When Pat Burrell stepped to the plate in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, with the game tied 3-3, he had yet to register a single hit in the series. In fact, he was on the verge of setting a record for World Series futility, and at 0 for 14 would have had the most World Series at-bats without a hit.
But when the Phillies needed him most, Pat the Bat was there. Burrell crushed a pitch from J.P. Howell to deep center field and it came oh-so-close to leaving the ballpark. Burrell thought it was out and lackadaisically ran the bases, but instead it hit high off the wall and evaded center fielder B.J. Upton. Burrell strolled into second for a double.
Any Phillies fan could tell you what happened next. Eric Bruntlett came in to pinch run and, one out later, Pedro Feliz singled up the middle, driving in the decisive run in the game that clinched the second World Championship in Phillies history.
One would think Burrell's late-inning heroics would have been touted as soon as the dust settled and he stood on second base. But no, instead the talk was of what Burrell's hit wasn't. Had Burrell run hard out of the batter's box, it could've been a triple. Or if it was hit just a little further, it could've been a home run. That double pretty much sums up Burrell's career with the Phillies. It was never about what he did. It was about what he didn't do, or what he could've done.
After Burrell burst onto the scene in 2002 with 37 home runs and 116 RBI, Phillies fans expected him to become the next great power hitter. He was supposed to hit 40-50 home runs a year and drive in 120 RBI. That never happened, in fact, Burrell's 2002 season would be the best of his career (to date).
While Burrell never became an MVP-caliber player, he was in many ways the backbone of this Phillies team. Or better yet, the foundation. Burrell was the longest-tenured Phillie, having come up in the 2000 season. (That distinction now belongs to Jimmy Rollins.) While he was never a superstar, or even an All-Star, he consistently got on base and hit for power.
In 2000, Burrell's rookie year, the Phillies finished dead last in the NL East. But things got better from there. The team finished 2nd in 2001 and placed no worse than 3rd every year from 2001 on. Was Burrell fully responsible for turning the team's fortunes around? No, but he was certainly a big part of it.
He never made the flashy plays; in fact what he was most known for involved little to no movement: drawing walks and called third strikes. But that was what made Burrell so valuable. He took pitch after pitch and, just when you thought he was asleep standing up in the batter's box, he would lash a double down the line, or a home run to deep left.
And that's why that Game 5 double epitomizes him. Burrell didn't drive in the winning run, or even score it. Instead he set it up; he laid the foundation for the game-winning hit, just as he helped lay the foundation for the success of the Phillies franchise.
Now, with the signing of Raul Ibanez, Burrell's Phillies days are over. Hopefully the Phillies can replace his offensive production, but it won't be easy. So long Pat, you will be missed.
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