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Matt's the bomb

Posted by Bob Ryan, Globe Staff  October 14, 2008 11:43 AM

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We had him, you know. Boston was one of the 11 big league stops for Matt Stairs, whose majestic bomb off Jonathan Broxton gave the Phillies a victory in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series and almost certainly sent the Brotherly Lovers to the World Series.

When we got Matt Stairs he was 27 and he looked pretty much as he does today. That is to say, body beautiful, he ain't. He was, um, squat, and he's still, um, squat.

Boston was his second port of call. He had been signed by the Expos, who allowed him to head off to Japan (Chinichi Dragons). They took him back, and then he was purchased by the Red Sox in the winter of 1994-'95. He started the '95 season with the PawSox, hitting 13 homers for Ben Mondor and Co. before being called up.

Dan Duquette knew his Expos. He knew that Mr. Squat had a quick bat, and so he brought him to the Red Sox, making him one of the 53 pieces of that post-strike team puzzle that was handled --- I know some of you will have a hard time believing this --- expertly by Kevin Kennedy, who was totally unfazed each time a new face was presented to him, seemingly every other day.

Stairs appeared in 61 games. He had 137 at-bats. He had seven doubles, one triple and one home run. He drove in 17 runs, with three of them coming when he had his what I like to call Norm Siebern Moment.

Those 1967 scholars among you will recall that on the afternoon of Saturday, Aug. 19, 1967, the Red Sox won a wild game over the California Angels by a 12-11 score. This was then day after Tony C went down. The game ended when Rico Petrocelli made a great play on a high-hopper over the mound off the bat of Bob (Buck) Rodgers. The bases were loaded, and had Rico not made the play, it is very likely two runs would have scored, because everyone was going.

Anyway, the winning runs had been provided by Norm Siebern, who had hit a bases-clearing pinch-hit triple off Jim Coates.

I thought of that hit on the evening of Aug. 31, 1995 when Matt Stairs hit for Bill Haselman with the bases loaded of a game against the Mariners. The Red Sox were trailing, 6-4, when Starirs hit one off Bobby Ayala that landed in pretty much the same spot as Siebern's hit, 28 years earlier. The bases-clearing double gave the Red Sox a 7-6 victory.

OK, it wasn't quite as dramatic. Whereas in 1967 the Red Sox were embroiled in one of the great pennant races in history, when Stairs went to bat that evening the Red Sox had a 15-game lead in the American League East.

But it did win the game and it's the kind of baseball trivia that keeps some of us going, you know?

He was a fun guy, a no-pretense native of New Brunswick who was a season ticketholder of the Fredericton AHL team. After a game he'd be gabbing away with a beer in one hand and a butt in the other. Old school.

When the season was over Matt Stairs filed for free agency and signed with Oakland. He spent five productive years there. He had 26 homers and 106 ribbies in '98 and 38 homers and 102 ribbies in '99. Then the fun began. He went from Oakland to the Cubs to the Brewers to the Pirates to the Royals to the Rangers to the Tigers to the Blue Jays, and, finally, to the Phillies, and so there he was, batting against Jonathan Broxton in the eighth inning of a tied NLCS game Monday night.

By this time he's got quite a resume. He's hit the second-most big-league home runs among Canadians (254), behind Larry Walker. He's made over $14,000,000, give or take a loonie. He now lives in Bangor, which tells me he thinks he's settled into the tropics after living in Canada. He's nearing the end of the line, but he ain't there yet.

He got the count to 3-1, and then, oh, baby. It was the Perfect Home Run Storm, a 98 mph fastball right down Hollywood Boulevard into the sweet spot of a grip-it-and-rip-it lefthanded power hitter who still has his bat speed. Now, every once in a while you're watching a game on TV and you see a ball leave a bat and in that millisecond you process it and say to yourself, "Omigod! How far is this one going?" You almost literally jump out of the chair. I remember doing that once back in 1990 when Cecil Fielder crushed one in Yankee Stadium.

This one landed I would guess, 25 rows up into what is known as the Pavilion in LA. A certified Mega-Bomb, and a game-winner on top of it. What a baseball moment. What a Matt Stairs Moment.

"I'm not going to lie," he said. "I try to hit home runs, and that's it."

Matt Stairs. God love 'im. As my friend Bob Lobel would say, "Why can't we get players like that?" This morning, nine other teams are asking that very same thing.

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About bob ryan's blog Opinions, observations and anecdotes from Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.
Bob is an award-winning columnist for the Globe and the host of "Globe 10.0" on Boston.com.

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