We were somewhere near Barstow…

Pat BurrellI’m holed up here in a hotel in the Pocono Mountains kind of like Hunter Thompson on the Vegas strip, only not as much fun and fewer grapefruits. But I bet I have the departed gonzo doctor beat on pounds of ice applied to muscles and tendons as well as milligrams of NSAIDs ingested.

Do I know how to party or what?

Anyway, it’s always peculiar to note the extremes folks (like me) will go to in order to put on some skimpy and overpriced clothing along with shoes featuring more technological materials than the space shuttle in order to run around like a weirdo. Oh sure, there really aren’t too many things that are more fun than dashing around all naked in the wind-like, but it’s not exactly natural. Hell, when is the last time a giraffe out on the savanna decided to get the training run in for the day?

Giraffes run when they have to, not because they can.

But speaking of natural, Pat Burrell’s plate appearance with two outs in the bottom of the 10th was certified organic. Better yet, it was artful – a measure of power vs. power and baseball savvy all rolled into a healthy, natural mix. Better yet, watching here in the heavily fortified compound off the Interstate with free parking, a pool, wireless and a complimentary breakfast, it was hard not to see how Burrell was going to end last night’s game with a home run. On the telecast it was easy to see Burrell attempt to get his timing down to catch up with Brian Wilson’s blazing fastball and by the time he solved the riddle of velocity and location, the baseball didn’t stand a chance.

But more than the walk-off homer to win another game for the Phillies, Burrell’s transformation this season has remarkable. At the plate he’s balanced, patient, focused and relaxed. He seems to have a plan every time he strolls to the plate that goes beyond the simple grip-it-and-rip-it mien. For once it seems, the numbers tell the full story about what Burrell is bringing to the table for the Phillies – certainly it’s been a long time since that occurred.

Burrell rates in the top five in six major offensive categories. He leads the league in RBIs (29); he’s second in homers (nine) and slugging (.690); third in OPS (1.142); fourth in on-base percentage (.452); and fifth in walks (23). Better yet, Burrell is on pace to set career highs in homers, RBIs, walks, hits and runs.

Perhaps most importantly, Burrell is on pace to set a career low in strikeouts. Sure, he’s whiffing at a clip that could give him 113 for the season, but that’s a big drop from last season’s 120. That’s because he and Chase Utley are carrying the middle of the order while Ryan Howard attempts to find a clue out there.

But how about this? Should Charlie Manuel bump up Burrell a spot in the batting order to cleanup and slide Howard down to the fifth or sixth spot? For one, Burrell might get more pitches to hit with the specter of Howard’s past performances lurking on the on-deck circle. For another, the Phillies break up the lefties in the middle of the order so that the opposition can’t bring in a late-inning left-hander to face both Utley and Howard.

From here, holed up on the first floor waiting for the wakeup call in order to get caffeine and numb from the ibuprofen, the Burrell-Howard switch seems like the smart thing to do. With Burrell driving in runs and winning games for the team and Howard doing his best to kill rallies with an avalanche of whiffs, the longest-tenured Phillie seems ready to be the anchor.

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