Pedro Martinez anyone?

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Jamie Moyer turned in a quality start on Wednesday night, which is no small feat.  After all, heading into that game nearly every other batter reached base against the 46-year old lefty this month. Moreover, that one ugly inning reared its head again for Joe Blanton on Thursday afternoon.

Just when it looked as if the big right-hander had turned the proverbial corner, up came a couple of bloop hits and a three-run homer to bite Joe in the rear. Just like that and a five-spot was stuck on the board.

Cole Hamels? Yeah, he looks like he’s back to form. And Brett Myers? Sometimes what you see is what you get.

So it goes that if the Phillies are going to parade down Broad Street for a second straight year, they are going to have to get the pitching together. After all, that’s how they did it last year. Sometimes, though, that’s easier said than done. Every team wants pitching and because the quality stuff is spread so thin, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might have to get creative if he wants to bolster up the worst rotation in the Majors.

How creative? We’re not sure. But how is this for an idea…

Pedro Martinez.

Yeah, that’s right… why not take a flyer on Pedro Martinez?

Look, we know all about it. Pedro is 37, he gets hurt a lot and his best days are clearly in the past. Last season for the Mets, Pedro went 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA in 20 starts – clearly the worst season of his big league career and the third season in a row where he missed a significant portion of the season because of injuries.

After going 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA in 2005, Martinez went 17-15 with a 4.74 ERA in 48 starts in three combined seasons. When his contract ended after the Mets choked away another September, they just let him walk away – and so did everyone else for that matter.

But really, Pedro’s worst season ever is still significantly better than what Moyer, Blanton and Chan Ho Park have done this year and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. gave the 46-year-old lefty a two-year deal. It would take significantly less – like a prorated deal for the rest of the season – to bring Martinez on board.

Better yet, if he doesn’t pitch well the Phillies can always say, “Adios.” No harm, no foul.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com That might not be the Phillies style though. Apparently going after someone like Martinez might be thinking waaaaaaaay out of the box. Or was it? Last spring the Phillies took a chance on veteran Kris Benson and when it was clear he couldn’t pitch, they cut him loose. Since then Benson signed on with Texas where he has appeared in four games and has a 7.80 ERA…

That’s the same ballpark as Moyer and Blanton.

Plus, when ex-GM Pat Gillick knew he wouldn’t be able to sign Randy Wolf, he panicked and gave a three-year deal to Adam Eaton.

Remember how well that turned out? Yeah, well it still wasn’t as bad as Moyer, Blanton and Park have been this season.

Yes, the plan is for the Phillies’ staff to pitch better and based on past performance that’s not out of the realm of possibility. Still, what if those guys don’t turn it around? What then? It just seems silly not to take a shot on someone like Pedro Martinez when bigger projects like Eaton, Park and Benson were signed up with seemingly not a second thought.

Vote for Pedro? Shoot, how bad could it be?

*
Note: We’re going to be away from the ballpark for a couple of days while my wife recovers from an appendectomy and pneumonia. As soon as the ol’ girl gets her mojo back, we’ll be back at the ballpark.

Until then… hospital food!

Adam Eaton graphic from The Baltimore Sun

Six is better than five

Adam EatonMeanwhile, Johan Santana pitched well against the Red Sox yesterday. His line: 4 IP, 4 K’s, 2 hits, no runs.

For sure, the sports world is ready to explode with action in the next few weeks. Actually, the world sports scene will be packed with HUGE events until the end of the Olympics in Beijing where athletes will battle pollution worse than Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles combined.

Call them “The Iron Lung Games.”

Nevertheless, the faux dramatics of the NCAA College Basketball Selection Show kicks it all off next Sunday. They stretch that tournament out for most of March so they can weed out all of those low-seeded teams that pulled off those early-round upsets. I guess that’s the proper way to do things because the better teams usually win, though it seems as if interest wanes after all the upsets stop and the TV network stops that rapid-fire coverage of showing 19 games ending all at once.

The truth is the NCAA Tournament lasts too long. What is it, six games to win it all? Shoot, they could do the entire thing in a weekend like a CYO Tournament where school kids played two or three games a day to get a trophy for the school’s trophy case.

Isn’t that what they play for in the NCAA Tournament?

They play The Masters, the biggest golf tournament in the world, in just four days the weekend following the NCAA Tournament. Sure, basketball is a little more athletic than golf, but everything is relative. If a person’s mind and body are programmed to play 18 holes of golf for four straight days, it’s kind of like running 18 miles… or something. Actually, let me explain it this way: I once played 18 holes at Pine Valley and didn’t even have to carry my own bag, but my feet were as sore after any of the 13 marathons I’ve run. Yeah, that even includes the ’98 Boston Marathon where my feet got all swole to the point that I couldn’t wear shoes for three days.

Oh, but the NCAA Tournament and The Masters are just the least of it in a busy-as-a-bee next 30 days. Major League Baseball kicks off its season in less than three weeks, the NHL and NBA playoffs start soon (I think), the NFL Draft is approaching and then the London and Boston Marathons, including the U.S. Olympic Trials for the women’s marathon, cap it all off.

Bill and HillaryThat’s a lot of stuff packed into a month and it could be even more if the Flyers and 76ers make it to the playoffs. Forget about the Pennsylvania Primary on April 22 that could decide on who(m) could lead our union for the next four years and the really important stuff like taxes and that stuff – there’s sports to follow. Besides, according to the ESPN.com story, sports people don’t really care that Hillary Clinton will be criss-crossing our Commonwealth for the next few weeks putting to practice the theories that a.) she will say and do anything to get elected, and/or b.) she will claim many cities in Pennsylvania to be “home,” further exemplifying theory A.

On the other side, Barry Obama seems pretty cool.

But frankly, even with the primary, the draft, Opening Day, the NFL and NFL playoffs, The Masters, the overhyped NCAA Tournament, Easter, Passover and St. Patrick’s Day and the accompanying parade of songs by The Pogues ready to blast off, the issue that has everyone worked into a lather is the status of the Phillies’ fifth starter.

You know, the guy who likely won’t appear in his first game until the second week of the season.

Frankly, give me The Pogues… or even something derivative like The Dropkick Murphy’s[1]. Let someone else wax on about the fifth starter.

The PoguesOK. The fifth starter… forget about it. No matter what anyone says, handicaps or conventional wisdom. Adam Eaton, and all that’s left of his $24.5 million salary, will continue to be the No. 5 starter until he no longer can be the No. 5 starter. No, that’s not some sort of cryptic hocus-pocus. It means that as long as there is nothing physically wrong with Eaton’s back, shoulder, mental or cardiovascular games, the Phillies will keep trotting him out there. They did the same thing last year even though Eaton went 10-10 with a 6.29 ERA (glass half full: he was 7-3 on the road and shoved it up the Mets’ collective rears at Shea).

So unless Eaton’s arm or back falls off or he’s clubbed so badly that he’s reduced to sitting Indian-style on the mound with one shoe on and the other in his non-glove hand and beating himself on top of his head with the cleated end and the new-look, throwback jersey defaced with Sharpie scrawl with the word “dog” between “Eaton” and “21,” count on the veteran right-hander to keep taking the ball once every five days.

Or who knows… maybe Eaton will split starts with Kris Benson if he is recovered and ready to go come late April or early May. Perhaps the Phillies will go to a six-man rotation like the Red Sox did last September in preparation for the playoffs. Hey, with this Phillies club something like that could work.

Why not? Brett Myers is returning to the rotation after a year in the ‘pen followed by a career of inconsistent starting pitching; Cole Hamels has never pitched more than 183 innings in any season and has suffered an injury in every season going back to his high school days; Kyle Kendrick has turned in uglier numbers than Eaton this spring and probably would have started the 2008 season at Triple-A if he hadn’t been pressed into service last year; and then there is steady, 45-year-old Jamie Moyer who has seemingly turned in 200-plus innings every year going back to the Reagan Administration.

A six-man rotation? Sure, why not. Or maybe a modified six-man rotation with certain pitchers jumping up a day based on matchups or the importance of a particular game.

In other words, forget about the fifth guy… who will take the No. 6 spot?


[1] Apparently, The Dropkick Murphys and Ted Leo are playing in Dorchester at the IBEW Local 103 this Friday night. Talk about Irish… that’s more Irish than a Friday night with a bottle of Jameson and my Mick uncles and their bloodshot eyes. Everyone is welcome as long as they bring their own tin whistle, four-string and ride home.

Sending out the old, bringing in the new

Curt & JoshThere’s a very strong possibility that tonight’s game at Fenway could very well be Curt Schilling’s last with the Red Sox. That is, of course, if the Red Sox do not win the next two games of the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians to advance to the World Series to face the Colorado Rockies.

Schilling, though, is likely headed toward free agency and one more contract (possibly for two years?) before closing down a pretty stellar career. Will it be good enough to get him into the Hall of Fame? Probably, eventually. Schilling was one of the best big-game pitchers of his era, and was certainly better than Roger Clemens in the playoffs.

Better yet, if one wants to know how good Schilling was, just ask him. Actually, read his web site or just follow the TV cameras… if there is a bright light shining somewhere, Schilling likely will be trying to stand in front of it.

Anyway, there will likely be a lot of attention paid to the notion that Schilling could be pitching in his last game for the Red Sox during tonight’s telecast of Game 6 of the ALCS on Fox. In fact, Tim McCarver and Joe Buck with song-and-dance man Rosenthal… whathisname… Ken, that’s it… anyway, Tim, Joe and Ken will probably bring up the idea of Schilling returning to Philadelphia to pitch for the Phillies in 2008.

It’s doubtful, though, that the trio will bring up the notion of Schilling upsetting the harmony in the clubhouse or anything of that nature. But then again, you never know. That could be a topic for discussion since those playoff games on late-night TV tend to last five to six hours. Plus, the idea of Schilling returning to the Phillies and wrecking havoc in the clubhouse is a fair topic. It could happen. Oh sure, some might argue that if Brett Myers didn’t mess up the clubhouse chemistry then how could Schilling?

True. But then again, Schilling is reasonably intelligent. Smart people are more difficult to write off as a mere nuisance.

But back to the real point… perhaps the most interesting element of the ALCS thus far hasn’t been the notion of Curt Schilling pitching in his final game for the Red Sox. Instead, it has been Josh Beckett’s first playoff appearances for Boston. In that regard it would be fair to say that Beckett has been noteworthy.

Just a little.

In three playoff starts this year, Becket is 3-0 with 26 strikeouts with one walk in 23 innings. His ERA is 1.17, his WHIP is 0.43 and he is the reason why the Red Sox are still alive in the post-season and still have a chance to go to the World Series. Based on Beckett’s playoff run with the Marlins during the 2003 season in which he was named World Series MVP, it looks as if the younger right-hander is taking over for the older dude as the best big-game pitcher of the era.

In nine playoff appearances, Beckett has 73 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings with a 1.78 ERA. For comparisons’ sake, Schilling had 73 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings for a 1.62 ERA in his first nine playoff appearances. His 10th was Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

The numbers, the right-handedness and the big-time outings in the playoffs are not the only similarities between Schilling and Beckett. They both also seem to be royal pains in the ass.

Schilling’s track record in that regard is well documented as everyone in Philadelphia certainly remembers. He was, as ex-GM Ed Wade pointed out, the horse on the day he pitched and the horse’s ass the other days of the week. That’s easily Wade’s best line ever.

But as far as Beckett goes, his horse’s assiness is starting to gain more momentum. Phillies’ fans might remember the incident from the pre-season exhibition game at Citizens Bank Park in 2006 when Beckett trash-talked at Ryan Howard so much and for so long that the Phillies’ gentle giant finally had enough, tossed his glove aside and called Beckett out.

Conveniently enough, Beckett safely had a dugout full of teammates and a railing between him and Howard lest he be turned into the slugger’s personal hand puppet. Which may have been the case during Game 5 of the ALCS when Beckett repeated the potty-mouth act with ex-Phillie Kenny Lofton, who after flying out took a special detour back to the dugout via the pitchers’ mound where he acted as if he had the intention of slapping Beckett.

Singer lady Again, Beckett was safely nestled in a cocoon of teammates so Lofton couldn’t get close enough to take a whack.

Note:Apropos of nothing, here’s something funny about Lofton: he has a rep as a bit of prima donna in his relations with the press as well as a clubhouse lawyer, but for some reason I always found myself rooting for Lofton to clean house when he was in a few minor fracases over the past few years. That’s interesting to me.

It keeps going with Beckett, too. Coincidentally, or at least so they say, the Indians hired Beckett’s ex-girlfriend to sing “God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch while the pitcher waited on the mound for her to finish. Needless to say, Beckett was asked about the “coincidence” during the post-game press conference, and, well, let’s just say he gave a pretty honest answer.

Take a look:

Warning: the video contains a popular vulgarity and Josh Beckett. Do not play the video in front of children or anywhere else where it would be deemed inappropriate.

See. He didn’t have to do that, though it’s definitely more interesting that he did. Speaking of spicing up a post-game press conference and Boston-area pro sports, a Dallas radio station sent a dude to ask questions of the Patriots’ Bill Belichek and Tom Brady speaking in the rat-a-tat-tat cadence of the old newsreel reporter. The incident made quite a splash because writers working on a deadline have no sense of humor about what questions are asked and when and what the responses are/aren’t.

This is understandable, but then again, anything that makes humorless scribes whine and complain even more than the typical once every three seconds is hilarious to me.

Here it is:

Warning: the video contains Bill Belichek

Truth be told, however, I have to say I’m a little peeved at the old timey newsreel dude from Dallas. Actually, “peeved” is the wrong wrong. “Jealous” is more like it. You see, Matt Yallof and I came up with the idea first. In fact, I double-dared him to burst into the coat closet-sized visiting manager’s office at Shea Stadium and pepper then manager Larry Bowa with questions about “the local nine.”

Then I set the over/under for when he would get punched in the face by another media member or Bowa at 90 seconds.

Nevertheless, Matt and I thought the gag was so funny that we spent the entire drive back to Philadelphia from Shea speaking only in the old-time radio announcer’s voice. I’ll admit that it was a hoot for the first hour of the drive home, but then I began to feel sorry for our driver/photographer, Chris Smith… the things he had to tolerate.

But that doesn’t mean we ever broke character. Plus, I think there was a point where Matt turned his rendition into a bit for a TV story. He had a fedora, an old Smith-Corona and a clipped, rapid-fire monotone. Needless to say, all of this together spelled TV gold.

Blast from the past
I was reading through some of these old posts the other day and came across this from Dec. 13, 2006 regarding a special clause in Adam Eaton’s newly signed three-year contract.

It reads:

Upon signing, Eaton received a certified doctor’s note from the best psychiatrist in Philadelphia addressed to the commissioner’s office, informing them that he must wear an iPod while pitching to drown out the inevitable boos that come with playing in Philadelphia. This, the doctor argued, will keep Eaton’s fragile psyche in check, allowing the city’s residents to sleep in peace without worrying about another “ugly incident.”

No, it this wasn’t written by Nostradamus, but maybe it should have been.

Tuesday pre-game fodder

CharlieMonday’s day off was a long-awaited reward for the Phillies and manager Charlie Manuel. After grinding it out for 10 tough games during the intensity of a pennant race, Manuel needed some chill time.

So he spent the evening kicked back in front of the TV set, watching the Padres lose to the Giants and the Mets lose to the Nationals.

“I watched every pitch of the Padres and I watched every pitch of the Mets,” Manuel revealed before Tuesday night’s series opener against the Braves. “I’m thinking about getting the Japanese (baseball) package, too.”

Needless to say, it was quite an enjoyable evening for Manuel, who watched his Phillies pick up a half game in both the division and wild-card races from the comfort of his living room. As a result, the Phillies go into the final, six-game homestand of the regular season all tied up with the Padres, and trailing the Mets by a pair of games.

Meanwhile, the streaking Colorado Rockies are knocking on the door, just a game off the pace while the Braves still have an outside shot down three games with six to go. Baring a monumental collapse, the Phillies are in it to the end.

“We have six games left and I think we know what that means,” Manuel said.

If anything, Manuel says, the Phillies might have an advantage because they get to finish the season at home against the Braves and the lowly Nationals. The Padres have to play the Giants on the road before heading to Milwaukee to close out the season.

Meanwhile, the Rockies go to Los Angeles for three games against the Dodgers, but then return home to face the Diamondbacks and maybe even a Monday playoff game against the Phillies if it comes to that.

The Braves go to Houston to close out the season after the three games in Philadelphia.

So those six straight at home could loom large for the Phillies, right Charlie?

“One of the biggest advantages we have this year is we’re playing at home,” the skipper said. “I think that could be very big for us. We’ve had big crowds all year and the more noise we have, the more energy that brings and the more we get after it.”

The playoffs and potential travel plans as well as the possibility of a tiebreaking playoff game were a few the popular topics of conversation amongst the baseball scribes on Monday afternoon, with the consensus agreeing that it could come down to a game against the Rockies at Coors to determine the final four National League teams.

Manuel’s future
But another underlying theme was Manuel’s status as manager for next season and beyond with the Phillies. With the Philadelphia Daily News reporting that general manager Pat Gillick would not seek a contract extension when his current deal expires after the 2008 season, and Manuel’s contract set to expire at the end of this season, there has been a little scuttlebutt regarding the skipper’s status. After all, Manuel has exceeded expectations this season by leading a team ravaged by injuries to first place in the wild-card race in the last week of the season. Moreover, only Pat Moran, the Phillies’ manager from 1915 to 1918, won more games in his first three seasons than Manuel.

So Charlie, has Gillick – or the Phillies’ brass – broached the subject of an extension?

“No, not at all,” he said. “Matter of fact it’s alright. I want to stay focused on our team. It’s not about me. It’s about our team and it’s about winning. I don’t have time to worry about anything else.”

In fact, Manuel says he doesn’t have the slightest inkling about what is going to happen.

“I don’t know anything about that until I sit down with him and that won’t happen until the off season,” the manager said.

In other words, the future is now for Manuel.

Rotation set
And as such, Manuel has made the proper adjustment to his team’s pitching rotation for the final sprint. Adam Eaton, the much-maligned starting pitcher whose 6.36 ERA ranks last amongst the league’s starters, was informed during a lengthy pre-batting practice conversation that he will pitch on Saturday afternoon against the Nats, instead of taking his regularly scheduled turn on Thursday night against John Smoltz.

That means rookie Kyle Kendrick will pitch on Thursday instead of Friday, and Cole Hamels will go on Friday instead of Saturday afternoon.

Lining it up this way, the Phillies can use Hamels in Game 1 of the NLDS on regular rest… if it comes to that.

Needless to say, Manuel explained that the Phillies haven’t planned that far ahead, but simply “was the best way for us to go.” That’s how Manuel says he explained it to Eaton, who also faced the Nationals in his last start on Friday night in Washington where he gave up three runs on five hits, five walks and two hit batsmen in just five innings.

“He took it fine. He’s OK,” Manuel said of what looked like a decidedly one-sided conversation. “We have to wins some games now. I don’t want somebody to say I didn’t tell them something. I have no problem telling anybody anything. We actually had a pretty good talk.”

Et cetera
Having used go-to relievers Brett Myers, Tom Gordon and J.C. Romero for five straight games last week, Manuel asked starter Kyle Lohse for a relief stint on Sunday’s game. Set to throw a bullpen session anyway, Manuel asked the newcomer starter to do his bullpen in a game instead.

Though Monday’s day off gave the ‘pen a day to refresh, Manuel said he will look to a starter or two for a relief outing if the opportunity presents itself.

“It depends on what game,” Manuel said. “Lohse is one of those guys that I like to throw an inning because of the stuff he has and his arm. His stuff is why I’d put him in a game.”

***
The Phillies’ rival San Diego suffered an odd injury in the most crucial time when slugging outfield Milton Bradley tore his ACL while being restrained by manager Bud Black during an argument with an umpire. was injured when his own manager spun him to the ground while trying to keep him from going after umpire Mike Winters during an eighth-inning confrontation in Sunday’s 7-3 loss to Colorado at Petco Park.

When asked if he had ever injured a player when attempting to restrain him from getting into a confrontation with an umpire, Manuel said, “I don’t know, but I always wanted to.”

When asked if the fiery Milton Bradley was one of those players back when the pair worked together with the Cleveland Indians, Manuel dodged the question.

“No comment,” he smiled.

Sweet fancy Moses!

The Phillies pulled off a pretty nice victory last night against the Braves to finish the homestand with a 4-2 record. I suppose that should be satisfactory to more than a few folks who like to parse every single word from every single member of the club…

Yeah, you know who I’m talking about.

Anyway, in going 4-2 the gritty Phillies have a slight advantage over the classy Braves for second place in the NL East. Better yet, at 62-55 the Phillies are three games behind the Mets in the East and one behind the Padres for the wild card. At their current pace the Phillies are heading for 86 wins, which they would do by going 24-21the rest of the way. With two consecutive series against a pair of last-place teams, the Phillies should be looking at another 4-2 week.

But let’s get to the bottom line: according to software specialist Ken Roberts’ calculations, the Phillies have a 34.9 percent chance at making the playoffs this season. However, if they continue playing at their current pace, the Phillies have a better than 50-50 chance to sneak into the playoffs. According to the math, 90 wins gets the Phillies in.

That’s 28-17 the rest of the way with games against the Dodgers, Padres and Mets looming.

This could get interesting.

Needless to say, I’m often asked if I think the Phillies can buck tradition and actually make it to the playoffs for a change. It’s a good question, so I’m going to go out on a limb and offer a prediction right here…

Ready? Here it is:

I don’t know. Logically the answer is no because the Phillies just don’t have the pitching. However, even though Adam Eaton has the worst ERA amongst the starters in all of baseball and has an ERA just shy of 10 in his last 10 starts, the Phillies are somehow 4-6 in those games. It’s hard to imagine, but things could be much, much worse.

Instead, the debate is whether the Phillies should replace Eaton in the rotation with J.D. Durbin.

Really? Who saw the coming?

So can the Phillies make the playoffs?

Sure… why not.

***
Want to know how little people cared about the Barry Bonds home run chase? According to Neil Best’s blog, the numbers indicate that only 1.1 percent of the homes that have ESPN2 tuned into the game in which Bonds hit No. 756. Conversely, 22.3 percent of all U.S. households tuned into NBC to watch when Hank Aaron hit No. 715 in 1974

According to Best, 995,000 households tuned in to see Bonds last week, while about 14.9 million watched Aaron pass Babe Ruth in ‘74. That rating would translate to about 25 million homes today, he writes.

Of course there was no proliferation of cable TV or ESPN in 1974. Plus, Bonds played a game that started too late for most east coast households to watch. Nevertheless, 1.1 percent underlies the shift in the media. According to the stats, local TV news saw a ratings drop of approximately 30 percent across the board in the last year, while newspapers have more readers now than in recent years despite a drop in hard copy sales.

The reason?

The Internets!

Or maybe it’s Joe Morgan and Jon Miller of the ESPN announcing crew… apparently they are not too popular.

***
Everyone seemed to enjoy Antonio Alfonseca’s little leg kick after his strikeout to end the seventh inning last night… Sweet fancy Moses!

Everybody’s working for the weekend

Last night was an easy for those looking for the story at the ballpark. Despite the Phillies’ comeback to bring them within two runs in the 7-5 defeat to the Atlanta Braves, Adam Eaton and his latest poor outing was all the talk after the game.

And it made all the papers.

The reason why, frankly, is the numbers which are quite telling. Eaton’s his league-worst ERA jumped from 6.09 to 6.36; he has allowed 17 hits and 12 runs in his last 7 1/3 innings. Worse, he has given up 46 earned runs and 76 hits in his last 10 starts, covering just 52 innings. That’s a 7.96 ERA in a little more than five innings per outing for a team in the middle of a pennant race.

“If I pitch the way I’m capable of we would be in first place,” Eaton said in delivering the money quote.

That, of course, is the big issue. If Eaton could have given the Phillies anything over the past 10 starts the Phillies and Mets could be neck and neck in the East. Instead it could shape up to be another one of those woulda, coulda, shoulda seasons for the Phillies.

Afterwards, manager Charlie Manuel remained non-committal in offering classic non-denial denials regarding Eaton’s future in the Phillies’ rotation. However, while waiting in the clubhouse for Eaton to finish his post-game meal and chat with the scribes, general manager Pat Gillick scurried into the manager’s office and closed the door. It remained that way for at least 20 minutes.

Could they have been talking about Eaton?

***
Saturday was a fairly eventful day for those who follow both Floyd Landis and Ted Leo. Unfortunately/fortunately, those folks were able to get updates on one of those subjects, that being another legendary Landis ride in a pretty tough bike race.

On very little training and no racing since last summer, Landis rode for second place in the very challenging Leadville 100 mountain bike race in Leadville, Colo. It’s a challenging race not only because of the rugged terrain and monster climbs, but also because the race starts at approximately 10,000-feet of altitude. In fact, I recall asking Floyd about doing the race eerier this summer with a raised-eyebrows, “Dude, are you really going to do that race on no training” tone.

Here’s what he said in June when I asked him if he was going to do Leadville:

“Yeah, it seemed like a good idea back when I was training more… that’s going to be painful. I’ve been riding a little more since the hearing ending – I’ve been trying to get some more miles in. If I can just get a few decent weeks of training in I’ll be alright. I don’t particularly like to race at altitude and this one is at 10,000-feet, but I’ll be fine.

“I don’t like altitude at all. I hate it. I did that thing a few weeks ago in Vail (Colorado) at the Teva Mountain Games for a fund raiser and that was a problem. The problem there was that I sat in that hearing for 10 days and I didn’t do [anything]. I didn’t even move. It wasn’t like I even exercised, I just sat there. Then I got on my bike a week later and tried to race and it was painful. Hopefully I can get some time up at altitude somewhere.”

But Floyd, as described by his wife Amber in a famous interview, is “one tough bitch.”

Around the 25-mile mark of the 100-mile race, Floyd took a nasty spill where he bloodied his left his hip, knee and elbow, shredded his shorts and bled all gnarly-like on the rest of the ride. Nevertheless, it seems that a crash on that hip would be a good way to test it out to see how it’s holding up after last autumn’s surgery… right?

Despite that, Floyd battled mountain-bike Hall of Famer, Dave Wiens to the course record. According to reports – as always TBV out-performed itself – Floyd was fighting Wiens for the victory until he got a flat tire.

Still, he nearly caught Wiens, finishing 103 seconds behind.

According to The Associated Press: “I chased too hard after the flat,” Landis said, bandages on three fingertips and blood-soaked gauze from just above the knee to his ankle. “He probably was going to win anyway, even without the flat. He’s in great shape.”

Wiens said, according to Bicycling Magazine: “That was the hardest and the best mountain bike race of my life,” said Wiens at the finish. “Mentally, physically, it was brutal. And having Floyd Landis behind you sucks.”

He is, after all, a tough bitch.

Meanwhile, I found nothing in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post or from the DC-area scenesters regarding Ted Leo and The Pharmacists’ show in Towson, Md. last night.

What the hell?

Anyway, Ted and the gang play a free show in Brooklyn this afternoon before taking a much-needed and well-deserved month off.

Good show

If there is one thing the Phillies do well (and often) is pre-game ceremonies and alumni events. When it comes to remembering their past, the Phillies are very good. The interesting thing is that the Phillies don’t have too many good times to remember… one World Series title in 124 seasons? What would anyone want to remember about that?

But the Phillies forge on and put together very tasteful and not-too sappy programs despite, as one player asked me when I told him there was a ceremony before a game, “What, is this the 12th anniversary of the 10th anniversary?”

We all had a good laugh at that one.

Nevertheless, the Phillies put together a nice program for the late, great John Vukovich last night in which the true spirit of the “Phillies Way” was inducted into the team’s Wall of Fame. All of the team’s greats were there – Carlton, Schmidt, Boone, Allen and on down the line – and judging from the looks on the faces and the ardor of emotion it was easy to tell that the night meant a lot to them.

Quite simply, John Vukovich was the Phillies and if anyone deserves a ceremony or a remembrance before a ballgame, it’s Vuk.

But then again, every time there is a baseball game played by the Phillies it is a wonderful reminder of the man’s legacy. Nine innings on the diamond in South Philadelphia is a good ceremony, too.

***
Meanwhile, I have a dilemma. Adam Eaton and the Phillies face the Braves tonight in the middle game of yet another important series. It’s a game in which Eaton really needs to pitch well in not just for the Phillies, but for his survival in the team’s rotation. With a 6.09 ERA, Eaton has the worst ERA in the league.

But in Towson, Md. (a much more pleasant drive from my home than on the Schuylkill to the ballpark), Ted Leo along with his Pharmacists, will be playing.

What to do?

Well, what to do and wanting to do are always competing.

***
I “discovered” Neil Best’s Media Watchdog blog recently (kind of the way Columbus “discovered” America) and it’s an entertaining read.

***
Tonight’s Powerball drawing is up to $161 million.

Yep, this could be my last day of work.

Where to turn?

If one really wanted to know what Charlie Manuel thinks about the arsenal of arms he has in his bullpen, look no further than the seventh inning of last night’s game in Phoenix during the 3-2 loss to the Diamondbacks. Rather than pinch hit with Ryan Howard, Wes Helms or Jayson Werth for starting pitcher Adam Eaton with runners on first and third with two outs, Manuel decided to roll the dice on Eaton.

It didn’t work.

Eaton grounded out to end the inning before going out to the mound for the bottom of the seventh where he gave up a two-out titanic homer to pinch hitter Tony Clark.

That’s your ballgame right there.

After the game Manuel said he went with Eaton to hit in that spot because if he would have sent Howard up the D’backs would have intentionally walked him to load the bases… as if that’s a bad thing. Frankly, it’s a 50-50 shot if the D’backs would have walked Howard simply because it doesn’t appear as if he can put any weight on his back leg when he swings. Right now, Howard is an easy out. Besides, if Howard gets walked, Aaron Rowand comes up and he’s hitting .407 with the bases loaded.

I doubt Charlie knew that – or cared. Simply, Manuel would rather have Eaton out there in the seventh than turn to his Posh Spice-thin bullpen. With the way Manuel is using his ‘pen, it’s clear he has some faith in Geoff Geary and no one else before the game is turned over to Brett Myers.

Ideally, Manuel needs a couple of complete games and a few days of rain.

Hamels and Moyer and pray for rain…

There has to be something snappier we can come up with – what type of dramatic weather event rhymes with Moyer?

***
Speaking of Jamie Moyer, the ol’ lefty matches up against 43-year old Randy Johnson for today’s series finale. I’ll spare you all of the old pitcher comparisons, except for this one – Moyer and Johnson have faced Bob Dernier in a combined 21 plate appearances. “White Lightning” has five hits, a stolen base and two strikeouts against today’s starters.

***
Unfortunately for my six readers, I’m going to miss this weekend’s series against the Cubs because my wife, son and I are going to Rehoboth Beach for an extended weekend. With a new addition coming in August, the annual summertime trip to Estes Park, Colo. is out for 2007, so our old vacation haunt gets the another off-season call.

Nevertheless, we’ll continue to post here when the opportunity arises, especially after tomorrow night’s walk through the F&M campus to Clipper Stadium to see the local sandlot team, the Lancaster Barnstormers play the Long Island Ducks.

This is Atlantic League Baseball, which, stunningly, is much worse than I had anticipated. In fact, watching more than two innings of the Barnstormers “play” is so frustratingly agonizing that watching someone have a suit tailored is much more interesting. Regardless, the quality of the baseball is clearly not the point at a Lancaster Barnstormers game – in a city with a dearth of excitement, the night out while attempting to corral a three-year old is the main pursuit.

Baseball-wise, Lancaster’s second baseman is Bo Hart, who may be remembered as Fernando Vina’s replacement for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003. Long Island has former All-Star Danny Graves in the bullpen; former Cardinals and Yankees pitcher Donovan Osborne, as well as outfielder Carl Everett, former Mets standout Edgardo Alfonzo, and an infielder in his 19th season of pro ball named Pete Rose Jr.

Yeah, how about that?

Anyway, the game starts at 7 p.m. and I should be back home no later than 8:30 or until Jurassic Carl knocks one onto Harrisburg Pike… whichever comes first.

Deep thoughts…

Here’s an idea that will probably make a few people hold their heads as if they have a really bad migraine – you know, the kind where it pounds at the temples and feels as if someone or thing is shooting a low frequency wave through the skull that emits a shrill buzz in the inner ear – and question my sanity for such “unconventional” thinking.

I’m throwing it out there any way…

Maybe the Phillies should keep all of their starting pitchers. Yeah, that’s right, all Six. Before anyone goes crazy, here’s what I’d do – Cole Hamels, Freddy Garcia and Brett Myers would pitch every five days just like they customarily would in the square-boxed thinking that guides such things. Meanwhile, I’d try to figure out how to work it so that Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton and Jon Lieber started at least one game a week and if there were too long of a lull between outings, I’m sure there would be some relief work available, too.

What?

Exactly. My guess is that Moyer, Eaton and Lieber would be perfect compliments to the top three starters and would be much more effective if they were used like a dash of seasoning instead of as a main course. Better yet, if the trio made one start per week over a 26-week season then they would be that much fresher when the stretch run approached. Besides, it seems to me that good baseball teams treat the season like a chess match or a golf game where the importance of a move or shot is to put one in position to have an even better move or shot the next time.

Hey, I’m not kidding myself by believing that any manager or team would go for something like this, but what the hell? It certainly isn’t convention thinking, but ideas have to come from somewhere. Right?

***
Meanwhile, it looks as if Tom Gordon’s achy shoulder is aching again.

Last season, as everyone remembers, Gordon broke down a bit and went on the disabled list in August despite a first half in which he earned a trip to the All-Star Game. At 39, the Phillies are concerned about over working their starter as evidenced by the fact that he’s appeared in just two Grapefruit League games and by the fact that they sent him back to Philadelphia for a checkup with team doctor Michael Ciccotti.

Before anyone jumps to any conclusions (how could they?), the team says the trip is simply for a routine checkup and it’s something that occurred last year at this time, too. But before anyone can say Mike Jackson, perhaps the Phillies ought to get another arm for the ‘pen to go along with Ryan Madson and Antonio Alfonseca.

Until that happens, be sure that Charlie Manuel sticks to his guns and allows Gordon just one inning per outing no back-to-back work early in the season.

Phillies Round Out Rotation with Eaton

Pat Gillick has not been very shy about expressing his disdain for the current crop of free agents on the market. Actually, Gillick was a bit underwhelmed by his choices last year, too, when he said his priority was to find a top-of-the-rotation starter for the Phillies.

“Sometimes we can get everything we want, but sometimes nothing materializes,” the Phils’ GM said.

Nonetheless, another year has passed and Gillick and the Phillies still have not made any changes at the top of the rotation. Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer hold down the same spots as they did at the end of the 2006 season. The only difference is that Adam Eaton, the club’s first-round draft pick in 1996, will finally start a season in the Phillies’ rotation.

Of course there was a decade of climbing through the minors, a trade to San Diego and then another to Texas before finally getting his chance to pitch for the Phillies, yet Eaton is finally here after the official announcement of his new deal with the team that drafted him.

Eaton, still just 29 years old, is guaranteed $24.5 million over the next three seasons, the team announced on Thursday afternoon. The oft-injured right-hander joins the Phillies after starting just 13 games for the Rangers in 2006 after undergoing surgery on the middle finger of his pitching hand last April. In that Baker’s dozen of starts, Eaton went 7-4 with a 5.12 ERA, but has gone 18-9 over the past two years and 37 starts.

Eaton also had elbow surgery in July of 2001 that kept him off the field until September of 2002. Meanwhile, Eaton missed a few starts in 2005 with a strained middle finger on is right hand before having surgery on it in April of 2006. In all, Eaton has been on the disabled list six times during his career.

Regardless, the Phillies just committed three seasons and $24.5 million to a pitcher who has never had an ERA lower than 4.08 or thrown 200 innings in any of his seven Major League seasons. In fact, Eaton has made more than 30 starts just twice.

“We’re very happy to have Adam in the fold,” Gillick said in a statement. “He stabilizes our rotation and will complement the rest of our staff nicely.”

So unless there is an unforeseen trade or signing, the Phillies rotation for 2007 is set. That, however, doesn’t mean Gillick doesn’t have some work to do before the team heads to Clearwater in mid February. Or even the winter meetings in Orlando, Fla. next week.

“We’ll have to wait and see. We have a few lines out there trying to acquire what we need,” Gillick offered during a conference call on Thursday evening. We want to go out fishing and we have a few proposals out there. We’re looking for some bullpen help and a hitter.”

The Phillies’ needs certainly do not need to be decoded. With five starters with Major League experience, four outfielders and five infielders, the Phillies are set in those aspects. The bullpen, on the other hand, is incomplete and Gillick says he wouldn’t mind bolstering the team’s catching (Mike Piazza?) in addition to acquiring that much-talked about hitter (Mike Piazza?).

Let’s make a deal?
But outside of landing Eaton and part-time third baseman Wes Helms, Gillick has whiffed as if he were Pat Burrell with two on and two outs. The team was interested in 40-40 man Alfonso Soriano until the Cubs came in and offered him an eight-year deal that made him the second-richest Chicagoan behind Oprah.

With Soriano gone, the team was rumored to be one of a handful of teams in the mix for Carlos Lee until he decided to go to Houston for six years and $100 million. After that news dropped, Gillick claimed the Phils weren’t so involved in bidding for Lee despite the fact that the slugger was as steady performer during his career. Sure, there are/were fair concerns over Lee’s fitness and attitude, but if Gillick and the gang are looking for protection for MVP Ryan Howard as they say they are, the new Astro would have fit in nicely in Philadelphia.

But for six years and $100 million?

Secretly, or maybe not so secretly, Gillick and the Phillies brass must have breathed a sigh of relief that Lee signed such an obnoxious deal with the Astros. While publicly downplaying the market, Gillick has a few built-in excuses and the luxury of being sane (and right) for not shelling out the mega years and bucks for Soriano and Lee. After all, Burrell already has one of those crazy deals.

And as far as trading that crazy deal to another team… well, good luck.

“We don’t have a lot to trade,” Gillick said. “We have the four outfielders (Burrell, Aaron Rowand, Shane Victorino and Jeff Conine), and the five infielders (Howard, Helms, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Abraham Nunez). We need to add. We don’t have the surplus to trade.”

Besides, published reports indicate that Burrell will only waive his no-trade clause to go to the Yankees, Red Sox or a west-coast club.

So there’s another strike. Mix in the rescinded multi-year offer to reliever Joe Borowski over reported arm trouble revealed in a team physical and Gillick is fouling off some tough ones.

“I’m not really sure with what’s going on out there is everyone is looking for the same commodity,” Gillick said. “Everyone is looking for a starter. Unless someone can trade for a reliever for a starter or a starter for a reliever I can’t see a lot of action going on. If you have some pitching you don’t want to give it up.”

That goes for the reserves in the minor leagues, too. Gillick said the team would be reluctant to deal away a prospect like Gio Gonzalez for a short-term fix.

At the same time, Gillick says one of those proposals the team has dangled out there has not been offered to former Reds closer David Weathers.

Needless to say, there’s work to do.

“We’re optimistic, but I can’t make any assurances or commitments that [anything is] going to happen,” Gillick said.

But at least for now, Gillick and the Phillies can be satisfied that some of holiday shopping is taken care of with Eaton’s arrival. Plus, with the re-acquisition of the team’s 1999 Paul Owens Award winner, the Phillies staff might not have changed at the top but it’s better than it was when 2006 began.

“I don’t look at the other teams in the division or the league, but from where we were from the beginning of the ’06 season we have five starters who have [Major League] experience. We have starters with experience,” Gillick said. “We didn’t have that last year.

“From the quality standpoint we have a better rotation that we had at the beginning of last year. What we have to do is work on the bullpen.”

Pitchers and catcher report in 11 weeks.

Eaton returns as Wolf goes home

It’s hard to write about Randy Wolf and his move home to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers without doing some sad self-introspection. Baseball players, of course, come and go. There have been thousands of them to pass through Philadelphia and there will likely be thousands more. It’s the same everywhere.

A few leave a mark either on the field or off and Randy Wolf was one of those guys. Engaging, reasonably intelligent and always thoughtful are tough characteristics to find in most baseball clubhouses these days. To find a guy who encompasses all three is like finding a specific needle in a stack of needles.

Engaging, for a writer, is the important trait. It didn’t matter whether Wolf was pissed off after a poor outing or had somewhere to go after the game, he always treated a questioner with patience and respect.

Certainly it’s hard not to be excited for Wolf, who gets to pitch for his hometown team where his mom, family and friends can come see him pitch as often as possible. The fact that Wolf reportedly turned down better offers – including a multi-year deal from the Phillies – to go home speaks to how important it was to go home. Sure, he has made his money and will be paid a handsome salary with easy-to-reach incentives if he stays healthy, but another good person has taken less to go somewhere else.

“The Phillies were very competitive,” Wolf told reporters. “I felt that they were competitive with any offer out there. But it was just a matter of the Dodgers being the right opportunity. To me, it wasn’t about trying to get the most money. It was important for me to have the opportunity that I didn’t know would ever come up again.

“I could have gone to the highest bidder. But for me, going to the highest bidder wasn’t as important as going to the place I was from. I grew up in the L.A. area and have many fond memories of going to Dodger Stadium with friends and family.”

Figuring out how to keep certain players in town is a headier project for another time.

Regardless, the part I’m struggling with is that Randy Wolf was the last player remaining on the Phillies from the first day I stepped into that damp and dark clubhouse in Veterans Stadium. I arrived on the scene about a week before Pat Burrell was finally called up from Scranton and months before Jimmy Rollins got his September call up and Terry Francona his September pink slip.

Scott Rolen, Robert Person, Bruce Chen, Brandon Duckworth, Brian Hunter, Nelson Figueroa, Omar Daal, Mike Lieberthal, Doug Glanville, Dave Coggin, Chris Brock, Eric Valent, Johnny Estrada, Todd Pratt, Amaury Telemaco, Wayne Gomes, Joe Roa, Jeremy Giambi, Eric Junge, Rheal Cormier, Bobby Abreu, Placido Polanco, Cory Lidle, Larry Bowa, Ricky Ledee, David Bell, Marlon Byrd, Tyler Houston, Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Turk Wendell, Dan Plesac, Jason Michaels, Billy Wagner and Travis Lee…

All gone.

So Wolf heading for Los Angeles there are no more ballplayers who have been with the Phillies since the middle of the 2000 season.

If I didn’t know any better I’d say I’m getting old.

Eaton returns
I’m so old that I remember when Ed Wade traded away the team’s top pitching prospects, Adam Eaton and Carlton Loewer, for the surly and underachieving Andy Ashby. At the time Wade defended the deal by claiming the Phillies’ wild-card hopes for 2000 were directly pinned on Ashby coming through at the top of the rotation with Curt Schilling not due back to the rotation until May after undergoing off-season surgery. In theory Wade was correct. The Phillies needed a top-of-the-rotation starter to compliment Schilling, but that guy wasn’t Ashby.

That didn’t take long to figure out.

Ashby was traded to Atlanta by June for Bruce Chen, who lasted slightly longer than a season in Philadelphia before starting his collection of used uniforms.

Nevertheless, Eaton takes Wolf’s spot in the rotation even though the duo should have worked together for the past half decade.

Better late than never, right?

Though not officially official, Eaton is signed on for the next three seasons, which isn’t so bad. Just 29, Eaton will be heading into his prime years during his deal with the Phillies. Wolf should be coming into his prime, too, but Eaton should be slightly better… then again, pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery are typically better the second year.

We’ll definitely have the chance to see how it all unfolds.

No Lee, no way
It turns out that the Phillies only had a cursorily interest in slugger Carlos Lee before he signed a six-year deal worth $100 million with the Hoston Astros last week. According to what general manager Pat Gillick told wunderkind Phillies writer Todd Zolecki, the Phils never had a shot.

“We weren’t in on him,” Gillick said in The Inquirer.

To that we say, “Why the hell not”?

Well…

“It’s like musical chairs,” Gillick told Zolecki. “You don’t want to be stuck without a chair… . I’m optimistic about the potential of some of the things we’re talking about. I just think we’ve had some good dialogue back and forth, both in trades and in free agency. We’ve had some good talks.

“There wasn’t a lot of depth in this market. You had Soriano and Carlos Lee. You have Zito and Schmidt. After you get by that group, there’s not a lot there.”

On another note, the Phillies signed a third-base coach. If the newly-hired Steve Smith makes it through the first full week of December he’ll already be on the job longer than the last guy.