No way to the no-no

Dice-k There’s something about no-hitters or near no-hitters
that gets people to remember and talk about all the great pitched games they
have seen. Watch a game like the one Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched on Saturday
night against the Phillies and all those crazy memories come flooding back.

Dice-K came four outs away from throwing a no-hitter
against the Phillies even though the hitters smoked about a half-dozen balls
right at the defense. Finally, it was the No. 8-hole hitter Juan Castro who
broke up the no-no with a soft, broken-bat single over shortstop.

Close but not quite there.

Having seen just one no-hitter and a couple of close
ones, it would have been kind of cool to see Dice-K close it out on Saturday
night even though it would have meant a bunch more work. Considering that Kevin
Millwood’s masterpiece in 2003 was the only one I’ve seen—at any level—sure,
pile it on.

So what were the close ones?

·        
May 30,
1982
— The Blue Jays’ Jim Gott, in the fourth start of his career to get
his first win, went six innings against the Orioles at Memorial Stadium before
turning it over to Roy Lee Jackson to close it out. The only hit was a one-out
single in the fifth by catcher Rick Dempsey, so the game was hardly dramatic.
However, the game was historical because it was the very first game in Cal
Ripken’s epic consecutive games streak.

·         Oct. 6, 1991 — Dave Hollins ended the no-hitter in the second inning with a double, but with six players in their first or second big-league season, plus the strikeout prone Dale Murphy all in the lineup, David Cone had one of those days. Cone got 19 strikeouts against the Phillies and had a chance to tie the all-time record against Wes Chamberlain and Murphy. Oddly, Cone didn't get that 20th strikeout, but he got Ks on the first six outs, struck out the side four times and didn't get a single strikeout in the seventh inning. Still, Cone had a chance to get 20 Ksin his 141-pitch three-hit shutout.

·        
Sept. 26,
2001
— Randy Wolf shuts down the Reds at the Vet on Larry Bowa bobblehead
night. This was back in the days when people would show up to collect their
dolly and then turn around and walk out because they were cynical about the
local ballclub. Nevertheless, this one was less dramatic than the Gott/Jackson
combo piece since the only hit Wolf allowed was to second hitter of the game.
Interestingly, the hit turned out to be the first one in the career of Raul
Gonzalez.

·        
May 10,
2002
— What did you think of Padilla this day? Well, he was pretty good. In
fact, the enigmatic right-hander came four outs away from throwing a no-hitter
against the defending World Champion Diamondbacks at the Vet. The first hit was
a ground-rule double by pinch hitter Chris Donnels that bounced just inside the
chalk line in left field and bounced into that area that jutted out in foul territory.
Padilla was thisclose from getting
it, but the two-hitter might be the best game of his wobbly career.

·        
April 27,
2003
— Kevin Millwood got it done. The part everyone forgets about this one
is that the Giants’ rookie Jesse Foppert tossed a three-hitter in just his
second career start. Fortunately for the Phillies one of those hits was a
leadoff homer from Ricky Ledee. Otherwise, Millwood might have had to go more
than nine innings to get the no-hitter.

·        
May 14, 2003
— This was just a two-hitter for Curt Schilling in his last start ever at the
Vet, but  it was easily the most dominating pitching performance of any game on
this list. David Bell legged out a flared double in the third inning and Bobby
Abreu looped a single in the fifth, but no Phillie made solid contact. Mixed in
with those two hits were 14 strikeouts from Schilling, which wasn’t as
incredible as the fact that he threw 45 pitches that were completely missed by
the Phillies hitters. Not a no-hitter, but it could have been.

·        
July 25,
2004
— That chatty Eric Milton came the closest of anyone to getting a
no-hitter at Citizens Bank Park when the lefty took one into the ninth inning
only to lose it when Michael Barrett got a pop up double when center fielder
Doug Glanville got a bad read and jump on the ball. The weird part was that
manager Larry Bowa put Glanville in for defense in the ninth to replace Ricky
Ledee, who happened to make two really good plays in center field during Kevin
Millwood’s no-hitter as well as in David
Cone’s perfect game in 1999
. Nevertheless, Glanville went on to misjudge
another fly ball in deep center that led to two runs for the Cubs. As a result,
Milton didn’t get out of the ninth, missed out on the win, the shutout and the
no-no. Rough day for Glanville.

·        
April 2,
2008
— How about this… the year the Phillies won the World Series, they lost
the first two games of the season to the lowly Washington Nationals. The Nats
won just 59 games in 2008, which means after the first series of the year they
went 57-101. One of those wins was a combined one-hitter from Tim Redding, Luis
Ayala and Jon Rauch in which the Phillies whiffed only twice and scratched out
just a second-inning single by Pedro Feliz. Worse, Cole Hamels allowed just one
run in eight innings on a homer from Ryan Zimmerman.

Catfish So aside from Kevin Millwood and the time I took a
no-hitter into the final inning of a fifth grade little league game for the
Lancaster Township Phillies against the LT Giants (10 Ks and a run before the
first hit), there really haven’t been too many near misses. Perhaps that’s why
people tend to go a little crazy over no-hitters or why guys like Charlie
Manuel don’t want to see them against his team.

According to Manuel, he has never managed a team that has
been the victim of a no-hitter. Moreover, Chuck says the only time he was on
the losing end of a no-hitter was in the minor leagues against the Cocoa Astros’
ace, Don Wilson.

Now Charlie says the no-hitter against his Orlando Twins
of the Single-A Florida State League was in 1964, but considering the fact that
Wilson only had two starts and one win in ’64, it’s more likely that Wilson’s no-hitter
against Manuel and his teammates was in 1965.

Aside from the minor detail of the year, Charlie
remembers the more important details.

“We had two people in the stands — a scout and a lady
that was selling hot dogs. Seriously,” Charlie said.

No sense selling hotdogs when the only person in the
stands is a scout, right?

“She started giving them away,” he said, noting that he
probably took one considering he didn’t get much in meal money in those days.

“I might have, but I didn’t have any meal money back in
those days,” Charlie said. “Maybe a buck and a half.”

Charlie likes to tell the story about the time he broke
up a no-hitter from Catfish Hunter if it can be called that. No, his story isn’t completely inaccurate, but it wasn’t
the most dramatic setting in baseball history, either. Manuel got Catfish with
a leadoff single in the fifth during a game in Oakland
on April 16, 1972
to start a two-run rally in a Twins’ 3-2 victory over
Catfish’s A’s.

But, technically, yes, Chuck
broke up the no-hitter. However, he might have been the only one to notice what
was happening.

Day 2: Some stuff happened

Pudge INDIANAPOLIS—Just because a guy goes to sleep at night doesn’t mean the world stops spinning on its axis. That’s especially the case here at the baseball Winter Meetings where every old baseball anachronism still holds true.

Oh sure, nearly everyone here as a Twitter and/or Facebook account where updates or musings about the local flavor here in Indianapolis (a bit more about the local history later), and it’s difficult to imagine Jimmy Cannon hunched over his Blackberry with his thumbs racing to tweet some little nugget of news while talking shop with Horace Stoneham.

Go look it up on Wikipedia, kids.

Sure, things have changed a bit when it comes to the media and the coverage of sports (for the better), but even with all the technology things still only get done and reported the old fashioned way. That’s where a little mingling, a hotel lobby and a whole bunch of beer comes in. Gently mix those elements and then back up and watch the tweets fly.

So when I woke up this morning to the sound of a shovel scraping across concrete from beyond windows and walls as thin as graham crackers and the red light blinking on my Blackberry like a lantern or far off beacon, I was able to deduce a lot.

For one, it snowed last night. If it hadn’t, why shovel? And two, something went down in the lobby of the Downtown Marriott.

Oh boy!

From all the tweets and modern plays on the smoke signal, we learned that future Hall-of-Fame catcher (is he?) Ivan Rodriguez agreed to a two-year deal with the Washington Nationals. This is quite interesting considering how bad the Nats are, how old Rodriguez is, and the two years he was offered. Plus, since the Phillies play the Nationals 18 times a season, it means we will see Pudge a lot.

In 2003 when the Marlins slipped past the Phillies to capture the wild card and then the World Series, Rodriguez was integral capturing the MVP of the NLCS as his club upset the Yankees. Better yet, 10 years ago Pudge was the best catcher on the planet. In 1999 he was the MVP of the American League and has posted numbers that align with the likes of Carlton Fisk and Gary Carter.

Still, Rodriguez turned 38 last week and will get a significant raise to be the Nationals’ catcher for the next two seasons at $3 million per year. Just what were the Nats thinking?

Conversely, the fact that Rodriguez is clearly in the twilight of his career, has won an MVP, a World Series, gone to the playoffs with three different teams and the World Series with the Marlins and Tigers while earning well more than nine figures in salary during his career, what in the hell is he doing signing with the Nats?

Really, what the hell is Pudge thinking?

A story from the Washington Post with the headline, “Why Pudge? Why two years?” kind of sums it up.

Meanwhile, one of our all-time favorite guys, Randy Wolf, reportedly has a three-year offer on the table from the Brewers. Three years for a pitcher—particularly one like Wolf—is about the max that any team will go. In fact, Phils’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told us yesterday that he feels, “less comfortable going more than three years on any pitcher.”

Obviously the Brewers really want Wolf, but so do the Mets. Reportedly the offer from the Brewers is approximately $30 million, which means Wolf’s agent Arn Tellem will go back to the Mets and get the auction going.

History All things being equal, I’d go to Milwaukee if I were Wolfie. A guy like him could run that town pretty quickly.

*
Now back to the local history of Indianapolis, or, more specifically, the historical markers sprinkled around town… yeah, they are wacky. Better yet, here in Indianapolis the historical society in charge of posting some rather dubious moments in time aren’t into the whole “window dressing” thing.

It’s as if the subtext of the two markers (directly across the street from the capitol, I might add) photographed and posted on this site are saying, “Some stuff happened a long time ago and, well, it was kind of stupid. But sometimes bad stuff happens, too.”

So to the folks of Indiana, thank you for the transparency. Speaking for all of the old students of American history (if I may be so bold as to take the rostrum), we appreciate your candor.

Meanwhile, tomorrow I will seek out the marker for mass genocide of natives peoples or maybe a plaque for the spot where little Scott Rolen had his SuperGoose BMX bike stolen.

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: 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?

Game 2: Wolf and the cats

wolfieThe Phillies just finished up with batting practice here at the Bank and the Rockies are getting ready to run through their paces before Game 2. Better yet, let’s hope they play the game at a rate comparable to Game 1 where the always efficient and quick-working Cliff Lee kept everything moving.

That was so much better than the debacle that went on in Los Angeles last night where the Dodgers and Cardinals played the longest nine-inning game in NLDS history. It damn-near went on for four hours thanks largely to 30 runners left on base between the teams.

Imagine how frustrating it must have been for the Dodgers and Cardinals to leave all those runners out there. In that regard, the teams were pretty evenly matched, too. The Cards left on 16 and the Dodgers stranded 14, only LA made their hits count a little more in the 5-3 victory.

Nevertheless, right smack dab in the middle of the marathon effort was ex-Phillie turned Dodgers’ Game 1 starter, Randy Wolf. In his first ever playoff game Wolf needed 38 pitches to get through the first inning on his way to 82 in just 3 2/3 innings. Had he been able to get four more outs he would have received the win. Instead, 11 base runners against 11 outs ruined the debut.

That’s a shame, too, because based on past discussions with Wolf, I know how badly he wanted to participate in playoff baseball. Being in the playoffs was his greatest wish in his career and I know it pained him to see both the Dodgers and the Phillies in it last year while he was off playing for Houston.

“I was extremely happy for them,” Wolf said about watching his old team win the World Series, “But I was little jealous, too.”

It’s not like Wolf didn’t have a chance to be a part if the Phillies during the past three seasons. Before testing free agency and going home to California to play for the Dodgers and Padres, Wolf had an offer on the table from the Phillies. In fact, general manager Pat Gillick went to visit Wolf at his home in Los Angeles before the 2007 season to persuade the lefty to re-sign with the Phillies.

Gillick thought he had a chance to get Wolf, too… that was until he saw the cats.

You see, Wolf and his then girlfriend packed up their house in Conshohocken and had it shipped to the other coast. That included the pet cats, which was Gillick’s tip off. If a guy goes as far to move cats 3,000 miles away you can pretty much bet it’s not going to be a round trip.

It’s much easier to lug a dinette set from Pennsylvania to California than it is to wrangle up the cats, get them in a vehicle and take them across the country. Add in a girlfriend and you’re really talking about commitment.

So as soon as Gillick left the pitcher, the girl and the cats in the house in California, he scurried to the airport where he immediately phoned up the agent for Adam Eaton and offered him the deal he was going to give Wolf.

The rest is history.

Game 2: Wolf and the cats

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com The Phillies just finished up with batting practice here at the Bank and the Rockies are getting ready to run through their paces before Game 2. Better yet, let’s hope they play the game at a rate comparable to Game 1 where the always efficient and quick-working Cliff Lee kept everything moving.

That was so much better than the debacle that went on in Los Angeles last night where the Dodgers and Cardinals played the longest nine-inning game in NLDS history. It damn-near went on for four hours thanks largely to 30 runners left on base between the teams.

Imagine how frustrating it must have been for the Dodgers and Cardinals to leave all those runners out there. In that regard, the teams were pretty evenly matched, too. The Cards left on 16 and the Dodgers stranded 14, only LA made their hits count a little more in the 5-3 victory.

Nevertheless, right smack dab in the middle of the marathon effort was ex-Phillie turned Dodgers’ Game 1 starter, Randy Wolf. In his first ever playoff game Wolf needed 38 pitches to get through the first inning on his way to 82 in just 3 2/3 innings. Had he been able to get four more outs he would have received the win. Instead, 11 base runners against 11 outs ruined the debut.

That’s a shame, too, because based on past discussions with Wolf, I know how badly he wanted to participate in playoff baseball. Being in the playoffs was his greatest wish in his career and I know it pained him to see both the Dodgers and the Phillies in it last year while he was off playing for Houston.

“I was extremely happy for them,” Wolf said about watching his old team win the World Series, “But I was little jealous, too.”

It’s not like Wolf didn’t have a chance to be a part if the Phillies during the past three seasons. Before testing free agency and going home to California to play for the Dodgers and Padres, Wolf had an offer on the table from the Phillies. In fact, general manager Pat Gillick went to visit Wolf at his home in Los Angeles before the 2007 season to persuade the lefty to re-sign with the Phillies.

Gillick thought he had a chance to get Wolf, too… that was until he saw the cats.

You see, Wolf and his then girlfriend packed up their house in Conshohocken and had it shipped to the other coast. That included the pet cats, which was Gillick’s tip off. If a guy goes as far to move cats 3,000 miles away you can pretty much bet it’s not going to be a round trip.

It’s much easier to lug a dinette set from Pennsylvania to California than it is to wrangle up the cats, get them in a vehicle and take them across the country. Add in a girlfriend and you’re really talking about commitment.

So as soon as Gillick left the pitcher, the girl and the cats in the house in California, he scurried to the airport where he immediately phoned up the agent for Adam Eaton and offered him the deal he was going to give Wolf.

The rest is history.

Shot from the hip

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Brett Myers joins teammate Chase Utley, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Lowell, Alex Gordon and Carlos Delgado (amongst others) who have (or will) undergo surgery for a torn hip labrum. And that’s just in baseball. Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals and Floyd Landis are two more notable athletes who had hip surgery recently.

That’s not all, either. Hip pain and injuries are the bane of distance runners and soccer players and it appears to have replaced the knee as the injury in baseball.

Of course shoulder injuries in pitchers are the biggest of the big, so the hip has a ways to go to catch up.

Nevertheless, with Myers acknowledging that he has to have hip surgery – whether it’s now or later is to be determined – the question has arisen about all the labral tears and hip surgeries.

What’s the deal with that? Is it something sinister or related to nefarious acts? Are these ballplayers built differently or doing something their predecessors did not?

Well, no.

Ballplayers in the old days had hip injuries and labral tears, too, only back then they called it a groin injury or some other catchall phrase. But with sports medicine and athletic training reaching new heights of insight and with technological advancements of the diagnostics, things like labrum tears and spurs are found much more easily.

Think about how many careers could have been saved if certain players were simply born in a different era. Or think about how much pain some players went through just to play their game. We know that tons of pitchers would have been able to have longer careers if Tommy John surgery had existed before 1975. That’s just one example – what was it like before arthroscopic procedures?

What if Mickey Mantle (for example) would have been able to have modern medical procedures instead of the slicing and dicing he underwent?

Anyway, Myers will need surgery and the consensus from a few medical folks who I described his situation to seem to think he will be best served to have the surgery now instead of later. Of course Myers is going to see Dr. Bryan Kelly, who just might be the Michael Jordan of hip ailments.[1] Clearly Dr. Kelly will steer Myers to the right path.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Nevertheless, a few medical folks seem to think that Myers’ shoulder injury from 2007 might have led to his hip problems. The reason they think this is because of the significant drop in the velocity of his fastball seems to point to Myers pushing off harder with his right leg in order to throw pitches as hard as he did before the shoulder injury. By having the surgery as soon as possible – and hoping that the damage isn’t too bad – Myers could be recovered in time for the stretch run and should be throwing as hard as he once did.

Of course Myers wants to pitch now. The best season of his career came when he pitched out of the bullpen when he pitched nearly every day in September of 2007. His durability was his strength and would have been attractive on the free-agent market this off-season.

The guy likes to pitch and even when he was in pain on Wednesday night, he didn’t want to come out of the game.

Certainly it makes the decision for Myers that much more difficult.

*
I watched Randy Wolf pitch for the Dodgers against the Cubs at Wrigley Field last night and it appears as if the ex-Phillie is finally 100 percent healthy. It was easy to think about Myers and the medical issues he faces when watching Wolf pitch. Several surgeries and lots of perseverance has Wolf looking like the strongest cog in the Dodgers’ rotation.

That 3-1 record and 2.84 ERA and .221 batting-average-against would look sharp for the Phillies these days.

Still, count on the Phillies being active on the rumor mill from here on out.

*
I missed this the other day, but last Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the greatest baseball game ever pitched. That’s when Pittsburgh’s Harvey Haddix, a Phillie for two seasons, threw 12 perfect innings in Milwaukee, gave up a hit in the 13th inning and lost, 1-0.

Boggles the mind.

Anyway, check out Albert Chen’s story on Haddix’s game in the recent SI. The amazing part was the Milwaukee Braves were stealing Pittsburgh’s signs with binoculars and still couldn’t get a hit.


[1] Hey Doctor Kelly… I’m a distance runner who can’t shake the hip tightness and pain. Am I ever going to be fast again? Damn hip!

Who doesn’t love those hacky ‘Where are they now’ pieces?

Ed. note: I forgot to add on the Lance Armstrong part on Friday night… it was added Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m.

SlashWith the news that ex-Phillie Jon Lieber signed a one-year deal to pitch for the Cubs in 2008, it seemed like it would be a fun exercise to see what a few other former Phillies were up to these days.

But in the way of saying adios, muchacho to big Jon, it might be fair to add that his monster truck will probably go over just as well in Chicago as it did in Philadelphia. It should also be mentioned that when Lieber ruptured a tendon in his ankle while jogging off the mound that day in Cleveland last season, gravy poured out and soaked into his sock.

I’m not saying anything, I’m just sayin’.

Nevertheless, all-time favorite Doug Glanville took a break from his real-estate development business near Chicago to write an op-ed piece for The New York Times about why some ballplayers decide to use performance-enhancing drugs. Glanville, obviously, was not a PED user so he can only guess as to why players do what they do. But as an involved member of the players’ union, Glanville didn’t offer much in the way for solutions to the problem. That’s not to say it wasn’t a thoughtful story by Glanville, it’s just that I think we’re way past wondering why players decide to cheat. Perhaps it’s time to accept the fact that with some guys if they are given an inch, they’ll take a yard.

Still, it’s a shame Doug isn’t around anymore. I figured him for a front-office type, but maybe he’s on to bigger work.

***
Elsewhere, Scott Rolen made his introductions to the Toronto baseball writers this week and from all the reports it sounded like it went over as well a Slappy White show – maybe even better than that.

According to reports Rolen joked, joshed and cajoled. Basically, he was the way he always was without the misunderstandings from certain media elements. Oh yeah, neither Larry Bowa nor Tony La Russa showed up, either. That means everyone was in a good mood.

“Hmmn, I didn’t think it was going to come up. That’s surprising,” Rolen answered when asked about his old manager.

Better yet, when given more openings to get in his digs at La Russa, who gave a rambling and bizarre soliloquy on the affair during the Winter Meetings in Nashville last month, Rolen again took the high road.

“I’m not sure if that’s healthy,” he said. “I want to go back to playing baseball, I want to focus all my attention and my competition on the field. Too many times the last year, year and a half, I think that some of the competition, some of the focus was off the field, not on the field where it should stay.”

Buzz & WoodyAside from that, Rolen explained how his three-year old daughter selected his uniform No. 33 for him. It’s kind of a cute story… on another note, my three-year old son has chosen a new name for me — from now on I’m Buzz Daddy Lightyear Finger. I’m going to the courthouse to have it changed next week.

***
How about this for the best story involving a former Phillie… Newly signed San Diego Padre Randy Wolf bought Slash’s house in the Los Angeles’ Hollywood Hills.

Yeah, that Slash.

From what I know about both guys, Randy’s parties might be a little wildier. During my days on the road with Slash all we ever did was visit the local libraries and modern museums of art — If you’ve seen one impressionist, you’ve seen them all.

Again, I’m not sayin’ anything, I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, apparently the joint cost just under $6 million and is approximately 5,500-square feet. There is a pool, a gym, a chef’s kitchen and if I’m not mistaken by looking at the photos, there is a lot wood… Me? I’m an oak man myself.

***
Finally, speaking of guys who know how to party, Lancasterian turned San Diego suburbanite, Floyd Landis, has a full season of racing lined up regardless of the outcome of his appeal to the CAS. According to a published report, Landis will race in the eight-race National Ultra-Endurance Series. Locally, a race is scheduled for July in State College, Pa. in a series that is described as, “old-school mountain biking.”

Yeah.

Meanwhile, Floyd gave a rather revealing interview to the Velo News on Friday where the proverbial gloves came off. Then again, what else is new?

***
Lance & Matt Speaking of cyclists and racing, Lance Armstrong is supposedly running the Boston Marathon in April. Lance qualified with a 2:59 and 2:46 in the past two New York City Marathons, which would likely put him in the starting corral as me — not that Lance is going to have to get up super early to board a bus at the Boston Common for the long ride out to Hopkinton just so he can sit on the cold, wet grass in the Athlete’s Village. Or, Lance can join the multitudes in a long wait in line for one of the port-a-potties that turn the otherwise bucolic setting into into a veritable sea of domed-lidded huts of human waste… complete with that fresh, urinal cake scent.

I wonder if Lance will take a wide-mouthed Gatorade bottle to the starting corral with him, too… you know, just in case.

Yep, that’s marathoning — there are no façades in our sport.

Anyway, it’s cool that Lance is headed to Boston. Perhaps I’ll re-evaluate my spring racing plans and show up, too, if I can find a place to stay… seems as if all the inns and motels are sold out that weekend.

Pickin’ and Grinnin’

Minnie PearlIn doing some research last night I learned that the television program “Hee Haw” was taped at Opryland. Actually, it was just accidental research – I was really looking for pictures of the famous “Hee Haw girls.”

I didn’t find those pictures, but then again I didn’t look too hard. I guess I was struck by the idea that Roy Clark, Buck Owens and Minnie Pearl strutted their so-called “stuff” in the general vicinity where the Tigers traded for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, thus knocking the balance of power in the AL Central completely off kilter.

But Hee-Haw… come on. Back when we had only 12 channels, Hee-Haw was on one of them. That means someone must have liked it. Someone in Kornfield Kounty was doing something right.

On an unrelated note, I listened to an interview by Terry Gross with John C. Reilly this morning on the ol’ podcaster and it was revealed that Reilly viewed a lot of adult-themed movies in preparation for his role in Boogie Nights. Reilly then cleared up the facts and pointed out it wasn’t just for Boogie Nights that he watched a lot of adult-themed films. In fact, he joked (was it?), he watched a lot of those movies to prepare for every role he played.

These days though, Buck, Roy and Minnie don’t have the run of Opryland. At least until Thursday, the world of organized baseball is the talk of the complex. And in that regard, there is a lot of interest amongst the baseball establishment in what kind of stunt the Phillies and general manager Pat Gillick will pull off next. So far the Phillies have left a bit to be desired in the pursuit to bolster the club for another run at the NL East in 2008. They whiffed on Mike Lowell and Randy Wolf and then pulled the ol’ “blessing in disguise” guff afterwards.

That’s mostly because the “I know you are but what am I,” schtick didn’t apply. Hey, that’s about all they have to work with.

In regard to Wolf, though, the Phillies comments/behavior seems especially childish, which for our purposes is fantastic. When Wolf spurned both the Phillies and his ex-GM Ed Wade and the Astros in order to sign an incentive-laden deal to sign with the San Diego Padres, Gillick took a little backhanded swipe at the fan (and media)-friendly lefty.

Gillick said:

“Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. We went after him a couple times, and it didn’t work out last year and this year. So, it’s pretty evident that he doesn’t want to play for our team. If someone doesn’t want to be part of the team, it’s better if he plays somewhere else.”

Frankly, Gillick sounds like a spurned teen-aged boy who after a good-looking girl tells him gently that, “I’m sorry, it’s not going to work out. Your ballpark is much too small and I have my ERA and sanity to look out for,” in turn calls the girl, “ugly.”

So which is it, dude? I thought you liked her (or in this case, Wolfie).

It also seems that Gillick was more interest in his needs and desires and not what someone else might want or need. If a person is genuine and compassionate, they would understand that Wolfie needs to be in San Diego. After all, he is a Southern California kid whose mom can easily make the trip south from Los Angeles to see her son pitch in San Diego. Plus, the Padres have a starting rotation that has Greg Maddux, Jake Peavy and Chris Young. That’s five Cy Young Awards and definitely one Hall of Famer. Warming up for the ninth is Trevor Hoffman, who is known to blow a few from time to time, but he’s saved at least 37 games in every complete season he’s pitched since 1996. That adds up to 524 saves, which is more than everyone ever.

Should we continue on about San Diego? No, well we’re going to anyway. In San Diego it’s a sunny 70 degrees every stinkin’ day of the year. In fact today, as the snow and wind whipped around and made travel and outdoor activities miserable, it was sunny and nearly 70 degrees in San Diego.

San Diego…

Forget the fact that the Phillies’ ballpark is slightly larger than the one in Williamsport, San Diego’s park was the toughest in which to score a run in during 2007. It was also the most difficult to get a hit in and the second most difficult in which to club a homer.

So there’s that, too. But listening to the Phillies it sounds like they are tired of people telling them, “No way… not in that ballpark.”

Or are they?

Tadahito IguchiApparently the Phillies and Tadahito Iguchi met up at the ice cream parlor the other day. It also seems as if those kids had a few things to discuss, too. The Phillies, badly in need of a third baseman (as well as a pitcher or two and a center fielder), could be willing to make a deal with Iguchi for 2008 and beyond. Iguchi, for his part, hit the open market and learned that all the second base slots for the good teams were spoken for. But third base in Philadelphia looks wide open.

But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Because the Phillies released Iguchi after the season (as he wished) and did not offer him salary arbitration or sign him to an extension by Nov. 15, Iguchi would not be able to play for the team until May 15. Iguchi’s agent, Rocky Hall, believes the parties can find a loophole and some juggling and wrangling in order to get by the rule, but then there is that whole collective bargaining thing.

If Iguchi does it, then someone else will do it and then everyone will do it and all we’ll have is anarchy. Is the destruction of labor-management practices in the United States worth all of that just to allow Tadahito Iguchi to play third base?

Sure, the Phillies need a third baseman better than Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs, but I’m siding with the American way.

Just some baseball stuff

According to some reports, Cole Hamels had 160 strikeouts in his first 25 starts (in 145 1/3 innings or 9.91 per nine innings), which is the second most by a left-hander over that span behind Fernando Valenzuela. Of course this doesn’t include his 15-strikeout performance against the Reds last week, or the six strikeouts he had last night in grinding out the win over the Braves.

Speaking of which, the win over the Braves was interesting for a couple of reasons, but mostly because of the way Hamels bounced back after the first and second innings. In those opening frames Hamels gave up seven hits to the first 11 hitters and, more importantly, three runs in the first inning. From watching on my TV (a set that is both falling apart, but artfully decorated with the post-modern crayon musings by a three-year old boy) and based on conversations from folks in the know, it was clear that Hamels had become a bit unhinged after giving up a home run to Chipper Jones in the three-run first.

Hamels also was a little beside himself during last Thursday’s loss to the Washington Nationals at the Bank when he struggled through 5 1/3 innings for his first loss of the season. Yet according to reports, Hamels was put back on track thanks to a visit to the mound by pitching coach Rich Dubee, who asked the lefty if he was on anything.

Yeah?

“He asked me if I was on anything,” Hamels told the writers. “I wasn’t, I just get that way sometimes with my adrenaline.”

As far as the strikeouts go, Hamels only got his first one in the fourth inning in the win over the Braves. He finished with six to give him 43 in his six starts (40 2/3 innings). Only the Padres’ Jake Peavy has more.

***
Also at the top of the strikeout-leaders list is Dodgers’ lefty Randy Wolf, who has 36 strikeouts in six starts and 35 2/3 innings. At 3-3 and riding a two-game losing streak, Wolf has worked into the sixth inning of all his starts, which puts him on pace for 210 innings this season. Wolf needs to pitch 180 innings to have a $9 million option for 2008 kick in.

Speaking of former Phillies, the Dodgers are considering using Mike Lieberthal at third base because of some injuries, poor play and few other options. Lieberthal, of course, has caught more games than any other Phillie in franchise history and hasn’t done anything on the diamond other than squat behind the plate since his junior year of high school.

Whether or not it comes to Lieberthal getting a new glove and standing upright on the field remains to be seen. At this point it seems that the ex-longest tenured Philadelphia athlete is struggling to get used to his new role as a backup catcher. Listen to Lieby tell the Los Angeles Times about the adjustment.

“I miss playing,” Lieberthal said. “That’s the best part of the day.”

***
Brett Myers threw nine of his 11 pitches for strikes in his two-thirds of an inning last night.

In his eight relief outings covering 8 1/3 innings, Myers has thrown 154 pitches, compared to 283 pitches in three games and 15 1/3 innings as a starter. I don’t know what any of this means, though manager Charlie Manuel and Dubee believe that Myers is still easing into his new role.

“He’s using up a lot of adrenaline right now because it’s so new to him,” Dubee told Courier-Post raconteur, Mike Radano.

For some reason it still makes sense to me to have Myers go for a four, five or six-out save on occasion even though Manuel seems to be locked in to using his players in well-defined roles. Until it’s proven to me that Myers can’t be like old-school closers like Bruce Sutter and pitch more than one inning, I’m always going to think it should be an option from time to time.

***
Phil Sheridan of the Inquirer columnized about the death of Josh Hancock and Tony La Russa’s “agenda.” According to reports it appears that Hancock might have been impaired while driving at the time of his accident. Meanwhile, La Russa was arrested for DUI during spring training and still awaits misdemeanor charges.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, La Russa “has declined questions about his arrest since making a brief statement to media hours after being released.” Asked about whether his manager should be more aggressive when dealing with such issues since his DUI arrest, Cardinals’ GM Walt Jocketty told the paper, no.

“Personally, I don’t think so. I see how he deals with things. I think he would tell a player, ‘Look, it could happen to anybody. It happened to me. You’ve got to be careful how you conduct yourself.’”

Either way, it seems to that this would be a good chance for Major League Baseball to do something bold or Tony La Russa to take a stand… or both.

Getting his work in

Whenever the subject about workouts and running came up, Randy Wolf’s ears would always prick up. Why not? Like any competitive athlete, Wolf was always looking for an edge. If he could pick up a little something here or there and add it to his repertoire, it was even better.

I had the chance to talk about my running workouts with Wolf more than a few times over the years and it was easy to tell he was not only interested in long-distance running, but also had a passion for it. A nice, 10-miler was a routine run during the off-season, but mostly, though, he was interested in the volume that elite-level marathoners put in, as well as the types and workout schedules. Better yet, we both had a good chuckle when one writer was gushing over how “tough” Roger Clemens’ workout routine and couldn’t hide his smirk when I finally butt in with a, “Dude, that’s not very hard… ”

I have what I like to call bleephole tendencies. Hey, what are you going to do?

Anyway, I recall a conversation in August of last season where Wolf and I talked about interval sessions and the kind of stuff I did in preparing for a marathon. Like anything with Wolf, it was an informed and well-thought question and, frankly, the first time that a non-competitive runner asked specifically about something as intricate interval sessions.

As a marathoner, I said, I liked to do repeats of a mile to 5 kilometers with longer intervals when preparing for a race. At the time, longish tempo runs were what I was focusing on, which really isn’t a big help to a baseball player – it’s not a big deal for a pitcher to hit a 5k in 16:30 or a 10-miler in 58 flat. But for a marathoner, I explained, I emulated the surges that would occur in a race.

Wolf, though, wanted to know about quarters, which is something I really disliked doing. Oh I did them all right; it’s just that any workout on the track kind of scared the hell out of me. To me the track means speed, and speed kills hamstrings. Plus, stepping on a track wearing spikes meant business. There is no such thing as messing around on a track. It’s easy to go out and run for two hours without stopping where one can allow their thoughts and legs take them to wherever the mood takes them, but a track – that’s like stepping into a boxing ring.

Anyway, I told Wolf that I used to try to do 20 quarters in 70 to 75 seconds with a float around the track for the rest. Another one I “liked” to do was three miles of sprinting the straights and floating the curves. Rob de Castella, the badass Australian marathoner, used to do that one.

Wolf had to leave before we could get deep into the details of intervals sessions and exactly what he was looking for, but I think I figured it out after reading Jayson Stark’s great piece on ESPN.com where Wolf goes through his daily workout routine.

Even though we don’t know how fast he hits his quarters, it’s really a fascinating read and more fantastic work from the great Jayson Stark.

Here’s the quote I liked:

“I want to be in baseball shape,” he says. “I’m not going to run a marathon or be a decathlon athlete. I’m training to have 35 starts, hopefully more than that [if his team makes the playoffs]. That’s what I’m training to do. And I think there were times during the season where I lost my stamina because I didn’t listen to my body. I’d go too hard, too hard, too hard, and then I’d fade out. …

“Back when I was 22, 23, 24 years old, I was big into running and keeping in shape that way, and I wouldn’t change my routine. I was still into running five, six miles. And then all of a sudden, I’m in the sixth inning and my legs were dead, and I’d have no idea why. I realize now I was just working too hard the days I was not pitching.”

Truth be told, I could read about different workouts all day long. Not only is there a possibility of picking up something new, but also it’s really, really motivating.

The running though, is about all there is in common. Instead of the weights, I attempt yoga, which I sure is a treat to see. People like me make the Tin Man look limber. Wolf’s workout is for athletes and it appears as if the Dodgers have found themselves a good one.

Do the right thing

Let’s start with a clerical thing – starting on Dec. 1 I am going to go into “Holiday Mode.” That means the posts here are will drop to just two or three per week as opposed to the veritable Odyssey and the Iliad that gets posted in manic spurts. Oh, I’ll be working for the first couple of weeks of the month before using up the last of my vacation days of 2006, but there will be other things happening that need my attention. I’ve been neglecting a few more “serious” writing endeavors and I want make some headway before the end of the year.

On another note, the running and training site will continue to be update with the same alacrity as always. Feel free to dive in and laugh at me.

Now, on to our regularly scheduled drivel…

According to the dispatches from the coast, Dodgers fans are excited about landing Randy Wolf and have given him special, sloppy kudos for agreeing to a deal for less years and guaranteed money to pitch in front of his friends and family in Los Angeles.

Of course Wolf will get $7.5 million for 2007 with an easy-to-reach vesting option for $9 million if he pitches 180 innings. Should Wolf remain healthy – and there is no indication to think he won’t be – the lefty believes he’s getting a two-year deal to go home.

Then again, despite the inflated free-agent market this winter, it’s not as if deals like the one Wolf got are growing on trees. At least they don’t give them to guys who write sentences.

“I’m not being paid minimum wage,” Wolf said. “It wasn’t about how many years I could get, how many dollars I get.”

Better yet:

“You can’t live your life for somebody else,” he said. “You have to do what’s right.”

Besides, Wolf always said the biggest thing for him was to “experience baseball in October.” With a new team that has done just that for the past two seasons in a row, the former Phillie just might get his chance.

Standing with the Inky & DN
Speaking of doing what’s right, let’s interject a little business with the baseball. Now I’m definitely no expert on business matters and things of that nature. If I was, well… you know.

Anyway, there is a strong chance that the writers at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News could go out on strike at midnight on Thursday. Certainly, there are many intricate details that complicate matters, but the potential strike is bad for everybody.

It’s especially bad for a business that is making money. In fact, newspapers routinely turn in double-digit profit margins despite the changing landscape of the media. Again, I’m not expert, but it seems as if only casinos, certain elements of the entertainment industry and the Cosa Nostra consistently turn in profit margins like newspapers.

Yet across the country newsroom layoffs continue to occur at an alarming rate. Again, I’m not expert, but when did making a profit become so bad that it costs people livelihoods and careers?

Is it a simple issue of greed? Do the owners of newspapers believe the bottom line supercedes the public interest and the sanctity of our democracy? Sure, it might sound a bit dramatic, but trust me, it’s not. Without a resourceful and free press, the United States does not exist.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I believe in capitalism as it relates to a person’s liberty and labor. If someone can build a better mousetrap, have a special skill and/or work hard, they should be rewarded. But at the same time there is a way to do this with ethics and honor.

From what I can decipher from the newspapers an their double-digit profit margins is that if the world is a rat race it’s OK to be a rat.

Anyway, I’ll be rooting for a swift and painless settlement for the Inky/DN as soon as possible. There are some very hard-working, intelligent and kind people who work for our local papers of record. Let’s hope they keep on putting out their newspaper.

No way, Joe
Like Sandy Alomar a couple of years ago, a potential free agent signing for the Phillies appears to have hit a snag.

According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the Phillies have “backed away” from a multi-year offer to relief pitcher Joe Borowski because of concerns over his right shoulder following the results of a physical.

According to Crasnick’s report, the Phillies were prepared to sign Borowski when a team doctor examined the results of the physical and advised against giving the pitcher a multi-year deal.

However, the report says that Borowski and his agents continue to field one-year offers from teams, including the Phillies.

The right-handed Borowski, 35, saved 36 games in 2006 for the Marlins and was eyed by the Phillies as a set-up man for closer Tom Gordon. Manager Charlie Manuel is one the record saying he would like to have a set-up man who worked as a closer in the past.

Despite appearing in 72 games in 2006 and saving 33 games for the Cubs in 2003, Borowski has struggled with shoulder trouble in 2004 and 2005 before rebounding with the Marlins.

Eaton returns as Wolf goes home

It’s hard to write about Randy Wolf and his move home to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers without doing some sad self-introspection. Baseball players, of course, come and go. There have been thousands of them to pass through Philadelphia and there will likely be thousands more. It’s the same everywhere.

A few leave a mark either on the field or off and Randy Wolf was one of those guys. Engaging, reasonably intelligent and always thoughtful are tough characteristics to find in most baseball clubhouses these days. To find a guy who encompasses all three is like finding a specific needle in a stack of needles.

Engaging, for a writer, is the important trait. It didn’t matter whether Wolf was pissed off after a poor outing or had somewhere to go after the game, he always treated a questioner with patience and respect.

Certainly it’s hard not to be excited for Wolf, who gets to pitch for his hometown team where his mom, family and friends can come see him pitch as often as possible. The fact that Wolf reportedly turned down better offers – including a multi-year deal from the Phillies – to go home speaks to how important it was to go home. Sure, he has made his money and will be paid a handsome salary with easy-to-reach incentives if he stays healthy, but another good person has taken less to go somewhere else.

“The Phillies were very competitive,” Wolf told reporters. “I felt that they were competitive with any offer out there. But it was just a matter of the Dodgers being the right opportunity. To me, it wasn’t about trying to get the most money. It was important for me to have the opportunity that I didn’t know would ever come up again.

“I could have gone to the highest bidder. But for me, going to the highest bidder wasn’t as important as going to the place I was from. I grew up in the L.A. area and have many fond memories of going to Dodger Stadium with friends and family.”

Figuring out how to keep certain players in town is a headier project for another time.

Regardless, the part I’m struggling with is that Randy Wolf was the last player remaining on the Phillies from the first day I stepped into that damp and dark clubhouse in Veterans Stadium. I arrived on the scene about a week before Pat Burrell was finally called up from Scranton and months before Jimmy Rollins got his September call up and Terry Francona his September pink slip.

Scott Rolen, Robert Person, Bruce Chen, Brandon Duckworth, Brian Hunter, Nelson Figueroa, Omar Daal, Mike Lieberthal, Doug Glanville, Dave Coggin, Chris Brock, Eric Valent, Johnny Estrada, Todd Pratt, Amaury Telemaco, Wayne Gomes, Joe Roa, Jeremy Giambi, Eric Junge, Rheal Cormier, Bobby Abreu, Placido Polanco, Cory Lidle, Larry Bowa, Ricky Ledee, David Bell, Marlon Byrd, Tyler Houston, Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Turk Wendell, Dan Plesac, Jason Michaels, Billy Wagner and Travis Lee…

All gone.

So Wolf heading for Los Angeles there are no more ballplayers who have been with the Phillies since the middle of the 2000 season.

If I didn’t know any better I’d say I’m getting old.

Eaton returns
I’m so old that I remember when Ed Wade traded away the team’s top pitching prospects, Adam Eaton and Carlton Loewer, for the surly and underachieving Andy Ashby. At the time Wade defended the deal by claiming the Phillies’ wild-card hopes for 2000 were directly pinned on Ashby coming through at the top of the rotation with Curt Schilling not due back to the rotation until May after undergoing off-season surgery. In theory Wade was correct. The Phillies needed a top-of-the-rotation starter to compliment Schilling, but that guy wasn’t Ashby.

That didn’t take long to figure out.

Ashby was traded to Atlanta by June for Bruce Chen, who lasted slightly longer than a season in Philadelphia before starting his collection of used uniforms.

Nevertheless, Eaton takes Wolf’s spot in the rotation even though the duo should have worked together for the past half decade.

Better late than never, right?

Though not officially official, Eaton is signed on for the next three seasons, which isn’t so bad. Just 29, Eaton will be heading into his prime years during his deal with the Phillies. Wolf should be coming into his prime, too, but Eaton should be slightly better… then again, pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery are typically better the second year.

We’ll definitely have the chance to see how it all unfolds.

No Lee, no way
It turns out that the Phillies only had a cursorily interest in slugger Carlos Lee before he signed a six-year deal worth $100 million with the Hoston Astros last week. According to what general manager Pat Gillick told wunderkind Phillies writer Todd Zolecki, the Phils never had a shot.

“We weren’t in on him,” Gillick said in The Inquirer.

To that we say, “Why the hell not”?

Well…

“It’s like musical chairs,” Gillick told Zolecki. “You don’t want to be stuck without a chair… . I’m optimistic about the potential of some of the things we’re talking about. I just think we’ve had some good dialogue back and forth, both in trades and in free agency. We’ve had some good talks.

“There wasn’t a lot of depth in this market. You had Soriano and Carlos Lee. You have Zito and Schmidt. After you get by that group, there’s not a lot there.”

On another note, the Phillies signed a third-base coach. If the newly-hired Steve Smith makes it through the first full week of December he’ll already be on the job longer than the last guy.

Et tu, Wolfie?

It wouldn’t be outlandish to believe that Randy Wolf’s future in Philadelphia disappeared as soon as the ink dried on soon-to-be 44-year-old lefty Jamie Moyer’s two-year, $10.5 million (plus incentives) contract signed on Monday afternoon. After all, with Moyer signed on until he’s Julio Franco’s age and 23-year old Cole Hamels a cog in the rotation for the next 15 years, why would the Phillies need another lefty like Wolf in the rotation?

Besides, the Phillies play their home games in a ballpark notorious for being especially friendly to right-handed hitters (lefties, too), so going after the NL East title with 60 percent of the rotation made up of southpaws might not be the best plan of attack.

Or would it?

Sometimes, though, things aren’t as easy as they appear. Even with lefties Moyer and Hamels set for a rotation with righties Brett Myers and Jon Lieber, it seems as if general manager Pat Gillick isn’t ready to let Wolf walk away just yet.

“We’d like to bring Wolfie back,” said Gillick, noting that the Phillies have been in contact with Wolf’s representatives. “We think his arm is fine and we think he’s going to get better. Jamie and I had a conversation in Seattle about three left-handers in the rotation, and we liked the thought of that. We’re hopeful that Randy will come back. We’d like to have the same five guys that we had last year. I look at it as a better rotation than we started ’06 with. We think bringing Randy back will be a nice way to round out the rotation and start 2007. Hopefully, something will work out.”

Wolf, of course, is eligible to test free agency this winter after completing a four-year, $22 million deal. He also made a return from Tommy John surgery to reconstruct his left elbow in late July and made 12 starts in 2006. Though he was 4-0, Wolf, 30, tossed just 56 2/3 innings for a 5.56 ERA, while allowing hitters to hit .285 against him. Despite that, Gillick believes Wolf was making strides in his return from the injury and was beginning to re-establish his velocity as evidenced in his nearly seven strikeouts per nine innings.

Besides, pitchers returning from Wolf’s injury usually regain their pre-surgery form – and then some – in the second year following surgery. By that rationale, Wolf, and maybe even the Phillies, should expect big things in 2007.

Wolf has stated that he would like to return to Philadelphia for a bunch of reasons. One being that the Phillies drafted him, signed him and gave him the big contract before the 2003 season. More importantly, Wolf wants to be “playing baseball in October,” which might not be such a stretch after back-to-back near misses in 2005 and 2005.

Meanwhile, Moyer will solidify the back end of a rotation that was a problem for the Phillies in 2006. Gavin Floyd, Ryan Madson, Scott Mathieson, Eude Brito, Aaron Fultz and Adam Bernero were thrust into starting roles to varying degrees of mediocrity last season.

Needless to say, if the Phillies are able to add Wolf to the mix with the inning-eater Moyer, the team will have very few surprises in ’07.

What some find surprising is that Moyer, who will turn 44 on Nov. 18, drew a two-year deal from the Phillies. Yes, the Phillies held a $4.75 million option for Moyer the upcoming season, but the St. Joseph’s University alum and Sellersville, Pa. native now calls Seattle home. Gillick believed that Moyer would have been able to find a one-year deal closer to home and had to sweeten the pot a bit in order to keep the 20-year veteran in Philadelphia.

“I certainly felt that if Jamie got out on the marketplace, there was certainly a club out there that was going to give him one year, and there was a possibility that they would give him two years,” Gillick said. “He was important to us not only on the field, but the intangibles in the clubhouse. We wanted him back. I felt that we’d have to step up with more than one year. We think we worked out a situation that is a win-win for both sides. We’re really elated that Jamie re-signed with the Phillies for two years.”

Moyer was something of a de facto pitching coach for the Phillies when he joined the club after the trade with the Mariners, tutoring Wolf and Hamels as well as other teammates on the finer points of the game he picked up over the past two decades.

But more than that, the Phillies prospects for getting to the playoffs for the first time since 1993 enticed Moyer. So did the Phillies’ special considerations to Moyer’s family situation where the pitcher can leave the team to go to Seattle to be with his wife and six children when the team’s schedule permitted.

But unlike the deal Roger Clemens had with the Astros in which he only really had to show up for games he was slated to pitch, Moyer won’t do it that way.

“The last six weeks of the season were tough on us as a family,” Moyer said. “I can’t thank the Phillies enough for being understanding, and I’m sure my teammates will understand. I’m not here to take advantage of that situation. I won’t be missing road trips. I won’t be picking and choosing what trips I go on. Personally, I can’t do that.”

Most importantly, Moyer believes he isn’t just durable, but he can still pitch, too. At least that’s the way it seemed when he joined the Phillies for the stretch run in August. In eight starts after the trade Moyer worked into the seventh inning in seven of his eight outings on his way to piling up his sixth straight 200-plus innings season and eighth in his last nine years. His 211 1/3 innings in 2006 were the fifth-most by a pitcher at least 43 years old in baseball history.

“I’m trying to be honest with myself,” Moyer said. “At some point in time, it’s going to be the end, but right now I haven’t seen any signs. I still enjoy playing, and I still have the passion to play. I still feel like I can contribute, and as long as I have opportunities to do that, why not? Playing allows me to feel like a kid.”

Why not, indeed.

All hands on deck

The easy part about baseball is second-guessing. Sometimes, second-guessing the moves made throughout a game is also the most fun part of watching a game.

But if there is one thing that’s evident is that managers and coaches HATE being second-guessed. I can’t say I blame them. Who wants some smart-alecky guy who can watch the game high in a perch above the field with TV monitors and a laptop at the ready to look up any information needed?

Back when he was managing the Yankees, Billy Martin always had a direct answer for any questioner challenging his moves. When asked why he made a certain move, Billy invariably said: “Because I’m the bleeping manager, that’s why.”

Billy Martin was Charlie Manuel’s first manager in the big leagues back when he came up for the Minnesota Twins in the late 1960s, and the Phillies’ skipper has – from time to time – recited Billy’s old line, though with less colorful language.

That said, since Manuel is the manager and his decisions are what they are, I’m curious about some of the choices the skipper made for his bullpen in last night’s game as it extended into extra innings. Knowing that the Dodgers had won in Colorado and a loss would send the Phillies to two games off the pace with just four games to go, I’m surprised Manuel remained so compartmentalized and rigid with his use of the bullpen.

How so? Didn’t he use the reliever he had? Well, yes and no. He used Clay Condrey, who pitched great, and Fabio Castro, who was shaky in notching his first big-league save, but what about Randy Wolf? Why couldn’t Wolf be used in the ‘pen?

Wolf pitched Monday night in Philadelphia and is slated to go on Saturday in Miami, but when the Dodgers won and the game went into extra innings, it was all hands on deck as far as I was concerned. Plus, since there is talk of Wolf being bumped from his next start so that the Phillies can move up Brett Myers and Cole Hamels to pitch on short rest, perhaps it would have been smart to get the starter ready.

Then again, the game only lasted 14 innings. Perhaps Wolf was going to pitch from the 15th inning on?

Observations with 10 games to go

Based on just looking around and listening, here are a few observations about the surging Phillies:

  • After injuries and other maladies curbed his first handful of pro seasons, it finally looks as if Cole Hamels is going to make to the end of one unscathed. Who would have guessed that Hamels first full season would come in the big leagues?

    Be that as it may, Hamels is 6-3 with a 2.67 ERA over his last 10 starts, so it seems as if he’s getting stronger. According to his teammates, he’s just the same old Cole.

    “That’s his personality,” catcher Chris Coste said. “He’s strong minded. He knows what he can do. Whether it’s the middle or July or the seventh game of the World Series, he’s the same guy. That’s just the way he is. Whether it’s a playoff game or a game like this one, he’s the guy you want on the mound.”

    Said fellow lefty Randy Wolf: “He has one of the three best changeups in baseball.”

    Johan Santana is at the top of that list, according to Wolf.

  • Trading for Jamie Moyer and Jeff Conine was a masterstroke by general manager Pat Gillick and his assistant Ruben Amaro Jr. Forget what those guys are doing on the field, it’s in the clubhouse where the influence is really important.

    Moyer and Conine, both 40 and over, are two classic lead-by-example guys, who have shown the youngsters on the Phillies how to prepare and get into the right frame of mind to play. Both guys are intense, they do their homework, and they bring an organic intensity to every task. Moyer and Conine are not in Philadelphia to goof around – they’re here to win.

    In 2003 the Marlins picked up Conine for the stretch run and he helped his team hammer the Phillies to win the wild-card and contributed to the World Series run. More important than his home runs to beat the Phillies was the attitude he brought to the Marlins. I remember Juan Pierre watching how the veteran prepared every day and said he was afraid to talk to Conine because, “He always looks like he’s mad.”

    It turns out Conine wasn’t mad. He’s just hungry.

  • Yeah, there are nine games left and the Phillies are as close to a playoff berth as they have been since 1993. Every victory puts them just a tiny bit closer. However, I still don’t feel it yet. Maybe it’s from watching too many Phillies games over the years, but I’m going to wait until the very end and reserve judgment.
  • Be that as it may, I think the Padres will win the NL West. Call it a hunch.
  • Speaking of Baseball Prospectus, here’s something interesting from Will Carroll’s injury column that could have some bearing on this weekend’s series:

    Miguel Cabrera has missed a couple games with a strained shoulder, the result of an awkward lunge at an outside pitch. Cabrera’s injury isn’t considered serious, but could keep him out for the rest of the season. The team is focused on getting past the controversy surrounding their manager and one way to do that would be finishing at or above .500. Cabrera’s return might well be tied to the chances of hitting that magic number. The MVP candidate should have no long-term concerns from the injury.

    Carroll’s column is stellar stuff, though Howie Bryant’s steroids-in-baseball book was far superior to Carroll’s.

  • I play hunches, but at BP they use science. Here are the latest postseason odds as generated by the folks at BP simulating the final 10 games of the season a million times:

    Phillies are on pace to win 84.1 games, which gives them a 46.53874 percent chance to win the wild card. However, the Padres (85.4 victories) and the Dodgers (84.7), still rate above the Phillies.

    Can you say playoff game in Philadelphia on Oct. 2?

  • Wolf makes strides

    Rehabbing starting pitcher Randy Wolf had his strongest and longest outing on his path back to the Majors on Saturday for Double-A Reading. In picking up the win for the Phillies, the lefty worked five innings where he allowed six hits, three runs (two earned), two walks to go with four strikeouts. Most importantly, Wolf threw 95 pitches in Reading’s 12-5 victory over Connecticut.

    Recovering from Tommy John surgery performed on July 1, 2005, Wolf is expected to return to the Phillies during the first week of August.

    Wolf update

    Randy Wolf turned in his worst statistical outing in his three rehab starts for Double-A Reading tonight. His line:

    3 2/3 IP
    6 H
    6 R
    6 ER
    2 BB
    5 K
    71 pitches
    46 strikes

    Until we get the chance to chat with Wolfie, it’s unfair to call this a setback but the numbers don’t look too good.

    Can of corn

    Randy Wolf suffered a setback during his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery on Tuesday afternoon. While pitching for Single-A Clearwater, Wolf was struck by a line drive between the fourth and fifth knuckles of his left (pitching) hand during the third inning of his outing. Wolf immediately left the game and was taken to Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater, Fla. To be examined.

    A prognosis is not yet known.

    Wolf allowed four hits and a walk without a run in 2 2/3 innings before getting hit with the liner. The lefty whiffed two during his short stint.

    Also on the injury front, Mike Lieberthal had an MRI on his injured hip on Monday that confirmed that he did, indeed, have a strained hip. There is still no word on when the catcher will return to action.

    Ditto on starting pitcher Jon Lieber, who did some light running and walking before Tuesday night’s game against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park. Lieber is out with an injured groin and has yet to throw from the mound. It does not appear as if his return to action is imminent.

    Starting assignment
    Charlie Manuel and the team’s brass have no decided on a starting pitcher for Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, though the skipper says he has “two or three” pitchers in mind.

    But according to sources and speculation, it seems likely that Gavin Floyd could be recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to pitch in Saturday’s game.

    Floyd was demoted two weeks ago after an outing in Los Angeles where he surrendered three homers and seven runs in four innings of a loss against the Dodgers. In 11 big league starts this season, Floyd had a league worst 7.29 ERA and a 4-3 record. The tall righty allowed 70 hits and 14 homers in 54 1/3 innings.

    However, in two starts in Triple-A, Floyd has rebounded a bit by racking up 17 strikeouts and a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings.

    Phils’ Wolf Searching for the One That Got Away

    NEW YORK — You know that commercial where two young, hip-looking 20-somethings angrily bump into each other on a subway platform and then realize, as they catch a glimpse of each other that true love may have just walked onto the No. 7 train? The ad ends with the sultry young woman writing her phone number on the fogged up window of the train… it’s a gum commercial or something.

    Anyway, something like that kind of happened to Randy Wolf at Grand Central Station before Thursday afternoon’s game at Shea Stadium, but with one big catch — the lefty didn’t get the number and now he needs some help.

    Here’s what happened:

    On his way to Shea Stadium, Wolf met a woman he knows only as Liz at the Grand Central Station terminal as he was heading to the subway. It seems as if Liz was lost and confused about how to get to Times Square, so Wolf — despite being a Californian, but being a friendly guy — gave her a hand.

    Along the way, Liz and Randy struck up a conversation before each hopped on trains heading in opposite directions.

    If only he had acted sooner.

    Ah, but there is still a chance for Cupid’s arrow to deliver its intent. So smitten was Wolf that he could describe Liz’s outfit from head to toe — brown suede bell bottoms and a black coat, with brown hair and brown eyes — and he wants to get the word out that he wants to meet her again. In fact, he was even considering taking out an ad in one of the New York papers.

    So, if young Liz is out there and is interested in meeting up with that helpful 6-foot, 180-pound gentleman she met on the train on Thursday who enjoys movies, music, the beach and recently signed a four-year, $22 million contract, she should contact Randy through the Phillies public relations department at pubrel@phillies.com.

    E-mail John R. Finger