Halladay almost too good to be real

Halladay_game Roy Halladay has been away playing golf in Mexico before he reports to Clearwater to begin his Spring Training on Dec. 1, so there’s a pretty good chance he hasn’t seen the commercials depicting him striking out hitters in a video game. In fact, the makers of Major League Baseball 2K11 thought enough of Halladay’s body of work in 2K10, that they put him on the box of the game.

Certainly if there is one guy in the big leagues who has no time for playing video games it’s Halladay. After all, he was the guy who kept the press waiting for nearly an hour because he had to complete his post-game workout after he tossed a perfect game. So needless to say, Halladay has things to do. He’s not the kind of guy to sit in the clubhouse working a crossword puzzle before batting practice, plotting elaborate pranks where a dimwit gets traded to Japan or jerking around on some sort of mobile device.

In other words, Halladay is not like most of us. He doesn’t waste time. Hell, he even starts Spring Training three months early.

Though Halladay probably won’t wile away the time playing video games in which he is the main star, he did something quite remarkable in winning the 2010 Cy Young Award…

He made the Baseball Writers Association of America come to a harmonious, unadulterated consensus that seemed downright cute in this day of instant reaction and indignant anger over the most trivial of issues and obscure statistics. Better yet, Halladay’s 2010 season was so good that there wasn’t even the one voter doing his damndest to get attention by being different for the sake of it. You know, like that guy who voted for Javier Vazquez for Cy Young in 2009 because… well… who the hell knows. Maybe it was a gag like a hidden whoopee cushion or hand buzzer, or maybe it was one of those things where someone was trying to be different just like everyone else.

It’s a mystery.

So as a guy who has enjoyed poking fun at the BBWAA for the sport of it, this is actually quite refreshing. Give the voters credit for being correct. Besides, the name calling and laughing at the group of baseball voters is a lot like recycling old jokes about politicians in that only the names change. It’s almost like peace in the Middle East or something in that it’s a concept that seems rational, but is always just out of reach.

Of course the civility Halladay spawned might not last as the rest of the awards are handed out. In fact, some have grumbled about Bud Black taking home the manager of the year award when his team folded and missed the playoffs when the Giants slipped past, or the fact that Charlie Manuel came in fifth despite 97 wins. There likely will be some bemoaning the American League Cy Young Award winner when it is announced on Thursday. Felix Hernandez, the young star ace for the Mariners is expected to win the award even though he finished the season with a 13-12 record. Oh sure, he lead the league in ERA, starts, innings and was second in strikeouts, but even King Felix to keep Seattle from losing 101 games.

Actually, Hernandez could be this generations’ version of Steve Carlton in 1972 without all the wins. It was during that season where the youthful Phillies, with Larry Bowa and Greg Luzinski as well as rookies Bob Boone and Mike Schmidt, went 59-97 yet Carlton still figured out a way to win 27 games while pitching 30 complete games in 41 starts to win the Cy Young Award. Sure, Hernandez was approximately 100 innings and 14 wins off from Carlton’s effort in ’72, but a guy ought to get some credit for going out there every five days knowing he was going to have to do it all himself.

Still, it could be tough for Hernandez simply because of that 13-12 record. Though a win-loss record is often out of the hands of a pitcher, the stat isn’t as completely valueless. For one thing, good pitchers often win a lot of games. There is a direct correlation to winning and talent. As my friend Dan Roche says, winning is a fancy metric that determines whether or not your team goes to the playoffs. Better yet, a win-loss record—the decisions—are important because it shows which pitcher is in the game when it’s all on the line. In that regard, Hernandez had nine no-decisions and Halladay had just two.

Then again, pitching for the Mariners had to be like dead man walking for guys like Hernandez and Cliff Lee. Imagine if Hernandez could have joined Lee in Texas or Halladay in Philadelphia…

Instead, Halladay was the great baseball writer unifier. A veritable Anwar Sadat, if you will. Oh sure, it’s one thing to win the award in both leagues, a feat pulled off only by Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Gaylord Perry, but to do so unanimously at the same time is something no one even keeps track of.

Nono Oh sure, they count the guys who get all of the first-place votes. Actually, Jake Peavy did it in 2007 and there have been 13 guys to do it in the National League and eight in the American League. However, only one other pitcher has won the award in one league and then won it by taking all the top votes in another league.

Yes, it’s Pedro and Roy who are the only players to pull off a feat that no one knew existed.

What can’t he do? What can’t he do?

Always magnanimous in victory, Halladay, checking in on a conference call from Mexico where he was hitting the links with one-time Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter, Padres’ righty Chris Young, and teammate Mike Sweeney, humbly expressed surprise that he got all the first-place votes.

“This is special for me because of how close the competition was,” Halladay said. “So many guys had quality seasons. Coming into the final month, it was very close. It’s surprising (to win unanimously) and I’ll definitely take it. I’m honored it went that way. But a case could be made for four or five other guys.”

Come on… who is he kidding? A perfect game, 21 wins, a no-hitter in the playoffs… didn’t he see himself out there? It was like watching a guy play a video game.

Philly boy Roy(s)?

Oswalt Typically, this is the spot where we go into the full court
press into why the Phillies should go after Roy Oswalt from the Astros. Unload
the minor leagues, might be the mantra. Another point would be something about
how the window of opportunity only opens so often and closes very quickly.

In fact, that’s what we trotted out there when the suggestion was made to go get Pedro
Martinez, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee, Jim Thome and, (gulp!) Barry Bonds.

Pat Burrell? Nope. No thanks.

Nevertheless, just think how perfect it would be for the
Phillies to go after Oswalt. For one, reports from Ed Price over at AOL
Fanhouse indicate that the hard-throwing righty would waive his no-trade clause
to go to the Yankees, Cardinals or Phillies. Think about that for a second… a
Cy Young Award contender and the MVP of the 2005 NLCS, wants to be sent to Philadelphia. Remember not too long ago when
players couldn’t get out of here fast enough?

Wasn’t Ed Wade the general manager then?

Well, coincidentally (or not), Wade is the GM for the
Astros with a decent history of making deals with his old club. Plus, Wade’s
penchant for filling his roster with ex-Phillies appears to be something of a
fetish. Hey, the guy has a thing for the Phillies… there’s nothing wrong with
that, right?

In this case, however, it might not mean much. While Wade
really, really likes players that once wore red and white pinstripes, current
general manager has a thing for prospects and the future. Amaro is a
look-forward type. That’s not as weird as stockpiling his club with players
with a certain history, but weird is as weird does. Considering the fact that
Amaro traded away a guy who won the American League Cy Young Award in 2008 and
put together the greatest postseason by a Phillies pitcher since Grover
Cleveland Alexander kind of indicates all one needs to know about this quirky
little belief that the kids are the future.

Some of us like to say that the future is now. Nothing is
guaranteed in life or baseball and that goes specifically for projecting a tall
French-Canadian right-hander named Phillippe Aumont as a cog in the Phillies’
rotation. Baseball has a way of dividing the champs from the chaff pretty
quickly and the sometimes it’s just smarter to build a roster around the known.

But the Phillies love those prospects. In fact, they’ve
done a pretty good job in building a little stable of All-Stars out of their
draft picks. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Ruiz, Cole Hamels,
Ryan Madson, Kyle Kendrick and J.A. Happ are the guys on the current 25-man
roster who came through the Phillies system. Not many teams can develop a list
of major leaguers like that.

So maybe that means in order to pry Oswalt away from the
Astros it would take a major leaguer as opposed to a prospect? Why not, the guy
calling the shots with the Astros likes those old Phillies and it’s not like
Oswalt is going anywhere for a couple of years. See, if the Phillies were to
get Oswalt they would have him for a $16 million salary in 2011 and could
exercise a $16 million option for 2012. Not bad.

Not bad because it means the Phillies could have a pair
of Roys at the top of the rotation for a good part of the future. And if it
takes pitchers like Happ and/or Joe Blanton with a regular like Raul Ibanez, or
perhaps (gulp!) Jayson Werth, Amaro still gets to keep his precious, precious
prospects.

Let’s get the point… wouldja do it? Considering that Dom
Brown is the untouchable and Aumont is the guy the Phillies wanted from Seattle
for Lee, what would you be willing to give up to have a pitcher like Oswalt
next to Roy Halladay in the rotation.

Or, is the move to wait for the bats to come before
adding Pedro again while thinking the Padres are only a good losing streak away
from shopping closer Heath Bell.

Me? Well, the future is now, isn’t it?

Phillies pretty uninspiring thus far

Hamels No one likes a know it all. That’s especially true for those of us who can act like one of those high-falutin’ smarty pants. That being the case, it’s hard not to act all smart when sizing up the start to the 2010 season by the Phillies.

No, it hasn’t been awful, but then again it hasn’t inspired much in the way of making a guy want to compose lyrical poems or even compound sentences.

Instead, with one month effectively in the books, the Phillies have been one big shrug of the shoulders combined with an audible, “Meh.” Since starting out 7-1 against doormats Washington and Houston, the Phillies are 5-8 against Florida, Atlanta, Arizona and San Francisco. With the first-place—yeah, first place—New York Mets in town for a big weekend series, the undertone of apprehension is palpable.

It’s not for nothing, either. Take away Saturday’s game where Roy Halladay pitches and why would anyone want to write sentences or compose poetry about the Phillies? The truth is when the offense can beat up on some subpar pitching, they are a good team. Otherwise…

Meh.

“We’re not playing good at all and we haven’t been good for quite a while,” Manuel said.

“We squeezed out a game the other day in San Francisco and we stayed with them and battled, then we caught a break and won the game. But it wasn’t a really pretty game, we just haven’t played good. I’m concerned about our pitching.”

Granted, the season hasn’t really hit its stride yet. One month down and 22 games into it, there is still much to learn about the Phillies. That’s certainly the case considering Jimmy Rollins has played in just seven games so far and is still nursing a calf injury. No knock on Rollins’ replacements, but the offense definitely takes on a different look without its leader.

“With Jimmy out you can see the balance leave us and we become a weaker offensive team,” Manuel said. “Rollins means more to us than you’d think. When you sit down and you see everything that he can do and what he contributes to our club, he’s a great player.”

Still, there are a few trends developing with the Phillies that might have Charlie Manuel calling up to general manager Ruben Amaro to ask for some reinforcements. The fact is that if Halladay is taken out of the equation, the Phillies’ pitching has been horrible. To soften that a bit, maybe we can just call it inconsistent.

Certainly Joe Blanton’s and J.A. Happ’s injuries have been a blow and the Phillies didn’t expect to have both Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick in the same rotation. However, take away Halladay and his 4-1 record and 1.80 ERA and the Phils’ starters were 6-4 with a 5.08 ERA with 102 hits in 88 2/3 innings heading into Friday night’s game against the Mets.

Yeah, Halladay has a way of making teams look better than they really are, but even he had to think Cole Hamels would be better than he has been. After all, when Amaro made the deal to send Cliff Lee to Seattle it was as if a challenge had been offered to Hamels.

Oswalt “Man up!” the trade of Lee declared.

Hamels has two of the seven wins against the Nationals, but is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his last three starts. On the Phils’ staff, only Kendrick has been worse.

Again, it’s early. There are 140 games left to play and it would be a small miracle if the Phillies’ offense does not carry them back into the playoffs for a fourth straight season. But with the roster looking the way it does right now, the Phillies’ playoff chances don’t look so hot. They are going to need some help.

“We have a lot of guys hurt and we have a lot of new guys,” Manuel said. “They have to get used to playing the way we play and they have to get used to what we play for and what we stand for. People come to see us because of who we are and the way we play and when we get away from the things that I think made us, I get very concerned.”

Where will the help come from? Well, Pedro Martinez is an obvious choice, though Pedro by himself hardly seems to be enough.

So why don’t we throw a name out there just to get the chatter going…

Roy Oswalt.

Since the Astros clearly have some sort of a rebuilding thang going on down there, dealing Oswalt can free up a big hunk of cash. Sure, the Phillies want to stay within the parameters of a self-imposed salary cap and picking up Oswalt for the rest of 2010 as well as the $16 million he’s owed for 2011 would mean Amaro would have to allow Jayson Werth to walk or deal away another ace to Seattle.

Nevertheless, until Hamels becomes a sure thing in the rotation, Pedro and Oswalt just might be what it takes to get the Phillies back to the World Series. Maybe then we can get back to composing those jaunty odes about the local nine.

“We can have more life, we can have more get-up-and-go to us,” Manuel offered.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

Ruben INDIANAPOLIS–The last thing Ruben Amaro and the Phillies want to do here at the Winter Meetings is to go out and do something like make a trade. The way things stand now, Amaro likes the way his team looks. Oh sure, there are pieces to add here and there–big pieces, in fact. But as far as the core base of the club, the Phillies look good.

Nevertheless, Amaro and the Phillies are here looking for pitching. They want a couple of relievers and a starter to hold down the No. 4 or No. 5 spot of the rotation.

Ideally, Amaro wants those additions to come through free agency.

Since the team needs pitching and other teams want pitchers, it would be kind of silly for the Phillies to trade pitchers for pitchers…

Right?

"It's kind of like robbing Peter to pay Paul," Ruben said before adding the caveat that it really gets down to whether Peter is a better player than Paul.

Still, Amaro was pretty good at finding the guys the Phillies needed at the right time last season. Raul Ibanez was a pretty good pickup last winter and he's hoping that Placido Polanco at third base can be the same type of coup this year.

The only thing the Phillies had to give up to get either player was a first-round draft pick because Ibanez was a Type A free agent. Interestingly, the GM said if Polanco was a Type A guy the Phillies would have been reluctant to have gone after him, and he does not see the team going after any other players that would result in the Phillies giving up some type of compensation.

Third baseman Chone Figgins was a Type A free agent while Mark DeRosa, Adrian Beltre and Melvin Mora were Type B guys.

"I would not do it unless it was a guy who could make a huge impact, and frankly, those guys aren't out there right now," he said.

But John Smoltz is out there. So too is Randy Wolf, Jarrod Washburn, Jason Schmidt, Ben Sheets, Mark Prior, Brad Penny, Rich Harden, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras, Bartolo Colon, and Erik Bedard amongst the starters.

J.J. Putz and Chad Cordero are a couple of the relievers out there that would not require the Phillies to give up anything other than a paycheck.

In other words, if Ruben and the Phillies want to get this done on the cheap, it's doable. All it will take is a little bit of creativity. Certainly that was on display last July when Pedro Martinez was added for the playoff push.

But don't look for Pedro to be added back into the fold any time soon. Oh sure, he started three of the Phillies' last 10 postseason games, including two during the World Series. However, if Pedro returns to Philadelphia it will be after everything else is taken care of or there are not too many other options.

Just like last season, inking Pedro is something that will "develop later."

Nevertheless, Pedro has expressed an interest in another dance with the Phils and Ruben has stashed that info away for now. Still, from friends that have talked to him Pedro is preparing to pitch a full season if the right team will have him. In the short term, one of his friends says Pedro is back in the Dominican preparing for his celebrity golf tournament featuring the likes of David Ortiz and Ryan Howard.

We would have chatted a little longer with Ruben on Monday, but he had to run off to his second trade meeting of the afternoon…

Anyone want to guess if Peter, Paul and Joe Blanton's names come up?

A whole lotta talkin’ going on

Cletus INDIANAPOLIS—If you’re like me, you have the tendency to talk a lot of trash. There’s probably a more apt phrase to use in the place of “trash,” but since I’ve been away from the baseball folk for about a month, we’ll keep it clean for another 12 hours or so.

Like the people who work for the traveling carnival, sailors, or those who root through the bags here at the airport, baseball folk live a hard life. Oh, it’s completely by choice, mind you. As stated previously, baseball folks act like they have some sort of link to history or Americana, but the truth is you wouldn’t let any of them hold your car keys.

But none of this has anything to do with my boastful countenance. In fact, I don’t even need a reason to let loose with the trash talk. Hey, think I’m gonna let someone bust up my party? No way, man. Put me in a room with the baseball carnys and I’ll keep a hand on my wallet and keep them off guard with a little yapping.

It’s all I got.

So we’re off to Indianapolis for the annual baseball Winter Meetings. Last year they held the event in Las Vegas, which was like putting the Star Trek Convention at Cannes. Watching the writer types mill around the high-roller room at the Bellagio with their lanyards and name tags all in place and those Dockers fitted just right, was disturbing and clearly ruined the vibe of the entire town. Some establishments decided to take preventative measures by turning off all the glittering lights and boarded up the windows as if a hurricane was on the way. Baseball scribes in Las Vegas? Yeah, imagine Estelle Getty in the Victoria’s Secret runway show.

Needless to say, the Vegas Chamber of Commerce and/or convention bureau won’t be drawing up a petition to have the gang back.

Indianapolis seems like the appropriate place to hold the baseball Winter Meetings. Actually, Branson, Missouri is probably the most perfect place, but both the Charlie Daniels’ Band AND The Osmond’s are performing this week. Why ruin the buzz of the hot stove?

Whether or not that stove will be hissing and burning on the Phillies side of the convention center remains to be seen. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. already took care of the biggest need of the off-season when he inked Placido Polanco to play third base, Brian Schneider to be the backup catcher, and Juan Castro to fill the role previously held by Eric Bruntlett.

That’s the brunt of the holiday shopping right there for the Phillies.

But it’s not Santa riding into town with a sleigh full of the big-ticket items. And needless to say we shouldn’t be listening for the pitter-patter of hooves on the roof this year. Oh sure, there still is a chance Pedro Martinez could return to the fold, which truly is the gift that keeps on giving. Oh sure, sometimes predicting the results on the mound from Pedro are a bit of a crapshoot (yes, we already miss Vegas), however, to ball scribes he’s like a three-day weekend in the middle of July. One time when I was looking for something to write about I walked over to Pedro in the clubhouse and said (essentially), “Hey Pedro, can you just talk and I’ll go to my computer and write it all down.”

Pedro_ruben Pedro filled it up.

My promise is that if Pedro returns I will write lyric poems about him. Hell, why not a feature on the Louis Vuitton man-purse he carries around.

Outside of Pedro, it seems as if the Phillies will target current Mets flop, J.J. Putz as the addition to the bullpen…

Hey, sorry about that flop crack. That wasn’t fair considering Putz was injured and it was the fault of one man for the Mets’ suckitude in 2009. That was a total team effort from the front office on down. The truth is Putz would be a big-time “get” for Ruben, the Phillies, and smart-alecky types that enjoy making fun of other people’s surnames.

I don’t like the last group of people I mentioned.

When he pitched for the Mets, Putz wasn’t very good. However, in 2007 he saved 40 games for the Mariners and posted a 1.38 ERA. Needless to say, that’s the guy the Phillies want to get.

Anyway, whether its Vegas or Indianapolis, I’m not going to be the only person talking trash this week. The truth is it will be piled high and deep in the lobby of some very nice hotel filthy with baseball types. Wear a cup.

Anyone know if Mellencamp is in town?

Fifth inning: Kendrick in for Pedro

image from fingerfood.typepad.com We have Sarah Baicker over here doing some baseball stuff. She’s writing the official, CSNPhilly.com epic on Jamie Moyer while I just write until my hands fall off.

Ew.

Either way, it’s fair to say Pedro didn’t exactly dial it up in his first game back. In fact, he started slow as he normally does in what might be his final start of the regular season. As far as the playoffs go, we’ll see. My guess is Pedro will be the fourth man in the rotation behind Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton.

If it were me, I’d go old-school manager in the bullpen and have J.A. Happ give me a few multi-inning saves if the situation arose.

Nevertheless, if Pedro gets the ball again he has to do something about those first innings. This season hitters are 14-for-40 against him in the first. That’s not too good.

Meanwhile, Kyle Kendrick came on for the fifth and continued his strong work in relief for the Phillies since his recall from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He wasn’t great in last Saturday’s start in Milwaukee, but as a reliever he’s ben pretty good. Heading into Wednesday’s game, Kendrick appeared in five games out of the ‘pen for a 2.89 ERA in nine innings. Take away his first outing of the year against the Red Sox in June and Kendrick has not allowed a run in relief.

That includes the scoreless inning he tossed in the fifth, too.

Who knows… he very well might find his way onto the playoff roster if he isn’t careful.

That playoff berth seems a lot more likely now thanks to back-to-back triples to start the inning from Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino.

Fifth inning: Phillies 7, Astros 3

Oh, it’s on!

pedroWelcome to another clinching day where we will have inning-by-inning updates as necessary. There’s a definite fall-like nip to the air at the ballyard tonight and a larger media contingent, too. My guess is it will be much more crowded around here from here on out.

In the interim, we have Pedro Martinez (5-1, 3.32) in his first outing since he took that wild swing in Atlanta and hurt his neck. I didn’t see Pedro around the clubhouse before the game so I suspect he’s off getting fired up. He thrives on games like this.

As Charlie Manuel said before the game about Pedro: “I didn’t like him. He was cocky and he threw hard…”

That’s all changed now. Charlie loves Pedro. Moreover, pitching coach Rich Dubee was surprised to see how intense he was on games he pitched. In fact, Dubee said Pedro is a great guy on the four days he doesn’t pitch, but that fifth one…

Look out.

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

Astros
21- Michael Bourn, cf
10 – Miguel Tejada, ss
17 – Lance Berkman, 1b
45 – Carlos Lee, lf
27 – Geoff Blum, 3b
9 – Hunter Pence, rf
3 Kaz Matsui, 2b
46 – J.R. Towles, c
38 – Brian Moehler, p

Oh, it’s on!

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Welcome to another clinching day where we will have inning-by-inning updates as necessary. There’s a definite fall-like nip to the air at the ballyard tonight and a larger media contingent, too. My guess is it will be much more crowded around here from here on out.

In the interim, we have Pedro Martinez (5-1, 3.32) in his first outing since he took that wild swing in Atlanta and hurt his neck. I didn’t see Pedro around the clubhouse before the game so I suspect he’s off getting fired up. He thrives on games like this.

As Charlie Manuel said before the game about Pedro: “I didn’t like him. He was cocky and he threw hard…”

That’s all changed now. Charlie loves Pedro. Moreover, pitching coach Rich Dubee was surprised to see how intense he was on games he pitched. In fact, Dubee said Pedro is a great guy on the four days he doesn’t pitch, but that fifth one…

Look out.

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

Astros
21- Michael Bourn, cf
10 – Miguel Tejada, ss
17 – Lance Berkman, 1b
45 – Carlos Lee, lf
27 – Geoff Blum, 3b
9 – Hunter Pence, rf
3 Kaz Matsui, 2b
46 – J.R. Towles, c
38 – Brian Moehler, p

First Inning: A select club

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Get this… only one other manager in Phillies history has guided the team to three straight titles in the NL East (before Charlie, of course). In fact, no other manager in team history has taken the team to the playoffs three times.

There’s Charlie and there is Danny Ozark.

When I first learned about what baseball was, Danny Ozark was the manager of the Phillies. Better yet, when I was a kid, Danny Ozark took the Phillies to the playoffs every year.

It was because of Ozark, who died at age 85 last May, that I also learned the time-tested idiom of baseball that managers are hired to be fired. In August of 1979 Ozark was released from his job as manager of the Phillies, which at the time was baffling to me. My youthful naïveté just saw the three consecutive playoff appearances and the back-to-back 101-win seasons, which is a feat never duplicated before or since in team history

I can’t say I have too many memories of Ozark’s work other than the time I went to game at The Vet when I was a kid and he came onto the field to argue a call or maybe he got ejected. I can’t recall though through the magic of the web site that is Baseball-Reference, I dug up the box score.

Anyway, it seemed as if Ozark was the right man at the time to build up the Phillies to a playoff caliber team. He took them right up to the crest of the hill, but had to step aside so Dallas Green could push them over the top.

From the sound of things, Charlie Manuel nailed it when describing Ozark after his death last May.

“I knew Danny Ozark and I considered him a friend of mine,” Manuel said. “He used to talk to me a lot. I was a player when he managed in the minor leagues. He was great guy – a great baseball guy. He was a dedicated baseball guy. He was a good teacher, too. He loved the game and had a good personality about him, too.”

Calling someone a “good baseball man” is one of the highest words of praise from the baseball fraternity. When one hears another call someone a baseball man, well, you can tell a lot about that guy immediately. So it sounds like Danny Ozark was a good guy and Philadelphia was lucky to have him for a few glorious years.

Ballgame: Pedro got into a jam in the first, but then again that’s just what he does. Three one-out singles loaded the bases, which forced Pedro to bear down. After a strikeout, Hunter Pence worked the count to 3-0, before it got to 3-2 where he fouled off three in a row.

The nice little battle ended when the eighth pitch of the at-bat was outside.

It’s worth noting that those white towels they gave out as fans walked into the park tonight look pretty cool when everyone waves them around. The fans also appeared to believe that Pedro got pinched on a couple pitches to Pence and Kaz Matsui.

The Phillies got that run back, though. Jimmy Rollins led off with a double and moved up to third on a bunt by Victorino. Why bunt so early in the game when the Phillies are known for their ability to score runs?

Simple. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard wear out Astros pitcher Brian Moehler. Headed into the game, Utley was 7-for-20 with a 1.108 OPS against the veteran righty, and Howard was 10-for-20 with three homers, three doubles and seven RBIs.

Of course Victorino was 7-for-14 heading in, too, so who knows if the bunt was a little too conservative. Besides, the Phils manufactured a run on Utley’s ground out to knot it.

First inning: Phillies 1, Astros 1

Second Inning: Instant replay

image from fingerfood.typepad.com And so the Astros regained the lead very quickly in the second when catcher J.R. Towles belted one just over the fence in left-center. It also was reviewed upon the request of Astros' manager Dave Clark.

From the naked eye, Towles' blast looked as if it hit the very top of the fence and bounced back into play. The review, however, proved otherwise.

Maybe they ought to do something to make the replay system work better in baseball. Like how about if every play can be challenged and if the manager proves to be wrong, he loses a visit to the mound or a bench player. Better yet, how about if one of those players is a reliever?

To give a manager one less pitching change per game if a challenge is wrong could really speed up the game. Then again, the whole bit on replay kind of negates any speed a lack of a pitching change would bring.

While we're on the topic, I wouldn't mind seeing the warning track be replaced with quick sand.

So in his first outing since Sept. 19, Pedro coughed up runs in the first two innings.

Interestingly, Pedro drilled pitcher Brian Moehler with a pitch after Towles' homer. The pitch sailed behind Moehler and appeared to get him on the backside.

No harm, though. Moehler went out and got the Phillies in order thanks to a double play grounder by Jayson Werth.

FYI: Werth is 4-for-10 in his last three-plus games, but 5 for his last 34.

Is that a slump or a hot streak?

Second inning:  Astros 2, Phillies 1

Random acts of genius

PedroActs of genius on the ball field don’t come around every day. When they occur, it’s a good idea to pay attention and appreciate the way you would a painting or a beautiful piece of music. In baseball, where there are so many games between the beginning of spring training to the last game of the World Series, brilliance can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. It’s those subtle things like Chase Utley going from first to third or Jimmy Rollins making a strong throw from the hole to beat the runner by a step.

It’s what keeps us coming back every day.

That’s the nuance and the minutia that the devout understand. The genius, on the other hand, supercedes all. It stands out and hovers over the season in a way that a highlight film cannot capture.

Pedro Martinez’s outing on Sunday night was an example of pure, baseball genius.

The line spoke volumes: 8 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 7 K – 130 pitches and zero runs. It’s the 130 pitches that opened the most eyes, but that’s just half of it. It was the way he showed off those 130 pitches against his old team. For instance, David Wright saw nothing but fastballs in his first three at-bats without so much as a sniff at an off-speed pitch. But in his fourth at-bat Pedro struck out Wright after starting him off with a pair of change ups before turning back to the heat.

After strike three, Wright walked away from the plate like he didn’t know if he was coming or going.

Wright wasn’t alone. After throwing nine total changeups to every hitter the first time through the Mets’ lineup – except for Wright, of course – no hitter saw anything more off-speed than a handful of curves the second time around. That changeup, Pedro’s best pitch, wasn’t thrown at all.

So by the third and fourth time through the Mets could only guess. By that point Pedro was simply trying not to outsmart himself or his catcher Carlos Ruiz, who probably was just along for the ride. In fact, Pedro said that the he purposely bounced a pitch in the dirt (a changeup) that teased Daniel Murphy into making a foolhardy dash for third base that led to the final out of the eighth inning.

Yes, he intentionally threw one in the dirt on a 0-1 offering. Whether or not he did it thinking Murphy might make a break for third is a different issue, but not one to put past Pedro’s thinking.

Like pitching coach Rich Dubee said about the star pitcher – you never know what he’s going to do.

Frankly, there should not be any debate whether or not Pedro takes a spot in the starting rotation for the playoffs. At this point the better question is if he gets Game 1, 2 or 3?

That’s especially the case when he can throw 130 pitches in a mid-September game in just his seventh start. You know, after the manager went out to the mound, and he looked him dead in the eyes and said:

“I got this.”

Cold-blooded, as Pedro likes to say.

“I feel like 1998, 1999, 2000, because I’m bouncing back pretty good,” Pedro said. “The other day when I threw 119 pitches, I felt so good I was a little surprised, to be honest. I wasn’t sore. Nothing to complain about. Whatever amount of pitches I threw, I feel fine.”

Better yet, the professed post-start salsa and meringue dancer says he’s really starting to have fun pitching now.

“I’m enjoying every single pitch I get in baseball from now on,” he said. “If it’s 130, 150, 200. If I only throw 72, 89, then that’s all I got. I’m going to honor the game the way it should be. I’m going to go away doing as much as I can, and enjoying the time.”

If only he could hit, too. Then he’d really be a genius.

Random acts of genius

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Acts of genius on the ball field don’t come around every day. When they occur, it’s a good idea to pay attention and appreciate the way you would a painting or a beautiful piece of music. In baseball, where there are so many games between the beginning of spring training to the last game of the World Series, brilliance can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. It’s those subtle things like Chase Utley going from first to third or Jimmy Rollins making a strong throw from the hole to beat the runner by a step.

It’s what keeps us coming back every day.

That’s the nuance and the minutia that the devout understand. The genius, on the other hand, supercedes all. It stands out and hovers over the season in a way that a highlight film cannot capture.

Pedro Martinez’s outing on Sunday night was an example of pure, baseball genius.

The line spoke volumes: 8 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 7 K – 130 pitches and zero runs. It’s the 130 pitches that opened the most eyes, but that’s just half of it. It was the way he showed off those 130 pitches against his old team. For instance, David Wright saw nothing but fastballs in his first three at-bats without so much as a sniff at an off-speed pitch. But in his fourth at-bat Pedro struck out Wright after starting him off with a pair of change ups before turning back to the heat.

After strike three, Wright walked away from the plate like he didn’t know if he was coming or going.

Wright wasn’t alone. After throwing nine total changeups to every hitter the first time through the Mets’ lineup – except for Wright, of course – no hitter saw anything more off-speed than a handful of curves the second time around. That changeup, Pedro’s best pitch, wasn’t thrown at all.

So by the third and fourth time through the Mets could only guess. By that point Pedro was simply trying not to outsmart himself or his catcher Carlos Ruiz, who probably was just along for the ride. In fact, Pedro said that the he purposely bounced a pitch in the dirt (a changeup) that teased Daniel Murphy into making a foolhardy dash for third base that led to the final out of the eighth inning.

Yes, he intentionally threw one in the dirt on a 0-1 offering. Whether or not he did it thinking Murphy might make a break for third is a different issue, but not one to put past Pedro’s thinking.

Like pitching coach Rich Dubee said about the star pitcher – you never know what he’s going to do.

Frankly, there should not be any debate whether or not Pedro takes a spot in the starting rotation for the playoffs. At this point the better question is if he gets Game 1, 2 or 3?

That’s especially the case when he can throw 130 pitches in a mid-September game in just his seventh start. You know, after the manager went out to the mound, and he looked him dead in the eyes and said:

“I got this.”

Cold-blooded, as Pedro likes to say.

“I feel like 1998, 1999, 2000, because I'm bouncing back pretty good,” Pedro said. “The other day when I threw 119 pitches, I felt so good I was a little surprised, to be honest. I wasn't sore. Nothing to complain about. Whatever amount of pitches I threw, I feel fine.”

Better yet, the professed post-start salsa and meringue dancer says he’s really starting to have fun pitching now.

“I'm enjoying every single pitch I get in baseball from now on,” he said. “If it’s 130, 150, 200. If I only throw 72, 89, then that's all I got. I'm going to honor the game the way it should be. I'm going to go away doing as much as I can, and enjoying the time.”

If only he could hit, too. Then he’d really be a genius.

Baseballtown, USA

image from fingerfood.typepad.com The first time I ever walked into Fenway Park, I thought to myself, “Hey, this is just like Reading, only bigger…”

And older, of course. Fenway Park opened shortly after the Titanic went down in 1912. Reading Municipal Stadium, as it was known when it opened, has been hosting baseball games since 1951. That makes it a relic by today’s standards, but the ironic thing is the movement in stadium building (which ought to be about finished now, right? Doesn’t every city, town and hamlet have its own new ballpark by now?) is to be both old and new at the same time.

Reading appears to have gotten that part right in 1951.

I was the last Philly-area scribe out of the ballpark last night following Kyle Drabek’s 10th outing for the R-Phils, and on the way out I flashed back to a few of those times at Fenway. Walking those empty corridors in search for an exit was reminiscent of a time in 2004 when Jim Thome and I (name-dropping!) did the same thing. See, at Fenway, the visitors’ clubhouse opens right out on the main concourse and the ballplayers have to walk through the same halls the fans traipsed through during the game. So when looking for the way out – me to an elevator to write a story before walking back to the Marriott, Thome to his waiting town car – Thome talked about the ambiance of the joint and I mentioned how it reminded me of Reading, Pa.

Back when Thome played in the Double-A Eastern League, he probably saw the same thing. Just like Fenway, the clubhouses at FirstEnergy Stadium (as it’s called now) open right onto the concourses. The difference is that the ballplayers actually have to wade through the fans in order to get back to the showers and training room. Another difference is that the home clubhouse in Reading is larger than the visitors’ clubhouse at Fenway.

Another difference is at Fenway they sell chowder and lo mein on the concourse. At Reading it’s funnel cake and Yeungling.

Anyway, Reading’s moniker as, “Baseball Town” is well deserved. In fact, the web site Minor League News rated FirstEnergy as the second-best ballpark in the country. The funny thing about that is all the other minor-league parks rated in the top 10 all opened since 2000. To me that should give Reading more points since those other places seem to be attempting to create what FirstEnergy has naturally.

It looks like a smaller, chowder-less Fenway inside, a little like old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore on the outside, which opened around the same time as the park in Reading, but was demolished in 2001. But comparisons aside, the little ol’ ballpark in Reading, Pa. is pure baseball through and through.

For those into the game at its bare essence, it’s tough to beat Reading, Pa.

*
image from fingerfood.typepad.com Along those lines, Coca-Cola Park in Allentown is nothing to sneeze at either. Chances are Pedro Martinez will be working in his second rehab assignment this Friday in A-town, so some folks who rarely venture out of the city confines might make the trip up the NE Extension, too.

Which brings up an interesting point…

Here in Lancaster they have an Atlantic League ballclub managed by ex-Cardinal/Twin/Phillie Tom Herr where they play games in one of those nouveau minor-league parks that pop up everywhere like a big box store in a strip mall. Truth be told, it’s a pretty nice way to spend an evening in a place where there are a dearth of truly exciting things to do.

Nevertheless, Lancaster’s ballpark will never be a destination for the hardcore baseball fan simply because there is no reason to watch a game there. In Lancaster, the pro team will never have Major Leaguers in town for a rehab game or the hot prospects around for a summer or two on the path to the big leagues. With no affiliation with a big league club in a city that could very well support a Double-A club, the team is filled with guys just hoping for one last chance or just playing for the love of the game.

Nothing wrong with that.

But it doesn’t make for quality baseball. Sure, the majority of folks don’t go to baseball games for the quality of the game, but, you know, I do. And there are other seamheads out there into the same thing.

Quality… why is that so difficult a concept to accept these days? And that just ain’t for baseball, either. Give people something good instead of a sales pitch and they'll beat down the door.

That's guaranteed.

Pedro Martinez anyone?

pedroJamie Moyer turned in a quality start on Wednesday night, which is no small feat.  After all, heading into that game nearly every other batter reached base against the 46-year old lefty this month. Moreover, that one ugly inning reared its head again for Joe Blanton on Thursday afternoon.

Just when it looked as if the big right-hander had turned the proverbial corner, up came a couple of bloop hits and a three-run homer to bite Joe in the rear. Just like that and a five-spot was stuck on the board.

Cole Hamels? Yeah, he looks like he’s back to form. And Brett Myers? Sometimes what you see is what you get.

So it goes that if the Phillies are going to parade down Broad Street for a second straight year, they are going to have to get the pitching together. After all, that’s how they did it last year. Sometimes, though, that’s easier said than done. Every team wants pitching and because the quality stuff is spread so thin, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might have to get creative if he wants to bolster up the worst rotation in the Majors.

How creative? We’re not sure. But how is this for an idea…

Pedro Martinez.

Yeah, that’s right… why not take a flyer on Pedro Martinez?

Look, we know all about it. Pedro is 37, he gets hurt a lot and his best days are clearly in the past. Last season for the Mets, Pedro went 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA in 20 starts – clearly the worst season of his big league career and the third season in a row where he missed a significant portion of the season because of injuries.

After going 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA in 2005, Martinez went 17-15 with a 4.74 ERA in 48 starts in three combined seasons. When his contract ended after the Mets choked away another September, they just let him walk away – and so did everyone else for that matter.

But really, Pedro’s worst season ever is still significantly better than what Moyer, Blanton and Chan Ho Park have done this year and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. gave the 46-year-old lefty a two-year deal. It would take significantly less – like a prorated deal for the rest of the season – to bring Martinez on board.

Better yet, if he doesn’t pitch well the Phillies can always say, “Adios.” No harm, no foul.

eatonThat might not be the Phillies style though. Apparently going after someone like Martinez might be thinking waaaaaaaay out of the box. Or was it? Last spring the Phillies took a chance on veteran Kris Benson and when it was clear he couldn’t pitch, they cut him loose. Since then Benson signed on with Texas where he has appeared in four games and has a 7.80 ERA…

That’s the same ballpark as Moyer and Blanton.

Plus, when ex-GM Pat Gillick knew he wouldn’t be able to sign Randy Wolf, he panicked and gave a three-year deal to Adam Eaton.

Remember how well that turned out? Yeah, well it still wasn’t as bad as Moyer, Blanton and Park have been this season.

Yes, the plan is for the Phillies’ staff to pitch better and based on past performance that’s not out of the realm of possibility. Still, what if those guys don’t turn it around? What then? It just seems silly not to take a shot on someone like Pedro Martinez when bigger projects like Eaton, Park and Benson were signed up with seemingly not a second thought.

Vote for Pedro? Shoot, how bad could it be?

*

Note: We’re going to be away from the ballpark for a couple of days while my wife recovers from an appendectomy and pneumonia. As soon as the ol’ girl gets her mojo back, we’ll be back at the ballpark.

Until then… hospital food!

Adam Eaton graphic from The Baltimore Sun

Pedro Martinez anyone?

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Jamie Moyer turned in a quality start on Wednesday night, which is no small feat.  After all, heading into that game nearly every other batter reached base against the 46-year old lefty this month. Moreover, that one ugly inning reared its head again for Joe Blanton on Thursday afternoon.

Just when it looked as if the big right-hander had turned the proverbial corner, up came a couple of bloop hits and a three-run homer to bite Joe in the rear. Just like that and a five-spot was stuck on the board.

Cole Hamels? Yeah, he looks like he’s back to form. And Brett Myers? Sometimes what you see is what you get.

So it goes that if the Phillies are going to parade down Broad Street for a second straight year, they are going to have to get the pitching together. After all, that’s how they did it last year. Sometimes, though, that’s easier said than done. Every team wants pitching and because the quality stuff is spread so thin, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might have to get creative if he wants to bolster up the worst rotation in the Majors.

How creative? We’re not sure. But how is this for an idea…

Pedro Martinez.

Yeah, that’s right… why not take a flyer on Pedro Martinez?

Look, we know all about it. Pedro is 37, he gets hurt a lot and his best days are clearly in the past. Last season for the Mets, Pedro went 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA in 20 starts – clearly the worst season of his big league career and the third season in a row where he missed a significant portion of the season because of injuries.

After going 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA in 2005, Martinez went 17-15 with a 4.74 ERA in 48 starts in three combined seasons. When his contract ended after the Mets choked away another September, they just let him walk away – and so did everyone else for that matter.

But really, Pedro’s worst season ever is still significantly better than what Moyer, Blanton and Chan Ho Park have done this year and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. gave the 46-year-old lefty a two-year deal. It would take significantly less – like a prorated deal for the rest of the season – to bring Martinez on board.

Better yet, if he doesn’t pitch well the Phillies can always say, “Adios.” No harm, no foul.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com That might not be the Phillies style though. Apparently going after someone like Martinez might be thinking waaaaaaaay out of the box. Or was it? Last spring the Phillies took a chance on veteran Kris Benson and when it was clear he couldn’t pitch, they cut him loose. Since then Benson signed on with Texas where he has appeared in four games and has a 7.80 ERA…

That’s the same ballpark as Moyer and Blanton.

Plus, when ex-GM Pat Gillick knew he wouldn’t be able to sign Randy Wolf, he panicked and gave a three-year deal to Adam Eaton.

Remember how well that turned out? Yeah, well it still wasn’t as bad as Moyer, Blanton and Park have been this season.

Yes, the plan is for the Phillies’ staff to pitch better and based on past performance that’s not out of the realm of possibility. Still, what if those guys don’t turn it around? What then? It just seems silly not to take a shot on someone like Pedro Martinez when bigger projects like Eaton, Park and Benson were signed up with seemingly not a second thought.

Vote for Pedro? Shoot, how bad could it be?

*
Note: We’re going to be away from the ballpark for a couple of days while my wife recovers from an appendectomy and pneumonia. As soon as the ol’ girl gets her mojo back, we’ll be back at the ballpark.

Until then… hospital food!

Adam Eaton graphic from The Baltimore Sun

Late-night notes from the win over the Mets

Years from now, when they are putting together the book on Carlos Ruiz, it will show that the catcher picked up his first big-league hit against Pedro Martinez. The Pedro Martinez, as in one of those guys who goes only by a first name like Dean, Sammy, Frank, and Liza.

Just Pedro.

Let the record show it was a hard hit ball to right field in the second inning.

Meanwhile, Ruiz has a pretty strong reputation as a solid receiver behind the plate. After working with him in the past, Ryan Madson said Ruiz is easy to throw to and sets a nice target. Following Tuesday night’s start where he allowed five hits and no walks in eight innings — the longest outing by a Phillies’ starter this season — Brett Myers had nothing but praise for Ruiz.

“We were on the same page and he never caught me before,” Myers said. “He’s not intimidated back there.”

***
Aaron Rowand is still hitting the ball well after his rough first week of the season — does anyone remember that at this point? During this undefeated homestand, Rowand is 9-for-22 with four homers despite claiming that he’s a notoriously slow starter. He also said he was pretty successful in losing a few bad habits he picked up late last year.

Such as?

“Leaning in over the plate.”

A World Champion with the White Sox last year, Rowand said the current winning streak is especially good since the Phillies are doing it so early in the season. After all, the season is a rollercoaster ride filled with peaks and valleys and all of those other fun cliches, right?

“It’s nice to get it early than later when it could be too late,” he said.

Meanwhile, as his hand (the same hand he broke by getting hit by a pitch in ’03) swelled up like a balloon and turned a dark shade of purple in the minutes following his plunking by Pedro in the sixth inning of the win over the Mets, Rowand refused to come out of the game. Fortunately, X-rays came back negative, but for a little while it appeared as if Rowand might have had a significant injury.

And if there is one guy the Phillies DO NOT want to lose, it’s Aaron Rowand. The man is a baseball player.

Still, Rowand said his lone at-bat following getting hit was not fun and he was not looking forward to gripping the bat for another. Luckily for Rowand and the Phillies, Bobby Abreu ended the game with his walk-off E-1.

***
When a game is on, I do not root for one team or another. Instead, I hope for something that will be a good story. The story is what I root for. However, there are quite a few players I like to watch more than others, such as Scott Rolen, Albert Pujols, John Smoltz, Jim Thome to name a few. Of this current crop of Phillies, Aaron Rowand is a very entertaining player to watch… next time you come to the park, watch him position himself on every pitch in center field. He can really play that position well.