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Darren Daulton Was the Heartbeat of a Rowdy Phillies Bunch

Darren Daulton Was the Heartbeat of a Rowdy Phillies Bunch
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Daulton was the heartbeat of that rowdy, irascible group, one of those rare collections of players who form a deep and lasting connection with their fans despite losing in the end. Like the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers, the 1984 Chicago Cubs and the 1995 Seattle Mariners, those Phillies reached a peak for a franchise more used to valleys.

The Phillies lost the World Series to Toronto in six games. The final pitch never found Daulton’s glove. Joe Carter, the Blue Jays slugger, drove it over the left-field fence to win the title.

Photo

A sign at the playoff opener of the 1984 Cubs, like the ’93 Phillies a team dear to their fans despite falling short.

Credit
The Denver Post, via Getty Images

It was an oddly fitting end to the Phillies’ story. The Blue Jays, defending champions with three Hall of Famers, had far more talent. Clearly, the better team won. Yet the Phillies crashed and burned in a way that only they could. This was not a group destined to simply fade away.

“After that team, for all of us, baseball changed forever,” starter Curt Schilling said on Monday. “It’s like that time of your life when you realize: That was the greatest year of my life. You just know it’s never going to be that way again.”

Schilling would go on to have the best career of anyone from that Phillies team. It was his fourth organization, and Daulton was the first field general to get through to him, to make him understand, he said, “the intelligent, simpler side of the game.” If a player as serious as Daulton believed Schilling was good enough to dominate, he knew he did not need to complicate things any more.

“There’s no question in my mind that I don’t have the career I had without him,” Schilling said. “I never played with anybody like him again.”

Schilling would win three World Series, earning a reputation as one of the finest postseason pitchers ever. It was Daulton who guided him through his first voyage, when Schilling throttled the Braves and then saved the Phillies from elimination in the World Series.

In the fourth game against Toronto, the Phillies had blown a big lead and lost, 15-14, in the highest-scoring game in World Series history. They trailed, three games to one, the same hole they had faced against Baltimore a decade earlier, when Daulton was a nonroster rookie.

The Phillies lost then and watched the Orioles celebrate on their field. In 1993, Daulton coaxed the best out of Schilling: a shutout to send the series, defiantly, back to Toronto for its fateful conclusion.

That was the only season in a stretch of 23 in which the Phillies made the playoffs. The nine seasons before and the 13 after were barren, without even many close calls. The players were, indeed, wacky and wonderful — beards and bellies, mullets and muscles. They stayed up late together after games, drinking beers in the trainers’ room, talking baseball. Throwbacks.

“Guys played the game the right way, and played so hard,” Hollins said. “We weren’t the most talented team in the league, but the city responded to that. They work hard. They don’t like prima donnas, or guys not hustling. They know the game. And Darren, as hard as he played, he was also very articulate. He could speak to the media — and he looked like a Hollywood star.”

In one way, Daulton was lucky even to be alive. Two years earlier, after a bachelor party for John Kruk, Daulton and center fielder Lenny Dysktra were injured in a car crash. Daulton broke his left eye socket. Dykstra broke three ribs, his collarbone and his cheekbone, and was charged with drunken driving.

Other misdeeds would follow Dykstra far into retirement. Yet the aura of those 1993 Phillies has never waned. Beyond the image was a savvy offensive approach ahead of its time. Daulton, Dykstra and Kruk each drew at least 110 walks, and the Phillies easily led the N.L. in runs. Manager Jim Fregosi expertly deployed platoons at three positions.

Atlanta had just won two pennants, and then added Maddux and Fred McGriff. The Phillies didn’t really care. The Braves made the playoffs eight times in the 1990s, and this was their only first-round knockout.

“It was America’s Team versus America’s Most Wanted — and we reveled in that kind of stuff,” Schilling said. “It was fun. We played along with it, and it was who we were. We fought you, and we beat you.”

Until they didn’t. As Carter leapt for joy around the bases, Daulton and his teammates staggered off the stage, never to return to such heights. Within two years, Daulton had caught his last game, finally giving in to ravaged knees. He held on until 1997, when the Phillies traded him to the Florida Marlins.

Daulton played his final game that October 26. It was Game 7 of the World Series, a victory in Miami. He got his championship, and it took everything he had.



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