Phils' NLCS hero Stairs is still an average Joe

February 25, 2009 6:18:06 AM PST
Matt Stairs hasn't let one big hit change his everyman persona. The pudgy 16-year veteran was an unlikely hero in last year's National League Championship Series, hitting a home run that helped propel the Philadelphia Phillies to their first World Series title in 28 years.

"One swing of the bat changes a series around ... changes how you look at a ball player," Stairs said. "When I struck out in the World Series I got a standing ovation."

But Stairs didn't bask in the offseason afterglow very long - he had hockey practice.

Stairs spent his offseason in Bangor, Maine, playing in an adult hockey league twice a week and working as an assistant coach for the John Bapst Memorial High School's hockey team. A little over a week ago, he traded in his skates for spikes.

When he arrived at Bright House Field, Stairs didn't waste any time picking up a bat and joining Ryan Howard and Geoff Jenkins for his favorite non-hockey activity - launching batting practice baseballs over the right field fence.

With Stairs sending balls arcing toward the palm trees out beyond the outfield fence it was like October all over again.

On the road in Dodger Stadium, Stairs stepped in against Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS with the score tied 5-5.

"It's funny - I wasn't nervous," said Stairs, who turns 41 this week. "I was sitting on deck and really didn't hear anything."

Stairs was quickly down in the count and looking for a fastball from Broxton. He got one and drove it over the fence to break the tie and boost the Phils a 3-1 lead in the series.

"But like I tell everyone, he could throw that pitch nine more times and seven of them I'm going to pop up and two I'm going to swing and miss," Stairs said. "So it just happened to be a Phillies day."

Despite his postseason heroics, Stairs' future in Philadelphia isn't guaranteed. A left-handed hitting reserve outfielder, Stairs could be the odd man out if the Phillies decide to go with a right-handed bat for their bench.

Stairs said he would understand if the team cuts him loose, but he would rather stay put and be along for the ride as the Phillies try for two straight titles.

"Nothing would be better than to try to repeat the championship with this team," he said.

Notes: Left-handed starter Cole Hamels, whose work was limited this weekend while tending to a family matter, threw a side session. He isn't expected to see action in a game until late next week. ... Phillies manager Charlie Manuel has already decided on his lineup for Wednesday's exhibition opener against Pittsburgh. Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard are in their customary spots at leadoff and cleanup, while newcomer Raul Ibanez will play left field and hit third. ... Chase Utley (hip) took live batting practice for the second straight day. Utley and third baseman Pedro Feliz (back) are not making the trip to Bradenton. Eric Bruntlett will start at third and Jason Donald will start at second against the Pirates.

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