TIMBER!

Timber!OK, so which is it that is most impressive? Is it the Phillies surge in which they have won 12 of their last 15 games in which they overcame a 7-game deficit on Sept. 12 and now hold a 1-game advantage with two games to go?

Or is it the Mets’ stunning collapse/choke job/freefall that has conjured up remembrances of the 1964 Phillies? It should, because obliterating a 7-game lead with 17 games to play is a much bigger collapse than the one by the ’64 Phillies.

Sure, in ’64 the Phillies lead the National League by 6½ games with 12 to go to miss out on the World Series. But in those days, of course, there were no divisional playoff berths and no wild card. There was just the regular season and then straight to the World Series.

The ’64 Phillies had nothing to fall back on to give them a chance to regroup in the playoffs.

The Mets’ collapse has come in an age where if they did not win the division, they could focus their attention on the wild-card berth. But then again, who worries about the wild card when a team is leading the division by 7 games with 17 to go and has been in first place for 135 straight days?

Maybe the Mets should have.

Needless to say the big “Freak Out” has begun in New York. A story in the Times about the Mets’ team poet had this great quote:

“As a fan, my world is caving in because the Mets are collapsing.”

Maybe we should compose a few couplets about the Mets’ collapse, too. If anyone has anything good, send them in and we’ll try to cobble together a poem called, “An Ode to the Mets’ Collapse.”

What rhymes with “choke?”

***
If the season were to end today (it will end tomorrow instead), the Phillies would host the San Diego Padres in the first round of the NLDS and the Cubs and Diamondbacks are set in the other side.

It’s also set up for Cole Hamels to pitch in Game 1 against his hometown team…

How is that for a coincidence?

More from the ballpark this afternoon…

Phillies vs. Mets on Monday?

Cole HamelsCole Hamels is in the bullpen warming up, the fans are filtering into the sold-out ballpark and the oppressive humid has finally broken and given way to a decidedly autumnal tinge.

It feels like playoff baseball time[1].

Meanwhile, the word filtered down from New York City that despite all of the bluster to the contrary, the Mets have resigned themselves to participating in a playoff game in Philadelphia on Monday. If such an event were to occur, people will need tickets for the game. So when and if a playoff game is scheduled for Monday and/or Tuesday, the Phillies announced they will sell tickets.

Here’s the Phillies’ announcement:

In order to prepare and plan, the Phillies are announcing that tickets will go on public sale once the tie-breaking game has been deemed necessary.

Full season ticket holders (81 games) have been mailed their locations. Season ticket holders and E-Mail Club members will be offered the opportunity to purchase tie-breaker tickets in advance of the public sale.

Tickets may be purchased on Sunday (once a game has been deemed necessary) via the following outlets:

ONLINE: www.phillies.com.

When ordering via the internet, the Phillies suggest choosing the convenient “print at home” option. Access to the internet is available 24 hours a day.

PHONE CENTER: (215) 463-1000. Again, once the game has been deemed necessary, the Phone Center will be open Sunday until 10:00 p.m. . . . Phone lines will open again at 8:00 a.m. on Monday.

The Phillies suggest fans choose the “print at home” option or pick up their will call tickets well in advance of the game, either Sunday night or early Monday morning.

IN PERSON: Two Citizens Bank Park locations: (1) First Base Gate ticket windows (on Pattison Avenue) and (2) West ticket windows (on Citizens Bank Way, adjacent to the Majestic Clubhouse Store). Hours: Sunday until 10:00 p.m. The ticket windows will reopen at 8:00 a.m. on Monday.

***

WillieSpeaking of the New York Mets, there was a helluva quote in the Oct. 1, 2007 edition of the New York Observer from a story written by John Koblin. In the story headlined, “Gutsy Mr. Metsie,” all about how Mets’ skipper Willie Randolph is dealing with his team’s “September Swoon,” veteran lefty pitcher Tom Glavine is on the record saying:

“Sometimes when you’re a team as talented as we are—I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘bored,’ but I guess you can get complacent sometimes. You don’t pay attention to details every now and then because you do have a ton of talent and think you can on most days do everything you wanna do.”

So the Mets are collapsing because they are so good? They haven’t been paying attention to details?

I wonder if their curiosity has been piqued now?


[1] Not that most of us in the Phillies’ writing press corps actually knows what “playoff baseball” feels like. A lot of us have floated out into unchartered waters.

[2] a.k.a: a choke job of epic proportions

Are they trying to lose on purpose? Part deux

Mr. MetI heard David Wright, the third baseman, on the radio this morning talking about how his Mets’ teammates haven’t “made off-season plans yet.” At least I think it was the radio – at this point it’s really hard to decipher the voices in my head from the ones coming out of mechanical devices. I wish I was being funny, but I’m not… I feel like Apu Nahasapeemapetilon at the end of a 36-hour shift at the Kwik-E-Mart. Remember that? He thought he was a hummingbird.

Anyway, I don’t think Wright was trying to be funny about the plans for the off-season quote, either. However, he might feel like he and the Mets are caught in a swarm of hummingbirds as those little bleepers dive in and out with the hearts and wings racing a hundred-miles per second as they try to poke his eyes out.

In this scenario the Phillies are the hummingbirds. They are ravenous and beatific all at the same time. They are also tied for first place in the NL East with just three games to go in the season because the Mets just can’t win a game when it matters.

I just can’t get over the fact that if the Mets had been able to beat the lowly Washington Nationals at home in just one of the three games this week, this would all be over. The Mets would be making plans for where to stay on the road in the NLDS instead of hearing manager Willie Randolph tear into them like a wolverine on greenies in a post-game tirade following the team’s loss to the Cardinals last night. Heading into tonight’s action, the Mets have won just three of their last 13 games and they have lost seven games in a row at cranky old Shea Stadium.

It was also during those 13 games that the Mets’ lead over the Phillies shrank from seven games to nothing. Imagine that… seven to zero in two weeks! It’s like those ads for those crazy diet pills in which they claim a person can lose 25 pounds in four hours. But, if one day you’re hanging out with some friends and the topic of rock-solid, sure-footing in the NL East standings is broached, you can say, “Yeah, well, I once saw the Mets blow a seven-game lead with just 16 games to go.

Heimlich“It was ridiculous. It was like they were waiting around to lose[1].”

Stunning. It’s all so stunning.

Anyway, I also heard an announcer proclaim on the radio this morning[2] like and antebellum preacher that, “This isn’t a choke… This is a COLLAPSE!”

Unlike Wright, the announcer was trying to be funny. At least I think he was trying to be funny. But he seemed like one of those types of people that believed everything he said. He measured every word so that it would be significant, though you could hear it in his voice – he was worried. The hummingbirds were diving in like little, tiny P-51 Mustang fighter planes and a rolled up newspaper used to swat the pests away was hardly a defense.

So this is what it has come down to for the Phillies and Mets. The three games this weekend determine which team will play on in the post-season and which team will have to scramble to cobble together some off-season plans. Interestingly, too, is that that the Mets and Phillies are matched up against the two worst teams in their division. The Phillies host the Nationals this weekend, who are fresh off a three-game sweep over the Mets at Shea and are feeling pretty groovy because they did not lose 100 games this season. Everyone thought the Nats (72-87) would drop 110; instead they have a chance to not lose 90.

Meanwhile, the Mets entertain the Florida Marlins, which, coincidentally enough, is the only team they have managed to beat in the last two weeks. Like the Nats, the Marlins won’t lose 100 either. But unlike the Nats, this feat isn’t going to go down as any type of success. Heading into the season, the Marlins thought they had what it took to challenge the Mets, Phillies and Braves atop the division standings, but things just kinda didn’t work out.

Who will things work out for this weekend? Or, will things work out so well (or badly) for both teams that they will have to come back a day after the season ends to sort it all out?

***

M80Talked to Aaron Rowand, the center fielder, after last night’s game and offered a query whether this Phillies’ club had any similarities with the World Champion 2005 Chicago White Sox. Rowand, of course, was an integral player on that team, which was known for having fun and being colorful in the press. It also seems as if that White Sox team was a lot like a college fraternity, but not like the one that held toga parties or socials with the sororities. No, this frat was more like the one that held illegal off-campus keggers, built bonfires that weren’t easy to extinguish, and had a member who knew how to make home-made M-80s if he could ever locate the 50 milligrams of flash powder.

So when asked if this tight-knit Phillies bunch was like the 2005 champs, Rowand didn’t hesitate.

“No doubt,” he said emphatically.

“This is the second team I’ve been on where the group comes together. We all have the same goal and it’s special,” he said. “Whether we win or not it’s a special season.”

But all things being equal, he’d rather win.


[1] This is part of quote from Mets’ catcher Paul Lo Duca, who told reporters after Wednesday night’s loss that, “Seems to me like we’re all waiting to lose.” I’m using it to be clever. I think it worked, but I haven’t gone back to re-read any of this yet. Perhaps I’ll just finish writing this and go off to take a nap without the re-read? Hey, it was funny once – why ruin a moment for myself?

[2] At least I think it was this morning… does the post-1 a.m. drive back to Lancaster count as this morning? Technically, yes, it was this morning. But I always played by the rule that the day wasn’t over until I had gone to bed. Is this a common train of thought?

Are they trying to lose on purpose?

“Seems to me we’re all waiting to lose.”
– Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca

Billy WagnerYes, Paul we all noticed that, too. Actually, it doesn’t look like the Mets aren’t waiting to lose, it looks like they are trying to lose.

I could live to be 100-years old and I’ll never figure out how the first-place Mets – the team that most said had to go to the World Series or the season would be considered a failure – could not beat the Washington Nationals in one game at home this week. This is the same Washington Nationals’ club in which the manager is being considered for Manager of the Year honors because he didn’t lose100 games. You know, like that’s an accomplishment.

One win against the Nats and all of this hassle could have been over for the Mets. Just one stinkin’ game and the Phillies aren’t pounding on the door with a battering ram like a bunch of DEA agents. Two wins against the 72-87 Nationals, and the Mets could have had some champagne on ice for tonight’s game against Tony La Russa’s Cardinals.

“Seems to me like we’re all waiting to lose.”

The MetsSo watching the end of the Mets-Nats game on the TV hung over my seat in the press box, I saw the Mets roll over and expose their perfectly round, pink bellies for everyone to thrash away at. Better yet, they were like a picture of the dead bug on the old cockroach-killing ads where they were flat on their backs, with legs dangling in the air and Xs where their eyes should have been.

I also saw a few players who would have preferred to have been anywhere else but Shea Stadium. Yeah, he’s a “gamer” and all of that stuff, but did anyone really think that Billy Wagner wanted to be in for the ninth inning of a game that the Mets were losing? Worn down by a long season and maybe even a little too much use, Wagner promptly hucked that low-90s fastball up there and gave up a pair of runs with his team trailing by one.

Is this the end for the Mets? Can Willie Randolph get his reeling team together to hold off the Phillies? Can the genius that is Tony La Russa do a favor for the Phillies by coming up with something just clever enough to deal the Mets yet another loss?

Maybe he’ll have his pitcher hit eighth again… yeah, that always works. Maybe he’ll run the fumble-ruski or State of Liberty play?

Oh sure, those are football plays alright, but La Russa will figure it out.
***
Then again, the Phillies have to face a beyond-desperate Braves club tonight, who can’t lose any more games (and then hope for help) this season in order to cling to the flicker of a playoff chance. To keep hope alive the Braves will rally behind John Smoltz, one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

The Phillies will counter with 23-year old rookie Kyle Kendrick and 40,000 screaming fans.

***
Daniel Kingston Wann Our good friends Mike and Michelle Wann welcomed their second son into the world this morning at 1:47 a.m.. Daniel Kingston Wann came in easily at a slick 7-pounds, 8 ounces and 19½ inches and all reports are that Michelle and big brother Christopher are doing great.

But Mike… that’s a different story.

A little background: Mike and Michelle delivered Christopher in the comforts of their home here in the School Lane Hills neighborhood of Lancaster, Pa. Rather than go to the hospital and be subjected to all of the stuff that goes on at those places, the kids had a midwife come in while Mike did his best to stay out of trouble. And since he was at home, he could putter around in the yard while Michelle was upstairs delivering the baby.

It’s how I imagine our pioneer forefathers did things.

But this time, well, perhaps I should just turn it over to Mike:

Interesting Point: Admittedly, it was in this space I planned to be clever and funny as I told our story, but sometimes, when a tale is so outrageous and unbelievable, a well crafted build-up actually takes away from the drama. So here it goes; Michelle and I birthed this little rascal at home, by ourselves, with no assistance (this is no joke). Let me be clear, that was not our intention. It went down like this:

1. We wanted to do a home-birth, like our first one
2. We called the midwife when Michelle started labor at 10:30 PM
3. The midwife planned to come when the contractions reached 1 minute in length
4. Michelle’s water ruptured at 1:15 AM (we were still waiting for the 1 minute contractions)
5. The baby exited Michelle at 1:47 AM
6. The midwife entered the house at 1:55 AM

So what did we learn? It’s true, the second birth is quicker than the first. Oh, yeah, and you never know what you can do until the occasion presents itself.

Yeah, how about that?!?!

I received a phone call from Mike this morning and he asked me what I had done so far today. I told him that I had brushed my teeth, eaten a banana and I was about to go out for a run before I got into my car for the drive to Philadelphia to go to work. All things being equal, that’s a pretty busy day for a guy like me.

“Yeah, well I birthed a baby,” he said.

Top that.

Someone cue Tom Petty

down go the MetsWASHINGTON – the first thing I thought of as I pushed myself out of bed this morning was, “OK, where do I get coffee?”

The second thought was, “Look, there’s the Starbucks. Could a place that sells Gatorade be nearby?”

After that I wondered if Courier Post columnist Kevin Roberts had made it back to Philadelphia OK. Kevin, you see, came to The District last night to write all about the Phillies’ comeback victory over the Nationals, which pushed them to 1½ games of the lead in the NL East. After going down to the clubhouse to discuss matters with the winning team and then back to the press box to compose his story, Kevin was scheduled to take the 3 a.m. train from Union Station back to Philadelphia. And since he wrapped things up a little after midnight, a few of us thought we’d take Kev into town to help him wile away the time until his train arrived.

Who would have guessed there was no all-night bingo parlor in all of Washington, D.C.?

Nevertheless, Kevin made it to Union Station with time to spare.

But the really big question that was baffling me the most this morning is one that supporters of the Philadelphia Phillies are not asking themselves – at least they aren’t asking themselves with any great concern (nor am I).

The question:

What in the Sam Hill is wrong with the New York Mets?

Carlos RuizIn the midst of a freefall of monumental proportions, the Mets, as Phillies’ fans are well aware, have lost six of their last seven and seven of their last nine. During that span, the Mets’ lead over the Phillies in the East has shrunk from 6½ games to 1½ heading into Friday’s games.

Mets’ skipper Willie Randolph delivered one of the understatements of the season when talking about the latest loss with reporters last night.

“We’re definitely making it tough on ourselves, huh?”

Indeed. But not without some help. Last night’s game – as viewed from the press box at RFK on MLB.com’s Gamecast – seemed as surreal as it was dramatic. The Mets rallied to take a three-run the lead in the ninth when Marlon Anderson hit a bases-loaded triple with two outs, only to give those runs back in the bottom of the ninth when reliever Jorge Sosa could not close it out.

What? No Billy Wagner? Nope, according to reports ol’ Billy had back spasms and couldn’t take the ball.

Could Wagner finally be helping the Phillies get to the playoffs?

Anyway, it looks as if the Mets are getting a little tight and even the front-office types are feeling it. According to a story in Sports Illustrated, owner Jeff Wilpon is casting the blame for the Mets’ recent play on… well, everyone.

“I’m disappointed with the way the team is performing overall, and that’s everyone, top to bottom,” Wilpon told Sports Illustrated. “I’m disappointed in Omar (Minaya), Willie, the players … that’s everyone. We shouldn’t be in this position. But we are. We’ve got to fight our way out and pull this out.”

But no one has been able to explain the basic, simple question:

What in the Sam Hill is wrong with the New York Mets?

To figure it out, I put in a call to Mets’ pre- and post-game host on SNY, Matt Yallof. When Matt and I get to the bottom of this issue, I will report back right here.

The ‘pen is mighty?
Posh Spice While the Mets are preparing to roll over and expose their pink, rounded belly for the Phillies to claw apart, it’s interesting to note that the Phils are making their sprint for the finish line thanks largely to the bullpen.

Yes, the Posh Spice-thin bullpen.

To follow up Tuesday’s 14-inning victory in which the relievers tossed 11 frames one-run ball, the ‘pen went seven scoreless innings last night against the Nats. Of course the memory of Monday night’s near debacle where the relievers almost coughed up an 11-run lead, but since then they have been pretty good. In the last three games the bullpen has allowed just two runs in 21 2/3 innings.

Nevertheless, 21 2/3 innings is a lot of work in just three games… especially at this point of the season.

Closing up shop
In the past on these pages, I have opined about Washington’s RFK Stadium and the time I spent there in my youth. Though we could never go to see the Redskins play in the ol’ ballpark (the waiting list for tickets was something like 155 years), I can recall in vivid detail of watching the Grateful Dead and the NASL’s Washington Diplomats.

But not to bore any with more rhapsodizing over the last weekend of major league sports at RFK, I’ll turn that chore over to The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell, who writes about the lovable dump.

And it is a dump.

Finally…
Chris and Julie Stover of Lancaster, Pa. finally added a girl to the Stover/Gerfin/Finger brood. The little lady arrived this morning and has yet to receive a name, but her uncle (me!) and the rest of the clan are giddy about her birth and hope that she can show her big brothers and boy cousins who the boss is.

And here we thought Chris couldn’t make a girl. Good work, big guy!

Choking in the Big Apple

So here’s the question: Are the Mets choking or are the Phillies about to take the NL East away from them?

How about both?

What about the Padres? Can they keep up their winning ways in order to fend off the Phillies in the wild-card race?

Will the Phillies ever lose again?

The short answer…

Who knows.

We’ll attempt to answer some of those questions, but first let’s figure out what in the hello is going on with the Philadelphia baseball team. Last night’s 7-4 victory in 14 innings[1] over the nearly-X’d out St. Louis Cardinals pushed the Phillies to 1½ games behind the Mets in the East and kept them 1½ games behind the Padres in the wild-card race. What makes this crazy is that the Phillies have picked up five games in five days against the free-falling Mets, who, as they begin to feel their drawers bunch up, called a team meeting prior to going out and getting whacked by the Nats at RFK last night.

Needless to say, that meeting could not have been fun. Anyone who has seen the visitors’ clubhouse at RFK can report that it is a very unpleasant room. First of all, the stench of laundry, sweat and shower mold permeates through the dank and cramped hallways. Then there is the feeling that the walls are going to close in on you kind of like that trash compactor scene in Star Wars. I swear I’ve seen a big, futuristic-looking snake slither out of the shower area and into the make-shift kitchenette.

The worst part about that clubhouse at RFK, of course, is how cramped it is. A player can barely get changed into his uniform without knocking over the buffet perched precariously on a small ledge near the big-screen TV and fake-leather couch. Being in that room is almost as bad as sitting in coach of a trans-continental flight with the sudden, screaming urge to take a leak. Only you can’t get up because the two clowns sitting next to you on the left are fast asleep. And because they have banned water bottles on flights, you are SOL in trying to find relief that way.

So imagine having a team meeting in such a place. How bad must it make a team feel that while in the throes of a crippling losing streak, they have to sit in such a place and talk about how awful things are going? It’s like psychoanalysis with Ted Nugent. No wonder the Nationals whipped them again to extend the Mets’ freefall.

Meanwhile, in the posh new space in St. Louis at ballpark that was opened just last year, the Phillies reportedly spent the time before the 14-inning victory over the Cardinals watching Wedding Crashers.

There is no truth that after the game, Aaron Rowand proclaimed: “Cheesesteaks and baseball… THAT’S WHAT PHILADELPHIA DOES!

But such a thing wouldn’t be extraordinary.

Anyway, according to the math wizards at Sports Club Stats, the Phillies have a 42.9 percent chance to make the playoffs this season. If I had to guess (and my guessed change with the wind) it will take 90 wins for the Phillies to get into the playoffs.

With seven of the final 11 games against the Nationals and six of that 11 at the cozy hometown bandbox, 90 could be very doable.

Gone and probably forgotten
The Phillies will play the Nationals in the final baseball games at RFK Stadium this weekend, which is a pretty good thing. Clearly, as mentioned above, the old ballpark on the banks of the muddy Anacostia River has seen better days.

Next season the Nationals will play in a new ballpark near the DC Naval Yard along the banks of the Potomac River, which, friends report, will offer stunning views of the city’s skyline and will be a major upgrade from RFK.

As if a shoebox isn’t an upgrade.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll wax on about RFK this weekend because that’s kind of what I do. Apparently the plan is to demolish the old stadium as soon as the DC United builds its new arena.


[1] this was a game in which the Phillies finally decided to hit the ball at 1 a.m. … come on guys, help us out. We have to stay up late and watch these games. How about an early big lead so that we can… wait, you guys already did that. OK. Never mind. Just do whatever it is you do and I’ll get back to my late-night channel flipping.