, he had not had the kind of series he’d expected out of himself. Just three hits in 16 at-bats. Just one RBI – on a solo homer in Game 5. These were not Darren Daulton kinds of numbers.
But when he strolled to the plate in the third inning, the numbers didn’t matter anymore. The bases were full. The game was scoreless. Maddux was one out away from squirming out of the kind of mess he has made a career out of escaping.
The count went to 1 and 0. And then 1 and 1, on a Daulton foul that sent Deion Sanders scrambling in the Atlanta dugout. And then 2 and 1. And then it happened.
Maddux wheeled and fired. Daulton flicked those wrists. The baseball soared into the right-field corner for a two-run double. The noise in Veterans Stadium could have drowned out a NASA launch. And the Phillies were heading for the World Series.
“That hit just started us rolling,” said Dave Hollins, whose two-run homer off Maddux in the fifth turned that roll into an avalanche. “Before the game, everybody was talking about ’91, how the Pirates got shut out the last two games after they went up, 3-2 (against the Braves). So that was a big double. We scored first. It broke the barrier. Tommy Greene was pitching great. That hit took a lot of heat off.”
“I don’t even think about what that hit meant for me,” Daulton said. ”All I worried about was what it meant for the team. I’ve been pretty silent this whole series. So I was just happy to be able to finally contribute with the bat.”
Darren Daulton has performed a lot of feats for this team. He won an RBI title for a last-place team. He became the sixth catcher in this century to drive in 100 runs in back-to-back seasons. He started an All-Star game.
“But those are personal achievements,” he said. “That’s something you can only share with yourself. Winning is something you can share with a lot of people. . . .
“To accomplish something like this as a team, as a town, and to share it with three or four million people, that’s incredible. The way I look at it, the more people you have at the party, the better the party’s going to be.”
He had 62,000 people at his party last night – every one of them screaming till their lungs hurt, chopping the fallen Atlanta Braves back South. It was a party this town waited the longest decade in its history to throw.
But it never would have thrown that bash without the man who jumped into Mitch Williams’ arms at 11:17 p.m. It never would have thrown that party without Darren Daulton.