There are two outs in the bottom of the 9th and the Phillies trail by only one run. This is no ordinary game and no ordinary situation, its game 4 of the 2009 NLCS. Down to your last out with a 2-1 series lead, this at bat could make or break the rest of the series. Game 4 is synonymous with legendary in Philadelphia sports lore and every Philly phan can recite what happened in detail. But let’s set the stage here, Eric Bruntlett is the tying run at second while Carlos Ruiz represents the winning run on first base. Down 4-3 with two outs Jimmy Rollins steps to the plate versus Jonathan Broxton. As J-Roll digs in with a 1-1 count an eerie silence has fallen over Citizens Bank Park. I remember standing in the outfield and being able to hear the game being called throughout the park, it was that dead silent. Broxton delivers with another heater clocked out 98.8 mph and Jimmy connects with history.
One moment we are desperately hanging onto a 2-1 series lead and the next I’m completely off my feet as the ball disappears into right-center and Chooch is chugging hard around second. A two out walk-off extra base hit to give the Phillies a 5-4 victory and ultimately another National League Pennant! Only the third time it has ever happened for a team that was one out away from losing. Jiiiiiimmmmmmmyyyyy!! I’ve never hugged so many random dudes in my entire life! Well this brings us to #12 on our Best Athlete in Philly countdown……Jimmy Rollins.
When it comes to Phillies baseball you can’t help but mention the man that has occupied shortstop and the leadoff position since his rookie season in 2001. Rollins is the 2nd longest tenured athlete in Philadelphia behind only David Akers. He IS Philadelphia! With an infectious smile and a comedic personality it is hard to not love J-Roll. His proclamations and predictions have always seemed to be the right kind of swagger that this Championship caliber team has needed at just the right time. And as very evident in Game 4 he has always made the big plays when the Phillies have needed them most.
If this top 20 countdown factored in past accomplishments there is no doubt that J-Roll would be a lot higher up on this list. A career with over 1700 hits, 154 home runs, 662 RBIs, and 343 stolen bases, the numbers speak for themselves. In 2007 Rollins took the Phillies from mediocre to the “team to beat” and a division title for the first time since 1993. In ’07 J-Roll set career highs in hits, homeruns, RBIs, triples, slugging, and OPS en route to being named National League Most Valuable Player.
Along with being named MVP in 2007 J-Roll has been an All-Star three times, has also won three Gold Gloves, and owns the longest hitting streak in Philadelphia Phillies history at 38 games. He also became the first player in Major League Baseball history to collect 200 hits, 15 triples, 25 homeruns, and 25 stolen bases in one season.
At age 32 it seems as if Rollins best playing days are behind him. Some phans will argue that he has lost a step and should no longer be the lead-off man. After an injury plagued season in 2010 where he missed a total of 74 games and posted career lows in nearly every offensive category we wonder how much is left of the J-Roll who stole a career high 47 bags in 2008.
The truth remains that Rollins is the spark plug to a Phillies offense that struggled mightily in 2010 without their lead-off man at full strength. It was very evident that the Phillies had a hard time getting on base and manufacturing runs, something that J-Roll has made a career out of perfecting. Although his glove was suitably replaced by utility man Wilson Valdez, Rollins is still one of the best fielding shortstops in baseball.
Rollins is a lead-off man and that is how he envisions himself. With a loyal skipper in Charlie Manuel it is almost certain that J-Roll will occupy the top spot in the Phillies lineup come April 1st.
“I’ve always looked at Jimmy as a leadoff guy,” Manuel said. “Ya know, how he plays the game and who he is and how he goes about it … Jimmy’s a very intelligent player. I’ve always looked at Jimmy as the leadoff hitter.”
Rollins has rededicated himself to his off-season conditioning has even taken up yoga. With 2011 being a contract year it is certain that J-Roll is out to prove that he still belongs as one of the best shortstops and lead-off men in the game. Jimmy is a Phillie for life and hopefully Ruben Amaro Jr. will make that happen. There is no doubt in my mind that Rollins will be at the top of his game in 2011.
It is hard to imagine Rollins topping his MVP season of 2007 but expect him to back in J-Roll form as he will be counted on heavily to carry the load of an offense with an ailing Chase Utley. I expect a similar season to 2009 when Rollins had 168 hits, 43 doubles, 21 homeruns, 77 RBIs, and 31 stolen bases.
As with every spring training comes warm, sunny days in Clearwater, so comes another bold J-Roll prediction.
When asked if the Phillies would win 100 games this season, Rollins said, "Yeah, we'll win 100 games. I really plan on going after, who is it? I know Seattle won 114 or something recently, and I know the record is probably a little more than that, but we'll go get something hopefully in that range," said Rollins.
With some J-Roll swagger, four Aces, and a heart to recapture that 2008 championship glory it’s easy to fathom the Philadelphia Phillies back on top of baseball where we belong and Jimmy Rollins is just the guy to make that dream a reality.