Rowand remembers, ‘For who? For what?’

Ro It was the greatest catch many of us saw and that was before we understood the aftermath. Like a receiver on a fly pattern, Aaron Rowand ran as hard as he could to a point where he thought the ball was going to land, which was amazing enough.

The situation called for it, Rowand said. With the bases loaded and two outs and pitcher Gavin Floyd nearing his 30th pitch in the first inning, the May, 2006 game was hanging in the balance. Xavier Nady’s long fly had escaped Rowand's glove, he could have run for days.

It was when his momentum carried him that extra half-step and he looked up where things went wrong.

In retrospect, maybe it didn’t all go wrong. Sure, Rowand got hurt pretty badly. Who can forget Pat Burrell and Bobby Abreu frantically waving for the training staff to rush out to the center field warning track to help as blood poured from Rowand’s face? Very quickly, he was helped from the field by some paramedics to an ambulance waiting to rush him to Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Center City. In that short time, Rowand went from just the very capable center fielder that arrived in town as part of the Jim Thome deal to a cult hero.

And all it took was a face plant into an exposed metal bar, a broken nose that required surgery, stitches for his mouth and nose, a plastic splint to protect his still-tender nose, dark violet bruises ringing his eyes and cheeks, and two weeks on the disabled list.

It was a few days later when Rowand truly became the cult hero when he dropped the retort to Ricky Watters’ infamous explanation as to why he developed alligator arms while going for a pass from Randall Cunningham over the middle.

“For who? My teammates. For what? To win,” Rowand said without hesitation or wavering. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Looking back on it, a writer for Baseball Prospectus named Clay Davenport surmised that Rowand’s catch was the equivalent to him hitting two home runs in the game. Had Nady gotten a double or triple on that play, the Phillies would have had just a 30.8 percent chance to win the game based on Davenport’s situational data. But making the catch gave the Phillies nearly a 60 percent chance to win, Davenport wrote. In other words, for a team that missed the playoffs by one game in 2005 and had not seen post-season baseball since 1993, “The Catch” was something that could have transformed the team.

Of course the Phillies barely missed the playoffs in 2006, though they rallied for a strong second-half when Abreu was traded to the Yankees. In 2007, with Rowand playing 161 games, the Phillies finally made it to the playoffs, though the trip lasted just three games.

Interestingly, Rowand missed one game in 2007 because he injured his shoulder playing tag at his daughter’s birthday party. Oh yes, no matter what the game was Rowand went all out.

“The next day I got shot up a little bit and went back out there and it was fine,” Rowand remembered for us before Tuesday night’s game between the Phillies and Giants at the Bank.

So as he’s getting closer to the end of his current five-year deal with the Giants and his career creeps closer past the middle toward the end, how does Rowand feel about that one play — one that sent him to the hospital and kept him out of action for a couple of weeks — defining his legacy? Yes, it was the greatest catch some of us ever saw, but a baseball player with a World Series ring with the White Sox in 2005, a Gold Glove and an All-Star Game berth should be known for more…

Right?

Then again, if that’s what it is, Rowand doesn’t mind.

“I look at it more along the lines as there are a lot worse things you can be or be remembered for,” he said. “If it’s going to be me being remembered for playing the game hard and being a good teammate, I don’t think anyone could ask for more than that. If that’s what I’m remembered for, after I retire and I’m bleeping long gone, so be it. It’s a good thing to be remembered for.”

Looking back, that’s not too far off from what Rowand told us in the moment. Clearly Rowand was more valuable to the Phillies on the field than rolled up in a heap on the warning track with blood pouring from his face like it was a spigot. After all, he was a player who knocked himself out cold when he ran into a cinderblock wall in college and separated his shoulder colliding with a wall in Chicago — didn’t he understand the concept of restraint?

That answer is obvious, and here’s how Rowand explained it:

Aaron_rowand “That’s why [the critics] are sitting behind a desk or a microphone,” he said tersely with his purple-ringed eyes narrowing. “I enjoy doing what I’m doing and my teammates enjoy it, too. I want to win. That’s how I play. People can call me stupid. I don’t care. I’m sure the fans got a kick out of it and I know my teammates did. Think what you want I’m here to play and play hard.”

Rowand was clearly the heart and soul of those Phillies teams, just as he was when he was playing for the White Sox, too. More interestingly, Rowand became a “Philly Guy” in a relatively short time. Think about it… Rowand spent two seasons playing for the Phillies, just missed out on winning the World Series here (“hell yes I’m jealous!”) and took the five years offered to him from the Giants, which was better than the deal offered by the Phillies.

Still, does Rowand ever wonder how he became so beloved in Philadelphia?

“The thing about these fans is they are some of the smartest baseball fans in the country,” he said. “I think everyone knows they can be rough sometimes, but it stems from a good spot. It stems from passion, it stems from their infatuation with this team. It’s a blue collar town, people here work hard and they come out and watch their sports teams play and they can relate with the guys who have the same mentality they have when they go to work.”

When Rowand was here he went to work. No doubt about that. So when the Phillies fans cheer the return of Pat Burrell, don’t doubt for a second that they will cheer for Rowand, too.

Game 3: The new Bobby Abreu

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com DENVER — Go ahead and ask Todd Zolecki from MLB.com for the proof, but I totally called the Angels’ comeback over the Red Sox in Game 3 of the ALDS at Fenway Park. Totally saw it coming.

Now I did not foresee the two-strike, two-out hit from Erick Aybar off Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning, or the eight-pitch walk to Chone Figgins. However, I thought to myself if the Angels can get Bobby Abreu to the plate in the ninth, they will win the game.

Guess what happened.

Now this I did not predict to anyone but myself. No one wants to hear a crazy person say something so outlandish and ridiculous in their out-loud voice. But go ahead and ask Zolecki about the text he got from me during the seventh inning when the Red Sox led 5-1.

Me: Wanna bet the Angels win this…
Zolecki: Unbelievable.
Me: Told you.

Call it a pretty good postseason for a bunch of former Phillies. Abreu stands above the fray with his 3-for-5 outing in the clinching Game 3 and pair of clutch doubles in the eighth and ninth innings. In Game 2 Abreu went 2-for-4, which followed a Game 1 effort where he walked four times.

In other words, the old Bobby Abreu who used to work counts and force pitchers to throw something over the plate has surfaced in the playoffs. If there were an MVP of the ALDS, it probably would have gone to Abreu.

Remember that guy Philllies fans? No, he wasn’t very inspirational in the outfield, but as a hitter Abreu is so smart. More interestingly, Abreu is a different player for the Angels than he was with the Phillies and even the Yankees. During the series against the Red Sox cameras caught Abreu showing emotion and rooting his teammates on as they rallied in the ninth. In fact, reports from California say Abreu is the vocal team leader he was not in Philadelphia and did not have to be in New York.

When he was playing in Philly, Abreu famously pumped his fist when he homered in a lopsided defeat in Florida that put him in the 30-30 club for the first time.

Who knows if a new Bobby Abreu has emerged? After all, he went unsigned until spring training began and only got a one-year, $5 million deal from the Angels. Needless to say, Abreu wants to come back to the Angels for 2010 so perhaps the emotional, smart hitter bit is his angle to get that new contract he wants.

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com Either way, Abreu has been a pretty decent $5 million pickup for the Angels. He has them four wins from the World Series where he very well could face two of his former teams.

Meanwhile, it was pretty interesting to see how far Vicente Padilla has come since the Rangers cut him loose in July. Even though the ex-Phillie pitched the Dodgers into the NLCS for the second straight season by shutting down the Cardinals for seven innings, he must have been just horrible to deal with in Texas.

Think about it—the Rangers were in great need for pitching at the deadline but because of their financial uncertainty they were unable to go out and make a deal. So it really says something that the Rangers would flat-out send Padilla packing knowing how badly they needed pitching.

Then again, that’s kind of the way it happened in Philadelphia, too.

So give the Dodgers credit for figuring out how to keep Padilla in line. And maybe Padilla ought to get some credit for noticing that he was about to get bounced out of baseball for good.

Then again, Padilla is looking to keep his contract, too. The Dodgers hold the club option on Padilla and if they don’t pick it up, the righty is off looking for a job again.

So if you’re counting, here are the former Phillies on the way to the League Championship Series:

Dodgers
Larry Bowa
Mariano Duncan
Jim Thome
Vicente Padilla
Randy Wolf

Angels
Bobby Abreu

Yankees
none

The Magnificient Bastardo

image from fingerfood.typepad.com The other day we were told that Antonio Bastardo doesn’t speak very much English. In fact, in order for him to communicate with the scribes a translator would need to be found before the rookie lefty got on the bus for the trip to the airport.

At least that’s what we were told.

Now my grasp of Spanish is probably only as good as Bastardo’s English, I reasoned. As it related to baseball, I once caught Jose Mesa and Bobby Abreu making fun of me in Spanish in an elevator in Baltimore. When I laughed out loud at the jokey insults, Jose and Bobby clammed up quick.

Hey, McCaskey kids know all the Spanish curse words.

But imagine my surprise when I saw the kid speaking a language I knew reasonably well on my web site. You can hear it, too, when you go over to CSNPhilly.com along with one where Raul Ibanez translates for the winning pitcher.

Is there anything Raul can’t do?

Plus, the TV cameras showed the rookie talking about his first outing with Jamie Moyer in the dugout during the seventh inning after he had been lifted. Who knew Moyer’s Spanish was so good?

Nevertheless, it must have been an interesting conversation between the 46-year-old, 23-season veteran and the 23-year-old lefty after his first game.

Tangents aside, it was a very impressive debut for the 23-year-old prospect recently compared to Johan Santana – that is if Santana threw 95 and had no need for a changeup. Frankly, Bastardo didn’t need that changeup either – or any other pitch – thanks to the big lead the offense spotted him. It has to be easier facing a flu-ridden Jake Peavy in a big-league debut after a first-inning four-spot.

No sense jerking around with a big lead – just rear back and throw the gas. Even the rookie knew that.

Beaming after the victory in San Diego, manager Charlie Manuel (yep, the video is on the CSNPhilly.com) was impressed that the kid got by with just one pitch.

“He was on a rush and you couldn't slow him down if you had to,” the skipper said. “He did one thing real good and that was to be aggressive and he wasn't afraid to throw the ball. He has a good changeup and a breaking ball, but he was gripping the ball and trying to throw it, so there wasn't much action. But he did a super job, but he did it with one pitch.”

He’ll need more than the gas on Sunday when he pitches at Dodger Stadium, but in the meantime it’s a pretty gutty start.

As far as recent debuts for the Phillies’ prospects go, however, Bastardo fits in pretty well. Not quite as good as Brett Myers or Carlton Loewer, but pretty good nonetheless (links to box scores):

Antonio Bastardo at Padres on June 2, 2009: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K for win

Kyle Kendrick vs. White Sox on June 13, 2007: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 4 K for a ND

Scott Mathieson vs. Devil Rays on June 17, 2006: 6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 5 K for Loss

Cole Hamels vs. Reds on May 12, 2006: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 7 K for ND

Gavin Floyd vs. Mets on Sept. 3, 2004: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 5 K for Win

Brett Myers at Cubs on July 24, 2002: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K for Win

Brandon Duckworth vs. Padres on Aug., 7, 2001: 6 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 4 K for Win

David Coggin at Expos on June 23, 2000: 6 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 4 K for Win

Randy Wolf vs. Blue Jays on June 11, 1999: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K for Win

Carlton Loewer vs. Cubs on June 14, 1998: 9 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 8 K for Win

Meanwhile, prospect Kyle Drabek pitches in Reading tonight in the former first-round picks’ first outing above Single-A. Perhaps a dubious weather forecast for Thursday pushed up the outing by a day?

It’s go time!

When the Yankees’ Philip Hughes came out Tuesday night’s game in the seventh inning despite working on a no-hitter, it didn’t really seem like that big of a deal. After all, it was just Hughes’ second start as a big leaguer and it’s much better to be safe than sorry with the franchise’s top prospect.

But upon hearing it was a hamstring injury, I thought something was amiss. With Hughes out with a hamstring injury, he joins teammates Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang on the sidelines with hammy injuries. Mix that with Andy Pettitte (sore back from lifting weights) and Johnny Damon and his calf injury (calves and hamstrings are related) and it’s easy to wonder what in the name of the assistant to the travelling secretary is going on in the South Bronx?

So it really didn’t come as much of a surprise when the Yankees announced that they had fired their strength coach on Wednesday. But when reading the story about the strength coach, 34-year old Marty Miller, it’s not surprising that he was a little unpopular with the players on the Yankees. Most baseball players, believe it or not, take fitness very, very seriously. Miller just didn’t seem to have the credentials to be in charge of keeping the Yankees loose and limber for a 162-game season.

Why not? Well, Miller had not worked in baseball for 10 years before general manager Brian Cashman hired him just before spring training. Prior to that, Miller’s previous job was director of fitness at the Ballen Isles Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

The Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.? What, the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association didn’t want the gig? Was Izzy Mandelbaum available?

Regardless, reports on the Internets indicate that Tim McCarver had the answer for all the hamstring trouble plaguing the Yankees and other clubs during last weekend’s telecast of the Yanks-Red Sox game… how about mandatory yoga? Yeah, that’s right, yoga.

Oh don’t laugh. Yoga is extremely popular with not just baseball players, but also many other top-level professional athletes. On the Phillies, Mike Lieberthal was a devotee for years, which influenced many other players on the team to take it up. Geoff Geary tells some entertaining stories about his Bikram Yoga sessions.

McCarver is definitely on to something, and maybe Miller (Marty, you’re doing a heckuva job… ) wasn’t quite hip to the trends of fitness, who knows. Either way, I will go out on a limb and say there is no better stretch than the downward facing dog, though my best pose is savasana.

***
Remember when Bobby Abreu played for the Phillies and fought the notion that he could be one of the best leadoff hitters in the game if he would just agree to moving up on the batting order? Remember all of that? Well, guess who has hit leadoff twice already this season?

You got it, Bobby Abreu.

For the record, Abreu hit leadoff for the Yankees for the first time since Larry Bowa bumped him up there for about 20 at-bats with the Phillies in 2003.

***
Someone told me that the NBA Playoffs were going on… really?

Abreu finally takes a break

It seems so long ago, but the Phillies used to have Bobby Abreu. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the current team going through its paces in Clearwater in preparation for the 2007 season filled with high expectations with a player like Abreu. Just imagine a lineup with Rollins, Utley, Howard, Burrell and Abreu.

Think those guys could post a few runs?

Isn’t that what they did when he was here? It’s so hard to remember.

It’s been seven months since Abreu was a Phillie, which in baseball time is almost a lifetime ago. Seven months ago no one talked about protecting Ryan Howard in the lineup, because Howard was protecting Abreu. The opposition preferred to pitch to guys like Howard and Chase Utley instead and gave him nearly a walk a game. Compare that to the total he got when he joined the Yankees (33 in 58 games) and it was clear that Abreu was The Man with the Phillies.

Abreu, as we all remember, wasn’t really appreciated by certain elements of the sporting press and fandom in Philadelphia. His crime, it seemed was that he wouldn’t injure himself. And then even when he was injured Abreu still kept playing. During the stretch run of the 2005 season Abreu was so injured that he should have been on the disabled list. But since the Phillies were chasing the wild card Abreu ignored suggestions to take some time off in order to play.

He just thought that the team was better when he played.

For more than 151 games in the last nine straight seasons, Abreu has been out there working counts and getting hits in order to post the stats and help his team win. It’s just that in all of those games he chose not to run into outfield fences because, well… he wanted to play. Abreu believed that he was more valuable to his team over the long season by playing rather than being injured.

In Philadelphia, it seemed, we want out players to be injured unless, of course, they are actually injured.

Now with the Yankees, it appears as if the durable Abreu is finally injured. Actually, Abreu is so injured that he is going to be shut down from activity for at least the next two weeks because there is nothing the Yankees’ trainers can do for him.

The problem: a pulled oblique muscle in his right side.

“It was painful,” Abreu told reporters on Tuesday. “You just have to hang with it, and don’t try to worry about too much. It’s sore. I felt a little pain there and thought it was nothing to worry about. I kept swinging and then, after one swing, I felt a big pain.”

But come opening day everyone – Abreu included – expects the right fielder to be out there.

Like it or not, that’s just what he does.

Elsewhere…
The Phillies announced that Flyers’ play-by-play man Jim Jackson has joined the broadcast team as the host of the pre- and post-game radio shows.

Fear not Flyers’ fans, Jackson is not giving up hockey. Instead, the 20-year hockey veteran will get his first taste of Major League Baseball action.

Friday leftovers

Happy Thanksgiving and Black Friday, everyone. I hope those tryptophans didn’t make you too sluggish.

Nevertheless, Pat Gillick and the Phillies brass appears to be on the verge of heating up the hot stove, or some other overused imagery like that. According to ESPN’s baseball sage Buster Olney, the Phillies are one of three teams – the Astros and Orioles are the other two – in the mix to land slugger Carlos Lee. On Thursday Olney wrote that if the Phillies get Lee it’s a serious 180-degree turn from the team’s stance when dealing away Bobby Abreu.

Actually, it’s the same issue I had with the pursuit of Alfonso Soriano, however, Lee like mercenary Soriano, is right-handed. The Phillies, apparently, are willing to overlook a lot of flaws and financial constraints for simple right-handedness.

Anyway, as Olney wrote:

If the Phillies wind up winning this bidding, it’s doubtful that there will be a more glaring example of a front-office strategic flip-flop that costs the team tens of millions of dollars: On July 30, the Phillies essentially gave away on-base percentage machine Bobby Abreu to the Yankees because they wanted to get out from underneath the $23 million still owed to him, in ’06 and ’07 salary. And now, four months later, they are on the verge of signing another player who is A) roughly the same age (Abreu is 32, Lee is 30); B) much worse defensively, considering his range and throwing arm; C) an inferior athlete — Lee’s thickening body greatly concerns some general managers; and D) much, much, much more expensive, with the team’s financial obligation for an impact corner outfielder increasing by perhaps as much as $85 million, if the Phillies’ bid takes them over $100 million.

Now, the one real plus that Lee has, in how he fits the Phillies, is that he’s a right-handed hitter who will slot in well with left-handed hitters Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

By the way, I think we can safely assume that the Yankees are going to pick up the $16 million option on Abreu’s contract for 2008, barring a serious injury, in light of how contract costs have skyrocketed this off-season.

Lee, of course, has four straight 30-plus homer and 100-RBI seasons in a row, as well as two straight All-Star appearances. He also does not strikeout as much as typical power hitters (or walk as much) and has played in at least 140 games in the last seven seasons. This means that Lee, like Abreu, is consistent. It also means that Lee just might be what Gillick thinks the Phillies need to “protect” Ryan Howard and Chase Utley.

Looking to the winter

For anyone who has followed the news lately, there doesn’t need to be an explaination about what has been happening here in Lancaster County. Though I live a short 25 to 30 minute drive from the so-called Amish Country, my part of Lancaster may as well be on the other side of the earth from there.

But when something happens out there it resonnates throughout our city. More than that, an attack to the Amish way is an assault on all of us.

On to the baseball…

Needless to say the Phillies season ended rather anti-climatically after a month in which it seemed as if the wild-card race was a bottle of soda being shook up in an industrial paint mixer. But before the top could be popped, the Phillies fizzled.

Surprised?

I get the sense that the Phillies will head into this winter more optimistic than they had been during the past failed seasons. Maybe that has something to do with how well the team played after the trade deadline, or that proven GM Pat Gillick is in charge… who knows? Just be sure that the Phillies really think the future is very bright and expect them to market the ’07 season accordingly.

Nevertheless, there are a few pressing issues Gillick and the brass have to iron out. The situation with Pat Burrell and the outfield is high on that list, along with shoring up the five spots on the pitching rotation and adding strength to the bullpen.

In regard to the pitching, don’t expect both Jamie Moyer or Randy Wolf to return. Wolf is a free agent who would like to return to the Phillies, while Moyer is a 20-year vet who would prefer to pitch for a team that trains in Arizona and plays near his home in Seattle. Interestingly, though, Moyer has an option for ’07 that he will likely exercise. Where that leaves him and the Phillies is any one’s guess.

Could Moyer be traded for a reliever? Doubtful, but you never know.

Meanwhile, if Jon Lieber and Brett Myers are going to remain at the top of the Phillies’ rotation, both pitchers must do something about their fitness… or else. Not only did both pitchers’ girth effect their performances — especially in regard to injuries and athletic nature of the game — it was also a bit embarrassing. I know Manuel said something to Lieber about his weight in the past, but it has now reached the point where it can’t be a dirty, little joke. Lieber and Myers have to get into athletic shape and the Phillies have to make them.

As for the bullpen, I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so about Arthur Rhodes. Go ahead, click here and read the story I wrote when they traded for him. I’m not often correct, but whn I am I like to gloat.

Still, though he pitched well until he was worn down to a little nub, Geoff Geary is not the answer at the back end of the Phillies’ bullpen. Maybe the answer is Ryan Madson, who went through something of a lost year this season as he bounced back and forth between the rotation and ‘pen. Expect Madson to be back where he belongs for the entire season in 2007.

But the Phillies will still need some horses back there. Gillick definitely knows that championship teams are often built from the back to the front, and, like last year, expect the GM to attempt to strengthen the pitching staff.

Live, from New York…
I must admit that my favorite part about watching the baseball playoffs is watching the former Phillies in action. That’s always been the case — I even have a vague recollection of Jay Johnstone playing first base for the Yankees in the clinching game of the 1978 World Series. It was a day game and we lived in D.C. and Johnstone played for the Phillies earlier that year.

That’s about all I remember from that World Series.

However, I remember sitting in a conference room in Citizens Bank Park listening to Ed Wade refuse to talk about Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling and Terry Francona making the run to the World Series in 2004. I think Ed thought we were picking on him.

Anyway, I especially enjoyed Bobby Abreu deliver a clutch, two-run double to open up the scoring for the Yankees in the blowout victory in last night’s opener. And there, at third base was Larry Bowa waving those runners in.

Man does Bobby Abreu fit in well with that team.

Friday morning musings

Here’s one from a columnist named Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch where he writes that it could be worse for the Cardinals and their fans during the current losing skid — they could be Phillies fans. Yeah, ouch.

Either way, Gordon doesn’t shed new light on anything. It’s included here because I thought it was interesting how the Phillies and their organization are viewed outside of the vortex of the Delaware Valley. Judging from the column, it’s safe to say that it’s not very different.

Meanwhile, the Phillies have won three games in a row, six of their last seven and eight of the last 10 games to climb out of oblivion to just 2 1/2 games off the pace in the wild-card race. That makes the Phillies and the Yankees the hottest teams in baseball.

And to think, all it took was a little trade for both teams.

Ex-Phillie watch
Vicente Padilla, who general manager Pat Gillick shipped to Texas for, well, nothing, during the off season, was picked up for a suspected DUI last night.

Soapbox time: As a father of a two-year-old boy and uncle to three kids all under the age of three, irresponsibility while driving is very troublesome — and this has nothing to do with Padilla because he hasn’t been indicted and is only a suspect. Nevertheless, it’s hard to have any sympathy for jackass drivers who could do damage to themselves or a child. I’ve lost one too many friends because of car accidents that could have been avoided.

Rant over.

Back to Padilla — now does everyone understand why the Phillies cast him out for nothing? Certainly, Padilla’s habits in Philadelphia were no secret and this doesn’t take into account his fitness, or lackthereof. In fact, a bunch of writers knew that the team was going to let him walk as early as last September when the Phillies were still in the wild-card race and Padilla was pitching quite well. But whether he pitched well or not, the enigmatic Nicaraguan just wasn’t worth the trouble.

Padilla definitely has a few demons brewing beneath the surface. After all, he was in the car during a car accident in his native Nicaragua where his best friend was killed a few years ago. Through it all, the Phillies always denied — at least officially — that Padilla had a problems. It always seemed as if the Phillies were more concerned about touting Padilla’s potential as a pitcher than anything else. Yes, he was very talented — actually, there was a time when hitters feared Padilla like no other pitcher. I still remember Padilla coming four outs away from a no-hitter in a game at the Vet against the Diamondbacks.

But Padilla, from a severely rural and poor upbringing in Nicaragua, never really knew how to fit in with his teammates on the Phillies or the media. He spoke English and could communicate with teammates, but often refused to do it. Sometimes it seemed as if he was from another planet.

Lets hope the Rangers are less worried about what Padilla can do on the mound and help him get himself together.

More Abreu trade fodder
In today’s edition of Baseball Prospectus, Jim Baker wrote a story about how Bobby Abreu and his penchant for drawing a walk per game makes the Yankees almost unbeatable. Almost.

Here’s a graf from the opus:

I’m not saying that Abreu in and of himself makes the Yankees unbeatable, but he assures them of having more of the type of individual games where the records show teams have a much easier time winning. Ideally, that is what all deadline deals should do for those in competition.

Abreu had another multi-hit game for the Yankees last night and the Bombers are undefeated since his arrival. Based on wins and losses it appears as if the trade worked out well for both clubs.

Reading:

  • Lidle’s First Win as Yankee Comes With a Sweet RewardThe New York Times
    Looks like the Yankees like ice cream, too.
  • Best Hitters Still Chasing Yankee ClipperThe New York Times
    Every one is taking notice of Chase Utley.
  • Abreu Is Just the Latest to Get in Line for a RingThe New York Times
  • Good reading…

    Here are some stories that stood out on Monday morning:

  • Scott Lauber’s feature in the Wilmington News Journal on Tommy John surgery is outstanding. This is his first year covering the Phillies, but already Lauber has stood out with his enthusiasm. He could turn out to be another Doug Lesmerises.
  • The New Yorker’s take on the Bobby Abreu deal in The Times from local kid Tyler Kepner and Jack Curry. According to the story, the Yankees believe they got a steal. It’s hard to argue with that.
  • From the before-and-after file, here’s on from Dennis Deitch of the Delco Times published on Feb. 16, 2003 and the reprisal from July 31, 2006. Deitch has an innate ability to cut through the crap and tell the real story. For anyone who appreciates real iconoclasts, Deitch is your man. Better yet, he wisely believes that the Pixies are the greatest band in the past 25 years.

    I call them No. 1a, standing astride Fugazi, but that’s a different post for later.

  • And, of course, there is Todd Zolecki’s short interview with Cory Lidle, who hucked a Moltov cocktail on his way out of Philadelphia. Very nice.
  • Since you’ve been gone

    I spent most of today playing catch up with what has been happening with the Phillies as well as on the East Coast and this is what I learned:

  • Humidity is an awful, awful thing. Yes, we were lucky enough to miss the horrible heat that tour through the area last week, but going from highs of 17 percent humidity — with temperatures never going higher than 85 –to this is very difficult. It just makes everything feel so heavy and malodorous.Moreover, when people say it is much more difficult training for a marathon in humidity than at altitude, they are correct. Sure, today’s 14-miler was performed nearly 2-minutes per mile faster than what I was able to do in Colorado where we were between 7,500 to 8,200 feet, but I felt like I was walking in a furnace here. Worse, now I’m paying for it with a case of heat cramps.

    Fun.

  • You know how they say people on the East are in more of a hurry, aren’t as friendly, and suffer fools less? It’s true. Next to the humidity, the biggest difference I notice when I return to our coast is the vibe emanating from the people like the heat off the macadam. Sadly to say, I kind of enjoy the rush and rudeness.
  • No one is sure whether or not the Phillies are “buyers” or “sellers,” using the popular parlance of the times. Needless to say, the results from this weekend’s four-game series against the Braves should clear that up nicely for GM Pat Gillick and his minions.Along those lines, whether the Phils are adding or subtracting, Bobby Abreu and/or Pat Burrell appear likely to finish the season with another team. That’s more so the case with Abreu than Burrell based on what the ballscribes are writing these days.

    Like rumors and innuendo? Here’s some fun stuff from ESPN’s Rumor Central:

    Shea Hillenbrand
    ESPN.com and Scouts Inc.’s Keith Law reports that the Angels have no interest in acquiring Hillenbrand, who was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays on Wednesday.

    ESPN The Magazine’s Buster Olney reports the Giants, however, are interested in Hillenbrand. The Toronto Sun, meanwhile, reports several other teams are in the mix to get Hillenbrand. Included in the list are the Brewers, Twins, Phillies, Dodgers and Padres.

    “We’re confident that we will be able to move him,” Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi said in a report in the Sun. “We’ll play it all out and try to get the best deal we can.”

    Bobby Abreu
    While the Mets are interested in acquiring Bobby Abreu, the New York Post reports outfield prospect Lastings Milledge will not be moved as part of any trade for the Phillies’ right fielder.

    The paper reports that people close to Mets GM Omar Minaya say the only player Milledge would be traded for right now is Marlins left-hander Dontrelle Willis, but he isn’t currently available.

    The Detroit News reports that the Tigers are no longer looking to acquire Abreu, and instead are keying in on making a trade for Alfonso Soriano.

    Any teams interested in Abreu, meanwhile, must be prepared to pay a hefty price, reports ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick. Not only is Abreu owed $15 million in 2007, but he also has a complete no-trade clause. So any new team would likely need to pay for 2007, pay his $16M salary for 2008 and give him a contract extension in order for Abreu to waive his no-trade clause.

    ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark reports that the Phillies are also looking for an impact player and another player in exchange for Abreu.

    Rodrigo Lopez
    The Orioles have discussed trading Lopez to the Phillies for one of their outfielders, either Bobby Abreu or Pat Burrell, according to the Baltimore Sun.

    Sources told the Sun that the Phillies would be willing to take Lopez and a mid-level prospect if the O’s would pay a large portion of the contract for Burrell or Abreu. One official, though, called the deal “unlikely.”

    Meanwhile, the Orioles are talking to other teams about Lopez, including Arizona, St. Louis, San Diego, Texas and the Yankees.

    Buster Olney wrote that the future of the Phillies is contingent upon how Gillick’s decisions of the next 10 days. Olney wrote:

    Does Gillick, along with other Phillies executives, believe Abreu is worth one-sixth of the team’s payroll?

    Maybe they’ll determine that Abreu, with his gaudy on-base percentage and his speed, is worth the cash. Or maybe they’ll determine they’ll be better off making sure they dump his contract now and ensure they can spend money currently allocated for Abreu on other players.

    Whatever happens, the next 10 days should be pretty interesting.

  • Who’s up first?

    As far as controversies go, this one won’t be screaming from the back pages any time soon. Actually, it’s could hardly be called a controversy at all. It’s just a matter of writing one ballplayer’s name higher on a list and moving another one a little further down.

    You know, it’s not really that big of a deal in the scheme of things.

    But around here we have a way of making things a bigger deal than they really are or need to be. That’s just what we do. It’s especially the case when the brewing controversy in question has been something writers, radio-types and fans have all been talking about for the past few years and it seems as if it has finally come to a point where a decision will be made.

    Will Bobby Abreu become the Phillies’ leadoff hitter? Better yet, should anyone other than Jimmy Rollins be the team’s first hitter in the batting order?

    Yeah, not exactly a deep, philosophical head-scratcher when one thinks about it.

    But, you know, lets just talk about it one more time right here.

    As everyone who follows the Phillies closely knows, Rollins has been the club’s primary leadoff hitter since he broke into the Major Leagues in late 2000. Diminutive and as quick as fox in a hen house, Rollins grew up in Oakland, Calif. idolizing Rickey Henderson. It just so happens that Henderson was the greatest leadoff man the game as even known, who would do anything he could in order to get on base. In fact, toward the end of his career when he could no longer get the bat around on a fastball, Henderson still rated amongst the league leaders in walks, and on-base percentage.

    Long before on-base percentage was the trendy statistic, Henderson knew that if he could get on base his team had a better chance to win.

    But unlike Henderson, Rollins does not possess the attributes that a top-notch, top-of-the-order man needs. Rollins likes to swing the bat and put the ball in play and as a result, the amount of times he gets on base depends on whether or not he gets a hit – that’s something only the most elite players do once every three times at-bat. So because of Rollins’ penchant for swinging the bat and not drawing walks, he and his .317 on-base percentage isn’t very good. Actually, when the first guy in the batting order fails to get on base close to 70 percent of the time, the team suffers.

    But manager Charlie Manuel is stubborn. Even though there is an alternative, Manuel remains loyal to writing Rollins’ name at the top of his lineup card. Why not Abreu?

    “Sometimes you have to show confidence in a guy, show him you believe in him,” Manuel told reporters last weekend, noting that Rollins is the team’s only legitimate base-stealing threat.

    Loyalty is an admirable trait. Often, showing loyalty to another person is the best characteristic there is. Yet at the same time, loyalty can also be a detriment. It can provide one with a false sense of security and maybe even apathy when tenacity and the fear of reprisal would be more apt. This isn’t to say that Rollins has become soft or apathetic in his role as the leadoff hitter, it’s just that maybe Manuel needs an intervention to help him cutoff his devotedness.

    Perhaps the manager could grow to show that same steadfastness to Abreu?

    With his .455 on-base percentage – which rates right up there with the game’s elite – as well as his uncanny patience at the plate, Abreu appears to be the ideal candidate to leadoff for the Phillies.

    “The reason I like Bobby third is he is hitting with runners in scoring position and puts up some big numbers,” Manuel explained to reporters last weekend. “What does a leadoff hitter have to do? He has to have a good on-base percentage. He has to get on base a lot. But what does the No. 3 hitter do? He’s supposed to get on base, too. He’s definitely one of our best hitters in the lineup. If my best hitter hits with guys in scoring position and he’s a doubles and home run hitter, am I strong enough to put him in the leadoff spot? That’s it more than anything.”

    Manuel’s theory just might be right on. After all, a quick glance at the league leaders in on-base percentage shows that only handful of the top 40 leadoff for their teams. The top guys – Barry Bonds, Abreu, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Jason Bay – all bat in the middle of the order.

    Besides, Tuesday night’s game-winning rally was sparked by Rollins – again at the top of the order after a three-game hiatus – getting things started with a single and Abreu bashing a three-run homer.

    If the Phillies keep doing that there will be no controversy at all… at least not about the batting order.

    Everybody’s workin’ for the weekend

    Another weekend, another big series for the Phillies. Actually, make that two big series in a row. The reason why the three games against the Brewers and Nationals are so important — aside from the obvious for a 24-22 club standing four games off the pace in the NL East at Memorial Day weekend — is that after this set of games ends, the Phillies hit the road for 11 games in a row.

    Either way, I’m going to miss the series vs. the Brewers, but more on that later. For now, lets chat about Bobby Abreu’s defense during the series against the Mets. Or perhaps more appropriately, how about his lack of defense?

    For years now, fans, commentators, and the press have been quite critical of Abreu’s defense. Actually, critical would be nice. But it’s not wrong.

    Abreu mishandled two balls hit near the rightfield fence this week that proved to be costly to the Phillies. One play, a drive off Jon Lieber on Tuesday night, resulted in ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk to say on Daily News Live that someone on the team should confront Abreu.

    Maybe that’s what “Gold Glover” Abreu needs when his defense appears as disinterested as it was this week. But to suggest that Abreu should “run into the wall” is just silly. It just isn’t going to happen (and who wants the best hitter on the team injured), just like Abreu hitting leadoff is not going to happen.

    ed. note: Looks like it could happen based on the reports from Shea. Looks like I’m wrong and Bobby is ready to slide up the batting order.

    Nevertheless, there was a time when Abreu played inspired defense. He ran down fly balls with reckless abandon and displayed a strong right arm that kept runners in check. But in July of 2000, Abreu went into the wall for a flyball at Yankee Stadium and came out of the play a little banged up. He didn’t miss any games from that crash landing, but he has shied away from all contact since.

    But he can still hit.

    As far as the leadoff stuff goes, there was a stretch of 19 games during the 2000 season (Aug. 20 to Sept. 9) when Terry Francona put Abreu at the top of the order and just let him go. The numbers from those 19 games?

    AB – 71
    R -12
    H- 22
    RBI – 11
    2B – 4
    3B – 1
    HR – 5
    SB – 4
    BB – 18
    K – 13
    AVG – .310
    OBP – .449

    Those numbers look like someone who can handle the leadoff spot. Who knows, maybe Abreu was Rickey Henderson all along?

    Yeah, but can it tie my shoes?
    Nike and iPod announced that it has joined forces to create a new wireless system that allows your spefically desgned Nike running shoe to communicate with your iPod to give pertinent feedback such as distance travelled, pace and calories burned. Not only will it record the information on your iPod, but also it will speak to you and tell you exactly what you are doing.

    More than that, later you can hook your iPod up to Nike’s web site to keep track of your workouts.

    So much for the old running log or getting in the car to drive off your mileage.

    The shoes ($100 to $129) and the wireless unit ($29) hit the market in July with the Nike Zoom Moire with more models to follow. There will also be other Nike+iPod accessories, too, such as spefically designed outer wear that will hold your devices and cords to keep your hands free.

    Interestingly, according to business writer Darren Rovell, Nike’s stock jumped up two percent after the announcement of the new products.

    Needless to say, I know people who will buy this, and it’s hard to deny the coolness factor of this gadget. In fact, I would hop on board if I didn’t have to wear the Nikes.

    Now I have nothing against Nike (aside from the reported sweatshops, of course) and as a one-time competitive runner just out of retirement (or a five-year hiatus… that sounds better) I wear Nike clothes for workouts and dare anyone to find a finer marathon racer than the steady and austere Mariah. But as long as adidas continues to make the Ozweego trainer, Phil Knight and Steve Jobs won’t be able to send me any subliminal messages.

    In July of 1996 I got my first pair of Ozweegos and haven’t worn anything else since. This weekend I’ll wear a pair of Ozweegos in the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, Vermont as I travel with friends John May and Luke Smith as they take their maiden voyage over 26.2 miles.

    It will be No. 12 for me, but the first one since the 2001 Boston Marathon. So instead of Phillies vs. Brewers over a holiday weekend, we’re going for self-imposed discomfort.

    Perhaps we’ll be able to check in at some point this weekend or at least provide all sorts of updates, if not, enjoy the weekend, the baseball, and the holiday.

    Pre-rainout notes for Thursday

    Here comes a big rambling preface, which may or may not have anything to do with the fact I’m going to write (eventually). I suppose we’ll all be able to figure it out as soon as I get there, so let’s get going…

    Anyway, based on some research I did during spring training in 2004, it was determined that the best indicator for the amount of games a team will win is not ERA, strikeouts per 9 innings, batting average or even slugging percentage. The magical statistic? on-base percentage.

    Based on that rudimentary research covering the 2001, 2002 and 2003 seasons, it was determined that the teams that ranked at the top of the standings often had the highest on-base percentage. In fact, it was quite uncanny how important doing something as basic as getting on base did for a team’s chances. I was also quite surprised that a pitching statistic like WHIP or ERA was not as telling as the on-base percentage was. In reality, there are often teams with mediocre records that rate toward the top of the charts in team ERA.

    So why am I writing this? Because Bobby Abreu is riding a 4-for-27 skid during the Phillies’ last 10 games, yet has reached base safely in 26 consecutive games and has a .444 on-base percentage this season. Despite the .269 batting average, Abreu leads the National League with 36 walks — more than Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols — rates fifth in on-base percentage, and eighth in runs.

    With Abreu bringing up the rear, the Phillies have four players (Burrell 8th, Utley 15th, Howard 17th) in the top 18 in OPS.

    In other words, Abreu is the quintessential Moneyball player.

    There’s more, too. Close to one-third of all of Abreu’s at-bats come against lefties, while nearly half of his late inning at-bats are against lefties who are specifically in the game to face him. That makes it even tougher for him to produce yet his numbers are always amongst the best in the game. In fact, throughout his career, Abreu’s statistics are consistent throughout the game whether he is facing a lefty in a close game in the latter innings, or whether he’s coming up with two outs in the first inning and no one on base.

    Earlier this week I had a chance to ask Abreu about his two divergent streaks to which he said it was just a matter of time before the hits started falling, but that he was going to “be here for the team and do what I can to help us win. That’s it. Just win.”

    Getting on base is a pretty good place to start if a player wants to help his team win. At least that’s what the numbers indicate.