The last time the Phillies were in the playoffs, a squirrel was their downfall. But on Friday night, in the 9-1 victory over Atlanta to move within a game of their first NLCS in a decade, the acorns were stacked on the other side.
Around the 7th inning of Friday night’s Game 3 matchup at Citizens Bank Park, as the crescendo of excitement towards the first postseason home win began to reach a deafening peak — after Rhys Hoskins’ 3-run homer marked by his viral and NFL-worthy bat spike, after Bryce Harper’s followup belt to right that drove in two more — a small gray rodent briefly drew on-field attention.
TV cameras captured the critter scampering down the track in front of the visiting team’s dugout, even causing some Braves players to do a dance-step to get out of its way.
The scene immediately drew comparisons to 2011, when a squirrel ran across home plate as Phillies pitcher Roy Oswalt was delivering a critical throw during a division series game that ended up in the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. Phils manager Charlie Manuel argued the animal was a distraction and should have resulted in a “no pitch” call, but the refs didn’t see it that way. The Cardinals and their fans adopted it as a mascot, and rode “Rally Squirrel” vibes all the way to the World Series.
Four years later during a regular season game between Philly and St. Louis, a squirrel showed up again — and the Cardinals took the win, 12-4.
When the squirrel showed up this time around, the Phillies had already eliminated the Cardinals in the Wild Card round, riding that win into the division series versus the defending champions Braves.
After the first two games in Atlanta were split, with the best of five series tied 1-1, Friday night was the first time Citizens Bank Park had seen playoff baseball in 11 years. And the squirrel was ready to be claimed back by the home team.
Maybe it was frightened out of its home by the raucous crowd, who cheered on the Phillies finally lively bats like no other fans can. Maybe it was just looking for something to eat.
But there’s no going back. Like “Dancing On My Own” as a victory anthem, the Phillies don’t care if other teams have used a tradition before. As they look to close out the series and advance to the conference finals, there’s little doubt the Rally Squirrel is now firmly in Philadelphia’s corner.