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Memories of Isabel and a thrilling win

Recovery from the effects of Hurricane Ike continue, not just in Texas and Louisiana but in other states as the remnants of the storm raced north. The death toll has risen past 50, with two-thirds of the deaths occurring outside of Texas. Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and western Pennsylvania are still without power.

Of lesser importance is the disruption of sporting events. The NFL rescheduled two other games in coming weeks in order to fit in the postponed Baltimore Ravens-Houston Texans game. MLB moved two Houston Astros home games against the Chicago Cubs to Milwaukee, which resulted in their becoming de facto Cubs home games, and the Cubs' sweep put a huge dent in the Astros' playoff hopes. A number of college football games were also affected. An item at Phillyweather.net discusses another storm that struck five years ago today, and it brought back some fond (and not so fond) memories.

Hurricane Isabel made landfall on September 18, 2003 in North Carolina and zipped to the north-northwest. At the time, the Philadelphia Phillies and Florida Marlins were in a duel for the NL Wild Card. The teams split the first two of a three-game series at Veterans Stadium. The start time for the final game of the series was moved up from 7 pm to 1 pm in order to get the game in before the worst effects of Isabel arrived.

I had a ticket for the game. (In fact, I ended up seeing the last 7 games at the Vet, which was imploded the following spring as the Phils moved into their new ballpark.) Due to the abrupt time change the crowd was smaller than expected, but I was able to leave work early. I had a great seat -- only a few rows behind the visitors' dugout, so close that I was a handful of seats away from U.S. Senator Arlen Specter and his wife, who attended along with another elderly couple. They were all gone by the third inning, by the way.

There were wind gusts past 30 mph even at the start of the game and a few light showers also fell, although the brunt of the storm was still some 250 miles away. The Marlins took a 3-0 lead against Kevin Millwood in the 4th inning. Facing Dontrelle Willis, then a sensation in his rookie year, it looked bad for the Phils. But in the 5th, after a home run by Tomas Perez put them on the scoreboard, the Phils got two men on with two outs. Mike Lieberthal hit a weak popup past first that should have ended the inning...but Isabel had other plans.

The swirling wind took hold of the ball, blowing it every which way but loose, and finally completely loose as it bounced off the glove of first baseman Derrek Lee and hit the turf. Lieberthal was credited with perhaps the most improbable of his 10 career triples and the game was tied. The teams traded solo homers and it was a 4-4 game until Jim Thome's homer leading off the 8th, again aided somewhat by Isabel, gave the Phils a 5-4 win that moved them to within a half-game of the Marlins.

It seemed like the kind of momentum-changing victory that could carry a team right into the playoffs. Indeed, a win the next night over the lowly Reds at the Vet gave the Phils the wild card lead. But those same Reds won the next two, and when the Marlins swept three from the Phils in Florida the Phils were eliminated from the playoff race. As a result, there was something of a bittersweet feeling to the celebration of the final three games at the Vet the following weekend.