Not worth the pain

train_oldBefore the proliferation of the cellular phone, there is no way I would have been able to witness the conversation like the one this morning on the Amtrak train to the NLDS workout day at Citizens Bank Park. There, separated by three inches of reclining cushion and plastic, a woman chit-chatted for the entire trip about whether or not she would be able to take a jar of jelly on a plane.

(Pause)

Yeah, I know. Can you believe that? Jelly? On a plane? There she was (loudly) wasting good lean muscle mass and the wireless infrastructure to mull over the mystery of jelly on a plane.

Don’t they put that warning on the side of the Welch’s bottle?

But that wasn’t the worst of it. After chewing on the notion that TSA agents just might toss her to the ground and ransack through her carryon bag because she dared to sneak a glass jar of mashed up fruit and sugar on an aeroplane, she pushed her chair back all the way so she was perfectly arranged on my lap and continued on with the yak fest.

Sheesh, is this what Alexander Graham Bell had in mind when he yelled into the next room for his boy Watson? That question is debatable, but we must thank Steve Jobs for coming up with the iPod for just this type of issue—you know, a chatty lady with no regard for personal space.

Anyway, as mentioned earlier, Tuesday is the first day of all the NLDS hoopla here in Philadelphia. We’ll do it all again on Friday in Denver, though by then the series will have taken shape and we can neatly package into one type of compartment or another. In fact, the last two years we hit the road after two games in Philadelphia looking at a sweep. Last year we even conjured plans of escaping Milwaukee for Chicago if the Phillies had been able to take care of the Brewers in three games.

But alas…

Oh, but as we get ready to dive into playoff baseball for the third straight October here, they are already laying the groundwork for a winter of intrigue in Queens. Yes, that’s where the Mets have begun circling the wagons after a horrid 2009 season in which only the Washington Nationals’ ineptitude kept them out of the basement in the NL East. So in order to right the ship—as they say—Mets’ GM Omar Minaya reached out to his recently fired GM brethren, Kevin Towers and J.P. Riccardi. The hope, according to a story by Joel Sherman, was to iron out a deal to get both men in on some of the Mets’ action for 2010.

And no, the story did not indicate that Minaya was interviewing his successors.

Still, why the Mets’ arch-nemesis Phillies were preparing for Game 1 of the NLDS and contemplating a Game 1 and/or Game 2 starter, the Mets were firing coaches talking about hiring fired GMs and throwing around the big-time names they want to acquire this winter. You know, big free-agent names like they did last winter with J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. Those guys were supposed to rescue the Mets’ horrid bullpen that cost them the division in ’08, only it didn’t quite work out as planned. Putz was out for the year by the first week of June, and though Rodriguez saved 35 games (in 42 tries) that turned out to be exactly half of the Mets’ total wins.

So while the Phillies look to defend their title, the Mets just might be placing the kiss of death on the cheeks of John Lackey, Matt Holliday and Roy Halladay. Sure, the money is good, but ballplayers already have plenty of money and it lasts only so long.

Maybe players ought to be thinking about glory… it lasts longer.

Not worth the pain

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com Before the proliferation of the cellular phone, there is no way I would have been able to witness the conversation like the one this morning on the Amtrak train to the NLDS workout day at Citizens Bank Park. There, separated by three inches of reclining cushion and plastic, a woman chit-chatted for the entire trip about whether or not she would be able to take a jar of jelly on a plane.

(Pause)

Yeah, I know. Can you believe that? Jelly? On a plane? There she was (loudly) wasting good lean muscle mass and the wireless infrastructure to mull over the mystery of jelly on a plane.

Don’t they put that warning on the side of the Welch’s bottle?

But that wasn’t the worst of it. After chewing on the notion that TSA agents just might toss her to the ground and ransack through her carryon bag because she dared to sneak a glass jar of mashed up fruit and sugar on an aeroplane, she pushed her chair back all the way so she was perfectly arranged on my lap and continued on with the yak fest.

Sheesh, is this what Alexander Graham Bell had in mind when he yelled into the next room for his boy Watson? That question is debatable, but we must thank Steve Jobs for coming up with the iPod for just this type of issue—you know, a chatty lady with no regard for personal space.

Anyway, as mentioned earlier, Tuesday is the first day of all the NLDS hoopla here in Philadelphia. We’ll do it all again on Friday in Denver, though by then the series will have taken shape and we can neatly package into one type of compartment or another. In fact, the last two years we hit the road after two games in Philadelphia looking at a sweep. Last year we even conjured plans of escaping Milwaukee for Chicago if the Phillies had been able to take care of the Brewers in three games.

But alas…

Oh, but as we get ready to dive into playoff baseball for the third straight October here, they are already laying the groundwork for a winter of intrigue in Queens. Yes, that’s where the Mets have begun circling the wagons after a horrid 2009 season in which only the Washington Nationals’ ineptitude kept them out of the basement in the NL East. So in order to right the ship—as they say—Mets’ GM Omar Minaya reached out to his recently fired GM brethren, Kevin Towers and J.P. Riccardi. The hope, according to a story by Joel Sherman, was to iron out a deal to get both men in on some of the Mets’ action for 2010.

And no, the story did not indicate that Minaya was interviewing his successors.

Still, why the Mets’ arch-nemesis Phillies were preparing for Game 1 of the NLDS and contemplating a Game 1 and/or Game 2 starter, the Mets were firing coaches talking about hiring fired GMs and throwing around the big-time names they want to acquire this winter. You know, big free-agent names like they did last winter with J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. Those guys were supposed to rescue the Mets’ horrid bullpen that cost them the division in ’08, only it didn’t quite work out as planned. Putz was out for the year by the first week of June, and though Rodriguez saved 35 games (in 42 tries) that turned out to be exactly half of the Mets’ total wins.

So while the Phillies look to defend their title, the Mets just might be placing the kiss of death on the cheeks of John Lackey, Matt Holliday and Roy Halladay. Sure, the money is good, but ballplayers already have plenty of money and it lasts only so long.

Maybe players ought to be thinking about glory… it lasts longer.

Paging Dr. Freud…

unisphereNEW YORK – Word is my mom had a Brooklyn Dodgers hat when she was a kid. I’m not sure why she had a Brooklyn cap, nor if she actually could name a player on those Brooklyn teams – she has three brothers so maybe it was a hand-me-down or something.

Who knows, maybe she just likes the shade of Dodger Blue?

But here’s the point: my mom is a grandmother. She’s a baby boomer born not too long after my grandfather got back from the Army in the European Theatre during World War II. By the time the Dodgers left Brooklyn and moved to Los Angeles, she was getting ready for the second grade.

In other words, there aren’t too many grandmothers around anymore who remember the Brooklyn Dodgers. In fact, for my mom a more memorable moment was driving from Lancaster, Pa. to Flushing Meadows to go to the 1964 World’s Fair. Along with old black-and-white snapshots next to the giant Unisphere, there was one photo of the ultra-sleek and uniquely colored Shea Stadium.

For people my mom’s age, Shea Stadium was significant because that’s where The Beatles performed in the first-ever outdoor stadium concert. Moreover, it was post-modern and was a big part of urban planner Robert Moses’ grand vision of cities. See, to Moses, the car was king. He built all those freeways, bridges and tunnels, uprooted neighborhoods and displaced folks from their homes and wrecked historical buildings in favor of places like Shea Stadium.

Hell, want to know why the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles? Read up on Robert Moses.

Anyway, a ballpark in Flushing, Queens was Moses’ dream. He felt the folks from the suburbs would come out to the park in droves because of all the access roads heading toward the Unisphere. The problem was he didn’t anticipate the traffic on the BQE or the Belt Parkway.

What self-respecting urban planner doesn’t anticipate traffic?

citi-fieldSome visionary he was.

Nevertheless, we are now into the third/fourth generation of people who know New York only as a baseball town that supports the Yankees and the Mets. The New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers are ancient history. Those teams are a grainy black-and-white images from a documentary where really old men talk about a game that kind of looks like the baseball we see these days.

As a result of this post-modern world dreamed up and planted firmly in Queens, New York, there is a sizable and interesting history for the New York Mets. Sure, it only begins in 1962, but think about the history that has occurred in those 47 years. Think about how much the world has changed, or what was here and then gone in a fleeting and impactful moment.

Imagine what they would think about the Internet in 1962. Shoot, imagine what they would think about the Internet in 1986 – the last time the Mets won the World Series.

So yes, history has occurred on that spans of dreaded real estate near LaGuardia Airport and Flushing Bay. The Miracle Mets won in ’69, they snuck into the big dance in ’73, Buckner missed the ball in ’86, Piazza won a game after the towers came down in September of ’01 and even Eric Bruntlett became an accidental footnote in history in a baseball game against the Mets.

As far as baseball goes, Shea has been the site of some monumental moments. Certainly some bits of time that are no less significant than have occurred in Los Angeles, Chicago or Philadelphia.

Yet for some reason the folks responsible for building the New York Mets new ballpark where all these historical moments occurred chose to memorialize the Dodgers. You know, the very same Dodgers that knocked the Mets out of the playoffs in 1988 and lead the NL West today.

See, CitiField has an uncanny resemblance (on the outside at least) to old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. That’s right… the same Ebbets Field the Dodgers abandoned because they didn’t want their new stadium to be built in Flushing, Queens. Better yet, the new CitiField comes complete with the classic rotunda as a grand entrance very much like the one Ebbets Field had.

And to memorialize the rotunda in the ballpark modeled after the Dodgers’ stadium, the Mets gave the site the name of a player who was a famous Dodger. No, this is not to belittle naming it the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, because the man was the most important ballplayer ever to play the game.

Shea_postcard_1964But Robinson was a Dodger through and through. Robinson might have gone to Los Angeles with the Dodgers, but just before the 1957 season he was traded to the New York Giants. Rather than play for a team other than the Dodgers, Robinson quit and never played again.

If he couldn’t play for the Dodgers, Robinson didn’t want to play at all.

The rotunda is a stately and elegant feature of the ballpark. It’s kind of a regal oasis in a maelstrom of spilled beer, curses and lost ballgames. But it is absolutely devoid of anything to commemorate the ballclub it hosts. The Dodgers? Check.

The Mets? Well, the Mets are on the field.

Maybe it gets back to something else moms and grandmothers like to say – if one projects a strong self worth, others will view the person in the same light. It is with this self-loathing that the Mets are viewed around all five boroughs. The Yankees reign in New York – it is their town above any other team.

The Mets aren’t just the ugly stepchild – they are the ugly stepchild that intentionally carves up its own skin like an angst-filled teen aged girl. Maybe the answer is for an intervention where the team brass is assured that it will all be OK and that people like them.

It’s OK if they like themselves, too.

Paging Dr. Freud…

image from fingerfood.typepad.com NEW YORK – Word is my mom had a Brooklyn Dodgers hat when she was a kid. I’m not sure why she had a Brooklyn cap, nor if she actually could name a player on those Brooklyn teams – she has three brothers so maybe it was a hand-me-down or something.

Who knows, maybe she just likes the shade of Dodger Blue?

But here’s the point: my mom is a grandmother. She’s a baby boomer born not too long after my grandfather got back from the Army in the European Theatre during World War II. By the time the Dodgers left Brooklyn and moved to Los Angeles, she was getting ready for the second grade.

In other words, there aren’t too many grandmothers around anymore who remember the Brooklyn Dodgers. In fact, for my mom a more memorable moment was driving from Lancaster, Pa. to Flushing Meadows to go to the 1964 World’s Fair. Along with old black-and-white snapshots next to the giant Unisphere, there was one photo of the ultra-sleek and uniquely colored Shea Stadium.

For people my mom’s age, Shea Stadium was significant because that’s where The Beatles performed in the first-ever outdoor stadium concert. Moreover, it was post-modern and was a big part of urban planner Robert Moses’ grand vision of cities. See, to Moses, the car was king. He built all those freeways, bridges and tunnels, uprooted neighborhoods and displaced folks from their homes and wrecked historical buildings in favor of places like Shea Stadium.

Hell, want to know why the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles? Read up on Robert Moses.

Anyway, a ballpark in Flushing, Queens was Moses’ dream. He felt the folks from the suburbs would come out to the park in droves because of all the access roads heading toward the Unisphere. The problem was he didn’t anticipate the traffic on the BQE or the Belt Parkway.

What self-respecting urban planner doesn’t anticipate traffic?

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Some visionary he was.

Nevertheless, we are now into the third/fourth generation of people who know New York only as a baseball town that supports the Yankees and the Mets. The New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers are ancient history. Those teams are a grainy black-and-white images from a documentary where really old men talk about a game that kind of looks like the baseball we see these days.

As a result of this post-modern world dreamed up and planted firmly in Queens, New York, there is a sizable and interesting history for the New York Mets. Sure, it only begins in 1962, but think about the history that has occurred in those 47 years. Think about how much the world has changed, or what was here and then gone in a fleeting and impactful moment.

Imagine what they would think about the Internet in 1962. Shoot, imagine what they would think about the Internet in 1986 – the last time the Mets won the World Series.

So yes, history has occurred on that spans of dreaded real estate near LaGuardia Airport and Flushing Bay. The Miracle Mets won in ’69, they snuck into the big dance in ’73, Buckner missed the ball in ’86, Piazza won a game after the towers came down in September of ’01 and even Eric Bruntlett became an accidental footnote in history in a baseball game against the Mets.

As far as baseball goes, Shea has been the site of some monumental moments. Certainly some bits of time that are no less significant than have occurred in Los Angeles, Chicago or Philadelphia.

Yet for some reason the folks responsible for building the New York Mets new ballpark where all these historical moments occurred chose to memorialize the Dodgers. You know, the very same Dodgers that knocked the Mets out of the playoffs in 1988 and lead the NL West today.

See, CitiField has an uncanny resemblance (on the outside at least) to old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. That’s right… the same Ebbets Field the Dodgers abandoned because they didn’t want their new stadium to be built in Flushing, Queens. Better yet, the new CitiField comes complete with the classic rotunda as a grand entrance very much like the one Ebbets Field had.

And to memorialize the rotunda in the ballpark modeled after the Dodgers’ stadium, the Mets gave the site the name of a player who was a famous Dodger. No, this is not to belittle naming it the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, because the man was the most important ballplayer ever to play the game.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com But Robinson was a Dodger through and through. Robinson might have gone to Los Angeles with the Dodgers, but just before the 1957 season he was traded to the New York Giants. Rather than play for a team other than the Dodgers, Robinson quit and never played again.

If he couldn’t play for the Dodgers, Robinson didn’t want to play at all.

The rotunda is a stately and elegant feature of the ballpark. It’s kind of a regal oasis in a maelstrom of spilled beer, curses and lost ballgames. But it is absolutely devoid of anything to commemorate the ballclub it hosts. The Dodgers? Check.

The Mets? Well, the Mets are on the field.

Maybe it gets back to something else moms and grandmothers like to say – if one projects a strong self worth, others will view the person in the same light. It is with this self-loathing that the Mets are viewed around all five boroughs. The Yankees reign in New York – it is their town above any other team.

The Mets aren’t just the ugly stepchild – they are the ugly stepchild that intentionally carves up its own skin like an angst-filled teen aged girl. Maybe the answer is for an intervention where the team brass is assured that it will all be OK and that people like them.

It’s OK if they like themselves, too.

Come on out and meet the Mets

tug_mcgrawNEW YORK – Compared to the last time the Phillies came to New York to play the Mets, a lot of the pizzazz has been stripped off the rivalry. Mostly that has to do with the Mets since they can neither stay healthy nor win ballgames.

Perhaps that’s what separates the truly good teams from the paper tigers – when the Phillies had piles of injuries they still figured out a way to get it done. The Mets? Not so much.

Still, the last time we were here all sorts of trouble broke out. That whole Raul Ibanez/small-time blogger thing was in full fester. Plus, the New York-based scribes were trying to get something from Chase Utley to fuel some sort of fracas. The problem was there wasn’t anything there.

Remember that?

As Pelfrey explained it at the time, he was upset about Utley stepping out of the box just as he was about to deliver a pitch. As such, Pelfrey barked at Utley, who returned with ignorant surprise that someone was talking to him.

“I was about to step into the box and it seemed like he was ready to pitch,” Utley said after taking a second to figure out what the hell was being talked about. “I wasn’t trying to make him frustrated. I was trying to put a good at-bat together.”

Pelfrey kind of said the same thing

“I don’t even know the guy,” he said. “It was too much adrenaline, I guess.”

The funniest part was when Charlie Manuel was asked about the non-controversial controversy. Instinctively Manuel thought Pelfrey was upset with Shane Victorino because usually, at any given moment, there is someone peeved at Victorino about something. He certainly drives Charlie nuts sometimes.

So there it is. Thanks for trying.

Nevertheless, the visiting clubhouse at brand-new CitiField was filthy with media types last June. They were crawling out of lockers, videotaping things with cell phones, saying silly things and basically just cluttering up the place like guests who refused to go away.

This time… not so much.

No, there were just six of us Philly guys hanging with the ballclub last night and there are only five of us today. In fact, just to fill out the space Scott Franzke and Tom McCarthy joined in, which was nice.

But this does not mean the New York media is not out in full force. Oh no. They’re crawling all over the place again – getting into things and sullying up the landscape.

Tonight they are here for the big ceremony to celebrate the Mets’ World Series title of 1969. All the old Mets are here, including Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Tug McGraw’s sons, Mark and Matt.

We don’t get to see too many of those ceremonial events in other places mostly because it’s a crap shoot. Besides, opposing teams don’t need to trot out the special ceremonies when the Phillies are in town because the defending World Champs pack ‘em in.

So it will be kind of cool to see the old Mets strut around and take in the cheers.

mrmetSpeaking of old Mets, surely the large media contingent will be back out on Sunday afternoon when Pedro returns for the Phillies. Actually, Pedro (and then Cliff Lee going on Monday) might sway some more Philly folks to venture north up the Jersey Turnpike and into the hinterlands of Queens.

If they were smart they’d train it up here, because there is no easy path. Thank you Robert Moses, thank you…

Needless to say it will be a bittersweet moment for Pedro when he gets on the mound in Queens tomorrow. He wishes it could have worked out better with the Mets, but seems to be getting a redemption of sorts with the Phillies.

“I left last year in a sad way,” Pedro said. “Not only that we lost in a bad way, I didn’t perform like I wanted to for the Mets. It wasn’t the way a pitcher like me should have gone away. After working through so much to regain my health, it wasn’t fair to me or my dad’s wishes to leave the game on such a sad note.

“The better I felt, the more committed I was to making it back and giving my dad the opportunity – I guess from heaven — to see me in a different way, having fun, healthy and refocused on the game. That was my biggest motivation.”

Come on out and meet the Mets

image from fingerfood.typepad.com NEW YORK – Compared to the last time the Phillies came to New York to play the Mets, a lot of the pizzazz has been stripped off the rivalry. Mostly that has to do with the Mets since they can neither stay healthy nor win ballgames.

Perhaps that’s what separates the truly good teams from the paper tigers – when the Phillies had piles of injuries they still figured out a way to get it done. The Mets? Not so much.

Still, the last time we were here all sorts of trouble broke out. That whole Raul Ibanez/small-time blogger thing was in full fester. Plus, the New York-based scribes were trying to get something from Chase Utley to fuel some sort of fracas. The problem was there wasn’t anything there.

Remember that?

As Pelfrey explained it at the time, he was upset about Utley stepping out of the box just as he was about to deliver a pitch. As such, Pelfrey barked at Utley, who returned with ignorant surprise that someone was talking to him.

“I was about to step into the box and it seemed like he was ready to pitch,” Utley said after taking a second to figure out what the hell was being talked about. “I wasn’t trying to make him frustrated. I was trying to put a good at-bat together.”

Pelfrey kind of said the same thing

“I don’t even know the guy,” he said. “It was too much adrenaline, I guess.”

The funniest part was when Charlie Manuel was asked about the non-controversial controversy. Instinctively Manuel thought Pelfrey was upset with Shane Victorino because usually, at any given moment, there is someone peeved at Victorino about something. He certainly drives Charlie nuts sometimes.

So there it is. Thanks for trying.

Nevertheless, the visiting clubhouse at brand-new CitiField was filthy with media types last June. They were crawling out of lockers, videotaping things with cell phones, saying silly things and basically just cluttering up the place like guests who refused to go away.

This time… not so much.

No, there were just six of us Philly guys hanging with the ballclub last night and there are only five of us today. In fact, just to fill out the space Scott Franzke and Tom McCarthy joined in, which was nice.

But this does not mean the New York media is not out in full force. Oh no. They’re crawling all over the place again – getting into things and sullying up the landscape.

Tonight they are here for the big ceremony to celebrate the Mets’ World Series title of 1969. All the old Mets are here, including Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Tug McGraw’s sons, Mark and Matt.

We don’t get to see too many of those ceremonial events in other places mostly because it’s a crap shoot. Besides, opposing teams don’t need to trot out the special ceremonies when the Phillies are in town because the defending World Champs pack ‘em in.

So it will be kind of cool to see the old Mets strut around and take in the cheers.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Speaking of old Mets, surely the large media contingent will be back out on Sunday afternoon when Pedro returns for the Phillies. Actually, Pedro (and then Cliff Lee going on Monday) might sway some more Philly folks to venture north up the Jersey Turnpike and into the hinterlands of Queens.

If they were smart they’d train it up here, because there is no easy path. Thank you Robert Moses, thank you…

Needless to say it will be a bittersweet moment for Pedro when he gets on the mound in Queens tomorrow. He wishes it could have worked out better with the Mets, but seems to be getting a redemption of sorts with the Phillies.

“I left last year in a sad way,” Pedro said. “Not only that we lost in a bad way, I didn’t perform like I wanted to for the Mets. It wasn’t the way a pitcher like me should have gone away. After working through so much to regain my health, it wasn’t fair to me or my dad’s wishes to leave the game on such a sad note.

“The better I felt, the more committed I was to making it back and giving my dad the opportunity – I guess from heaven — to see me in a different way, having fun, healthy and refocused on the game. That was my biggest motivation.”

2008 Phillies: Playing for 2nd place

Johan SantanaIt could go down that Johan Santana was involved in two of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. In addition to landing with the Mets from the Twins for a pile of potential prospects, the two-time Cy Young Award winner was once traded from the Marlins for a dude named Jared Camp.

That was after the Marlins plucked him away from the Astros in the Rule 5 Draft.

So yeah, there are a lot of smart baseball folks that missed the boat on Johan Santana. The Mets, however, are not one of those “smart” teams. Instead of feeling the knee-jerk blather from fans, pundits and Billy Wagner regarding the dearth of wintertime moves, the Mets now have the best pitcher in baseball at the top of the rotation.

We’d get into the analysis of how good Santana is with his statistics and all of that stuff, but what’s the point? He’s a lefty, he’s nasty and he’s better than everyone else in the game. Go look up the stats yourself, though I will give one warning before you click on the link – they should make Phillies fans a little sick in the stomach.

Out here in the hinterlands I really don’t get the full affect of the Philly sporting press’s deconstruction of the Santana deal, but then again who needs it. After all, it’s not the balance of power in the NL East that shifted with Santana’s arrival in Queens – it’s the balance of power in the entire National League that shifted.

Playoff baseball at Shea one last time, anyone?

The big question, of course, is what does it all mean for the Phillies. Well, for starters the Phillies will have to root for an even bigger and more epic collapse from the Mets down the stretch. They also have to root for an injury to Santana, though the guy hasn’t missed a start since 2004. In that regard the Phillies might be better served with a voodoo doll.

More concisely, facing Santana a handful of times in 2008 will have a profound effect on the Phillies’ lineup. That’s especially the case when one notes that Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Geoff Jenkins are all lefty swingers.

It is worth noting that switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins hit .321 against lefties in 2007 and Shane Victorino went at a .291 clip. But then again, Santana has been just as tough on righties (.220) as lefties (.223) during his career.

Here’s what else Santana-to-the-Mets means for the Phillies:

It means they should go out and make an offer to a pitcher like Kyle Lohse or Livan Hernandez and hope they sign on…

Before the Mets get both of them.

Mets in a hole before the anthem has been sung

GlavineThe Phillies were extremely loose in the clubhouse before today’s game. In fact, I talked to Geoff Geary at length about his home and neighborhood in the San Diego suburbs.

The mood in the clubhouse just got much more loose, I’m sure, when Tom Glavine and the Mets fell into a quick, 4-0 hole with just one out in the first. When they posted the score here the crowd exploded with cheers, which was odd because they were handing out awards to some Phillies’ employees in an on-field ceremony.

The poor dudes thought the cheers were for them.

Instead, everyone was fired up for the Mets’ potential demise.

SNY’s Matt Yallof is heading to Philadelphia for tomorrow’s game… if it occurs. Matt is one of the finest dudes ever to work in the media business — at least that I’ve been able to find. He’s not like most TV guys (that’s a high compliment) in that he thinks stories through like a writer. When he produces something for TV, he wants to tell a story, which is something that is lacking in a lot of TV reporting these days.

There are others like Matt, but not very many.

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…

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.

The Bat vs. The Rat

Where do we start with this one? After three games in which the Phillies appeared to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory only to rally late to win – and sweep! – the hated New York Mets, it appears as if the Phillies are in this for the long haul.

More interestingly, the Phillies pulled off the sweep while Tom Gordon and Brett Myers were on the shelf and the rest of the gang in the most beleaguered bullpen in the National League stepped up.

Like Antonio Alfonseca notching saves in all three victories.

Like Mike Zagurski throwing a scoreless ninth inning of a tied game after Billy Wagner had blown his first save since last year. That’s not counting the playoffs, of course. As we all remember fondly, Billy blew one in the NLCS against the Cardinals, too.

Like Ryan Madson working three hitless innings in the thick of the games on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Like Geoff Geary pitching himself into and out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning of Wednesday night’s victory.

Phew! Who are these guys and what did they do with the Phillies?

Jokes (kind of) aside, the series against the Mets at Shea had a few moments that will certainly find their way onto Video Dan’s end-of-the-year highlight DVD. Chase Utley’s game-winning homer in the 11th to win Tuesday’s game will be there right next to Jimmy Rollins’ three-run blast in the seventh inning of Wednesday night’s game.

But Pat Burrell’s homer to ruin Wagner’s streak of 31 straight saves is the coup de gras. That one was actually kind of fun(ny). For some reason – and I have no idea why – I take a perverse pleasure in watching Billy Wagner blow a save chance. Maybe there’s something deep there, who knows. Certainly I have nothing against him even though he doesn’t like to be asked about his slider.

Perhaps he doesn’t like to be asked about the 3-2 fastball he fed old pal Pat Burrell, either. After the game, Wagner kind of gave Burrell a backhanded little slap regarding the homer that helped the former Phillie closer and so-called “rat” snatch defeat from a gift-wrapped save.

“He has a one-path swing, and I just put it right in its path,” Wagner offered after the game.

If that’s the case (and it very well might be) does that mean Wagner is not a very smart pitcher? Chances are if he decided to bounce a 3-2 slider that Burrell would have flailed away with his customary rear-out swing that we’ve all come to know so well.

Instead, that one path swing pushed the Phillies to within five games of the lead in the NL East. With exactly 102 games to go, I’m going to suggest that the Phillies need to win 62 more to earn a playoff berth. That’s a .608 winning percentage and there are only four teams in the Major Leagues playing better than .608 ball.

Yes, the Phillies are in it, but they still have a lot of work to do. Another sweep on the road in Kansas City would be a good place to start.

Meanwhile, it was interesting that skipper Charlie Manuel acknowledged that the umps got the call on David Wright’s solo shot off Cole Hamels in the sixth correct before arguing it and getting tossed for the fourth time this season. According to witnesses, the umps had to have watched the replay on the big video screen at Shea Stadium after it was replayed over and over again in slow motion.

Speaking of annoying, is there a more annoying player than Wright or Paul Lo Duca? Lo Duca, of course, seems to annoy a lot of people – at least that’s what has been printed in the papers. But I don’t know what it is about Wright… certainly he is a terrific ballplayer and seems to have surpassed Scott Rolen as the marquee third baseman in the game, however, if my son(s) ever have an interest in playing baseball and want to know how the game is properly played, I’ll direct them to watch Rolen.

Wright just seems to have a Danny Ainge quality to him.

Again, maybe that’s just me.

***
Aside from the shoulder surgery and the fact that he hasn’t been able to focus on being a full-time pitcher, Phillies’ draftee Joe Savery seems like an interesting guy. Based on a conference call with the lefty from Rice University yesterday, the kid sounds confident and expects to be pitching for the Phillies relatively soon.

“I really believe that either by late next year or Opening Day of ’09,” he said. “The bottom line is I’ve never focused on pitching. I relied on athleticism. I’m really excited about the opportunity to focus on pitching and being around professional instruction.”

The Phillies have a track record of not rushing prospects to the big leagues so it will be interesting to see where Savery lands when he signs and how quickly he develops.

***
Is anyone else excited about Jim Thome’s return to Philadelphia next week?

***
Don’t ask me how because I have no answer, but I dug up this little nugget about Cole Hamels this afternoon… all I can say is bless that kid.

Be careful for what you wish for

The New York papers are getting a lot of mileage out of Jimmy Rollins’ proclamation that the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East. Like a sadistic zoo keeper poking an angry bear with a stick, the New York scribes have been prodding everyone about the Phillies’ chances in 2007. David Wright has chimed in. Billy Wagner, to a degree, did too.

Don’t think that Mets won’t use Rollins’ words as bulletin board fodder during the dog days of the season. Athletes, after all, will use anything available for motivation.

Be that as it is, Murray Chass of The New York Times was seen lurking around the Phillies’ camp where he did some poking and prodding of his own. Don’t think for a second that the players didn’t know where Chass was from and what he was doing.

Aside from attempting to eke out answers from Chase Utley, Aaron Rowand and Ryan Howard, Chass also cornered former Phillie Randy Wolf, who he labeled a “neutral observer.” In the story, Wolf said:

“The Phillies are going to be a strong team. But you can’t argue with what the Mets did last year. It was like the Braves before that. Until someone dethroned them, they were always the team to beat. Now the Mets are the team in control of the National League East. They’re obviously the one to beat.”

Looking into those words there is one element that people might be sleeping on a little bit in the supposed dog fight between the Mets and Phillies… aren’t the Braves still in the NL East?

Last I checked the Braves won the division 14 out of the last 15 seasons (14 in a row until the Mets finally broke through). During that decade-and-a-half there were a handful of seasons where pundits called one team or another the one to beat. Remember 2003 when the Phillies got Jim Thome and Kevin Millwood in the same month? I recall Pat Burrell saying after he signed his big contract (the one he is still cashing in on) that winter that the Phillies were the team to beat. Actually, Burrell was asked, “Are you guys the team to beat this year?”

He said: “We gotta be, right?”

Well…

The Phillies were the team to beat in 2004, too. Heading into the season that team was stocked with new additions Tim Worrell and Billy Wagner stabilizing the bullpen and joining Thome, Millwood, Bobby Abreu, Rollins and an assorted bunch of veterans.

During the last weekend of the season the manager of that team was fired.

20 years ago today…

… the ball slipped through Buckner’s legs at Shea.

I believe there should be a plaque on the grass behind first base marking the site where it occurred, like a historical marker or something. Every time I’m in that tiny visitors’ clubhouse at Shea I think about the scene after that Game 6 when workers had to tear down the podium and put away the champagne by the time the Red Sox made it from the dugout, down the narrow, plank board covered hallway and into the clubhouse.

During the entire inning, Bob Costas saw the entire scene unfold and was prepared to hand the Series trophy to Jean Yawkey and then MVP Award to Bruce Hurst.

Such a wild, wild game.

Here’s a re-enactment:

Better yet, here’s the Sports Illustrated account by Ron Firmite about Game 6 and the aftermath from Nov. 3, 1986.

Here you can pick up the bottom of the 10th with two outs and one on:

It’s the playoffs!

Prior to the pivotal Game 5 of the NLCS, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz called out top MVP candidate, Albert Pujols, essentially writing, “Do something to save us, Albert!” in his earnest, polite Midwestern way. After all, the fans in St. Louis don’t stand for any of that negative malarkey. In fact, they are tamer than the Baltimore Orioles fans, who when a player fails to put down a sacrifice bunt, all shout in unison, “Awwww! Rats! OK, good try. Let’s hustle, Birds!”

That’s not what they say in Philadelphia. Or New York. Or Boston. Or Atlanta – because they aren’t there.

Anyway, Bernie (I can’t spell his last name without looking or copy and pasting and I’m drinking my pre-workout coffee and Red Bull right now so I’m typing with one, shaky hand) rightly wrote that if the 83-win Cardinals are going to beat the Mets and go to the World Series, then it’s all going to fall on Pujols’ broad shoulders. Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, after all, are weakened by surgeries, injuries and a long season. Scott Spiezio can’t continue his torrid pace – someone will figure him out sooner or later.

It’s up to Albert.

So when Pujols smacked that clutch homer off Tom Glavine – the guy who “had nothing” in Game 1 – it looks as if Pujols either read what Bernie wrote, knew how obvious Bernie’s words were since Rolen and Edmonds were being out-hit by Yadier Molina, or was surprised that the Mets and Glavine decided to pitch to him with those stiffs in the lineup behind him.

Nevertheless, the Cardinals are only one more victory at Shea Stadium from going to their second World Series in three season. According to the very astute and blog-reader Jayson Stark, this trip to the World Series would be the most improbable for the Cardinals.

Why? Try 83 victories, pal. That’s just two more than .500 and two fewer than the Phillies. Plus, to get to the Series the Cards would have beaten a 97-victory club in the NLCS. That’s pretty crazy, as Stark writes.

Cards in 6
Let’s do some limb climbing (always fun!) and predict a Cardinals victory in Game 6 tonight. Why? I think Chris Carpenter – the 2005 Cy Young Award winner and strong candidate for the award in 2006 (Brandon Webb will win) – is a little better than the Mets’ John Maine.

Nothing against Maine, who held hitters to a .212 batting average in 90 innings this season, but how much do the Mets wish they had Pedro at even 50 percent right now? Pedro, one of the best six-inning pitchers in baseball history, could do wonders coming out of the ‘pen for a couple of frames.

Meanwhile, Monday’s rainout and the flight back to Shea might be an advantage for the Cardinals. Really? Yeah, well ballplayers are creatures of habit and getting rid of a travel day for a getaway day – or night since Fox has been starting the games close to 8:30 p.m. – the Cardinals can pretend it’s just another routine trip to LaGuardia in mid-June or something.

Hey, play the mind game. Anything for a psychological advantage. After all, the Cards only won 83 games this season.

Good stuff
I’m not sure how many people were able to read the report by Mike Radano, Kevin Roberts and Rowan University since it’s only The Courier-Post, but anyone looking for something good to read about the local baseball club should check out the project.

Here it is:

  • The Rowan University report (PDF)
  • Kevin Roberts: Wins help mask PR bungling by Phillies
  • Mike Radano: Phillies flunk PR 101
  • Radano: The Phillies want problems to fade away
  • Radano: Time is a factor with Phillies fans
  • Radano: Phillies need a plan
  • Haven’t we seen this before?

    It looks as if Tony La Russa figured out what to do with Scott Rolen, which makes one wonder if he read a few of the previous entries here… hey, it could happen. I know a player or two who said they read this blog.

    Then again, I haven’t been punched in the face by a player yet, so I guess they were just blowing smoke.

    Anyway, Rolen batted sixth and played his typical third base in Saturday’s Game 3 rout which put the Cardinals and their 83-regular season victories just two more wins from the World Series and a rematch of the 1968 Series. Scott Spiezio, Rolen’s replacement at third base in two post-season games also started (left field) and contrubted with his second, two-run triple in as many games.

    But Rolen snapping his big, post-season slump with a walk and a single mixed in with his Brooks-Robinson-and-Mike-Schmidt-all-rolled-into-one defense isn’t even half the story. Apparently, as I assumed (yeah, there’s that pronoun again. Hey, it’s my blog!) Rolen and La Russa may need some counseling.

    Gee, no one saw that coming.

    Jim Salisbury, for my money (what there is of it) the most interesting baseball writer out there, rightly analyzed the rift in the Inquirer today and even asked Rolen if he would be interested in a return to Philadelphia. If there is anyone who can offer an astute read on the situation it’s Salisbury since he’s seen it all before. Plus, there are very few writers that I have come across who the players respect more than Salisbury.

    But enough of that… let’s get back to Rolen.

    Next to Randy Wolf and Doug Glanville, Rolen is the smartest ballplayer I’ve met. However, he’s also the most sensitive. As Salisbury points out, Rolen is high-maintenance. He needs to be kept in the loop and also needs self-assurance and what he deems as fairness. I recall a time where Rolen and Larry Bowa had a long, pre-game meeting because Bowa, looking for a spark, moved Rolen to the No. 2 spot in the batting order. At the same time, Bowa shifted Bobby Abreu over to center field, but with Abreu all the manager did was walk over to his locker and ask him if he was OK with playing center field.

    With Rolen, it took a closed-door meeting for a batting order shift.

    As one Phillie management type once told me: “Scotty worries about everything. He cares about how the cars are parked in the parking lot… ”

    The Phillies, not exactly the most astute in reading situations, placating feelings or being sensitive to others, weren’t too far off here.

    Because of that Rolen, like any classic high achieving, high-maintenance person, not only expects a lot out of himself, but he also has high standards for others.

    Pardon the dime store psychiatry, but as someone with similar traits – excluding the high achieving part, of course – it’s easy to understand that Rolen needs a lot of understanding. Perhaps that’s why he is the most entertaining player out there. His neurosis is on display constantly from his habits in the batter’s box to how he takes the field and his human cannonball style. What makes all that more than shtick is that he can actually play.

    I can’t think of a player I’ve ever enjoyed watching more.

    But through the neurosis, stubbornness and sensitivity, Rolen has to know he can’t win a battle against La Russa. Come on… he’s smarter than that. It’s not about leverage or public opinion or anything like that. It’s that La Russa is right. Sure, La Russa has an ego as large as every successful baseball man, but he isn’t Larry Bowa. It might be wise for Rolen to get past his natural tendencies and all of that other stuff and try to iron it out with La Russa.

    Besides, the Cardinals won both of the playoff games where La Russa benched Rolen.

    It’s the playoffs!
    It may be a knee-jerk reaction, but the Cardinals might have the Mets right where they want them. This series might not be going back to Shea.

    Reason? To borrow and paraphrase a political campaign mantra, it’s the pitching, stupid.

    When Steve Traschel is your team’s Game 3 starter, there’s trouble. When reliever Darren Oliver gets two (two!) at-bats, there’s trouble. When Oliver is pitching six innings in one game, there’s trouble. When Endy Chavez… well, you get the idea.

    The fact of the matter is the Mets’ injuries are just too much to overcome. If they can comeback and win the series, I’ll sing New York’s hosannas, but I just don’t see it happening.

    At the same time, I don’t see the Tigers losing the World Series. In that regard, here’s the question I posed a couple of the Phillies writers:

    How can the Tigers go from losing 119 games to winning the World Series and the Phillies can only make the playoffs once in the last 23 years?

    Anyone?

    Apropos…
    … of nothing, is it tacky for a media member to dial up other media outlets to “volunteer” his “expertise” on their airwaves? I think so.

    It’s the playoffs!

    Based on how Game 1 of the NLCS shook out, the series could turn out to be one of those grinding seven-game series where one player could make a difference. Perhaps that player could be Carlos Beltran, who I’m sure the Cardinals are sick of seeing.

    Beltran, of course, had that monster series during the 2004 NLCS in which he nearly single-handidly beat the Cardinals when he was playing for the Astros. Counting those seven games from 2004 and last night’s game, Beltran has homered in five of the last eight playoff games against the Cards for seven RBIs and 13 runs. Beltran is 11-for-28 (.393) in those games, which is odd since he is just a .225 hitter with four homers during 40 regular-season career games against St. Louis.

    I guess it’s a playoff thing.

    Speaking of playoff things, Scott Rolen’s playoff-swoon continued with an 0-for-3 in Game 1. For those counting, that’s one hit in his last 29 playoff at-bats after hitting that home run off Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS. Judging from Rolen’s swing from the vantage point of a comfortable chair in my living room (not Shea Stadium), Rolen’s shoulder still isn’t feeling too good despite his comments to the contrary.

    Nevertheless, I don’t think manager Tony La Russa will move Rolen out of the starting lineup because his glove at third base is just too valuable.

    Meanwhile, it was a rough night all over for the Cardinals’ hitters — obviously. However, the dearth of hitting was only part of the problem, which, obviously again, Mets’ starter Tom Glavine had a lot to do with (7 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 2 K). But a couple of base-running gaffes, including Albert Pujols’ inexplicable one when getting doubled off first in the fourth inning, were quite costly.

    Regardless, something tells me that Pujols will more than make up for his blunder during this series. Call it a hunch.

    Other observations
    Why was I hoping Billy Wagner would blow the two-run lead in the ninth? I have nothing against Wagner personally or professionally, but for some reason I thought it would have been funny to see him cough one up. Maybe I was thinking about the colorful quotes the scribes would have gleaned from him after the game.

    Or maybe I wsa thinking about dozens of writers heading down to the clubhouse doing Wagner impressions…

    Based on Glavine and Wagner’s work, it looks as if the Mets are trying to come in on a lot of the Cardinals’ hitters. I wonder how long that plan will last.

    As far as the ALCS goes, will Detroit be able to get the ballpark in shape for the World Series after this weekend? Are the Tigers going to punch their ticket? Is there any way that series goes back to Oakland?

    Here’s something interesting (and correct) from Buster Olney’s blog on ESPN.com:

    GM Pat Gillick has yet to make his mark on the Phillies, writes Bill Conlin. I would respectfully disagree: In the last year, the Phillies have dealt Jim Thome and Bobby Abreu and others and shaved an enormous amount of payroll off their roster, and they have turned their clubhouse culture over to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. There is more work to be done, for sure, as Bill writes, but creating that kind of payroll flexibility is not simple.

    Here come the Mets

    This time it’s a Philadelphia story. No reality TV show production. No ESPN and the 900 cameras and boom operators that come with them. No throng of writers looking for any semblance of a story so they end up staring at a tired, old ballplayer as he listens to his iPod and marks his bats on his way out to batting practice hoping to find some nuance or something like that.

    This one is straight ahead from the jump. Phillies vs. Mets. Billy vs. Everybody.

    Better yet, the Red Sox-Yankees series at the Stadium likely diverted some of the New York media from making the trip down the Turnpike.

    It might be the second-best series in New York, but it’s a pretty big one in Philadelphia where the Phillies and Mets meet for the first of 19 times in what is already shaping up to be a dogfight in the NL East.

    This series definitely presents a great chance for the Phillies to show all of the doubters just how good they are… at least for now.

    After Tuesday’s game there are still 130 games to go.