Given a choice between having Albert Pujols or Chase Utley for his team, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel answered quickly and without hesitation.
“Come on, I gotta go with my guy,” the skipper chided.
It wasn’t an answer based in loyalty or a show of solidarity for his guy either. Manuel firmly believes that Chase Utley is the best player in the National League. He even said as much following the 13-3 victory over Pujols’ World Champion Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night. Certainly Utley made it easy for Manuel to boast, too, by rapping out four hits to go with three RBIs to give him 71 for the season – second-best in the league – as well as his 17th home run.
Add in the fact that Utley is hitting .331 – 10 points behind league-leader Hunter Pence of Houston – and it gives Manuel’s claims more than just the mark of pride for his guy.
“He’s probably the best player the National League,” Manuel said. “And I get to see him every day.”
The last part of that quote was the real bit braggadocio. “I get to see him,” he said. “Every day.”
In a way it was a challenge, perhaps. No, not for Utley to live up to another man’s boast and help carry the bruised and battered Phillies in their push to overtake the Braves and Mets in the NL East. Instead it seemed as if the manager was telling the other folks who also have the privilege to get to see Utley play every day to enjoy it. Players like that don’t come around that often, he seemed to plead.
It also shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Manuel touted his All-Star candidate and MVP candidate on a night when Pujols and Ryan Howard were in the ballpark. Howard, of course, hits in the lineup after Utley and plays on the same side of the infield. He also is the reigning NL MVP after slugging a franchise record 58 home runs last season and currently leads the club with 21 more this season. After a slow and injury-plagued start to the 2007 season, Howard has shown glimpses of a return to his MVP form.
Pujols, on the other hand, might just go down as one of the greatest hitters of this era. In his first six seasons Pujols has never finished worse than fourth in the NL MVP balloting and claimed the award in 2005 after second-place finishes in 2002, 2003 and 2006. In his six-and-half season Pujols has clubbed 267 homers, driven in 811 runs with a .330 batting average.
Oh yeah, Pujols rarely strikes out. When he digs in at the plate it’s a safe bet that Pujols is going to hit the ball somewhere. Hard.
Still, given a choice Manuel will take his guy. You know, the one on pace to hit 30 homers and drive in 130 runs in the first year of his brand-new, seven-year contract.
“I think it’s a compliment,” Utley shrugged to reporters, noting that there are still 73 games remaining in the season.
But that’s Utley. The compliments are nice and so are the back-to-back starting nods in the All-Star Game, but to Utley a player is only as good as his last game, his last at-bat or his last play in the field. He’s clearly not interested or comfortable in talking about himself. Oh sure, he knows he’s a really good player – how could he not? But to Utley playing hard and playing well is their own reward. Celebrating is something he shares with his teammates after a victory. For Utley, the focus is on the here and now, always striving to improve in every game, every at-bat and every play in the field.
And for Utley, improving is beginning to become a monumental task.
How much better can he get?
Anyone wondering if ignorance is truly bliss needs to look no further than Gary Sheffield and his much-publicized interview with HBO’s “Real Sports.” Check out some of the highlights here, via Steroid Nation.
Apparently the genius manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, Tony La Russa, got a little testy with some members of the local baseball press following last night’s 13-3 loss.
Here’s something interesting to ponder: La Russa is in the last year of his deal with the Cardinals, while Manuel is in the last year of his deal with the Phillies. Wouldn’t it be something if they traded positions, or at the very least, if La Russa took over as skipper for the Phillies?
Then we’d get to see how the genius handles his brains power being dissected. You know, like leaving Pujols on the bench in the ninth inning with two outs and the bases loaded in a one-run game.
Yeah, he was saving him for extra innings. Uh-huh, a real genius there.
I did a little investigating spurred by a chat and have deduced the following:
• Don’t expect a decision from the USADA arbitration panel on the Floyd Landis case until after the Tour de France. The panel has to render a decision in 10 days after the case has been closed, and apparently the arbitrators are still pouring over the evidence and arguments.
• Expect the ruling to come back 2-1 against Floyd. Arbitrators in such cases don’t get their jobs by being fair – they get them by being political.
“This was 2-1 against Landis before the first argument.”
I have some more stuff, too, but haven’t been able to corroborate it yet. As soon as I get a chance to ask some more questions I’ll dish away. I’m also still planning on writing the review of David Walsh’s From Lance to Lance: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France. According to a couple of folks who have crossed paths with Walsh and have read his book the short review is very consistent.
“A house of cards.”
Most scribes that have been around for more than a few years know that when there is smoke there is also fire. However, if one is going to present the smoke as fact, they better have the goods down cold. After all, anyone who has ever spent time in a press box or media room and covered a sport has some really good stories.
Trust me. They’re good.
Suddenly I feel like David Walsh and Kitty Kelly’s love child…
Meanwhile, the Lance vs. Landis race at the Leadville 100 appears to be on. I say call up Jan Ullrich and Bjarne Riis and turn it into a party…
Speaking of love, today is Bastille Day and there is nothing the folks lining the mountain road from Bourg-en-Bresse over the category 1 climb at Col de la Colombiére to Le Grand-Bornand wanted to see more than a Frenchman in the lead.
That just ain’t going to happen.
My take is that a lot of the folks in France wouldn’t be disappointed if their country’s grand Tour became a lot less international and featured their best countrymen. That’s kind the sense I get from the folks in Boston about their marathon. If some slender dude from Quincy or Jamaica Plain were to win every year instead of the best runners from around the globe, it wouldn’t bother the Bostonians all that much.
France’s best hope in the 2007 Tour is Christophe Moreau is 36-years old and a veteran of the 1998 Festina doping scandal. Though he won the Dauphiné Libéré race this year, and despite finishing ninth in today’s stage at 3-minutes and 38 seconds behind winner Linus Gerdemann of T-Mobile and Germany, Moreau is not considered a threat.
How can you have a Tour de France without a dude from Germany named Linus?
Gerdemann, more than a decade younger than Moreau, isn’t considered a threat to win the Tour either, but as the race enters its second week the 24-year old is the man in Yellow. How long he holds onto it remains to be seen, however. Gerdemann’s big win on Saturday is viewed as a bit of a surprise and perhaps the kid emptied the tank with his victory. After all, the riders face three category 1 climbs tomorrow in the Alps from Le Grand-Bornand to an uphill finish in the skiing village of Tignes.
After the first rest day on Monday, the Tour gets even more difficult on Tuesday when the riders face Col du I’lseran and the infamous Col du Galibier with a category 1 climb at Col du Télégraphe mixed in for fun.
“It doesn’t mean a lot,” said contender Cadel Evans about the young German’s win. “It’s still very early.”
Stage 7 Final
1.) Linus Gerdemann, T-Mobile, Germany, in 4:53:13
2.) Inigo Landaluze, Euskaltel, Spain, at :40
3.) de la Fuente, Saunier Duval, Spain, at 1:39
4.) Mauricio Soler, Barloworld, Colombia, at 2:14
5.) Laurent Lefevre, Bouygues Telecom, France, at 2:21
6.) Fabian Wegmann, Gerolsteiner, Germany, at 3:32
7.) Juan Manuel Garate, Quick Step, Spain, at 3:38
8.) Xavier Florencio, Bouygues Telecom, Spain, at 3:38
9.) Christophe Moreau, AG2R, France, at 3:38
10.) Alejandro Valverde, Caisse d’Epargne, Spain, at 3:38
1.) Linus Gerdemann, T-Mobile, Germany, in 34:43:40
2.) Inigo Landaluze, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Spain, at 1:24
3.) David de la Fuente, Saunier Duval, Spain, at 2:45
4.) Laurent Lefevre, Bouygues Telecom, France, at 2:55
5.) Mauricio Soler, Barloworld, Colombia, at 3:05
6.) Andreas Klöden, Astana, Germany, at 3:39
7.) Vladimir Gusev, Discovery Channel, Russia, at 3:51
8.) Vladimir Karpets, Caisse d’Epargne, Russia, at 3:52
9.) Mikel Astarloza, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Spain, at 3:55
10.) Thomas Dekker, Rabobank, Netherlands, at 3:57