… and Cliff Lee is ready to go in Game 1

Howard_k Let’s just cut right to it…

The Phillies choked. They blew it. Worse, they choked and blew it with what might have been the best team ever assembled in franchise history—at least after Ruben Amaro Jr. traded for Roy Oswalt.

Yet the idea that the 2010 Phillies were as great as advertised doesn’t really matter anymore because the best team won’t be representing the National League in the World Series this year. Oh sure, the Giants deserve credit because they responded to every bit of gamesmanship and intimidation the Phillies threw at them. Between that phony, Pat Burrell, and Tim Lincecum shouting at Phillies’ players, and Jonathan Sanchez calling out Chase Utley, causing the benches to clear in Game 6, the Giants deserve some credit.

But let’s not give a team with Pat Burrell, Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff in the middle of the batting order too much credit. After all, the Phillies pitchers held them to a .249 average with just two different players hitting homers. The Phillies even outscored the Giants in the six games, 20-19. This was the same Giants that batted just .212 against the Braves in the NLDS. You know, the Braves that the Phillies manhandled during the regular season.

Frankly, it was a sickening display of offensive futility during the playoffs. They batted .212 against the Reds in the NLDS and .216 against the Giants. Sure, Lincecum, Sanchez and Matt Cain are solid pitchers. Lincecum is a bona fide star, in fact, and manager Bruce Bochy has enough versatility in the bullpen to match up, hitter by hitter, late in the game.

Oh yes, the Giants can pitch. In fact, they pitch very well. However, imagine how great a good pitching team will look against a bunch of hitters who were lost. How lost? Take a look at the schizophrenic postseason from Ryan Howard and compare it to his typical production.

It was just last season where Howard set the record for consecutive postseason games with an RBI and was named MVP of the NLCS. That was the postseason of, “Just get me to the plate, boys,” in Game 4 of the NLDS when the Rockies were just an out away from sending the series back to Philadelphia for a deciding Game 5. Moreover, 10 of Howard’s 15 postseason hits in 2009 went for extra-bases and the 17 RBIs in 15 games were one of the big reasons why the Phillies got back to the World Series.

This year Howard had good looking stats, batting .318, posting a .400 on-base percentage and a .500 slugging average. But Howard hit no home runs and got no RBIs. No, it’s not Howard’s fault that there were runners on base when he hit, but when there were men on base he struck out. Seven of Howard’s 12 strikeouts in the NLCS came with runners on base and five of those came with runners in scoring position.

Strikeouts only equal one out, sure, but there are productive outs where runners move up and fielders are forced to make plays. Considering that Howard had three three-strikeout games, including back-to-back triple Ks in Game 5 and 6, the heart of the Phillies’ order was punchless.

“If the production is there, you can tend to get away from strikeouts,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “But I feel especially after Ryan got hurt that he didn't find his swing. I feel like I know that he’s a better hitter than what we saw at the end of the year.”

The same goes for many of the Phillies’ hitters, especially Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Utley’s swing looked off most of the postseason as if it were difficult for him to complete it. The question many asked of Manuel was about the second baseman’s health, which is always an issue late in the season. However, straight answers never were offered and the assumption was Utley was properly healed from the thumb injury he suffered in June.

But the Phillies finished the season with the best record in baseball and closed the year by going 49-19. They had Halladay and Oswalt and Hamels lined up and all three lost in the playoffs. Sure, the Phillies pitched as well—maybe better—than the Giants, but that was it.

“I don't think we ever got our offense clicking,” Manuel said. “It always went up and down. We hit a hot streak, especially after Houston swept us earlier in the year. From that period on, we started winning a lot of games. But we weren't blowing people out and weren't really hitting like we can. It seemed like we never put up runs like I know we can.”

Maybe there was something to the injuries or maybe the preparedness. Even the victories in the postseason came in games where something extraordinary occurred. Halladay pitched a no-hitter in one and Hamels a five-hit shutout in another. In Game 2 of the NLDS the Phillies scored five unearned runs and in Game 2 of the NLCS, Oswalt pitched a three-hitter.

Finally, it came down to Halladay pitching six innings on a strained groin just to send the series back to Philadelphia.

But back home where the fans where waiting for hits that never came and runs that never circled the bases, all that was left was disappointment. The team with the best record in baseball fell to a team that batted Pat Burrell cleanup in a NLCS game… Pat Burrell?

When it finally came to an end it was Howard standing at the plate, watching as the third strike buzzed past just above his knees.

“Just get me to the plate, boys.”

“It's kind of a sucky way to end the game, a sucky way to end the year, you know, being that guy,” Howard said. “But I'll have to try and take that and use it as motivation and come back next year.

"I can't say what I want to say.”

No, he can’t, but there will be plenty of talk this winter about that last at-bat and the last series. Plain and simple, the Phillies blew it. Choked. The Phillies were the big bullies on the school yard and they got punched back and didn’t know what to do.

 

“I just don’t think any of us saw this happening,” closer Brad Lidge said. “I felt like we had the best team in baseball this year. It doesn’t always work out. Unfortunately, we just caught a team that seems to be doing everything right. They got the last hook in there. We just didn’t get our best game out there tonight. So shocked is a good word.”

Shocked like the rest of us that a team with hitters like the Giants could deliver more than the Phillies. Then again, the old, injured sage Jamie Moyer once played for a Seattle club that won 116 games, but lasted just six in the ALCS, To this day Seattle is only one of two franchises never to make it to the World Series.

“We had the best record in baseball, but when you get to the playoffs it really doesn’t mean anything,” Moyer said. “Everything starts just like it did in April. Everyone starts at zero. Now it’s about who is going to play the best, who is going to get the key hits and we fell short. …”

Cliff Lee will pitch in Game 1 of the World Series. Roy Halladay will not.

Philly boy Roys step up

Roy SAN FRANCISCO — The signals will be evident quickly.

A breaking ball will bounce in the dirt in front of the plate. The fastball will be missing a few ticks on the radar gun without the typical bite. Worse, misses will be large both in and out of the strike zone.

In other words, adjustments will need to be made.

These are the warning signs to look for when Roy Oswalt takes the ball in Game 6 of the NLCS, just two days after his noble relief appearance in Game 4. Oswalt took a peek down at the Phillies’ bullpen as the game progressed into the late innings, saw manager Charlie Manuel’s options and went to put on his spikes. An inning after volunteering his services to the cause, Oswalt was pitching in the ninth inning of the tie game.

Though it didn’t end well for Oswalt or the Phillies, it was easy to admire the pitcher’s moxy. Sure, two days after his start in Game 2 is the day starting pitchers workout with a bullpen session, but Oswalt had already thrown for 20 minutes, iced down and settled in to watch the ballgame.

So that’s the backdrop for Game 6 where Oswalt will be working off two days rest again and the Giants’ lefty Jonathan Sanchez is pitching to avenge his loss in Game 2 where the Phillies scored three runs off him in six innings. Sanchez, the lefty who turned in a 1.01 ERA in six starts in September and whiffed 11 in seven innings against the Braves in the NLDS, will work on his normal rest.

It is with Oswalt, the pitcher who tried to be the hero in Game 4, where the story of Game 6 will unfold.

And just how worried are the Phillies that Oswalt could be slightly spent? Actually, not much. In fact, manager Charlie Manuel says Oswalt should be as ready as ever.

“I think he’s got a rubber arm, he’s kind of different in his style and he’s got a loose arm. That’s why he gets his rise on his fastball,” Manuel said. “He’s one of those guys that goes out there start playing catch and a guy picks up a ball you go out there, watch him, guy picks up the ball and he slowly starts working his way in playing long toss or catch. And Oswalt is one of these guys. He goes out there, gets a ball and starts gunning it right away. Like he’s throwing his warm ups are a guy throwing more than 50 or 60 percent at a time. So I look at that and I see all those things. I don't think it's going to hurt him at all. I think when he tells you he's ready, I think he's ready. He's also one of those guys that if he's got if he's got some kind of problem or something, he's hurt or something like that, I think he'll be the first he'll tell you.”

Oswalt said his bullpen work was just like a bullpen session and he felt no after affects. No, Oswalt isn’t quite like Cliff Lee or Pedro Martinez in eschewing the post-workout ice down, but there is something noble about Oswalt’s desire to help the team. The same goes for Roy Halladay, too, who pitched six innings with less than his best stuff and what turned out to be a strained right groin muscle.

Could Halladay come out of the bullpen in Game 7? That’s tough to know now, but Manuel hasn’t ruled it out.

Of course, October is where baseball legends are created. It’s one thing to take a normal turn and pitch on the assigned day, but it’s the times when pitchers go out there on short rest or in strange roles. Oswalt has jumped in to pitch between starts twice during his playoff career while pitching for the Astros. He was also getting loose during the epic, 18-inning game of the 2005 NLDS where Roger Clemens came in for the Astros and pitched the final three innings to get the win despite pitching two days prior.

Oswalt also pitched the clinching Game 6 of the NLCS where his three-hitter earned him the NLCS MVP and a new bulldozer from Astros’ owner, Drayton McLane.

The difference now from five years ago is that Oswalt understands how tough it is to get to the postseason. So if he’s in it he doesn’t want to go out easily. If he can pitch between starts, pinch run or, shoot, play left field like he did in an extra-inning game in August, he’ll put on the spikes and go to work.

“Once you get to the postseason and get to the World Series like we did in '05 and not get back, and five years later you realize how difficult it is to get back to the situation. So you try to treat it as it's maybe the last time,” Oswalt said. “You never are guaranteed anything. Doesn't matter how good a team you have. You may not ever get back in this situation. So when you are here you try to do everything possible when you're here.”

Which means his approach to Game 6 won’t change from any other game—be it a relief appearance with two days rest in the playoffs or a routine starting assignment.

“I try to pitch every game like the last one,” Oswalt said. “You never know, you're never guaranteed the next day. So it's going to be no different. Trying to attack hitters and make them beat me, not trying to put guys on. No different than any other game. It's a must win game but I treat every one of them like a must win.”

Then again, it’s simpler to just give the maximum effort every time.

And don’t be surprised if Halladay makes another appearance in the series. After all, that’s what the big aces do. There was Curt Schilling and his bloody sock, Randy Johnson pitching a complete game only to come back the next day to get the win in relief in Game 7 of the World Series…

Are we ready for the Phillies’ two Roys to join that list working with a strained groin and short rest?

“It depends on where we're at in the situation,” Manuel said. “Do I want to? No. But at the same time I'm not ruling it out. So don't be surprised and jump on me if I don't use him.”

Hard to fault anyone for trying to be the hero. After all, this is the best time of the year for them.

Phillies’ struggles stretch to manager, too

Charlie SAN FRANCISCO — We like to give credit where it is due. After all, it’s much more fun to heap praise and be positive than it is to whine, complain and sulk over things that can’t be controlled. Then again, that’s pretty obvious.

As a manager of the four-time defending NL East champion Phillies, positivity is Charlie Manuel’s best tactic. He builds up his players by telling them how good they are and always filling their heads with thoughts that the hits and/or great pitches are going to be there when needed the most.

In fact, Manuel says that before Game 5 he’s going to walk through the clubhouse, look each of his players in the eyes and have a little chat. It won’t be anything as extreme as a pep talk, but maybe just a few words with each guy on the team.

“I don’t know if it will be about baseball or not,” Manuel said.

So yes, Manuel is great at keeping his guys loose as well as gauging the mood of the club. It’s probably the not-so secret to his success.

But as far as the managerial battle of wits with Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy, Manuel is about to get swept out of the series. Indeed, some of the in-game decisions from Manuel have not gone down as his best work and that has been exposed during the first two games played at AT&T Park.

When a manager consistently makes the same types of decisions and they work out, it’s difficult to blame it on luck. Oh sure, it might seem like he’s falling backwards only to nimbly land on his feet like a cat at the last second, but there is a fine line between instinct and luck.

However, in Game 3 and 4 of the NLCS which finds the Phillies on the brink of elimination, Manuel’s instincts have not been at his best. In fact, the choices Manuel made with his bullpen in Game 4 began with seeds sown in Game 3 when he used right-hander Jose Contreras for two innings and 24 pitches. That would have been a fine move had the Phillies been in position to actually win Game 3 rather than be shut down by starter Matt Cain.

Nevertheless, when Contreras went to the mound for a second inning in Game 3, it didn’t take much of a hunch that it would come back to haunt Manuel. As fate unraveled in Game 4, every button pushed seemed to be the wrong one. Knowing that he had starter Joe Blanton for five innings… six if he was lucky, it didn’t seem too well planned out that Contreras finished the previous game. That was evident when Blanton was removed from the game with two outs in the fifth when he was due to bat third in the next inning.

Instead of double-switching or using another reliever, Manuel burned Contreras again when he promptly finished the fifth and then was pinch-hit for.

Perhaps the move in the fifth inning could have been lefty Antonio Bastardo on lefty hitter Aubrey Huff with two outs and the speedy Andres Torres in scoring position?  But we’ll never know because Manuel left Blanton in for one hitter too long and then wasted his most effective setup man.

As it turned out, Manuel called on Chad Durbin to give him an inning or more only to have it explode on him like one of those trick cigars from the old cartoons. The problem with asking Durbin to give some innings in a pivotal game is he’s more than a little rusty. In his lone postseason performance, Durbin walked the only hitter he faced with two outs in the sixth inning of Game 2 of the NLDS against the Reds, only to end the inning by picking off the hitter to end the inning.

Until Game 4, those six pitches and the pick-off was the only work Durbin had in 17 days. Knowing this, why didn’t Manuel divide up the work to close out Game 3 instead of burning out Contreras? Can’t pitching coach Rich Dubee elbow Manuel in the ribs while on the bench to remind him to give his relievers some work?

From there, Manuel used Bastardo and Ryan Madson for the seventh and the eighth, which worked out. Bastardo retired the lefty Huff (two innings too late) and then gave up a double to Buster Posey before Madson closed out the inning with a walk and double play.

If that would have been the end, it was enough. But then the hit… er, misses, kept coming. Like in the eighth when Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth led off the inning with back-to-back doubles to tie it up, it was reasonable to expect a big inning. Except when Jimmy Rollins came up with Werth on second and no outs he didn’t get the runner over to third. Worse, he popped up to third baseman Pablo Sandoval without even a pass at a bunt or a pitch pulled to the right side.

According to the manager, the idea was for Rollins to pull the ball even though he had explained his shortstop was struggling to hit from the left side.

“Rollins usually pulls the ball. If he hits the ball to the right side of the diamond, that’s one of his strong points, he'’ got a short quick swing to the left side that he usually pulls the ball,” Manuel explained after the game. “Not only that, if he pulls the ball, he also has a chance to get a hit or drive the run in, and that's how you play the game. And we do that a lot with Rollins. We let him hit there because that’s one of his big strong suits from the left side is pull the ball.”

It was a strong suit when Rollins was healthy. But in the NLCS when there is a chance to avoid going down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series, it’s the wise move to bunt the runner over when the hitter has struggled and been injured.

Finally, the choice to put starter Roy Oswalt in the game on two days rest after he had iced down following his 20-minute side-day session wasn’t the type of out-of-the-box thinking that Manuel is known for… and it wasn’t this time, either.

Oswalt saw the way the game was unfolding and figured if he didn’t step up, Kyle Kendrick would have started the ninth inning of a big playoff game with the score tied.

Then again, that all would have been avoided if Contreras had not been misused in Game 3. It also would not have been as magnified if Bochy had not been on top of everything. If the Giants finish it off, the manager should get a lot of the credit…

And the blame.

The NLCS: Just a bad season for Hamels

cole_hamelsDuring spring training it was almost comical the way we chased around Cole Hamels for updates on his tired and achy left arm. When he went home to Philadelphia from Clearwater to visit team physician Dr. Michael Ciccotti, cameras greeted him at the airport and later caught him tooling around the city driving a minivan.

If I’m not mistaken, there was bumper sticker that read, “WOOF!” on the back.

Regardless, that’s the way the winter went for the MVP of the NLCS and World Series. If he wasn’t out gallivanting with Letterman or Ellen DeGeneres and giving her a cheesy Phillies’ jersey as a gift, he was appearing on his wife’s (second) reality show, the cover of Sports Illustrated or seen strolling around the city with a little dog in a backpack.

Typically those are things that make the Philly sporting fans wonder about the guy, but since Hamels pitched the Phillies to their first World Series victory in 28 years and captured the city’s first title in 25 years, the little dog and goofy TV commercial were ignored. No sense getting worked up over a miniature poodle when the dude pitched like a bulldog.

Don’t think that Hamels didn’t notice the treatment either. In fact, after his very first full season in Philadelphia where he solidified himself as the best pitcher on the staff, Hamels pointed out that, “The people treat me really nice here. Everyone is just so nice when they see me around.”

“Well yeah,” I told him. “It’s because you haven’t sucked yet.”

This is not to say that Hamels sucks now. Far from it. Though he’s 11-12 this season (counting the playoffs), he still has a left arm that comes around maybe once a generation. He has an incredible knack to put together incredible stretches of games that conjure up memories of the all-time greats. Better yet it’s a Hall-of-Fame arm, which, if one asks Hamels straight out what he wants to accomplish with his baseball career, he’ll flat-out tell it without so much as blinking or a trace of arrogance.

The answer comes as if he had rehearsed it in front of a mirror for years…

He wants no-hitters, piles of wins, Cy Young Awards, a career that spans decades, and, of course, the Hall of Fame. The good part for the Phillies is that Hamels’ goals aren’t all that unreasonable. The odds are relatively favorable that the lefty could pitch a no-hitter or two or win a Cy Young.

But here’s the thing about that – Cole Hamels ain’t Steve Carlton. Hell, he’s not even
Tom Glavine. Oft-injured lefty and changeup specialist John Tudor might be more like it.

Tudor made it to the World Series three times during his career and was known as a bulldog of a competitor. He famously attacked a metal ceiling fan after losing Game 7 of the 1985 World Series for the Cardinals, after a season in which he piled up a career-high in innings, complete games and shutouts. In fact, Tudor is the last Major Leaguer to notch double-digits in shutouts when he got 10 in ’85.

Tudor followed his 275 innings season with 219 more in 1986, but then was never the same again. In 1990 he topped out at 146 innings, but that was his last season.

Just like that, Tudor, a 21-game winner, All-Star, and Cy Young candidate, was washed up at age 36. His last four seasons were nothing more than a series of one injury on top of another.

Look, nobody is saying Cole Hamels is headed down the same path as John Tudor. After all, Hamels is far more talented than Tudor ever was, and just four years into his big-league career, the Phils’ lefty is nowhere near his prime.

Without a doubt, the best years of Hamels’ career – even after getting just 13 outs in a NLCS clincher – are in front of him, not behind.

However, baseball history is littered with flameouts. Tudor is hardly even the tip of the iceberg. Remember Steve Avery, the lefty who had two 18-win seasons for the Braves before he turned 23? Yes, after three years of pitching 230 innings (including the playoffs), Avery was burnt by age 29 and out of baseball for good at age 33.

But Hamels is just 25. His bad season was more the result of poor off-season preparation than anything else. He’s also a father now, which should improve his focus.

Hey, there are a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame who lost 20 games in a season. Hell, Steve Carlton is one of them. Don’t expect anything like that to happen to Hamels. Better yet, don’t expect a encore of the 2009 season, either.

The NLCS: Just Manny being useless

Easily one of the smartest reactions to the ending of the classic Game 4 came from our boy Meech over at The Fightins. Here, take a look:

I’m upset that I didn’t come up with it first. It pains my heart.

Along those lines, it’s being reported that the city of Philadelphia is greasing up the utility poles in case the Phillies win tonight in Game 5. This makes sense because when I was a kid and my team won the big game, the first thing I did was shimmy up a utility pole.

Needless to say, I was a crazy sumbitch on the ropes in gym class.

Speaking of crazy, I had a chance to talk to the great T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times and laud the man for his work. And yes, I’m being serious. The guy can flat write and the way he does it, he is literally walking on a tight rope. If he misses, it’s going to be ugly. Unfortunately for a lot of his targets, he doesn’t miss all that much.

Here’s what I like about T.J. the most (aside from the fact that he can write and he has cojones the size of watermelons) — he gets it. Sports are supposed to be fun. When we watch a game it’s not like we’re watching a scientist in the lab splitting an atom or attempting to mix compounds to find that elusive cure for cancer. No, it’s fun and T.J. has fun. He’s a writer making wise cracks… what’s not to like about that?

Better yet, he can take it. He knows that when he dishes it out, he’s ready for what comes back. Plus, he has to be doing something right in order to get people to react the way they do. I’m not saying it’s the lowest common dominator routine placating to fans and insulting their intelligence. That’s what other mediums in the sports realm do. That’s not fun—it’s mean.

Here’s the thing about T.J. that left me in awe and made me ask others, “No he didn’t… did he? Seriously, he did that?

whiffFollowing the Phillies victory in Game 3 where the fans at CBP serenaded Manny Ramirez with chants of, “You did steroids!” T.J. marched over to the Dodgers’ clubhouse and asked the Dodgers’ slugger about the fans’ little sing-song tribute.

“Where did they get this crazy idea you took steroids?” T.J. asked Ramirez.

Needless to say, Manny was not amused. Then again, his teammates shouldn’t be amused by Manny’s most recent behavior as well as his play since he returned from his 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.

Before his suspension, Ramirez was killing the ball. He had six homers and 20 RBIs in 27 games to go with a .348 batting average and an OPS into the stratosphere.

But after his suspension he hasn’t been as good. He had just 13 homers and 43 RBIs in 77 games with a .269 average. Considering that Ramirez never hit below .292 when he played a full season, .269 is quite a drop off. More notable, though, he really faltered down the stretch. In September and October, Ramirez hit just .218 with 14 RBIs in 25 games.

During the postseason Ramirez is hitting the quietest .276 ever. Sure, he homered in the fifth inning of Game 1 against Cole Hamels to bring the Dodgers into the game, but since then he’s managed just three singles in 13 at-bats with four strikeouts.

Manny has been marginalized.

That’s when he’s not taking a shower in the middle of the ninth inning of a one-run game in which his team could have tied the series at 2 and forced a trip back to Los Angeles. Conversely, starting pitcher Randy Wolf did not leave the dugout after he was removed from the game with one out in the sixth inning. Why would he? He wanted to help cheer on his teammates.

But not Ramirez. He needed to get clean, which is apt when one considers that he was termed “a pig” by a baseball executive. Nope, Manny is for Manny and since there are no pay checks handed out during the playoffs, why should he care?

Last month I trotted out the story about Manny being alerted to the arrival of Jim Thome to the Dodgers and responding that he never heard of anyone by that name.

To wit:

This comes from a guy we know who works in the Dodgers organization. He wrote us an e-mail because he thought the story would please us. He was right.

Hey fellas,
Hope all is well. Had a story for you that you might find kind of funny and that might go well on your site. Just leave my name out of it. So here goes: Alright so we all know that Jim Thome was traded to the Dodgers at the end of August, reuniting him with Ramirez after all those years in Cleveland. That’s all fine and dandy and all, but get this….. hours before the trade is made official news to the media one of the clubhouse coaches goes over to Manny and says “hey we’re bringing Jim Thome back here to play with you”. Ramirez looks at him, stares off into the distance for a few minutes. Our coach starts to realize that either Manny isn’t happy or he’s got no [bleeping] clue what is going on. Our coach couldn’t believe it was that though, since they played together for almost 10 years in Cleveland. Finally our coach says “Manny aren’t you happy about Jim coming to LA?”Ramirez looks him dead in the eye and says “I’ve never played with anyone named Jim.” Gets up, and walks away. No [bleep]. Our coach left it at that.

So why wouldn’t Manny be in the shower as his teammates were suffering through the worst defeat of the season or maybe even some of their careers. Heck, just add this to the absent-minded legend that is Manny Ramirez. You know, the guy who came back from a drug suspension only to post ordinary hitting statistics.

The NLCS: Just Manny being useless

Easily one of the smartest reactions to the ending of the classic Game 4 came from our boy Meech over at The Fightins. Here, take a look:

I’m upset that I didn’t come up with it first. It pains my heart.

Along those lines, it’s being reported that the city of Philadelphia is greasing up the utility poles in case the Phillies win tonight in Game 5. This makes sense because when I was a kid and my team won the big game, the first thing I did was shimmy up a utility pole.

Needless to say, I was a crazy sumbitch on the ropes in gym class.

Speaking of crazy, I had a chance to talk to the great T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times and laud the man for his work. And yes, I’m being serious. The guy can flat write and the way he does it, he is literally walking on a tight rope. If he misses, it’s going to be ugly. Unfortunately for a lot of his targets, he doesn’t miss all that much.

Here’s what I like about T.J. the most (aside from the fact that he can write and he has cojones the size of watermelons) — he gets it. Sports are supposed to be fun. When we watch a game it’s not like we’re watching a scientist in the lab splitting an atom or attempting to mix compounds to find that elusive cure for cancer. No, it’s fun and T.J. has fun. He’s a writer making wise cracks… what’s not to like about that?

Better yet, he can take it. He knows that when he dishes it out, he’s ready for what comes back. Plus, he has to be doing something right in order to get people to react the way they do. I’m not saying it’s the lowest common dominator routine placating to fans and insulting their intelligence. That’s what other mediums in the sports realm do. That’s not fun—it’s mean.

Here’s the thing about T.J. that left me in awe and made me ask others, “No he didn’t… did he? Seriously, he did that?

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com Following the Phillies victory in Game 3 where the fans at CBP serenaded Manny Ramirez with chants of, “You did steroids!” T.J. marched over to the Dodgers’ clubhouse and asked the Dodgers’ slugger about the fans’ little sing-song tribute.

“Where did they get this crazy idea you took steroids?” T.J. asked Ramirez.

Needless to say, Manny was not amused. Then again, his teammates shouldn’t be amused by Manny’s most recent behavior as well as his play since he returned from his 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.

Before his suspension, Ramirez was killing the ball. He had six homers and 20 RBIs in 27 games to go with a .348 batting average and an OPS into the stratosphere.

But after his suspension he hasn’t been as good. He had just 13 homers and 43 RBIs in 77 games with a .269 average. Considering that Ramirez never hit below .292 when he played a full season, .269 is quite a drop off. More notable, though, he really faltered down the stretch. In September and October, Ramirez hit just .218 with 14 RBIs in 25 games.

During the postseason Ramirez is hitting the quietest .276 ever. Sure, he homered in the fifth inning of Game 1 against Cole Hamels to bring the Dodgers into the game, but since then he’s managed just three singles in 13 at-bats with four strikeouts.

Manny has been marginalized.

That’s when he’s not taking a shower in the middle of the ninth inning of a one-run game in which his team could have tied the series at 2 and forced a trip back to Los Angeles. Conversely, starting pitcher Randy Wolf did not leave the dugout after he was removed from the game with one out in the sixth inning. Why would he? He wanted to help cheer on his teammates.

But not Ramirez. He needed to get clean, which is apt when one considers that he was termed “a pig” by a baseball executive. Nope, Manny is for Manny and since there are no pay checks handed out during the playoffs, why should he care?

Last month I trotted out the story about Manny being alerted to the arrival of Jim Thome to the Dodgers and responding that he never heard of anyone by that name.

To wit:

This comes from a guy we know who works in the Dodgers organization. He wrote us an e-mail because he thought the story would please us. He was right.

Hey fellas,
Hope all is well. Had a story for you that you might find kind of funny and that might go well on your site. Just leave my name out of it. So here goes: Alright so we all know that Jim Thome was traded to the Dodgers at the end of August, reuniting him with Ramirez after all those years in Cleveland. That’s all fine and dandy and all, but get this….. hours before the trade is made official news to the media one of the clubhouse coaches goes over to Manny and says “hey we’re bringing Jim Thome back here to play with you”. Ramirez looks at him, stares off into the distance for a few minutes. Our coach starts to realize that either Manny isn’t happy or he’s got no [bleeping] clue what is going on. Our coach couldn’t believe it was that though, since they played together for almost 10 years in Cleveland. Finally our coach says “Manny aren’t you happy about Jim coming to LA?”Ramirez looks him dead in the eye and says “I’ve never played with anyone named Jim.” Gets up, and walks away. No [bleep]. Our coach left it at that.

So why wouldn’t Manny be in the shower as his teammates were suffering through the worst defeat of the season or maybe even some of their careers. Heck, just add this to the absent-minded legend that is Manny Ramirez. You know, the guy who came back from a drug suspension only to post ordinary hitting statistics.

The NLCS: Just a bad season for Hamels

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com During spring training it was almost comical the way we chased around Cole Hamels for updates on his tired and achy left arm. When he went home to Philadelphia from Clearwater to visit team physician Dr. Michael Ciccotti, cameras greeted him at the airport and later caught him tooling around the city driving a minivan.

If I’m not mistaken, there was bumper sticker that read, “WOOF!” on the back.

Regardless, that’s the way the winter went for the MVP of the NLCS and World Series. If he wasn’t out gallivanting with Letterman or Ellen DeGeneres and giving her a cheesy Phillies’ jersey as a gift, he was appearing on his wife’s (second) reality show, the cover of Sports Illustrated or seen strolling around the city with a little dog in a backpack.

Typically those are things that make the Philly sporting fans wonder about the guy, but since Hamels pitched the Phillies to their first World Series victory in 28 years and captured the city’s first title in 25 years, the little dog and goofy TV commercial were ignored. No sense getting worked up over a miniature poodle when the dude pitched like a bulldog.

Don’t think that Hamels didn’t notice the treatment either. In fact, after his very first full season in Philadelphia where he solidified himself as the best pitcher on the staff, Hamels pointed out that, “The people treat me really nice here. Everyone is just so nice when they see me around.”

“Well yeah,” I told him. “It’s because you haven’t sucked yet.”

This is not to say that Hamels sucks now. Far from it. Though he’s 11-12 this season (counting the playoffs), he still has a left arm that comes around maybe once a generation. He has an incredible knack to put together incredible stretches of games that conjure up memories of the all-time greats. Better yet it’s a Hall-of-Fame arm, which, if one asks Hamels straight out what he wants to accomplish with his baseball career, he’ll flat-out tell it without so much as blinking or a trace of arrogance.

The answer comes as if he had rehearsed it in front of a mirror for years…

He wants no-hitters, piles of wins, Cy Young Awards, a career that spans decades, and, of course, the Hall of Fame. The good part for the Phillies is that Hamels’ goals aren’t all that unreasonable. The odds are relatively favorable that the lefty could pitch a no-hitter or two or win a Cy Young.

But here’s the thing about that – Cole Hamels ain’t Steve Carlton. Hell, he’s not even
Tom Glavine. Oft-injured lefty and changeup specialist John Tudor might be more like it.

Tudor made it to the World Series three times during his career and was known as a bulldog of a competitor. He famously attacked a metal ceiling fan after losing Game 7 of the 1985 World Series for the Cardinals, after a season in which he piled up a career-high in innings, complete games and shutouts. In fact, Tudor is the last Major Leaguer to notch double-digits in shutouts when he got 10 in ’85.

Tudor followed his 275 innings season with 219 more in 1986, but then was never the same again. In 1990 he topped out at 146 innings, but that was his last season.

Just like that, Tudor, a 21-game winner, All-Star, and Cy Young candidate, was washed up at age 36. His last four seasons were nothing more than a series of one injury on top of another.

Look, nobody is saying Cole Hamels is headed down the same path as John Tudor. After all, Hamels is far more talented than Tudor ever was, and just four years into his big-league career, the Phils’ lefty is nowhere near his prime.

Without a doubt, the best years of Hamels’ career – even after getting just 13 outs in a NLCS clincher – are in front of him, not behind.

However, baseball history is littered with flameouts. Tudor is hardly even the tip of the iceberg. Remember Steve Avery, the lefty who had two 18-win seasons for the Braves before he turned 23? Yes, after three years of pitching 230 innings (including the playoffs), Avery was burnt by age 29 and out of baseball for good at age 33.

But Hamels is just 25. His bad season was more the result of poor off-season preparation than anything else. He’s also a father now, which should improve his focus.

Hey, there are a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame who lost 20 games in a season. Hell, Steve Carlton is one of them. Don’t expect anything like that to happen to Hamels. Better yet, don’t expect a encore of the 2009 season, either.

The NLCS: Greatest Phillies team ever?

Comparisons between teams of different eras are not only difficult to do logically, but also they are odious. Seriously, the game changes so much from generation to generation that there is no way one can compare, say, the 1977 Phillies to the 2009 Phils. The game does not exist in a vacuum (or whatever). We see it just by looking at the stat sheet.

Needless to say, baseball statistics are essentially meaningless.

Take that with a grain of salt, however. The numbers are the only proof that a lot of people have to understand if a player is performing well. But I don’t need to look up Garry Maddox’s VORP or OPS to know that he was a better center fielder than Shane Victorino. Sure, there are numbers on the page and I suppose they have meaning. But if you ever got the chance to watch Maddox go gap to gap to chase down every single fly ball hit into the air, you just know.

Nevertheless, since the Phillies are on the cusp of going to the World Series for th second season in a row, those old, odious comparisons come up. They kind of have to, right? Well, yeah… after all, there really aren’t very many good seasons in the 126 years of Phillies baseball to compare.

The good years are easily categorized. There were the one-hit wonder years of 1950 and 1993; the stretch where ol’ Grover Cleveland Alexander took the Phils to the series in 1915; and then the Golden Era from 1976 to 1983 where the Phillies went to the playoffs six times in eight seasons.

Then there is now.

Obviously two straight visits to the World Series are unprecedented in team history. Actually, the five-year stint in which Charlie Manuel has guided the team are the best five years in club history. At least that’s what the bottom line says.

In just five years as the manager of the Phillies, Manuel has won 447 games. Only Gene Mauch, Harry Wright and Danny Ozark have won more games in franchise history and those guys were around for a lot longer than five years. Interestingly, Manuel ranks fourth in franchise wins and seventh in games.

That pretty much says it all right there, doesn’t it? Based on the wins and accomplishments, this is the greatest era of Phillies baseball and the 2009 club could very well go down as the best team ever—whether they win the World Series over the Yankees (Angels are done, right?) or not.

Still, I’d take Maddox over Victorino, Steve Carlton over Cole Hamels, Bake McBride over Jayson Werth; Bob Boone over Carlos Ruiz; Greg Luzinski way over Pat Burrell (and Raul Ibanez, too); and, obviously, Mike Schmidt over Pedro Feliz.

But I’d also take Chase Utley’s bat over Manny Trillo’s glove; Jimmy Rollins over Larry Bowa; and Ryan Howard over Pete Rose or Richie Hebner.

Those are the easy choices. Those Golden Era teams had some underrated players like Dick Ruthven and Del Unser, but they would have been much better with a Matt Stairs type.

No, the truth is I’d take the 2009 Phillies over those other teams and it’s not because of the players comparisons or the win totals. It’s because they are a better team.

Yeah, that’s right, these guys are the best team.

Of course I never got to go into the clubhouse to see Larry Bowa’s divisive act, Steve Carlton’s oddness, or Mike Schmidt’s diva-like act. You know, that is if the stories from those days are true…

Nope, give me a team instead of one that had the indignity to run into a pair of dynasties in the making. First the Phillies had to contend with the Cincinnati Reds and The Big Red Machine before those great Dodgers’ clubs emerged. There is no team in the NL East or National League, for that matter, that is as good as the Phillies have been.

The Mets, Dodgers or Cardinals? Nope, no and nah.

More importantly, now that Pat Burrell is gone the Phillies don’t have a true divisive force in the clubhouse. There is no more of that creepy us-against-them battle anymore considering the relief corps did a reality show with the MLB Network.

Think Warren Brusstar and Kevin Saucier would have been asked to do something like “The Pen” if they were playing these days?

No, the these Phillies have nothing as obnoxious or weird as Bowa or Carlton. They are not the 25-guys in 25-cabs team. It’s a real baseball team.

We’ll see what happens when (and if) the Phillies get to the World Series, but in this instance we’ll go with Victorino gang over Maddox’s group.

The NLCS: Greatest Phillies team ever?

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Comparisons between teams of different eras are not only difficult to do logically, but also they are odious. Seriously, the game changes so much from generation to generation that there is no way one can compare, say, the 1977 Phillies to the 2009 Phils. The game does not exist in a vacuum (or whatever). We see it just by looking at the stat sheet.

Needless to say, baseball statistics are essentially meaningless.

Take that with a grain of salt, however. The numbers are the only proof that a lot of people have to understand if a player is performing well. But I don’t need to look up Garry Maddox’s VORP or OPS to know that he was a better center fielder than Shane Victorino. Sure, there are numbers on the page and I suppose they have meaning. But if you ever got the chance to watch Maddox go gap to gap to chase down every single fly ball hit into the air, you just know.

Nevertheless, since the Phillies are on the cusp of going to the World Series for th second season in a row, those old, odious comparisons come up. They kind of have to, right? Well, yeah… after all, there really aren’t very many good seasons in the 126 years of Phillies baseball to compare.

The good years are easily categorized. There were the one-hit wonder years of 1950 and 1993; the stretch where ol’ Grover Cleveland Alexander took the Phils to the series in 1915; and then the Golden Era from 1976 to 1983 where the Phillies went to the playoffs six times in eight seasons.

Then there is now.

Obviously two straight visits to the World Series are unprecedented in team history. Actually, the five-year stint in which Charlie Manuel has guided the team are the best five years in club history. At least that’s what the bottom line says.

In just five years as the manager of the Phillies, Manuel has won 447 games. Only Gene Mauch, Harry Wright and Danny Ozark have won more games in franchise history and those guys were around for a lot longer than five years. Interestingly, Manuel ranks fourth in franchise wins and seventh in games.

That pretty much says it all right there, doesn’t it? Based on the wins and accomplishments, this is the greatest era of Phillies baseball and the 2009 club could very well go down as the best team ever—whether they win the World Series over the Yankees (Angels are done, right?) or not.

Still, I’d take Maddox over Victorino, Steve Carlton over Cole Hamels, Bake McBride over Jayson Werth; Bob Boone over Carlos Ruiz; Greg Luzinski way over Pat Burrell (and Raul Ibanez, too); and, obviously, Mike Schmidt over Pedro Feliz.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com But I’d also take Chase Utley’s bat over Manny Trillo’s glove; Jimmy Rollins over Larry Bowa; and Ryan Howard over Pete Rose or Richie Hebner.

Those are the easy choices. Those Golden Era teams had some underrated players like Dick Ruthven and Del Unser, but they would have been much better with a Matt Stairs type.

No, the truth is I’d take the 2009 Phillies over those other teams and it’s not because of the players comparisons or the win totals. It’s because they are a better team.

Yeah, that’s right, these guys are the best team.

Of course I never got to go into the clubhouse to see Larry Bowa’s divisive act, Steve Carlton’s oddness, or Mike Schmidt’s diva-like act. You know, that is if the stories from those days are true…

Nope, give me a team instead of one that had the indignity to run into a pair of dynasties in the making. First the Phillies had to contend with the Cincinnati Reds and The Big Red Machine before those great Dodgers’ clubs emerged. There is no team in the NL East or National League, for that matter, that is as good as the Phillies have been.

The Mets, Dodgers or Cardinals? Nope, no and nah.

More importantly, now that Pat Burrell is gone the Phillies don’t have a true divisive force in the clubhouse. There is no more of that creepy us-against-them battle anymore considering the relief corps did a reality show with the MLB Network.

Think Warren Brusstar and Kevin Saucier would have been asked to do something like “The Pen” if they were playing these days?

No, the these Phillies have nothing as obnoxious or weird as Bowa or Carlton. They are not the 25-guys in 25-cabs team. It’s a real baseball team.

We’ll see what happens when (and if) the Phillies get to the World Series, but in this instance we’ll go with Victorino gang over Maddox’s group.

The NLCS: No blowing it for the Phillies

pileWatching Carlos Ruiz take that wide turn around second base with his short legs moving as fast as he could make them go, the first thought (obviously) was, “Wow! They’re really going to win this thing.”

It was as dramatic a victory as there could be in a postseason game without a home run. Needless to say it immediately conjured remembrances Matt Stairs’ home run to beat the Dodgers and Jonathan Broxton in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS, too. That homer, off course, was the seminal moment of the 2008 postseason where we finally realized that, yes, the Phillies were going to go to the World Series and win it.

Those old feelings surfaced again last night as Jimmy Rollins circled the bases only to be tackled by Ryan Howard and the rest of the team when Chooch finally made it to home plate.

Unlike last year it’s much easier to put the Game 4 heroics in perspective because there is a frame of reference. We’ve seen this all before, which caused some of us to be less stunned than when Stairs hit his homer. Oh, it was dramatic alright, because, really, how many times does a team get to win such an important game?

Once in a lifetime, maybe, if the team is especially lucky or good? But never in back-to-back years in the same game of the championship series against the same pitcher, right?

Well, obviously these are not your father’s Phillies. Or you grandfather’s Phillies. There simply is no precedent for what we’re watching with this team.

Oh sure, in 1980 the Phillies had some pretty crazy comebacks. Take Game 5 of the NLCS, for instance. Back then the series was just a best-of-five so when Nolan Ryan took a three-run lead into the top of the eighth at the Astrodome, it didn’t look so good for the Phillies.

But Larry Bowa hit a single to open the inning. Bob Boone followed with another before Greg Gross beat out a bunt to load the bases. When Pete Rose walked to force home a run, the Astros turned to Joe Sambito and Ken Forsch to try and stave off more damage.

jimmyTwo outs and a two-run single by Del Unser followed by a two-run triple from Manny Trillo and the Phillies went from four outs from elimination to holding a two-run lead with six outs to go.

Actually, Tug McGraw was four outs away in the eighth before the Astros rallied. It took a two-out double from Garry Maddox in the 10th to finally send the Phillies to the World Series.

OK, so maybe there is a precedent, but not one with an exclamation point or a moment that folks will talk about forever and ever. Make that two moments now. Stairs and Rollins linked by generations by stories fathers and grandfathers will pass down.

Indeed, that is unprecedented.

So the next thought that came after wrapping my head around what had just happened on the field when Rollins laced his game-winner into the gap, was, “OK, how are they going to blow this? Are the Phillies going to cough up three straight to the Dodgers or go belly up against the Angels or Yankees in the World Series?

“Would something like that just render the glory of Game 4 useless?”

Well, yeah… but it’s not going to happen. The days of epic failures and catchphrases like “1964!” are long buried in the attic of hazy memories like a sweater that doesn’t fit and has gone out of style.

The Phillies are going to the World Series again. They might even win it…

What, are you surprised?

The NLCS: No blowing it for the Phillies

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com Watching Carlos Ruiz take that wide turn around second base with his short legs moving as fast as he could make them go, the first thought (obviously) was, “Wow! They’re really going to win this thing.”

It was as dramatic a victory as there could be in a postseason game without a home run. Needless to say it immediately conjured remembrances Matt Stairs’ home run to beat the Dodgers and Jonathan Broxton in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS, too. That homer, off course, was the seminal moment of the 2008 postseason where we finally realized that, yes, the Phillies were going to go to the World Series and win it.

Those old feelings surfaced again last night as Jimmy Rollins circled the bases only to be tackled by Ryan Howard and the rest of the team when Chooch finally made it to home plate.

Unlike last year it’s much easier to put the Game 4 heroics in perspective because there is a frame of reference. We’ve seen this all before, which caused some of us to be less stunned than when Stairs hit his homer. Oh, it was dramatic alright, because, really, how many times does a team get to win such an important game?

Once in a lifetime, maybe, if the team is especially lucky or good? But never in back-to-back years in the same game of the championship series against the same pitcher, right?

Well, obviously these are not your father’s Phillies. Or you grandfather’s Phillies. There simply is no precedent for what we’re watching with this team.

Oh sure, in 1980 the Phillies had some pretty crazy comebacks. Take Game 5 of the NLCS, for instance. Back then the series was just a best-of-five so when Nolan Ryan took a three-run lead into the top of the eighth at the Astrodome, it didn’t look so good for the Phillies.

But Larry Bowa hit a single to open the inning. Bob Boone followed with another before Greg Gross beat out a bunt to load the bases. When Pete Rose walked to force home a run, the Astros turned to Joe Sambito and Ken Forsch to try and stave off more damage.

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com Two outs and a two-run single by Del Unser followed by a two-run triple from Manny Trillo and the Phillies went from four outs from elimination to holding a two-run lead with six outs to go.

Actually, Tug McGraw was four outs away in the eighth before the Astros rallied. It took a two-out double from Garry Maddox in the 10th to finally send the Phillies to the World Series.

OK, so maybe there is a precedent, but not one with an exclamation point or a moment that folks will talk about forever and ever. Make that two moments now. Stairs and Rollins linked by generations by stories fathers and grandfathers will pass down.

Indeed, that is unprecedented.

So the next thought that came after wrapping my head around what had just happened on the field when Rollins laced his game-winner into the gap, was, “OK, how are they going to blow this? Are the Phillies going to cough up three straight to the Dodgers or go belly up against the Angels or Yankees in the World Series?

“Would something like that just render the glory of Game 4 useless?”

Well, yeah… but it’s not going to happen. The days of epic failures and catchphrases like “1964!” are long buried in the attic of hazy memories like a sweater that doesn’t fit and has gone out of style.

The Phillies are going to the World Series again. They might even win it…

What, are you surprised?

The NLCS: Where does Pedro fit in?

pedroI guess I can chalk it up to a mixture of west coast time and baseball hours. That could be the reason why I woke up at the crack of 2 p.m. today. Worse, if I hadn’t figured it was a good idea to see what time it was, I would have slept straight through to game time.

What the hell?

Make no mistake, though, this is the time for colds, tiredness and other things that go with too many late nights and too little sleep. Tough it out. That’s what you do.

Either way, it’s back at the ballpark to dive into the HUGE Game 4. If the Phillies can figure out Randy Wolf, get ready for another trip to the World Series. If Wolfie can stick it to his old club, buckle up—we’re going to take the full ride.

In the meantime, there was an excellent story on ESPN.com by Jorge Arangure Jr. on Pedro Martinez and what he means to young Dominican pitchers like Antonio Bastardo. The best part of the story was the quotes from Bastardo overheard when he approached Pedro after his masterpiece in Dodger Stadium in Game 2 last Friday.

“Pedro,” Bastardo quietly said. “It was an honor watching you pitch today.”

Martinez grinned.

“Tomorrow,” Martinez told Bastardo, “you and I will go into the outfield during batting practice and we will talk. I have a few things to teach you.”

The importance of Pedro’s arrival to the Phillies can’t be understated. First, there’s the influence he has on guys like Bastardo and Venezuelan Sergio Escalona, two young guys who were little kids when Pedro was pitching like the greatest right-hander who ever lived. Pedro has taken those guys under his wing, showed them the big-league life and what sacrifices and training a pitcher has to abide in order to have a long career.

However, there are also guys like Scott Eyre and Brad Lidge who remember Pedro from that stretch when his numbers surpassed those of greats like Sandy Koufax and forced a few stat geeks to list him as the greatest pitcher ever since 1954.

The biggest question now is determining what to do about Pedro in 2010. The Phillies already have guys like Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer under contract for next season, and have an option for Cliff Lee and likely will offer arbitration to Joe Blanton. Meanwhile, pitchers like Kyle Kendrick and Kyle Drabek are waiting in the wings though the Phillies likely will need other options.

Where does Pedro fit in?

Friends of Pedro say he will pitch next season, though he’s not really looking for a pay day. Instead, he wants to pitch for a team like the Phillies that has a bona fide chance to win the World Series.

“He doesn’t care about money. He has $100 million in the bank,” a Pedro acolyte said. “He wants to win. He’s going to Cooperstown—he knows that. He has three Cy Youngs, a World Series ring and a lot of pride.”

Of course salary is another way of keeping score in baseball. Some players measure respect in dollars, though it is worth noting that Pedro took a prorated $2 million salary that came to approximately $1 million  and earned approximately $500,000 in bonuses this year.

He probably earned a helluva a lot more in potential earnings with the seven innings of two-hit/shutout ball.

So what’s next for Pedro? Or how about Game 6 of the NLCS (if necessary) or maybe a start at Yankee Stadium in the World Series.

How fun would that be?

The NLCS: Pre-game 3 notes and whatnot

cliff_leeSo how is this for the weather sampler: last week at this time we were watching the coldest playoff baseball in history in snowy and chilly Denver, only to be watching a workout in Los Angeles two days later as temperatures pushed into the 90s.

Now we’re back in Philadelphia where it actually feels colder than it did in Denver simply because we were teased with that dry, hot Southern California air. Plus, it feels windier here in Philly because the put the ballpark down in an area devoid of buildings or large structures and near a geographical anomaly where two major rivers converge.

Yep, it’s chilly.

For Cliff Lee, it will be two straight chilly nights on the mound. Certainly it wouldn’t seem ideal for a guy from Arkansas, but according to Southern California guy Randy Wolf, a pitcher who actually likes to pitch in the chilly weather, the pitcher is always the warmest guy on the field.

“I’ve always had a tough time pitching in Atlanta and Florida and I sometimes I turn about three shades pink and I overheat,” Wolf said. “In the cold I feel more alert, I feel like my energy level is always there and the fact that you can blow on your hands when you’re on the mound in cold weather, your hands are only affected. As a pitcher you’re the only guy that’s moving on every pitch. The pitcher has probably the easiest job of keeping warm.”

Here are your pre-game factoids and whatnot:

• Sunday night’s game is the 21st time a NLCS has been tied at 1-1. Of the previous 20 Game 3s played in a 1-1 series, the home team won 13 of them. More notably, the winner of Game 3 in those instances went on to win the series 12 times.
• The Phillies are 2-5 in Game 3 of the NLCS. Both of the Phillies’ wins in Game 3s are against the Dodgers (1978 and 1983).
• Coming into Sunday night’s game, the Phillies are 6-for-60 against Dodgers’ starter Hiroki Kuroda. That does not include Game 3 of the 2008 NLCS where Kuroda gave up five hits in six innings of a 7-2 victory. Counting that, the Phillies are 11-for-83 (.133).
• Finally, Ryan Howard can break the all-time single season record for playoff games with an RBI on Sunday night. He is currently tied with Carlton Fisk with six straight games in the playoffs with an RBI, which Fisk did during the 1975 World Series. The amount of RBIs Fisk had in those six games? Try six.

The all-time record for consecutive games with an RBI in the playoffs is eight by Lou Gehrig in the 1928 and 1932 World Series.

The NLCS: Where does Pedro fit in?

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com I guess I can chalk it up to a mixture of west coast time and baseball hours. That could be the reason why I woke up at the crack of 2 p.m. today. Worse, if I hadn’t figured it was a good idea to see what time it was, I would have slept straight through to game time.

What the hell?

Make no mistake, though, this is the time for colds, tiredness and other things that go with too many late nights and too little sleep. Tough it out. That’s what you do.

Either way, it’s back at the ballpark to dive into the HUGE Game 4. If the Phillies can figure out Randy Wolf, get ready for another trip to the World Series. If Wolfie can stick it to his old club, buckle up—we’re going to take the full ride.

In the meantime, there was an excellent story on ESPN.com by Jorge Arangure Jr. on Pedro Martinez and what he means to young Dominican pitchers like Antonio Bastardo. The best part of the story was the quotes from Bastardo overheard when he approached Pedro after his masterpiece in Dodger Stadium in Game 2 last Friday.

“Pedro,” Bastardo quietly said. “It was an honor watching you pitch today.”

Martinez grinned.

“Tomorrow,” Martinez told Bastardo, “you and I will go into the outfield during batting practice and we will talk. I have a few things to teach you.”

The importance of Pedro’s arrival to the Phillies can’t be understated. First, there’s the influence he has on guys like Bastardo and Venezuelan Sergio Escalona, two young guys who were little kids when Pedro was pitching like the greatest right-hander who ever lived. Pedro has taken those guys under his wing, showed them the big-league life and what sacrifices and training a pitcher has to abide in order to have a long career.

However, there are also guys like Scott Eyre and Brad Lidge who remember Pedro from that stretch when his numbers surpassed those of greats like Sandy Koufax and forced a few stat geeks to list him as the greatest pitcher ever since 1954.

The biggest question now is determining what to do about Pedro in 2010. The Phillies already have guys like Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer under contract for next season, and have an option for Cliff Lee and likely will offer arbitration to Joe Blanton. Meanwhile, pitchers like Kyle Kendrick and Kyle Drabek are waiting in the wings though the Phillies likely will need other options.

Where does Pedro fit in?

Friends of Pedro say he will pitch next season, though he’s not really looking for a pay day. Instead, he wants to pitch for a team like the Phillies that has a bona fide chance to win the World Series.

“He doesn’t care about money. He has $100 million in the bank,” a Pedro acolyte said. “He wants to win. He’s going to Cooperstown—he knows that. He has three Cy Youngs, a World Series ring and a lot of pride.”

Of course salary is another way of keeping score in baseball. Some players measure respect in dollars, though it is worth noting that Pedro took a prorated $2 million salary that came to approximately $1 million  and earned approximately $500,000 in bonuses this year.

He probably earned a helluva a lot more in potential earnings with the seven innings of two-hit/shutout ball.

So what’s next for Pedro? Or how about Game 6 of the NLCS (if necessary) or maybe a start at Yankee Stadium in the World Series.

How fun would that be?

The NLCS: Pre-game 3 notes and whatnot

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com So how is this for the weather sampler: last week at this time we were watching the coldest playoff baseball in history in snowy and chilly Denver, only to be watching a workout in Los Angeles two days later as temperatures pushed into the 90s.

Now we’re back in Philadelphia where it actually feels colder than it did in Denver simply because we were teased with that dry, hot Southern California air. Plus, it feels windier here in Philly because the put the ballpark down in an area devoid of buildings or large structures and near a geographical anomaly where two major rivers converge.

Yep, it’s chilly.

For Cliff Lee, it will be two straight chilly nights on the mound. Certainly it wouldn’t seem ideal for a guy from Arkansas, but according to Southern California guy Randy Wolf, a pitcher who actually likes to pitch in the chilly weather, the pitcher is always the warmest guy on the field.

“I’ve always had a tough time pitching in Atlanta and Florida and I sometimes I turn about three shades pink and I overheat,” Wolf said. “In the cold I feel more alert, I feel like my energy level is always there and the fact that you can blow on your hands when you’re on the mound in cold weather, your hands are only affected. As a pitcher you’re the only guy that’s moving on every pitch. The pitcher has probably the easiest job of keeping warm.”

Here are your pre-game factoids and whatnot:

• Sunday night’s game is the 21st time a NLCS has been tied at 1-1. Of the previous 20 Game 3s played in a 1-1 series, the home team won 13 of them. More notably, the winner of Game 3 in those instances went on to win the series 12 times.

• The Phillies are 2-5 in Game 3 of the NLCS. Both of the Phillies’ wins in Game 3s are against the Dodgers (1978 and 1983).

• Coming into Sunday night’s game, the Phillies are 6-for-60 against Dodgers’ starter Hiroki Kuroda. That does not include Game 3 of the 2008 NLCS where Kuroda gave up five hits in six innings of a 7-2 victory. Counting that, the Phillies are 11-for-83 (.133).

• Finally, Ryan Howard can break the all-time single season record for playoff games with an RBI on Sunday night. He is currently tied with Carlton Fisk with six straight games in the playoffs with an RBI, which Fisk did during the 1975 World Series. The amount of RBIs Fisk had in those six games? Try six.

The all-time record for consecutive games with an RBI in the playoffs is eight by Lou Gehrig in the 1928 and 1932 World Series.

The NLCS: Chase Utley no Mr. October

Utley_errorLOS ANGELES—There’s no logical way to explain why some players thrive in the postseason and others just have the worst time ever. Chalk it up to simply being one of those baseball things that are indefinable.

As Charlie says, “Funny game.”

But one thing that is never a mystery is that legacies of ballplayers are defined by how well they perform in October. Sure, there are some players like Ted Williams and Ernie Banks who are given a pass for a dearth of playoff exposure, but those guys are rare. After all, there’s a reason why Derek Jeter is viewed as an all-time great despite a shortcoming or two.

And of course no one ever talks about the fact that Reggie Jackson struck out more times than anyone in baseball history and batted .300 just one time in 21 seasons. Reggie Jackson was Mr. October because he hit 10 home runs and won the World Series five times.

When it comes down to it, the performance after the season ends is what matters most, yet there are some pretty great players who struggle beneath the bright lights and others that can’t help but perform well in when the games matter most.

“It’s one of those things, I guess,” said Phillies’ hitting coach Milt Thompson, who holds the club postseason record for most RBIs in a game with five in a game in which he needed a homer to complete the cycle. “Some guys like the lights.”

Others don’t do well with them at all. For this group of Phillies it seems as if Ryan Howard is becoming quite Jacksonian. In Friday’s Game 2 of the NLCS, Howard continued his October assault by reaching base for the 15th straight postseason game. More notable, the Phillies’ slugger has at least one RBI in every game of the 2009 playoffs thanks to a fourth-inning homer against former Phillie Vicente Padilla in the 2-1 defeat.

But don’t just pin Howard’s hot playoff hitting to this season. His streak of big hits goes back to last October, too. In fact, Howard is hitting .382 (21-for-55) with six doubles, four home runs and 17 RBIs in his last 14 playoff games and he has reached base safely in his last 15.

In 23 postseason games Howard has five homers and 19 RBIs. The RBIs are already a franchise record for the postseason.

October has not been too kind to Chase Utley, though. Sure, he hit a pair of homers in the World Series last year and batted .429 against the Rockies in the NLDS, but so far he’s 1-for-8 against the Dodgers in the NLCS and has a .241 lifetime average in 23 playoff games with 23 strikeouts. Take away the 2009 NLDS and Utley is hitting just .203 in the playoffs and fails to put the ball in play more than 40 percent of the time.

Then there is the fielding. In the two biggest games of the season (so far), Utley has committed costly errors. The one in Game 1 caused pitcher Cole Hamels to throw a bit of a fit, while the one in Game 2 proved to be one of the biggest reasons why the Phillies lost to the Dodgers. Actually, Utley has three errors in his playoff career, which is a rate twice as high as his regular-season total of errors.

The errors in the field are what everyone is talking about now, but there’s more to Utley’s playoff woes. There was also the debacle of Game 1 of the 2007 NLDS in which he struck out four times on 13 pitches.

Still, even when Utley is playing well he consistently works to improve his game. Chancs are he dials up the effort even highr when things go poorly.

“I’m never really satisfied on the way I play,” Utley said. “I always feel like I can play better, so this season is no different.”

Nope, not at all. It’s no different in that Utley is finding trouble in the playoffs…

Again.

The NLCS: Chase Utley no Mr. October

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.comLOS ANGELES—There’s no logical way to explain why some players thrive in the postseason and others just have the worst time ever. Chalk it up to simply being one of those baseball things that are indefinable.

As Charlie says, “Funny game.”

But one thing that is never a mystery is that legacies of ballplayers are defined by how well they perform in October. Sure, there are some players like Ted Williams and Ernie Banks who are given a pass for a dearth of playoff exposure, but those guys are rare. After all, there’s a reason why Derek Jeter is viewed as an all-time great despite a shortcoming or two.

And of course no one ever talks about the fact that Reggie Jackson struck out more times than anyone in baseball history and batted .300 just one time in 21 seasons. Reggie Jackson was Mr. October because he hit 10 home runs and won the World Series five times.

When it comes down to it, the performance after the season ends is what matters most, yet there are some pretty great players who struggle beneath the bright lights and others that can’t help but perform well in when the games matter most.

“It’s one of those things, I guess,” said Phillies’ hitting coach Milt Thompson, who holds the club postseason record for most RBIs in a game with five in a game in which he needed a homer to complete the cycle. “Some guys like the lights.”

Others don’t do well with them at all. For this group of Phillies it seems as if Ryan Howard is becoming quite Jacksonian. In Friday’s Game 2 of the NLCS, Howard continued his October assault by reaching base for the 15th straight postseason game. More notable, the Phillies’ slugger has at least one RBI in every game of the 2009 playoffs thanks to a fourth-inning homer against former Phillie Vicente Padilla in the 2-1 defeat.

But don’t just pin Howard’s hot playoff hitting to this season. His streak of big hits goes back to last October, too. In fact, Howard is hitting .382 (21-for-55) with six doubles, four home runs and 17 RBIs in his last 14 playoff games and he has reached base safely in his last 15.

In 23 postseason games Howard has five homers and 19 RBIs. The RBIs are already a franchise record for the postseason.

October has not been too kind to Chase Utley, though. Sure, he hit a pair of homers in the World Series last year and batted .429 against the Rockies in the NLDS, but so far he’s 1-for-8 against the Dodgers in the NLCS and has a .241 lifetime average in 23 playoff games with 23 strikeouts. Take away the 2009 NLDS and Utley is hitting just .203 in the playoffs and fails to put the ball in play more than 40 percent of the time.

Then there is the fielding. In the two biggest games of the season (so far), Utley has committed costly errors. The one in Game 1 caused pitcher Cole Hamels to throw a bit of a fit, while the one in Game 2 proved to be one of the biggest reasons why the Phillies lost to the Dodgers. Actually, Utley has three errors in his playoff career, which is a rate twice as high as his regular-season total of errors.

The errors in the field are what everyone is talking about now, but there’s more to Utley’s playoff woes. There was also the debacle of Game 1 of the 2007 NLDS in which he struck out four times on 13 pitches.

Still, even when Utley is playing well he consistently works to improve his game. Chancs are he dials up the effort even highr when things go poorly.

“I’m never really satisfied on the way I play,” Utley said. “I always feel like I can play better, so this season is no different.”

Nope, not at all. It’s no different in that Utley is finding trouble in the playoffs…

Again.

NLCS: The greatest Dodger

Vin ScullyLOS ANGELES—OK, it’s quite fair to point out that the Dodgers’ fans are not the most savvy ones out there. They miss a lot of the nuance of the game, which lends much to the reputation as not quite as knowledgeable as they ought to be. But give them credit where it is due—they were quite loud last night for Game 1 of the NLCS.

Part of that has to do with the fact that the PA system is pumped up way past 11. Out on the field it sounds just bounce all over the joint. There’s a lot of cinder block-like concrete in Dodger Stadium that just doesn’t absorb the sound well. In that sense, it’s kind of like old Shea Stadium.

Dodger Stadium is nothing like Shea, though. For one thing they have those damn beach balls bouncing all over the place here. Even though it’s a tight, 1-0 game heading into the middle innings, fans are just happily batting a ball and clapping along with the pre-programmed sound affects blasted through the PA.

Yet another reason Dodgers fans are not taken seriously.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Dodger fans when Vin Scully retires from broadcasting after the 2010 season. After all, it is not farfetched to think that a lot of people are baseball fans simply because they like listening to ol’ Vin do the games. Heck, I’ll even admit that I subscribed to the MLB package on Comcast simply to be able to get the Dodgers broadcasts and hear Vin spin his yarns and tell stories about the game and the players.

In the official ranking of sports announcers, Vin Scully was rated as the best of all-time. However, to me it just doesn’t seem good enough. Sure, Vin announces baseball games and I’m sure if asked he’ll humbly say it isn’t anything more than that. But I disagree. Vin behind the microphone is like a concert pianist at the keyboard, a great painter with a brush in hand, or a great writer typing away at a laptop.

The guy is truly an artist.

He’s also the link between the real Dodgers of Brooklyn and the Los Angeles version that came about in 1958. More than anyone, Vin Scully is the Dodgers. Like Harry Kalas in Philadelphia, there are very few people who have heard baseball without Vin describing the action.

Let’s see if those fans stick around when he retires.

The NLCS: Are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads?

George SherrillLOS ANGELES—Lots of interesting plots and subplots to last night’s Game 1 of the NLCS here at Dodger Stadium. The biggest, of course, was the Phillies’ ability to get clutch hits against the Dodgers’ lefties.

Both of the three-run homers and a key double from Ryan Howard came against lefties Clayton Kershaw and George Sherrill. The notable one there was the blast off Sherrill by lefty Raul Ibanez. After all, no lefty had homered off Sherrill in 98 games and nearly two seasons.

For a team that went out and got Sherrill specifically to pitch to the Phillies sluggers in late-game playoff situations, Ibanez’s homer was huge. Deeper than that, five of the Phillies’ eight hits in the Game 1 victory were from lefty hitters against lefty pitchers.

So it begs the question… are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads?

Yeah, yeah, it’s only Game 1, but if Pedro were to dial it up in Game 2 and the Phillies go home with a two-game lead and Cliff Lee ready to pitch in chilly and rainy Philly, this one might be over before it gets started.

So are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads? Certainly based on some of the moves the Dodgers have made it’s not an unreasonable idea. After all, in addition to trading for Sherrill, the Dodgers got Jim Thome to do what Matt Stairs does for the Phillies. In fact, Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti cited Stairs when talking about the move to bring in Thome.

The thing about that is people barely knew Stairs was on the Phillies until he crushed that ridiculously long homer at Dodger Stadium in Game 4 of last year’s NLCS. Reliever Jonathan Broxton has been known to get salty when talking about Stairs’ homer and the Dodgers fans booed Stairs louder than anyone else during the player introductions.

So maybe the Phillies are in their heads?

We’ll see as the series wears on, but in the meantime Tommy Lasorda (the greatest phony in baseball history according to those in the know), is already chirping. The old Dodger manager was reportedly talking trash about the 1977 NLCS where the Phillies took Game 1 only to lose it in four games.

Really, 1977? That was generations ago. As one of Lasorda’s old players Davey Lopes said in regard to Larry Bowa harboring ill feelings about a controversial call in the 1977 NLCS:

“It was 31 years ago. Quit crying and move on.”

Maybe they can’t. Maybe they’re too wrapped up on what happened last year.

Here’s a few fun facts:
• The Phillies are 1-6 all-time in Game 2 of the NLCS. The only Game 2 victory came last year at the Bank against the Dodgers.

• The Phillies and Dodgers are meeting for the fifth time in the NLCS, which is tied for the most championship series matchups with the Pirates and Reds. Chances are those two teams won’t be playing each other in the NLCS any time soon.

• The Phillies have won 15 of their last 21 games in the NLCS dating back to 1980.

• Dodgers manager Joe Torre is making his 14th straight trip to the playoffs. He has not been to the World Series since 2003 and hasn’t won it since 2000.

NLCS Game 1: Plenty of good seats still available

fernandoLOS ANGELES—When waiting to pick up my credentials, badges and cross through the security throng to get into Dodger Stadium yesterday, there were a handful of people who casually walked to the ticket window looking to get into tonight’s game.

No one was turned away because the games weren’t sold out. In fact, even now after Billy Ray Cyrus sang the National Anthem and Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs heard the loudest boos during the player introductions, there were big pockets of empty seats all over beautiful Dodger Stadium.

More notably, I didn’t spy a single well-known celebrity out on the field before the game unless Frank Robinson counts.

In other words, the ballpark is definitely too good for the LA fans. They have great weather, great food, plenty of things to do whenever they want and all day to do them. That’s why baseball seems to be nothing more than a casual thing here. Unlike in Boston, New York, Chicago and Philly, it’s not life and death.

“I tell the players they should all play in the northeast at some point then they wouldn’t be so sensitive,” the notoriously insensitive Dodgers’ third-base coach and former Mr. Phillie, Larry Bowa said. “”It’s not life or death here. Nobody’s going to jump off a bridge.”

They probably won’t egg a players’ house after a bad game, either.

“There are so many movie stars here and so many things to do that the Dodgers are like fourth or fifth,” said Californian Jimmy Rollins. However, Rollins was quick to point out that he was really from California.

Northern California.

“No movie stars,” he said.

The coolest sighting at the ballpark?

Fernando Valenzuela.

You know he could breathe through his eyes like the lava lizards of the Galapagos Islands, right?

Yep, that was Fernando. And as I ate a light lunch in the media dining room and sat across from the ex-Dodger great and Cy Young Award winner, I was regaled with tales about the proper technique and arm angle of how to throw the scroogie.

These days Fernando is the Spanish-language announcer for Dodgers’ radio broadcasts, and looks just like he did when he was pitching during the 1980s and ‘90s, albeit with a few extra pounds. The shoulder-length hair brought back by Javier Bardem in “No Country For Old Men, has been neatly shorn.

Anyway, here are a few things I learned about Fernando this afternoon:

• No, he cannot breathe through his eyelids. This was a disappointing fact to learn.
• Fernando was once a teammate with Jamie Moyer in Baltimore in 1993.

• Nope, Fernando had no idea what a guy like me can do for fun in LA. Another disappointing fact to learn.
• Sarge Matthews chatted with Fernando earlier. I learned this when I walked up to Sarge and said, “Did you see that! That was Fernando Valenzuela!” He yelled back, “I know!”
• Fernando brought the heat at 90 mph and threw the screwball in the 70s. He had two pitches – a fastball which he changed speeds with and the screwball. If he threw the screwball to lefties, he’s plunk them, he said. Once, he drilled Roberto Alomar with one simply because he couldn’t control it.
• Fernando has no idea why pitchers don’t throw the scroogie any more.
• Leslie Gudel, the Los Angelino by way of Pasadena, was also a big Fernando fan back in the day. She also liked Ron Cey because she played third base for her school softball teams way back when.

So yeah, how about that? Fernando Valenzuela. Not bad.

NLCS Game 1: Plenty of good seats still available

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com LOS ANGELES—When waiting to pick up my credentials, badges and cross through the security throng to get into Dodger Stadium yesterday, there were a handful of people who casually walked to the ticket window looking to get into tonight’s game.

No one was turned away because the games weren’t sold out. In fact, even now after Billy Ray Cyrus sang the National Anthem and Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs heard the loudest boos during the player introductions, there were big pockets of empty seats all over beautiful Dodger Stadium.

More notably, I didn’t spy a single well-known celebrity out on the field before the game unless Frank Robinson counts.

In other words, the ballpark is definitely too good for the LA fans. They have great weather, great food, plenty of things to do whenever they want and all day to do them. That’s why baseball seems to be nothing more than a casual thing here. Unlike in Boston, New York, Chicago and Philly, it’s not life and death.

“I tell the players they should all play in the northeast at some point then they wouldn't be so sensitive,” the notoriously insensitive Dodgers’ third-base coach and former Mr. Phillie, Larry Bowa said. “"It’s not life or death here. Nobody’s going to jump off a bridge.”

They probably won’t egg a players’ house after a bad game, either.

“There are so many movie stars here and so many things to do that the Dodgers are like fourth or fifth,” said Californian Jimmy Rollins. However, Rollins was quick to point out that he was really from California.

Northern California.

“No movie stars,” he said.

The coolest sighting at the ballpark?

Fernando Valenzuela.

You know he could breathe through his eyes like the lava lizards of the Galapagos Islands, right?

Yep, that was Fernando. And as I ate a light lunch in the media dining room and sat across from the ex-Dodger great and Cy Young Award winner, I was regaled with tales about the proper technique and arm angle of how to throw the scroogie.

These days Fernando is the Spanish-language announcer for Dodgers’ radio broadcasts, and looks just like he did when he was pitching during the 1980s and ‘90s, albeit with a few extra pounds. The shoulder-length hair brought back by Javier Bardem in “No Country For Old Men, has been neatly shorn.

Anyway, here are a few things I learned about Fernando this afternoon:

• No, he cannot breathe through his eyelids. This was a disappointing fact to learn.

• Fernando was once a teammate with Jamie Moyer in Baltimore in 1993.

• Nope, Fernando had no idea what a guy like me can do for fun in LA. Another disappointing fact to learn.

• Sarge Matthews chatted with Fernando earlier. I learned this when I walked up to Sarge and said, “Did you see that! That was Fernando Valenzuela!” He yelled back, "I know!"

• Fernando brought the heat at 90 mph and threw the screwball in the 70s. He had two pitches – a fastball which he changed speeds with and the screwball. If he threw the screwball to lefties, he’s plunk them, he said. Once, he drilled Roberto Alomar with one simply because he couldn’t control it.

• Fernando has no idea why pitchers don’t throw the scroogie any more.

• Leslie Gudel, the Los Angelino by way of Pasadena, was also a big Fernando fan back in the day. She also liked Ron Cey because she played third base for her school softball teams way back when.

So yeah, how about that? Fernando Valenzuela. Not bad.

The NLCS: Are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads?

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com LOS ANGELES—Lots of interesting plots and subplots to last night’s Game 1 of the NLCS here at Dodger Stadium. The biggest, of course, was the Phillies’ ability to get clutch hits against the Dodgers’ lefties.

Both of the three-run homers and a key double from Ryan Howard came against lefties Clayton Kershaw and George Sherrill. The notable one there was the blast off Sherrill by lefty Raul Ibanez. After all, no lefty had homered off Sherrill in 98 games and nearly two seasons.

For a team that went out and got Sherrill specifically to pitch to the Phillies sluggers in late-game playoff situations, Ibanez’s homer was huge. Deeper than that, five of the Phillies’ eight hits in the Game 1 victory were from lefty hitters against lefty pitchers.

So it begs the question… are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads?

Yeah, yeah, it’s only Game 1, but if Pedro were to dial it up in Game 2 and the Phillies go home with a two-game lead and Cliff Lee ready to pitch in chilly and rainy Philly, this one might be over before it gets started.

So are the Phillies in the Dodgers’ heads? Certainly based on some of the moves the Dodgers have made it’s not an unreasonable idea. After all, in addition to trading for Sherrill, the Dodgers got Jim Thome to do what Matt Stairs does for the Phillies. In fact, Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti cited Stairs when talking about the move to bring in Thome.

The thing about that is people barely knew Stairs was on the Phillies until he crushed that ridiculously long homer at Dodger Stadium in Game 4 of last year’s NLCS. Reliever Jonathan Broxton has been known to get salty when talking about Stairs’ homer and the Dodgers fans booed Stairs louder than anyone else during the player introductions.

So maybe the Phillies are in their heads?

We’ll see as the series wears on, but in the meantime Tommy Lasorda (the greatest phony in baseball history according to those in the know), is already chirping. The old Dodger manager was reportedly talking trash about the 1977 NLCS where the Phillies took Game 1 only to lose it in four games.

Really, 1977? That was generations ago. As one of Lasorda’s old players Davey Lopes said in regard to Larry Bowa harboring ill feelings about a controversial call in the 1977 NLCS:

“It was 31 years ago. Quit crying and move on.”

Maybe they can’t. Maybe they’re too wrapped up on what happened last year.

Here’s a few fun facts:
• The Phillies are 1-6 all-time in Game 2 of the NLCS. The only Game 2 victory came last year at the Bank against the Dodgers.

• The Phillies and Dodgers are meeting for the fifth time in the NLCS, which is tied for the most championship series matchups with the Pirates and Reds. Chances are those two teams won’t be playing each other in the NLCS any time soon.

• The Phillies have won 15 of their last 21 games in the NLCS dating back to 1980.

• Dodgers manager Joe Torre is making his 14th straight trip to the playoffs. He has not been to the World Series since 2003 and hasn’t won it since 2000.

NLCS: The greatest Dodger

Vin LOS ANGELES—OK, it’s quite fair to point out that the Dodgers’ fans are not the most savvy ones out there. They miss a lot of the nuance of the game, which lends much to the reputation as not quite as knowledgeable as they ought to be. But give them credit where it is due—they were quite loud last night for Game 1 of the NLCS.

Part of that has to do with the fact that the PA system is pumped up way past 11. Out on the field it sounds just bounce all over the joint. There’s a lot of cinder block-like concrete in Dodger Stadium that just doesn’t absorb the sound well. In that sense, it’s kind of like old Shea Stadium.

Dodger Stadium is nothing like Shea, though. For one thing they have those damn beach balls bouncing all over the place here. Even though it’s a tight, 1-0 game heading into the middle innings, fans are just happily batting a ball and clapping along with the pre-programmed sound affects blasted through the PA.

Yet another reason Dodgers fans are not taken seriously.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Dodger fans when Vin Scully retires from broadcasting after the 2010 season. After all, it is not farfetched to think that a lot of people are baseball fans simply because they like listening to ol’ Vin do the games. Heck, I’ll even admit that I subscribed to the MLB package on Comcast simply to be able to get the Dodgers broadcasts and hear Vin spin his yarns and tell stories about the game and the players.

In the official ranking of sports announcers, Vin Scully was rated as the best of all-time. However, to me it just doesn’t seem good enough. Sure, Vin announces baseball games and I’m sure if asked he’ll humbly say it isn’t anything more than that. But I disagree. Vin behind the microphone is like a concert pianist at the keyboard, a great painter with a brush in hand, or a great writer typing away at a laptop.

The guy is truly an artist.

He’s also the link between the real Dodgers of Brooklyn and the Los Angeles version that came about in 1958. More than anyone, Vin Scully is the Dodgers. Like Harry Kalas in Philadelphia, there are very few people who have heard baseball without Vin describing the action.

Let’s see if those fans stick around when he retires.

NLCS Game 1: Setting up the roster

myersLOS ANGELES—Before I mention anything else, I have to give a big thank you to Mr. Tug Haines for the Google Wave invite. I don’t know what it is or what it does, but as a Google geek, I know I wanted it and thankfully Tug was kind of enough to send me the invite.

So yes, that was very nice of him.

On another note, Tug along with Mike Meech do a bang up job putting together the web site, The Fightins. Along with Zolecki over there at MLB.com, and Gonz at that newspaper, there aren’t too many mainstream media types that give the proper credit to so-called blog sites. When done well like The Fightins, The 700 Level, Balls, Sticks & Stuff, and many others with a Philly bent, the sites are a blast to read. And aren’t sports supposed to be fun?

Again, thanks to Mr. Tug and here’s hoping those guys keep up the good work because it’s a fun read. Check them out.

As far as the news here goes, Brett Myers is here but was not seen on the field during BP. Then again, I wasn’t looking for him. Charlie said when he broke the news to him that he would not be on the NLCS roster, Myers shrugged and then got up and walked out of the room.

People who have talked to him says he’s “ticked.”

I’m not sure what he has to be ticked about since he’s not very good right now. I’ve trotted this out plenty of times in the past so I’ll do it again here—scouts say his stuff is garbage. He has no pitches and lousy mechanics.

“I look at Brett, and it’s almost like spring training for him. He had a very serious injury, came back, and maybe it was too early, I don’t know,” Charlie said. “But then he hurt his shoulder, and his shoulder was like a second degree injury. And then I’ve noticed him, and the fact that he’s not sharp, but also what we kind of the things that we wanted to do, it’s another way of him going down in the bullpen and working and everything and doing some — working on his pitching and throwing and stuff and see where he’s at.”

Ruben Amaro chalked the decision up to simple baseball business and that Myers didn’t get a chance to throw too much upon returning from hip surgery.

“We think we’re a better team with 11 pitchers,” Amaro said. “We’re trying to win baseball games with the best 25 guys we have.”

Obviously that best 25 did not include Myers.

Meanwhile, Pedro is all set to go in Game 2. It will be interesting to see how long he can go and what kind of stuff he has since he has thrown just seven innings in real games since that 130-pitch game against the Mets in mid-September.

“There’s a risk, of course. But I’d rather take a risk on a guy like Pedro who has experience,” Amaro said.

Yeah, what the hell… it’s Pedro. The worst thing that can come out of it is good times.

NLCS Game 1: Pregame and lineups

LOS ANGELES—Yeah, I figure I’ll just go ahead and do some live stuff again for Game 1. It didn’t go so well in the NLDS simply because the games were so intriguing and there was some news we were trying to track down.

As it turned out, Cole Hamels and his wife, Heidi, had a baby.

So we’ll give it another try for as long as possible this afternoon in sunny Southern California. The truth is, it’s a perfect day here at Dodger Stadium. The temperature is in the low 80s with a bit more humidity than they are used to around here. For Game 2 the temperature should reach 90 at game time.

We’ll travel on Saturday and then have a rainout on Sunday.

Anyway, here are the lineups for Game 1:

Phillies
11-Jimmy Rollins, ss
8-Shane Victorino, cf
26-Chase Utley, 2b
6-Ryan Howard, 1b
28-Jayson Werth, rf
29-Raul Ibanez, lf
7-Pedro Feliz, 3b
51-Carlos Ruiz, c
35-Cole Hamels, p

Dodgers
15-Rafael Furcal, ss
16-Andre Ethier, rf
99-Manny Ramirez, lf
27-Matt Kemp, cf
23-Casey Blake, 3b
7-James Loney, 1b
10-Ronnie Belliard, 2b
55-Russell Martin, c
22-Clayton Kershaw, p

Here are a few notes…

The winner of Game 1 of the NLCS has gone on to the World Series in 14 of the last 17 years. … In the last 39 NLCS, the home team is 20-19 in Game 1. …The Phillies are 5-2 all-time in Game 1 of the NLCS and the Dodgers are 4-4.

The Dodgers and Phillies are meeting for the fifth time in the NLCS. In the history of the NLCS there have only been four rematches of the previous year’s matchup. In 1977 and 1978 the Dodgers beat the Phillies; in 1991 and 1992, the Braves beat the Pirates; and in 2004 and 2005 the Cardinals and Astros split.

Clayton Kershaw will become the youngest pitcher to start Game 1.

In 2009 Jimmy Rollins had the second-lowest on-base percentage in history for a player that scored 100 runs.

Stay tuned… going to go see what Pedro has to say.

The NLCS: Phillies in five

dodgersLOS ANGELES — Let’s just put it out there on the line—Dodger Stadium is my favorite ballpark. It isn’t so much about the actual facility as it is what it represents. Of course the reality of how Dodger Stadium was built compared to its ideals of manifest destiny and a veritable garden party don’t exactly mesh, but still… the views!

That’s the part that’s amazing—sitting in the actual ballpark one can see palm trees and flowers with the picturesque San Gabriels looming just beyond the pavilion. Yet when one goes to the very top of the park to exit and looks out at the skyline of Los Angeles with its hulking post-modernist buildings and the Hollywood sign off to the right it’s hard not to think of the opening scene from “Blade Runner.”

Dodger Stadium is the second oldest ballpark in the National League, but it represents the future. It always has.

So we’ll go to Dodger Stadium on Thursday afternoon for the first game of the 2009 NLCS. There’s a pretty good chance that we’ll be back later next week, too, in order to figure out which team will go to the World Series.

If the Phillies won the National League at Dodger Stadium last year, why can’t they do it again?

Well, they can do it again. After all, in Game 1, Cole Hamels will face 21-year old Clayton Kershaw in a battle of young lefties. The interesting caveat in this matchup is Kershaw is 0-3 with a 6.64 ERA in four starts against the Phillies. Plus, three years ago he was still in high school. Of the teams that he has faced at least twice in his short career, Kershaw is the worst against the Phillies.

Moreover, the Dodgers will send ex-Phillie Vicente Padilla to the mound in Game 2. The Phillies know him well and understand that he is full of weaknesses and can easily be intimidated. As Jimmy Rollins said during Wednesday’s workout:

“When he’s good, he’s really good. If not, he’s way off.”

Take away his win against the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLDS and Padilla hasn’t pitched seven innings since the middle of July. Besides, that Game 3 was Padilla’s first appearance ever in the playoffs so who’s to know if he can keep his focus long enough to be known a s a big-game pitcher.

Hiroki Kuroda is known to the Phillies and not in a good way. Sure, everyone remembers that incident with Shane Victorino during last year’s NLCS, but more telling is that the Phils are 6-for-60 in three games against the Japanese righty.

Then there is Randy Wolf, the ex-Phillie who pitched the first-ever game at Citizens Bank Park. Pitching for other teams at the Bank, Wolf is much better than he was as a Phillie. However, Wolf’s playoff debut wasn’t too good and he was pushed out of a Game 1 start to go in Game 4.

So it will come down to the bullpens. If the Phillies can get a lead and hold it, they will return to the World Series. But if they let Kershaw, Padilla, Kuroda and Wolf hang around, it could prove to be a tough road for the Phillies.

I’m not sure that will happen. That’s why I’m going with the Phillies in five games. Yeah, that goes against the conventional wisdom, but these aren’t the Phillies of yore. These guys know how to win and so they won’t have to return to Southern California until the end of October when they face the Angels in the World Series.

Yeah, that’s it—Phillies vs. Angels in the Fall Classic.

Can the Phillies repeat? It’s tough, says Dodgers manager Joe Torre who was guided the last team to do it in 1998-2000 with the Yankees.

“Well, first off, you’ve got a bulls-eye on your back,” Torre said. “That’s one. Everyone seems to put on their Sunday best to play you. You always get the best pitchers matching up. And then if you have a young pitcher that nobody knows, it seems to be a challenge to that young man to show what they can do against the world champs or those teams.

“So, I think when you repeat, you basically have to go through a tougher season to get there. And the Phillies, they’ve experienced those ups and downs. They go through and have a good streak, and I think they went down to Houston and got swept. But the thing about it, when you have a ball club that has been as consistent, knowing they’re good, they rebound from things like that. I think that’s the main thing about Philadelphia is how resilient they’ve been. Early in the year this year they didn’t win any games at home. It didn’t seem to bother them. They just kept plugging away. I think that’s why they’re so good. Not to mention the talent they have. When you look down that lineup, a couple of switch hitters at the top and then a couple of left-handers and then (Jayson) Werth who’s that blue-collar guy, you may compare him a little bit to Casey Blake type of individual, they’re going to fight you every step of the way. They’re a ballclub that has a purpose—they have a purpose out there, and we certainly are aware of it.”

Let’s pause for a second and think about the notion of Charlie Manuel becoming the first manager to repeat as World Champion since Joe Torre and the first National Leaguer to do it since Sparky Anderson and the Big Red Machine of 1975 and 1976…

Yeah, Charlie Manuel.

“You like to be able to look over your shoulder and know that your manager believes in you. He’s there for you,” ex-Phillies and now Dodgers pinch hitter Jim Thome said. “Charlie does that. He keeps it relaxed so all you have to do is go out and play. You can’t explain how important that is.”

It starts on Thursday afternoon from here in California.

Is everyone ready?

The NLCS: Phillies in five

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com LOS ANGELES — Let’s just put it out there on the line—Dodger Stadium is my favorite ballpark. It isn’t so much about the actual facility as it is what it represents. Of course the reality of how Dodger Stadium was built compared to its ideals of manifest destiny and a veritable garden party don’t exactly mesh, but still… the views!

That’s the part that’s amazing—sitting in the actual ballpark one can see palm trees and flowers with the picturesque San Gabriels looming just beyond the pavilion. Yet when one goes to the very top of the park to exit and looks out at the skyline of Los Angeles with its hulking post-modernist buildings and the Hollywood sign off to the right it’s hard not to think of the opening scene from “Blade Runner.”

Dodger Stadium is the second oldest ballpark in the National League, but it represents the future. It always has.

So we’ll go to Dodger Stadium on Thursday afternoon for the first game of the 2009 NLCS. There’s a pretty good chance that we’ll be back later next week, too, in order to figure out which team will go to the World Series.

If the Phillies won the National League at Dodger Stadium last year, why can’t they do it again?

Well, they can do it again. After all, in Game 1, Cole Hamels will face 21-year old Clayton Kershaw in a battle of young lefties. The interesting caveat in this matchup is Kershaw is 0-3 with a 6.64 ERA in four starts against the Phillies. Plus, three years ago he was still in high school. Of the teams that he has faced at least twice in his short career, Kershaw is the worst against the Phillies.

Moreover, the Dodgers will send ex-Phillie Vicente Padilla to the mound in Game 2. The Phillies know him well and understand that he is full of weaknesses and can easily be intimidated. As Jimmy Rollins said during Wednesday’s workout:

“When he’s good, he’s really good. If not, he’s way off.”

Take away his win against the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLDS and Padilla hasn’t pitched seven innings since the middle of July. Besides, that Game 3 was Padilla’s first appearance ever in the playoffs so who’s to know if he can keep his focus long enough to be known a s a big-game pitcher.

Hiroki Kuroda is known to the Phillies and not in a good way. Sure, everyone remembers that incident with Shane Victorino during last year’s NLCS, but more telling is that the Phils are 6-for-60 in three games against the Japanese righty.

Then there is Randy Wolf, the ex-Phillie who pitched the first-ever game at Citizens Bank Park. Pitching for other teams at the Bank, Wolf is much better than he was as a Phillie. However, Wolf’s playoff debut wasn’t too good and he was pushed out of a Game 1 start to go in Game 4.

So it will come down to the bullpens. If the Phillies can get a lead and hold it, they will return to the World Series. But if they let Kershaw, Padilla, Kuroda and Wolf hang around, it could prove to be a tough road for the Phillies.

I’m not sure that will happen. That’s why I’m going with the Phillies in five games. Yeah, that goes against the conventional wisdom, but these aren’t the Phillies of yore. These guys know how to win and so they won’t have to return to Southern California until the end of October when they face the Angels in the World Series.

Yeah, that’s it—Phillies vs. Angels in the Fall Classic.

Can the Phillies repeat? It’s tough, says Dodgers manager Joe Torre who was guided the last team to do it in 1998-2000 with the Yankees.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com “Well, first off, you’ve got a bulls-eye on your back,” Torre said. “That’s one. Everyone seems to put on their Sunday best to play you. You always get the best pitchers matching up. And then if you have a young pitcher that nobody knows, it seems to be a challenge to that young man to show what they can do against the world champs or those teams.

“So, I think when you repeat, you basically have to go through a tougher season to get there. And the Phillies, they’ve experienced those ups and downs. They go through and have a good streak, and I think they went down to Houston and got swept. But the thing about it, when you have a ball club that has been as consistent, knowing they’re good, they rebound from things like that. I think that’s the main thing about Philadelphia is how resilient they’ve been. Early in the year this year they didn’t win any games at home. It didn’t seem to bother them. They just kept plugging away. I think that’s why they’re so good. Not to mention the talent they have. When you look down that lineup, a couple of switch hitters at the top and then a couple of left-handers and then (Jayson) Werth who’s that blue-collar guy, you may compare him a little bit to Casey Blake type of individual, they’re going to fight you every step of the way. They’re a ballclub that has a purpose—they have a purpose out there, and we certainly are aware of it.”

Let’s pause for a second and think about the notion of Charlie Manuel becoming the first manager to repeat as World Champion since Joe Torre and the first National Leaguer to do it since Sparky Anderson and the Big Red Machine of 1975 and 1976…

Yeah, Charlie Manuel.

“You like to be able to look over your shoulder and know that your manager believes in you. He’s there for you,” ex-Phillies and now Dodgers pinch hitter Jim Thome said. “Charlie does that. He keeps it relaxed so all you have to do is go out and play. You can’t explain how important that is.”

It starts on Thursday afternoon from here in California.

Is everyone ready?

NLCS Game 1: Pregame and lineups

Think blue LOS ANGELES—Yeah, I figure I’ll just go ahead and do some live stuff again for Game 1. It didn’t go so well in the NLDS simply because the games were so intriguing and there was some news we were trying to track down.

As it turned out, Cole Hamels and his wife, Heidi, had a baby.

So we’ll give it another try for as long as possible this afternoon in sunny Southern California. The truth is, it’s a perfect day here at Dodger Stadium. The temperature is in the low 80s with a bit more humidity than they are used to around here. For Game 2 the temperature should reach 90 at game time.

We’ll travel on Saturday and then have a rainout on Sunday.

Anyway, here are the lineups for Game 1:

Phillies
11-Jimmy Rollins, ss
8-Shane Victorino, cf
26-Chase Utley, 2b
6-Ryan Howard, 1b
28-Jayson Werth, rf
29-Raul Ibanez, lf
7-Pedro Feliz, 3b
51-Carlos Ruiz, c
35-Cole Hamels, p

Dodgers

15-Rafael Furcal, ss
16-Andre Ethier, rf
99-Manny Ramirez, lf
27-Matt Kemp, cf
23-Casey Blake, 3b
7-James Loney, 1b
10-Ronnie Belliard, 2b
55-Russell Martin, c
22-Clayton Kershaw, p

Here are a few notes…

The winner of Game 1 of the NLCS has gone on to the World Series in 14 of the last 17 years. … In the last 39 NLCS, the home team is 20-19 in Game 1. …The Phillies are 5-2 all-time in Game 1 of the NLCS and the Dodgers are 4-4.

The Dodgers and Phillies are meeting for the fifth time in the NLCS. In the history of the NLCS there have only been four rematches of the previous year’s matchup. In 1977 and 1978 the Dodgers beat the Phillies; in 1991 and 1992, the Braves beat the Pirates; and in 2004 and 2005 the Cardinals and Astros split.

Clayton Kershaw will become the youngest pitcher to start Game 1.

In 2009 Jimmy Rollins had the second-lowest on-base percentage in history for a player that scored 100 runs.

Stay tuned… going to go see what Pedro has to say.

NLCS Game 1: Setting up the roster

Brett myers LOS ANGELES—Before I mention anything else, I have to give a big thank you to Mr. Tug Haines for the Google Wave invite. I don’t know what it is or what it does, but as a Google geek, I know I wanted it and thankfully Tug was kind of enough to send me the invite.

So yes, that was very nice of him.

On another note, Tug along with Mike Meech do a bang up job putting together the web site, The Fightins. Along with Zolecki over there at MLB.com, and Gonz at that newspaper, there aren’t too many mainstream media types that give the proper credit to so-called blog sites. When done well like The Fightins, The 700 Level, Balls, Sticks & Stuff, and many others with a Philly bent, the sites are a blast to read. And aren’t sports supposed to be fun?

Again, thanks to Mr. Tug and here’s hoping those guys keep up the good work because it’s a fun read. Check them out.

As far as the news here goes, Brett Myers is here but was not seen on the field during BP. Then again, I wasn’t looking for him. Charlie said when he broke the news to him that he would not be on the NLCS roster, Myers shrugged and then got up and walked out of the room.

People who have talked to him says he’s “ticked.”

I’m not sure what he has to be ticked about since he’s not very good right now. I’ve trotted this out plenty of times in the past so I’ll do it again here—scouts say his stuff is garbage. He has no pitches and lousy mechanics.

“I look at Brett, and it's almost like spring training for him. He had a very serious injury, came back, and maybe it was too early, I don't know,” Charlie said. “But then he hurt his shoulder, and his shoulder was like a second degree injury. And then I've noticed him, and the fact that he's not sharp, but also what we kind of the things that we wanted to do, it's another way of him going down in the bullpen and working and everything and doing some — working on his pitching and throwing and stuff and see where he's at.”

Ruben Amaro chalked the decision up to simple baseball business and that Myers didn’t get a chance to throw too much upon returning from hip surgery.

“We think we’re a better team with 11 pitchers,” Amaro said. “We’re trying to win baseball games with the best 25 guys we have.”

Obviously that best 25 did not include Myers.

Meanwhile, Pedro is all set to go in Game 2. It will be interesting to see how long he can go and what kind of stuff he has since he has thrown just seven innings in real games since that 130-pitch game against the Mets in mid-September.

“There’s a risk, of course. But I’d rather take a risk on a guy like Pedro who has experience,” Amaro said.

Yeah, what the hell… it’s Pedro. The worst thing that can come out of it is good times.

The NLCS: Going back to Cali

pasadenaPASADENA, Calif. — There’s nothing like going out in the morning after a couple of days in the snow, ice and frost for a run beneath giant palm trees with green grass underfoot and the smell of orange flowers in the air. Call that the reward for the stress and tension of being unaware of where I was going when Game 4 of the NLDS was one strike away from a finish.

It was truly a bizarre thing to see the ebbs and flows of a ballgame determine travel plans for hundreds of people but there we were waiting and watching our fate. Definitely tense, but way fun, too.

How about this one—if Ryan Howard had not bashed that two-out double off Huston Street, would we be heading off to Wednesday’s workout day at Dodger Stadium, or would the Phillies be cleaning out their lockers today?

We’ll never know.

Instead, after nights and mornings filled with rush laundry jobs and trips to the airport or clothing stores courtesy supreme knucklehead, Brett Myers[1], we’re here… and what a place! On my morning run today I passed by as many cosmetic surgery storefronts and anti-aging clinics as I did Starbucks. I also saw a Dunkin’ Donuts that had gone out of business, but next door the gay-and-lesbian bookstore and the Whole Foods market seems to be doing well.

Spanish and Japanese are spoken as often as English. Thai restaurants outnumber cheesy chain places and the late-night taco truck is always nearby.

And that’s why it’s so difficult not to love it here. So-called “crazy” is normal.

Then again, that’s not the way it is with the baseball set. Generally speaking, baseball writers and lifers are about as interesting and unique as the corner Cheesecake Factory, as in, “Wow… you can have cheesecake as a main course!”

Yeah, nuts.

Though his baseball analysis is… well, not good, Keith Law is a baseball guy with an excellent idea of where to hang out and where to eat. His non-baseball blog is great.

So that’s how we got here. It will be interesting to find out if we make it back, too. Like last year I have a strong sense that the Phillies are going to win this series. Call it a hunch because the info from the gamblers I was spammed say the money is on the Dodgers and Yankees to come out of the league championship series. So to be a contrarian, I’m going the other way—Phillies vs. Angels with the opener in Orange County on Oct. 28.

Anyway, look out for more ramblings soon. It’s time to check in some of the Dodgers like Jim Thome and Randy Wolf. Incidentally, Wolf will start in Game 3 of the NLCS when it gets back to Philly on Sunday night. Charlie Manuel has not determined who he will start past Game 1 (Cole Hamels), though here’s another hunch…

The Phillies go Hamels, Pedro and Cliff Lee.

There it is.



[1] I’m all for having a good time and being a little obnoxious from time to time, but what was with this dude after Game 4? He dumped beer, champagne, ice, water and whatever else he could find on everyone. And I mean everyone. It was like he was out for revenge against teammates, media and team execs and it was the most ridiculous thing ever. By my count, the Phillies have had seven clinching celebrations since 2007 yet Myers acted as if he had never been there before. On another note, what’s with the champagne thing to begin with—especially after the NLDS? They don’t do it in other sports, do they? Seems silly and, well, stupid. It was fun the first time, but whatever. Act like you’ve been there before, big boy.

The NLCS: Going back to Cali

Pasadena PASADENA, Calif. — There’s nothing like going out in the morning after a couple of days in the snow, ice and frost for a run beneath giant palm trees with green grass underfoot and the smell of orange flowers in the air. Call that the reward for the stress and tension of being unaware of where I was going when Game 4 of the NLDS was one strike away from a finish.

It was truly a bizarre thing to see the ebbs and flows of a ballgame determine travel plans for hundreds of people but there we were waiting and watching our fate. Definitely tense, but way fun, too.

How about this one—if Ryan Howard had not bashed that two-out double off Huston Street, would we be heading off to Wednesday’s workout day at Dodger Stadium, or would the Phillies be cleaning out their lockers today?

We’ll never know.

Instead, after nights and mornings filled with rush laundry jobs and trips to the airport or clothing stores courtesy supreme knucklehead, Brett Myers[1], we’re here… and what a place! On my morning run today I passed by as many cosmetic surgery storefronts and anti-aging clinics as I did Starbucks. I also saw a Dunkin’ Donuts that had gone out of business, but next door the gay-and-lesbian bookstore and the Whole Foods market seems to be doing well.

Spanish and Japanese are spoken as often as English. Thai restaurants outnumber cheesy chain places and the late-night taco truck is always nearby.

And that’s why it’s so difficult not to love it here. So-called “crazy” is normal.

Then again, that’s not the way it is with the baseball set. Generally speaking, baseball writers and lifers are about as interesting and unique as the corner Cheesecake Factory, as in, “Wow… you can have cheesecake as a main course!”

Yeah, nuts.

Though his baseball analysis is… well, not good, Keith Law is a baseball guy with an excellent idea of where to hang out and where to eat. His non-baseball blog is great.

So that’s how we got here. It will be interesting to find out if we make it back, too. Like last year I have a strong sense that the Phillies are going to win this series. Call it a hunch because the info from the gamblers I was spammed say the money is on the Dodgers and Yankees to come out of the league championship series. So to be a contrarian, I’m going the other way—Phillies vs. Angels with the opener in Orange County on Oct. 28.

Anyway, look out for more ramblings soon. It’s time to check in some of the Dodgers like Jim Thome and Randy Wolf. Incidentally, Wolf will start in Game 3 of the NLCS when it gets back to Philly on Sunday night. Charlie Manuel has not determined who he will start past Game 1 (Cole Hamels), though here’s another hunch…

The Phillies go Hamels, Pedro and Cliff Lee.

There it is.



[1] I’m all for having a good time and being a little obnoxious from time to time, but what was with this dude after Game 4? He dumped beer, champagne, ice, water and whatever else he could find on everyone. And I mean everyone. It was like he was out for revenge against teammates, media and team execs and it was the most ridiculous thing ever. By my count, the Phillies have had seven clinching celebrations since 2007 yet Myers acted as if he had never been there before. On another note, what’s with the champagne thing to begin with—especially after the NLDS? They don’t do it in other sports, do they? Seems silly and, well, stupid. It was fun the first time, but whatever. Act like you’ve been there before, big boy.

The NLCS: Moving the circus

party!Nothing coming just this second, but sit tight and we’ll have more of the color and pagaentry of the clincher in Denver and the trip westward to Los Angeles. Those sweaters, gloves, and snow hats I packed for snowy Colorado won’t do me any good in sunny Southern California, but it’s not as if the weather anamolies haven’t followed us.

According to Pasadena’s own Leslie Gudel, the worst rainstorm since 1962 is supposed to hit Los Angeles and the environs over the next two days. When the rain moves out, it will be sunny and in the mid-80s for Games 1 and 2.

So let us catch some rest and we’ll tell you all about what’s happening.

The NLCS: Moving the circus

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com Nothing coming just this second, but sit tight and we'll have more of the color and pagaentry of the clincher in Denver and the trip westward to Los Angeles. Those sweaters, gloves, and snow hats I packed for snowy Colorado won't do me any good in sunny Southern California, but it's not as if the weather anamolies haven't followed us.

According to Pasadena's own Leslie Gudel, the worst rainstorm since 1962 is supposed to hit Los Angeles and the environs over the next two days. When the rain moves out, it will be sunny and in the mid-80s for Games 1 and 2.

So let us catch some rest and we'll tell you all about what's happening.

Pregame: Tonight is the night

LOS ANGELES – The consensus around here with the media types is that tonight’s Game 5 is bigger than most people believe. It’s big, sure… it is, after all, the NLCS. But aside from the obvious, Game 5 will decide which team goes to the World Series.

Yeah, that’s right … the winner of tonight’s game will go to the World Series.

Obviously, if the Phillies win it’s all over, and in that regard things look pretty good for them. Cole Hamels, the team’s best pitcher, has been close to Koufax-esque during the playoffs. Since the Dodgers countering with Chad Billingsley, a pitcher who struck out four of the first six hitters he faced during Game 2, but then retired just four more hitters for the rest of the game, it appears to be a matchup that favors the Phils. Billingsley damn-near melted down in Game 2 and then he and his teammates began chirping at each other.

But if the Phillies don’t get it done tonight at Chavez Ravine, it gets tougher back in Philadelphia beginning on Friday night. For one, Hiroki Kuroda, the lights out pitcher that has baffled the Phillies in three starts this year, will pitch against Brett Myers. The Phillies’ pitcher wasn’t so sharp despite winning Game 2, and has a gimpy ankle to go along with it.

If there is a need for Game 7 on Saturday, Derek Lowe will make his third start of the series against a Phillies pitcher to be determined. Typically, Saturday will be Jamie Moyer’s turn in the rotation, however, the veteran lefty has lasted just 5 1/3 innings in two starts in the playoffs for an ERA of 13.50.

So there it is – tonight is the night. The Phillies definitely do not want to return to Philadelphia this weekend without the Warren Giles Trophy. Otherwise, it might just slip out of their hands.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

Phillies
11 – Jimmy Rollins, ss
28 – Jayson Werth, rf
26 – Chase Utley, 2b
6 – Ryan Howard, 1b
5 – Pat Burrell, lf
8 – Shane Victorino, cf
7 – Pedro Feliz, 3b
51 – Carlos Ruiz, c
35 – Cole Hamels, p

Dodgers
15 – Rafael Furcal, ss
16 – Andre Ethier, rf
99 – Manny Ramirez, lf
55 – Russell Martin, c
7 – James Loney, 1b
30 – Casey Blake, 3b
27 – Matt Kemp, cf
33 – Blake DeWitt, 2b
58 – Chad Billingsley, p

Hot, hot heat

LOS ANGELES – It’s hot. Damn hot. It’s so hot here in Los Angeles that it no longer qualifies as a dry heat. It’s just freaking hot. The sun is up there beating down on our heads and cooking everything below and everyone is just kind moving around slow.

I don’t see too many clouds in the sky. That means there is no badly needed rain in the forecast to help salve the wildfires raging nearby in the San Fernando and Simi Valleys.

It seems as if the warm weather caught a few people off guard here at Dodger Stadium. Like the rest of us, the Dodgers staff is also moving slowly in attempt to conserve energy. In fact, they are moving so slowly that the press room drink machine wasn’t set up, nor were the lineups posted.

Then again, Cole Hamels and Ryan Madson just rolled in while I was typing this. However, Cole changed out of his dark suit and into his pre-game warmup gear rather quickly and talked on the phone in the seats behind home plate. The rule is no cell phone in the clubhouse… starting pitchers included.

Nevertheless, I snapped a photo of Hamels yapping on his cell phone with my cell phone. I’m sure the picture is grainy and undecipherable.

Anyway, off to the field to hear what Hiroki Kuroda, Joe Torre, Charlie Manuel and Brett Myers have to say. It’s another big game tonight…

Then again, they all get bigger from here on out.

***
It’s worth pointing out that our old pal Doug Glanville wrote about his old pal, Terry Francona in an op-ed piece for The New York Times.

One friendly dude writing about another friendly dude… that’s almost like looking at a photo taken from a camera phone of guy talking on his cell phone.

Are we excited or what!?

LOS ANGELES – I’m out of it. Stuck in a bubble, if you will (will you?). I know what the Phillies’ big, come-from-behind victory in Game 4 means and all of that, but sitting out here in Los Angeles make it difficult to grasp how folks are reacting back home.

Are people excited? Cautiously optimistic? Giddy?

Can they believe that the Phillies are just one game away from going to the World Series?

The mood at the workout at Dodger Stadium was as loose and carefree as if the Phillies were in town for a three-game set in August. Shane Victorino held court for a bit and then took the time to chat about some things in the quiet of the runway between the dugout and the clubhouse.

Meanwhile, the small, antiquated clubhouse was filthy with media types. They were in town from all over just trying to get to the bottom of these Phillies and if they can get to the World Series.

One more win…

How did we get here?

***
I observed an interesting moment last night while waiting to get into the victorious clubhouse after the game. While fighting my way through the crowd, I heard a familiar voice complaining about manager Joe Torre’s handling of the pitching staff and how James Loney has been the team’s best RBI man all season long.

The voice was so familiar (and loud) that when I turned to look where it was coming from, I crashed right into its source:

It was Meat Head.

Yep, as he walked out of the special seats behind home plate after Game 4, Rob Reiner was playing armchair manager for everyone to hear.

And yes, everyone heard. If only Carroll O’Connor were around to tell him:

“Stifle it, will you…”

So yeah, I ran into Meat Head. Apparently he had seats near Barbara Streisand, who also attended the game.

I didn’t run into Babs (her outfit complete with black beret was like buttah), but I bet she spent the walk back to the car wondering why Jonathan Broxton challenged Matt Stairs with the heat.

More later… back into the bubble.

Walking into Edison’s lab

LOS ANGELES – The guard said the corridor snaked through the belly of Dodger Stadium and would lead me and another writer to the visitors’ clubhouse. Obviously the guy knew what he was talking about since he just sent Jamie Moyer the same way just moments before.

They say that sometimes the journey is much more interesting than the arrival. In this case it seemed right on after I made a quick left turn down another dark and dingy hallway before stumbling onto a sight to behold.

There was Manny being Manny.

Dressed in his Dodgers’ workout gear complete with the headband and everything, Manny eyed me and another scribe like a deer distracted from grazing by a couple of squirrels rustling through the brush.

But rather than scurry away, the other writer and I slowed our pace and not-so inconspicuously turned to watch Manny workout all by himself in the batting cage. There, he went through a range of routines before taking that fluid and famous right-handed swing at a ball resting on a tee.

Before our eyes could focus on the sound of the ball striking the bat and rocketing toward the mesh net at the other end of the cage, Manny was deep into his hitting routine again.

“It’s kind of like wandering into Edison’s lab, isn’t it,” I said.

Yes it was.

At the same time, strolling through the outer concourses, hidden corridors, clubhouses and field of Dodger Stadium is like going into a baseball history time machine. Forget about all the greats that took the same steps as me, Dodger Stadium and its geography is an important part of baseball and U.S. history. The Dodgers, after all, were the first baseball team to move to a city west of St. Louis. The move set off such an all-encompassing chain of events that have never stopped. Ever. Just think about the time that games begin and wonder if that had anything to do with the migration west.

Anyway, Dodger Stadium is a relic. It’s old without the wear. It’s small and cramped, but not claustrophobically so. The vistas from the seating area are right out of Ansel Adams on one side and Blade Runner on the other.

It’s a cross between awesome and totally awesome.

Interestingly, the infield grass is cut to golf-course level and the distance from the stands to the first and third bases is obscenely close. There’s no doubt that the people sitting along the third-base side of the field have gotten an earful from Tommy Lasorda in the past, and Larry Bowa this season.

But those views… wow!

But wouldn’t you know it, after making a conscious effort to pack a camera for the trip in order to snap some pictures for the site, etc., I left the damn thing at home. Yeah, such a dumbass.

Nevertheless, I was able to snap one with my phone, but they never turn out well. In the meantime, I’ll be heading over to the ballpark soon to regale readers with more tales from out here on the coast. Here’s a tidbit to start… a lot of my colleagues believe this series is coming back to Philadelphia late next week.

I’m not so sure.

Enough talk, let’s get it on

First things first… the Phillies announced their NLCS roster this morning and despite the speculation, reliever Rudy Seanez was not added. Just like the previous round against the Brewers, manager Charlie Manuel will go with 11 pitchers against the Dodgers

The Phillies:
Pitchers: Joe Blanton, Clay Condrey, Chad Durbin, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Brett Myers Scott Eyre, Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, Jamie Moyer and J.C. Romero.

Infielders: Eric Bruntlett, Greg Dobbs, Pedro Feliz, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.

Outfielders: Pat Burrell, Geoff Jenkins, Matt Stairs, So Taguchi, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth.

Catchers: Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz.

The Dodgers:
Pitchers: Jonathan Broxton, Cory Wade, Hong-Chih Kuo, Joe Beimel, Chan Ho Park, Greg Maddux, Clayton Kershaw, James McDonald, Derek Lowe, Chad Billinsgley and Hiroki Kuroda

Infielders: James Loney, Blake DeWitt, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, Angel Berroa and Pablo Ozuna

Outfielders: Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Juan Pierre

Catchers: Russell Martin and Danny Ardoin.

OK, so is everybody tired of talking and contemplating Manny hitting cleanup for the Dodgers? The face that Ryan Howard and Chase Utley (especially Utley) have not hit with much alacrity during the playoffs?

Yep, it’s old. It’s tired. But it’s what we do. No, Davey Lopes wasn’t too keen on talking about the events of three decades ago, but what about the rest of us? Yeah, we know most of the Phillies weren’t even born – or didn’t care – about the Phillies and “Black Friday” and we know that occurrences of last week have no affect on a game today, let alone games played 31 years ago. But here in Philadelphia it’s part of the communal suffering. Why should the Red Sox and Cubs corner the market on the little cottage industry of sports lament?

Go sing “Sweet Caroline” or blame a Billy Goat for another loss or something. We’re in the playoffs over here. This is serious business.

So how will it play out? Yeah, good question. In that regard I guess I’m with everyone else in that the Dodgers and Phillies are incredibly evenly matched. It’s just uncanny. In fact, if the Dodgers looked in the mirror the reflection looking back at them would be the Phillies. Both clubs pitch well – the bullpens and starting corps are equally solid. They both use speed well and have decent hitters that roll off the bench. For the Dodgers guys like Nomar Garciaparra are the go-to, late-inning bat. For the Phillies it’s Greg Dobbs.

Tactically, Joe Torre and Charlie Manuel square off, but in the playoffs most managers will make all moves by the book anyway. If it comes to playoff acumen, though, Torre has the edge.

The Phillies have the advantage with the power hitters – that is if they get it going. During the NLDS the Phils won two games with the long ball and they have been scoring runs with homers all season long. Sure, the Dodgers piled up the runs in the NLDS against the Cubs with their new-look lineup, but come on… it’s going to come down to the pitching and defense.

It always does.

In that regard the difference could be how well the Dodgers’ right-handed heavy pitching staff performs against the Phillies’ power-hitting lefties. That means the series will come down to Utley and Howard. That’s where the Phillies are pinning their hopes.

“You look at Chase Utley, you think him getting four hits every day, but that don’t work that way,” Manuel said. “Baseball is 162, get in the playoffs how many games is it. So therefore that’s the way you look at it.

“We’re getting back to that even keel. That up and down. Like guys they don’t hit every day. Human nature plays a big part of the game. It’s hard to sit and explain to someone how you feel and like what’s going on and like with you and all that, and that’s the mental part, and also that’s the part we have to work through and that’s the part where guys on some nights they can go four for four, they have hot and cold nights and they have hot and cold weeks. Sometimes they have a cold month.

“Sometimes they have a season cold. But at the same time, I mean, that’s the way the game goes.”

Utley and Howard. There it is… Phillies in 7.

Here come the Dodgers (and Bowa)

Hey, hey folks. Took a few days off as most have noticed. Truth is, it wasn’t by design. I really wanted to gather my thoughts and write down all the stuff I saw in Milwaukee regarding this ballclub and all the things we can expect for the upcoming series against the Dodgers, but, you know, I got a little busy.

It happens.

Nevertheless, the format of the in-game updates will hold during each and every game from Philadelphia and Hollywood. In fact, I might even add a few cool features for the trip in California. After all, it is California. If I’m going to write about the biggest series going from the capital of glamour and superficial excess, I ought to go all out…

Right?

So yeah, it’s an exciting time to be a fan, writer, player and whatever else of the Philadelphia Phillies. Who knows, they might even win the whole thing? Why not? Teams have won the World Series by accident… at least teams have gotten there through no fault of its own. Take the ’07 Rockies, for instance. Or the ’06 Cardinals and the ’03 Marlins. Talk about accidents.

Speaking of accidents, Larry Bowa is back in town with his Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon. Certainly no one ever thought that Bowa would have been in a playoff game at Citizens Bank Park not in Dodger Blue instead of Phillies.

What a life that guy leads, huh? After getting the axe as manager of the Phillies, Bowa landed on a gig talking about baseball with ESPN and XM Radio, which led to a job as the third-base coach for the New York Yankees and now LA Dodgers. If you are scoring at home that’s the top sports media company on the planet followed by the two most storied baseball franchises ever.

Still, it’s not difficult to get the sinking suspicion that all things being equal, Bowa would much rather be in Philadelphia with the Phillies. You can take the Bowa away from the Phillies, but never the Phillies out of Bowa.

Here’s a bet: at some point during the FOX telecast of the NLCS there will be a few hard-hitting stories on Bowa and Phils’ first-base coach Davey Lopes and their role in “Black Friday” as well as the Phillies-Dodgers rivalry from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Black Friday, for those who were not around for the 1977 NLCS between the Dodgers and the Phillies, or for those historically challenged on baseball lore, remember the game as the one where the Phillies missed their best chance to get to the World Series. It’s the game where Greg Luzinski famously misplayed a fly ball against the wall at the Vet and where Bowa made that terrific play at shortstop to make a throw to first in attempt to nail Lopes on a ball that caromed off third baseman Mike Schmidt. Only first-base ump Bruce Froemming called Lopes safe at first, which paved the way for more miscues as the Phillies blew a two-run lead with two outs in the ninth.

In fact, Bowa talked about it quite a bit about those old days on Wednesday afternoon.

“They were good series,” Bowa said, clad in his Dodger uniform and that traditional “LA” cap. “We grew up playing them in the Coast League – they were in Spokane and we were in Eugene, Oregon. We had a rivalry going then. They seemed to get the best of us in those games.

“We always made a mistake late. It cost us, but they’re very competitive. You remember when Burt Hooton was pitching and the crowd got into it, he couldn’t throw a strike. Then the rain game with Tommy John. The play in left field where Bull (Greg Luzinski) was still in the game and Jerry Martin had been replacing him and he wasn’t in and it eld to a run.

Davey Lopes. I know Davey says, ‘Let it go.’ But he was out. He knows he was out and he can go look at that all day. A hundred thousand times he was out. But those were good games. They were good games and they seemed to bring out the best in us. I think Garry Maddox dropped a ball which he never dropped. It was just one of those things.”

Davey, indeed, says, “Let it go,” and then some.

“It was 31 years ago. Quit crying and move on,” Lopes said.

“The rivalry was great. The intensity of playing those games was as equal to the World Series and a lot of times it’s more difficult and intense because you’re trying to get to the World Series,” Lopes said. “It’s almost like – I don’t want to say let down, but gratification that you got to the World Series.”

No matter what anyone says about his personality (or lack thereof), Larry Bowa is far and away the most knowledgeable baseball man a guy like me has ever come across. The old salt knows everything there is to know about the game. He might not ever get another managing gig again, but a guy like Joe Torre has no qualms about adding him to a coaching staff.

“He’s a younger version of Don Zimmer for me,” Torre Said. “He’s got a great deal of passion – shoots from the hip. He’s very emotional. But one thing about it, he cares very deeply about all the stuff he teaches to these young players and never relents. He’s there on a day-in-day-out basis and when things aren’t working it’s not a lot of fun to be around him. But he’s got a big heart and he’s got a great ability to teach and he’s very thorough and never gets tired.”

Here’s the thing about those old playoff games from the ‘70s… the current Phillies don’t get it. Chase Utley had no idea what “Black Friday” was until he was told about from one of the scribes. Even after he learned all about it, he still didn’t seem too impressed.

Game 1 starter Cole Hamels kind of heard about those classic games, but doesn’t think he or his teammates really care about it that much.

“I wasn’t even born,” Hamels said.

Besides, Hamels says, the current crop of players would much rather create their own legacy rather than ride the coattails of one that began over three decades ago.

“We want to be the team that everybody remembers as the team of 2008, went to the World Series and won the World Series,” Hamels said. “So it’s something that we’ve been with each other since February, and I think it’s just something where we’ve developed tremendous friendships and bonds that we want to be able to have these memories for when we’re older and we’re retired and out of the game.”

Besides, Lopes says they got the call right the first time.

“Tell Bowa I was safe,” he said.

NLCS Game 7

Plenty of hype during the pre-game, but not as much as one would expect… especially for a Game 7 started by Roger Clemens. Psycho Lyons related a funny comment by our boy Scotty Rolen, which I’ve heard and seen him say thousands of times.

Damn!

Why did the Phillies have to trade him?

Top of 1
Craig Biggio leads off with a homer tight to the line in left. He quickly circles the bases with his head down, but when he gets back to the dugout and sits down with his helmet off, he suddenly looks old.

There’s one for Astros.

Bottom of 1
Clemens retires the side in order, but reaches a three-ball count on each hitter. Rocket throws 18 pitches in the inning – nine balls and nine strikes. Bob Brenly points out on the telecast that Clemens always battles against a high pitch count.

“Sometimes he throws 100 pitches by the fifth inning,” Brenly exclaimed, as if it were an in-depth point.

And sometimes he likes to wear women’s underwear, mince around the house and be called “Sapphire,” but no one ever mentions that.

It’s still 1-0 for the ‘Stros.

Top of 2
That Thom Brenneman has a wonderful speaking voice. It’s forceful, yet kind. No one should feel annoyed when he announces that Jeff Suppan walked leadoff hitter Jeff Kent. Nor does anyone mind that he spells his first name “Thom.” To me that spelling says that Thom is willing to take the extra step. He’s not going to cheat anyone by hiding the “H” like all those sissy boys named “Tom.”

I like that.

I recall seeing Thom walk into the bathroom in the press box at Citizens Bank Park between innings when his Arizona Diamondbacks were in town last May. Thom took a urinal next to his broadcasting partner Mark Grace, who, as everyone knows, might be the funniest of all the good guys in the history of the game. Anyway, Grace and Thom were taking a leak as I was washing my hands when one of their cronies came into the room and started giving Grace a hard about taking a whiz between innings.

“Do you have time for that? What happens if you don’t make it back in time for the start of the inning? Aren’t you worried? You better hurry up,” the crony chided Grace.

“Doesn’t take too long to drain something this small,” Grace laughed back.

What a gem.

Jim Edmonds made a fantastic diving catch to rob extra bases from Brad Ausmus. Edmonds often is accused of hot-dogging and intentionally taking a slow route to the ball in order to make diving, highlight-reel catches because he loves the attention that comes with being on ESPN. However, in the seventh game of the NLCS, Edmonds isn’t going to pull such a stunt. He truly made a dynamic catch.

Thom exults it and it is replayed from three different angles and varying speeds before the Cardinals come up in the bottom half of the inning.

Bottom of 2
Rolen leads off and flies to center on the second pitch. After Clemens threw 18 pitches in the first, shouldn’t Rolen make the old man work a little more? Making matters worse, Edmonds grounded weakly to second on the first pitch. That’s two outs on three pitches for Clemens.

Reggie Sanders only takes a pitch before grounding to third.

Six up and six down for Clemens on 23 pitches

Top of 3
Missed the first part of the frame, but saw Carlos Beltran swipe second after drawing a walk. The stolen base coupled with an aggressive tag up on a routine fly to center helped Beltran score his record 12th run of the series when Edmonds’ throw skipped past Rolen at third.

Beltran has yet to be caught stealing in 38 attempts as a National Leaguer. Too bad he won’t keep the streak going next season when he’s making $20 million with the Yankees.

Bottom of 3
Tony Womack works Clemens to 2-2 before legging out a double to left-center. Mike Matheny smartly moves him over to third before pitcher Suppan lays down a perfect squeeze bunt. Great call by Tony La Russa. Womack timed it well by waiting for Clemens to commit to the plate before digging to the plate. Suppan can handle the bat pretty well for a pitcher. The only play was to first.

The squeeze makes it 2-1

Top of 4
I need to go for a run. Maybe I’ll hit the road at 9:45 or 10 p.m.

My son Michael had a bath and spent the evening at the Barnes & Noble with my wife. He’s going to have a bottle and go to bed while I contemplate running and watch Game 7.

Jeff Kent, the hero in Game 5, leads off by getting hit by a pitch. Meanwhile, the commentators are talking about La Russa’s uncanny ability to steal signs. Pretty fascinating. Sometimes, they say, La Russa will stand behind the cameras at the end of the dugout so he can get a clean view at his target without getting caught.

Morgan Ensberg singles to make it first and second with no outs. This gets the bullpen stirring for the Cardinals. Luckily for Suppan, he is able to get a ground out and a whiff from Brad Ausmus with runners on the corners. He gets Clemens to strikeout to wiggle out of the jam.

I recall writing a bunch of deadline stories about Suppan in 2003 and noting that making a deal for him would be a good move both financially and with the rotation. Apparently, general manager Ed Wade did not see what I wrote. In case he stumbles on here, I’ll re-post those old stories here and here.

Bottom of 4
Clemens sits down Larry Walker, Albert Pujols and Rolen in order. Of the 13 hitters he has faced, Clemens has thrown a first pitch strike to 11 hitters. Incidentally, Rolen is the only hitter he started with a pitch out of the zone.

Through four innings, Clemens has thrown 53 pitches (36 strikes), while Suppan has hucked 77 pitches.

Still 2-1.

Top of 5
Beltran hits a screamer to Rolen, but the big boy gobbles it up for the second out. Bagwell skies one to the track in left to end a pretty uneventful frame. Suppan really needed an easy one, especially against those big bats.

Bottom of 5
Thinking about that run but it’s raining. I hate running in the rain.

Edmonds leads off with a single for just the second hit off Clemens. The commentators just pointed out that the last time the Red Sox made it to the World Series, Clemens started Game 6 and won his first Cy Young Award. As soon as this is pointed out, the big right-hander strikes out Sanders.

Clemens, of course, was something of a novelty that summer of ’86. For those of us who didn’t live in New England, he kind of came out of nowhere. Actually, we knew about him because he struck out a record 15 hitters as a injury-riddled rookie in ’85, and had been the star pitcher for the College World Series-winning University of Texas, but he wasn’t a household name.

It’s funny what a 24-win season followed by 18 more seasons of averaging 16 wins a year does for a guy.

Anyway, Womack reached and was picked off by Ausmus thanks to a bad call by first-base umpire Eric Cooper.

I wonder what that Jim Wolf is doing?

Top of 6
Still raining. Looks like the run is off unless this game ends before midnight. I’d like to get one in sometime today.

Now Thom is talking about the Astros’ crazy run to the playoffs. I think the run is best described by Paul Hagen in the Daily News.

Wait a second… what happened to that inning? Looks like Suppan got out of it with 12 pitches. He’s up to 98 through six, but should be out of the game because he’s slated to leadoff the sixth.

Bottom of 6
Roger Cedeno singles for Suppan. Good choice in a hitter, because Cedeno is 11-for-25 against Clemens. Try to figure that out. Edgar Renteria bunts him to second and good old Larry Walker, cut from the same cloth as Mark Grace, hits a dribbler to Clemens for the second out.

Coincidentally, Walker and Biggio used to have some sort of communication via the bathroom in the visitor’s dugout at Veterans Stadium.

I took a picture of it.

How good is Albert Pujols? So good that he knows that Clemens is going to eventually throw him a fastball. He waits for it and laces a double to left to tie the game. Then, Rolen lines a first-pitch fastball over the fence in left to put the Cards up by two.

Anyone who knows me knows what I think about Rolen. Don’t get me started on him, because I’m not allowed to root.

It would interesting to hear what Rolen will say about his homer after the game. It will be even more interesting to hear what he says if his homer is the last hit Clemens allows in his career. I’m sure Scotty will tell his daughter about it. She’s due to arrive in January.

Top of 7
Orlando Palmeiro pinch hits for Clemens with two outs and reliever Kiko Calero hits him. It’s the only hiccup in the inning as the Cards hold on to the 4-2 lead.

Bottom of 7
Simple organ for the stretch. Sure is a far cry from Ronan Tynan at the Stadium. Meanwhile, the cameras zoomed in on Rolen during the playing of “God Bless America.” If the game holds with the current score, he’s the big star and Pujols is the MVP.

Smartly, astros’ skipper Phil Garner taps 20-game winner Roy Oswalt to relieve Clemens. His first pitch bounces five feet in front of the plate, but he impressively retires the side in order by striking out two.

Maybe Oswalt should have started in place of Clemens?

Top of 8
Here comes crazy Julian Tavarez, the John Holmes of Major League Baseball. Yeah, that’s right. He’s also a bit crazy, but that’s pretty well documented.

Renteria makes back-to-back good plays at short to retire Beltran and Jeff Bagwell. The Cardinals can smell it. Just for good measure, Renteria makes another stunning play, but when he rifles it to first, it smacks Tavarez on his glove-covered broken hand.

Interesting.

Bottom of 8
Old Phillie Marlon Anderson smacks a pinch double to start the frame. He comes around to score on Larry Walker’s single with two outs. The cardinals are so close they are starting to breathe heavy. You can see their hearts race.

Top of 9
Jason Isringhausen takes the ball and quickly retires the first two hitters. La Russa looks like he needs oxygen. When the final out is recorded, the Cards look relieved and like they are going to break into a group cry. Why not, there are tons of guys on that team who have played a long time and never made it to the World Series.

Larry Walker, Jim Edmonds are the old boys who are getting their first shot, while Rolen and Pujols are the kids who are stepping onto center stage. Then there are Sanders and Renteria, who seem to get to the Series every year.

Good for them.

For Rolen, he is getting what he left Philadelphia for. I wonder if all the headaches, arguments, back stabbings, name-calling, booing and mistreatment was worth it for Rolen.

From the way his face looked when his pregnant wife Nikki ran out onto the field to join in the celebration, it looked like everything was worth it. A man saw his dream come true by smacking a homer. His wife, pregnant with his first child, came onto the field to hug him, all of the TV people wanted to talk to him and his teammates wanted to pour champagne on his head. How cool is that?

Yeah, Philadelphia is a million miles away.