The game that wasn’t

Wilson Note: Here's what happened… to anticipate the end of a game, we writerly types work ahead. That's how newspaper guys beat their deadlines and how us web dudes get stories online seconds after the final pitch. Needless to say, this practice can often create headaches if an unforeseen rally or comeback occurs.

In those situations it's not unusual to hear someone shout across the press box, "REWRITE!" That's actually old-timey talk, but it has a better ring to it than, "Highlight, delete!"

So on Wednesday night I had been working ahead and put together a skeleton of a story to fo as soon as the Phillies-Reds game was to end in the 10th inning. The plan was to send the story, gather some quotes and sprinkle them in while changing around some of the details that reflect the mood of the team or the scene in the clubhouse.

Since the Phillies' clubhouse is typically a ghost town after games, that leaves us with cobbling together a quote or two.

Anyway, before Ryan Howard belted a solo home run to tie the game in the 10th before it went to 19 innings and the wee hours of the morning, I came up with this story — compare it to the one I filed after 3 a.m.

This one is about the game that never really happened.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

By John R. Finger

If there is one thing the Phillies’ pitchers learned about the first three games of the four-game set is that when Jay Bruce strolls to the plate, they should run and hide.

Just run and hide.

For the second night in a row, Bruce came up in a key spot with the game on the line only to deliver a crushing base hit. Actually, in Wednesday night’s 4-3 victory over the Phillies, Bruce had two clutch hits in the late innings.

One to tie and one to win.

The game-winner was a solo homer off reliever Antonio Bastardo that barely cleared the chain-linked fence above the out-of-town scoreboard. That shot—Bruce’s 13th of the season and second of the series—was the one that sent most of the sellout crowd at the Bank scurrying for the exits.

Regardless, it was Bruce’s other big hit on Wednesday night that did the most damage.

It was a situation that Roy Halladay has been through a few times since joining the Phillies, yet always seemed to come out alright on the other side.

image from With one out with the bases loaded in a two-run game and the heart of the Reds’ order due up in Wednesday night’s tilt at the Bank, Halladay was in a precarious spot, but not one that had too many folks worried. After all, this was Roy Halladay on the mound. Who cared if the Reds had already bashed out 10 hits in the seventh inning?

So after putting away cleanup hitter Scott Rolen on four pitches, Halladay got ahead quickly on Jay Bruce with three fastballs. The end was one pitch away for Halladay and the Phillies. No way was Halladay going to give up a two-run lead with two outs and two strikes on a hitter.

But Bruce wasn’t just some ordinary hitter. In fact, he may be the hottest hitter going these days. Not only did he have 13 hits and nine RBIs in his last 26 at-bats heading into that showdown against Halladay, but also clubbed a bases-loaded double with two outs in the ninth inning of a tie game just the night before.

Bruce got out in front of the two-strike changeup ever-so slightly — just enough to bounce the ball away from the grasp of second baseman Wilson Valdez and into right field for the game-tying single.

That shows just how good Bruce has been. If he can wrst away a two-run lead from Halladay, with the way he has been pitching, then maybe that run and hide advice isn't too far off.

Up next: The Phillies close out the four-game series with the Reds, as well as the nine-game homestand, on Thursday afternoon with a 1:05 p.m. start. Cliff Lee (3-4, 3.38) will take the mound against righthander Homer Bailey (3-1, 2.08).

Lee is coming off his first win in more than a month where he spun a five-hitter with 10 strikeouts in a 2-0 victory over the Texas Rangers. In eight career starts against the Reds, lee is 4-2 with a 4.69 ERA, however, last June the lefty tossed a complete-game shutout while pitching for the Mariners.

2010: The year of Roy, Lee and crazy endings

Halladay_sf Note: For all intents, this will be the last installment for 2010 and as such we here at The Food would like to extend hearty December wishes to all our supporters, friends, colleagues and even the haters. All of these folks made 2010 a pretty interesting year and we’re hoping 2011 can be just as good. So for now, see you soon and be ready for some cool things to come, including the reemergence of The Podcast of Awesomeness in early January.

I don’t like end of the year lists. In fact, I loathe them. Yeah… loathe. It’s not a normal thing for people to dislike, especially one in the business of recounting things that already happened. Weird, right?

Maybe it’s something about the passage of time that gets some people like me down. Another year slips by, another year older, another missed chance. Or perhaps the veritable annual list is the refuge of the hack, kind of like the post-game or post-season report cards? List and report cards? Lame.

Thing is, I enjoy reading a list from time to time. When done well or uniquely, they can be fascinating. Chances are this won’t be one of them, but alas, I’m saving my ideas for something else.

So, without any more blathering on, here are some lists of a pretty remarkable year that is all but gone.

Best big-time performance nearly everyone forgot about

Roy Halladay vs. San Francisco in Game 5 of NLCS

Undoubtedly, 2010 was a pretty big year for Roy Halladay. In fact, Halladay also should be the top of a list for both elbowing a big event out of the way (perfect game in Miami on the same day as Game 1 of the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Finals), while also being shoved out of the limelight (Donovan McNabb was traded to Washington the night before his debut with the Phillies in Washington). The fact is Halladay did everything for the Phillies except for a World Series victory, but we have to figure that the addition of Cliff Lee to the pitching rotation should remedy that.

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Does Cliff Lee make the Phillies one of the best teams ever?

Lee_phils There was a stretch last September where the Phillies went on a run to cripple the rest of the NL East, winning 11 games in a row and 22 of 26 in which the team showed glimpses of something otherworldly. It was thanks to that streak that the Phillies erased a seven-game deficit in the standings and turned it into a seven-game advantage faster than one could say, “The Big Three.”

Led by the starting rotation made up of aces Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, most of the players in the clubhouse were playing for the best team ever. At least that’s what they said.

“Definitely. We’re better all around – less question marks. Not that question marks ever bothered us because we like to prove skeptics wrong, but coming into this year there were only one or two things people were iffy about,” said Jimmy Rollins, the longest tenured player on the team. “Then we had a great acquisition in little Roy [Oswalt] and that took the pressure off of Cole [Hamels], and then Roy [Halladay] took the pressure off of everybody. He just came in and shut the door. Lights out.”

Still, it’s tough to label the team the best ever if it didn’t win the championship, and despite a postseason where the pitching staff posted a 2.37 ERA, got 80 strikeouts in 79 2/3 innings and had two shutouts, a near shutout, and a no-hitter, the ending was quite disappointing.

So rather than keep Jayson Werth on an offense that was frustratingly maddening during the season and playoffs, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. did the next logical move and backed up a Brinks’ truck on Cliff Lee’s front lawn. Apparently the Phillies plan for 2011 is if they aren’t going to score many runs, then the other team isn’t going to score any…

At all.

And that’s just it, isn’t it? The Phillies intend on flirting with history in 2011 and to do so they have replaced Cy Young Award winners Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez with Oswalt and Lee (again). In fact, the motto for the Phillies hitters in the coming season might be, “One and done.” After all, on most nights they probably can get by with just one run.

But is this the best pitching staff in team history, let alone recent baseball history? Baring an injury there is a chance the quartet could become just the third group in baseball history to have four 20-game winners on the same staff. Only the 1971 Orioles with Dave McNally (21-5), Pat Dobson (20-8), Jim Palmer (20-9) and Mike Cuellar (20-9) as well as the 1920 White Sox with Red Faber (23-13), Lefty Williams (22-14), Dickie Kerr (21-9) and Ed Ciciotte (21-10) have accomplished the feat.

However, neither team won the World Series.

So yes, for history to judge the Phillies most favorably, they have to win.

After all, does anyone remember much about the Oakland teams that went to the postseason in four straight seasons but never made it past the ALDS? How about the Indians of the 1990s that made it the playoffs for five seasons in a row and the World Series twice, but never wore the ring?

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Why was Cliff Lee traded in the first place?

Cliff_lee There was a casual moment before a game in New York last season where general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., while shooting the breeze with a few writers, mused on last December’s trade that sent Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners for a gaggle of supposed prospects.

“According to some people,” Amaro said jokingly, “it was the dumbest trade ever.”

The response to that was, “Well, not the dumbest.”

Sure, it was a light moment and everyone had a good chuckle, but it underscored the one theme of the 2010 season that never went away…

Just how could anyone trade Cliff Lee?

Certainly there was plenty of grumbling about the media and the fans fascination with Lee after he was dealt away only to resurface in Texas where he led the Rangers to the World Series for the first time in club history. Shoot, even while reveling in the glory of Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in the playoffs, senior advisor Dallas Green said the moment gave the Phils’ brass a chance to "go wild."

“We forgot about Cliff Lee,” Green said.

That didn’t last too long, though. Lee didn’t let anyone forget about him by tearing through the first two rounds of the playoffs with performances that topped even the greatness he put together with the Phillies in 2009. In his first 24 innings, Lee racked up 34 strikeouts and allowed just two runs. He made it very hard on Phillies fans even though no one was unhappy about their team. How could anyone be upset about replacing Lee with Halladay and Roy Oswalt?

Still, there was something about Lee. He was as cool pitching for the Rangers as he was in 2009. Unflappable might be the best word because he never, ever changed his approach or his routine. He still ran on and off the field, still pantomimed a throw into center field from behind the mound before he began to warm up before an inning, and still threw that low 90s-mph fastball.

How cool was Lee? While most pitchers cocooned their arms in ice after games, Lee showered, dressed and was gone. He didn’t treat his arm with ice like most pitchers. Even after a career-high 272 innings pitched (counting the playoffs) in ‘09, Lee never strapped his arm in an ice pack after a game. In 16 of his 39 starts Lee pitched into the eighth inning. He averaged 104 pitches per start and hardly walked anyone.

And then he got even better. Better yet, Lee got so good that the New York Yankees and the millions they offered at him wasn’t enough. Apparently Lee wants to win, too, and there was no other place he wanted to do it than Philadelphia.

What in the name of Scott Rolen is going on here?

Strangely, the Phillies now have Halladay and Lee. They have Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, too, while the comparisons to the Braves of the 1990s and Orioles of the early 1970s roll in. Actually, the talk is that the rotation that Amaro somehow put together could be the greatest ever, and that’s not just in Philadelphia where Connie Mack put together some strong teams in the first half of the last century. Instead people are talking about the top four starters as the greatest ever in baseball. Of course they have to win it first—win it all, not just get there—but the resume is nothing to sneeze at.

Amongst the Fab Four, there are three Cy Young Awards, two MVPs in the NLCS, one in the World Series, six 20-win seasons and 13 All-Star Game appearances. Already we’re talking about whether the Phillies can have three 20-game winners on the staff, a feat not pulled off in the big leagues since Oakland did it in 1973 with Ken Holtzman, Vida Blue and Catfish Hunter. Meanwhile, a team has had four 20-game winners on a team just twice in history (1920 White Sox, 1971 Orioles).

Incidentally, the Phillies were the first team to have three 20-game winners on the same team when the second-place 1901 club did it, but then again that they carried just six pitchers all season.

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Nationals go familiar route, but can Werth lead the way?

Werth_halladay Stick around baseball long enough and you’re bound to hear something new every once in a while. That is the beauty of it, after all. Nothing stays the same, which is good because it chases away the boredom. Still, it was a remarkable thing to hear some of things Roy Halladay said just about a year ago.

“This is where we wanted to be,” Halladay said during last December’s introductory press conference at Citizens Bank Park. “It was an easy decision for me.”

Halladay just didn’t say it that one time either. Oh yes, the big right-hander made it point to drive home his point that more than anywhere else, he wanted to be in Philadelphia.

My, how far we have come.

“He did say that his was the place where he wanted to be,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. pointed out the day the Halladay trade went down. “A player of his caliber saying that? I’m not sure [if that’s happened].”

Remember how it used to be, though? Ballplayers used to go out of their way to avoid our fair city. Some even had it written into their contracts that they could be traded anywhere in the world as long as it wasn’t to Philadelphia. Then there was J.D. Drew and Scott Rolen, for whatever reasons, needed to play anywhere else. In fact, with Rolen it was turned into something personal instead of what it really was…

He was sick of losing.

But even Rolen admitted that in order for the Phillies to get to the level they enjoy now where players like Roy Halladay beg to be sent here, he was the one who had to go. See, before the 2002 season then general manager Ed Wade reportedly offered Rolen a deal that he would still be playing out. Oh sure, with Rolen at third base and healthy, the Phillies never would have had David Bell, Wes Helms, Abraham Nunez, Pedro Feliz or Placido Polanco. Chances are they would be trying to find someone take the last few years of the 10-year, $140 million that was said to be offered.

See, it was OK that the Phillies had a veritable revolving door at third base because that meant players had changed their minds about going to Philadelphia. Plus, 10-year contract aside, if Rolen had taken the deal, he said.

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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.

Bedrosian finally gives way to Halladay

Shane_rawley On the last day of August in 1987, Phillies lefty Shane Rawley pitched 8 1/3 innings at Dodger Stadium to improve to 17-6 for the season as his ERA dipped to 3.70. It was the third game in a row that Rawley pitched at least eight innings and it came five days after he got 10 strikeouts and allowed two runs in a complete-game loss.

The truth was Rawley looked very much like the Cy Young Award winner in the National League.

And why not? To that point in the season, Rawley very well might have been the most consistent pitcher in the league. After all, he had lost just twice going back to the middle of June and went 9-1 through July and August with a solid 3.50 ERA. In fact, Rawley even went on Roy Firestone’s interview show, Up Close, for ESPN during the trip to Los Angeles where it was agreed upon that the Cy Young Award was his to lose.

That’s exactly what happened.

Whether it was a curse or an injury or whatever, Rawley didn’t win a game for the rest of the season, going 0-5 in his final seven starts with a 7.82 ERA. Worse, Rawley struck out just 22 and walked 21 over those final seven starts. Four times he didn’t make it past the fifth inning and twice he barely made it into the second frame, including one start where he was pulled after giving up eight runs and four hits in the first inning.

But by that point the Cy Young Award had already escaped Rawley. Seemingly, so too did his career as the left-hander pitched two more seasons, winning just 13 more games.

“The last month of the season I pushed myself,” said Rawley, who these days owns Shaner’s Sports Bar and Pizzeria in Sarasota, Fla. “We started to sputter as a team the last month and I probably tried too hard. I tried too hard to get it.”

As a result, the 1987 Cy Young Award was up for grabs. That’s not at all like it is this year where Roy Halladay won his second Cy Young Award by collecting all 32 first-place votes. On the next-to-last day of August in 2010, Halladay pitched seven innings to fall to 16-10 for the season as his ERA rose to 2.27. The difference between Halladay and Rawley is that this time a Phillies pitcher finished the deal by going 5-0 with 29 strikeouts and four walks in 36 2/3 innings.

Halladay’s Cy Young will be the first by a Phillies pitcher since 1987 when Rawley let it slip away. Instead of the Phillies’ lefty starter taking home the most prized award in pitching, a right-hander reliever got it with the fewest amount of wins in the closest ever voting.

Yes, at 5-3 with 40 saves and a 2.83 ERA in 89 innings, Steve Bedrosian will have the phrase, “Cy Young Award winner” tied to his name. Better yet, Bedrosian capped off a run from 1980 to 1987 where Steve Carlton, John Denny and Bedrock won the award four times.

So how to Bedrosian do it while Rawley could not? Or how come it has taken so long for another Phillie to win it? Moreover, how has winning the Cy Young Award affected Bedrosian’s life now that he has been out of the game for 15 years?

Better yet, how was the zany reliever able to keep his stirrup socks in perfect position every time he took the mound?

Steady as he goes
To start, Bedrosian won it in 1987 because of his uncanny consistency. After all, Rawley was second in the league in wins, finishing just one behind Rick Sutcliffe, who went 18-10 with a 3.68 ERA for the last-place Cubs. In the final voting, Bedrosian slipped past Sutcliffe, 57-55, while Rick Reuschel finished with 54 points finishing third.

Bedrosian probably won it because the BBWAA voters could not give it to Nolan Ryan. Though Ryan led the league in ERA (2.76) and strikeouts (270 in 211 innings), he went 8-16 as a 40-year old for the Astros.

Did Bedrosian win it by default because there were no other standout pitchers in the league? Shoot, he very well might have put together better seasons in 1982 and 1984 with the Braves relying on a hard fastball. Later he was a key pick up for the Giants during their run to the World Series in 1989 and a solid bullpen piece for the World Champion Twins in 1991. In fact, Bedrosian was on the mound for the Giants when they closed out the NLCS in five games against the Cubs in ’89. Considering that the Phillies were 22-40 when they traded him for Terry Mulholland on June 16 of that season, the deal worked out pretty well for Bedrosian.

Everything went pretty well in 1987, too. Sure, some of the stats types have written off Bedrosian’s victory in ’87 as the worst Cy Young Award winner ever, but that’s missing the point. Though the rapidly aging Phillies won 80 games that year, Bedrosian saved exactly half of them. During one stretch he saved a game in 13 straight appearances and, taking away a blown save that turned into a win, Bedrosian went through a 20-game stretch where he saved 19 games and won one.

Back then it seemed as if Bedrosian only went into games where he was in line for a save, and there very well might have been something to that. According to a Sports Illustrated  story from the summer of ’87, there were reports that during the saves streak Bedrosian had twice refused to pitch in blowouts to preserve his shot at the record. That wasn’t exactly the case, according to Peter Gammons:


But in fact, manager Lee Elia had called the bullpen to ask Bedrosian if he wanted an inning's work because he hadn't pitched in a few days. Bedrosian said no thanks. “I felt I was pretty much in sync even without having pitched,” he says. “And my job is as a stopper. But heck, I'll pitch anytime.”

Closing time
Besides, that was a different time. Unlike when Brad Lidge went 41-for-41 in save opportunities, he never pitched more than three outs in any of his 65 games. However, of his 40 saves in ’87, Bedrosian got 22 saves of more than an inning and 15 when he pitched at least two innings. The way it worked for manager Lee Elia was for the Phillies to get the lead by the seventh inning before turning it over to his closer.

Tally it up and Bedrosian went 54 2/3 innings for his 40 saves with a 0.66 ERA in those chances. He also racked up 68 2/3 innings in his 48 save chances that season, holding opponents to a .238 batting average. By contrast, Lidge posted a 1.10 ERA in 41 innings in his 41 saves in 2008.

No, efficiency wasn’t the style in the 1980s. With 89 innings that season, Bedrosian wasn’t even the hardest worked reliever on the staff. Even though the Phillies had four starters pitch from 200 to 229 innings, Kent Tekulve appeared in 90 games for 105 innings. Up-and-comer Mike Jackson went 109 innings in 55 games—not the way they break in 22-year olds these days. Meanwhile, Tom Hume piled on 70 innings in 38 appearances before being released in August, weeks before Rawley tanked.

It worked out for Bedrosian, though. Actually, an All-Star appearance where he memorably tagged out Dave Winfield at the plate in a wild, 3-6-1 double play to keep the game scoreless in the bottom of the ninth, earned Bedrosian a $25,000 bonus. He also got and $100,000 for winning the Rolaids award as the league's No. 1 relief pitcher as well as another $100,000 for the Cy Young. When put on top of his $825,000 salary, Bedrosian got $1,050,000 in 1987 to become the 59th player to earn over $1 million in a season.

He didn’t act like a millionaire in the clubhouse, though. In addition to solid pitching, Bedrosian continued the legacy of oddball Phillies relievers that started with Tug McGraw and was passed down to the likes of Larry Andersen, Roger McDowell, Mitch Williams, Ricky Bottalico and Ryan Madson. He also was a fan of the Three Stooges and was said to have the ability to recite episodes of the show by heart. Still, with 103 saves for the Phillies Bedrosian was the franchise leader until Jose Mesa passed him in 2003, but he likely will hang on to the No. 2 spot until Lidge surges past in 2011.

These days Bedrosian is somewhat affiliated with baseball. As the supervisor of the school board in Coweta County, Georgia, Bedrosian doubles as the assistant coach for the East Coweta High baseball team. That’s the team his son Cameron pitched for before he was the 29th overall pick in the 2010 draft for the Angels.

Interestingly, just as Bedrosian was winding down his career in the big leagues, Cameron’s older brother Cody was diagnosed with leukemia. According to a story in Baseball America, Cody, then just 6, needed a bone-marrow transplant when it was discovered his two-year-old younger brother was a perfect match. Because of this, Cody is cancer free more than 17 years later and Cameron finished his first pro season.

In other words, it’s just fine by Bedrosian if he is finally replaced as “the last Phillies pitcher to win the Cy Young Award” now that Halladay has arrived. Actually, it’s about time.

Bed rockKeep on closing
Having a long-term, consistent closer is not something the Phillies are known for. In fact, with 103 saves for the franchise in a little more than three seasons, Steve Bedrosian was the franchise leader from 1989 to 2003 when Jose Mesa took the all-time leadership. If Brad Lidge, with 99 saves, can produce a solid 2011 season, he not only will pass Mitch Williams, Bedrosian and Mesa, but also could be the first Phillies’ closer to hold onto the job for four seasons.

1970 – Dick Selma (22 saves)
1971 – Joe Hoerner (9 saves)
1972 – Mac Scarce (4 saves)
1973 – Mac Scarce (12 saves)
1974 – Eddie Watt (6 saves)
1975 – Garber/McGraw (14 saves)
1976 – Ron Reed (14 saves)
1977 – Gene Garber (19 saves)
1978 – Ron Reed (17 saves)
1979 – Tug McGraw (16 saves)
1980 – Tug McGraw (20 saves)
1981 – Tug McGraw (10 saves)
1982 – Ron Reed (14 saves)
1983 – Al Holland (25 saves)
1984 – Al Holland (29 saves)
1985 – Kent Tekulve (14 saves)
1986 – Steve Bedrosian (29 saves)
1987 – Steve Bedrosian (40 saves)
1988 – Steve Bedrosian (28 saves)
1989 – Roger McDowell (19 saves)
1990 – Roger McDowell (22 saves)
1991 – Mitch Williams (30 saves)
1992 – Mitch Williams (29 saves)
1993 – Mitch Williams (43 saves)
1994 – Doug Jones (27 saves)
1995 – Heathcliff Slocumb (32 saves)
1996 – Ricky Bottalico (34 saves)
1997 – Ricky Bottalico (34 saves)
1998 – Mark Leiter (23 saves)
1999 – Wayne Gomes (19 saves)
2000 – Jeff Brantley (23 saves)
2001 – Jose Mesa (42 saves)
2002 – Jose Mesa (45 saves)
2003 – Jose Mesa (23 saves)
2004 – Billy Wagner (21 saves)
2005 – Billy Wagner (38 saves)
2006 – Tom Gordon (34 saves)
2007 – Brett Myers (21 saves)
2008 – Brad Lidge (41 saves)
2009 – Brad Lidge (31 saves)
2010 – Brad Lidge (27 saves)

Why can’t we quit Cliff Lee?

Cliff_leeIt was a preposterous idea. Know how they say truth is stranger than fiction? Yeah, well this one was just too strange for even that. In the most sordid and obscene of tawdry ideas, just the thought of it should make one’s skin crawl and spine shiver.

Cliff Lee pitching in Game 1 of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park? Against Roy Halladay?

It was just too good to be true, wasn’t it?

“I pulled for a lot of those guys, but it’s weird, when a team gets rid of you, you kind of like seeing them lose a little bit. I know that’s weird but part of me wanted them to win where I could face them in the World Series, too. It would have been a lot of fun. You’d like to think that they need you to win type of stuff, when that's really not the case,” Lee said from Tuesday’s media day at AT&T Park in San Francisco, 3,000 miles away from South Philly.

“When a team gets rid of you, it's funny how you have a knack for stepping up a little more when you face them. There’s a little more incentive to beat them, and that’s definitely the case with me watching the game. I was in between. I didn’t want to have to face them or want to have to face the Giants. I let that series play out, and I pulled for those guys individually, but I didn’t mind seeing them get beat, either, just because they got rid of me. That is what it is.”

Oh that Cliff… telling the Phillies they got what they deserved?

Nevertheless, while folks lament the Phillies’ offensive (used as offensive as in a segment of a baseball game and offensive as in deplorable) flop in NLCS, it’s almost like a little, sarcastic dig at the team’s oh-so sensitive brass that Cliff Lee will pitch on Wednesday night. Only instead of pitching for or against the Phillies, Lee will pitch against the not-so celebrated hitters of the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park.

Coincidentally, the last time Lee pitched at AT&T Park he pitched a complete game, four-hitter to beat the Giants in his debut with the Phillies on July 31, 2009. They weren’t the same Giants that Lee will face on Wednesday night, but they were not too far off. If anything, Lee was different then… he walked two batters.

“It does seem like a long time ago, but I remember I went through all nine innings that was pretty good,” Lee said of his Phillies’ debut. “And I remember I almost went out of this park opposite field, too. That was fun.”

Yes, he’s still as cool as ever. Unflappable might be the best word because he never, ever changes his approach or his routine. He still runs on and off the field, still pantomimes a throw into center field from behind the mound before he begins to warm up before an inning, and still throws that low 90s-mph fastball.

Of course he throws that cut fastball exactly where he wants it to go. He throws it no matter what the situation is or if he’s behind in the count. Hey, the ball is in his hands so everyone else will have to adjust to him. Better yet, he was in charge after games, too. He didn’t treat his arm with ice like most pitchers. Even after a career-high 272 innings pitched (counting the playoffs) in ‘09, Lee never strapped his arm in an ice pack after a game. In 16 of his 39 starts Lee pitched into the eighth inning. He averaged 104 pitches per start and hardly walked anyone.

And then he got even better.

It might be that mindset that helped the Rangers through the ALDS for the first time and then to the World Series for the first time in franchise history, and yes, that includes when it started out in Washington as the Senators in 1961.

“Tremendous work ethic. You know, you see him from afar, you never see him prepare to do what he does out there,” Texas manager Ron Washington said during his media day press conference. “He has tremendous work ethic, and more than anything else, he brings influence. The way he goes about his business, the energy which he plays with, the passion he has for the game, the things he goes out there and never let affect him, those are the type of qualities that a No. 1 guy brings, and it just influences every other pitcher that follows him or that's on that pitching staff. That's what he brought to us. That's one thing I didn't know.

“I knew he was a quality pitcher, but I never got a chance to see how each day that he prepares for his starts. It's amazing the work he puts in to go out there and then accomplish what he accomplishes.”

Washington is Lee’s fourth manager since the start of the 2009 season and he is also the fourth manager to say the same thing about the lefty. The Phillies gushed over Lee a lot during the postseason, too.

Of course where Lee endeared himself the most to the fans and his teammates in Philadelphia was during the playoffs. Sure, there was a bit of the dreaded “dead-arm” phase toward the end of the regular season, but when properly rested thanks to the dark nights in the playoff schedule so the networks could regroup[1], Lee also re-gathered himself, too. All he did was put together the greatest postseason by a Phillies pitcher, ever.

Better than Cole Hamels, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts, Tug McGraw, Jim Konstanty and maybe even better than ol’ Grover Cleveland Alexander against the Red Sox in the 1915 World Series. Lee didn’t make his playoff debut with a no-hitter like Halladay, or end his maiden postseason game with outs against Hall of Famers Babe Ruth or Harry Hooper, but Lee was a lot more consistent.

He allowed one run against the Rockies in Game 1 of the NLDS and took the lead into the eighth inning of the clinching Game 4 before errors and the bullpen cost him a win. Had Lee held on in that one he would have become just the third person in Major League Baseball history to win five games in a single postseason.

Cliff Added all up, Lee went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA, including a masterful 10-strikeout, three-hitter in Game 3 of the NLCS and a 10-strikeout gem in Game 1 of the World Series where the best the Yankees could do was score an unearned run in the ninth.

No, there wasn’t a no-hitter in there, but Lee got the Phillies to the World Series and won both of the team’s games there.

So it makes sense that there is some sensitivity amongst guys like Ruben Amaro Jr. in regards to Lee. In fact, the 2010 season was almost a mirror image of 2009 for Lee. He was again traded in July from an American League doormat to a contender. Again he had some back and arm issues where he missed both the first month of the season and a handful of starts late in the year.

But when the playoffs started, Lee has been even better than he was last year with the Phillies. Going into his Game 1that will not be played in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, Lee is 3-0 with an 0.75 ERA with 34 strikeouts and one walk in 24 innings.

Pretty good, huh?

Now here’s the thing… give up on Lee at your peril. The Yankees couldn’t swing a deal for him and paid for it during the regular-season and the playoffs. Tampa Bay could have used him, too, but in the end he beat them twice in the postseason. Sure, the Phillies picked up Roy Oswalt and he was spectacular during the second half of the season. But if Amaro thought for a second that the offense would be outdone by the Giants’ lineup in the NLCS, do you think he would have given up on Cliff Lee?

Maybe the better question is just what was about Lee that keeps folks in Philly talking? After all, he arrived at the end of July and was gone by the second week of December. That’s not a long time at all and yet we’re still talking about the guy and paying attention whenever he pitches a big game.

Just what was it about Cliff Lee?

[1] It’s not exactly top-notch planning that the first game of the World Series will be played on the same night as the opening of the NBA season. Hey, I’d rather watch baseball over just about anything, but I understand why a person would want to watch LeBron James and the Miami Heat play the Sixers on Wednesday night. LeBron made a little news earlier this year and people love/dislike him so much that they can’t take their eyes off him. Apparently the MLB brass and the networks whiffed on this one.

Philly boy Roys step up

Roy SAN FRANCISCO — The signals will be evident quickly.

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

In other words, adjustments will need to be made.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cliff Lee’s influence on Cole Hamels

Cliff lee SAN FRANCISCO — Let’s discuss Cliff Lee for a moment…

Alright, alright, we get it. No one wants to talk about Cliff Lee like that. It hurts too much or something. But after he fired a 13-strikeout, two-hitter in Yankee Stadium to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead in the ALCS, we’ll just leave that stuff with one, short and sweet point…

It’s not like the Phillies would be in any different position than they are right now if Cliff Lee were still on the Phillies. They swept the Reds, Roy Halladay lost Game 1 of the NLCS, Roy Oswalt won Game 2, and Cole “Roy” Hamels is ready to go in Game 3. It wouldn’t matter if the Phillies had Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Grover Cleveland Alexander—they still would be tied with the Giants headed to Game 3 with Hamels ready to take the ball.

Instead, let’s discuss what Cliff Lee left behind when he was traded to the Mariners last December for Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez, barely a month after he put together the best postseason by a Phillies’ pitcher since ol’ Pete Alexander. But, strangely enough, Lee’s lasting impression on Hamels and his resurgence in 2010 all starts with a September gem pitched by Pedro Martinez against the Mets.

Remember that one? Pedro dialed it up for eight scoreless innings with just six hits and 130 purposeful pitches. Frankly, it was an artistic and masterful pitched game by Pedro against the Mets. In baseball, there is the nuance and the minutia that the devout understand, but the genius supersedes all. It stands out and hovers over the season in a way that a highlight film cannot capture.

Pedro painted that Sunday night game in September at the Bank. Sure, it was 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. 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’ lineupexcept for Wright, of courseno 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 seemed as if he 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.   

So mesmerized by the audacity, fearlessness and the brilliance of Pedro’s pitching, that I thought it would be wise to ask one of the team’s pitchers to offer some insight from a pitcher who could better understand the nuance of the effort better than me. Sure, it’s possible I was over thinking the performance, but it really was quite fascinating trying to figure out the chess match that occurred on the mound. Needless to say, Cliff Lee was my first choice to pepper with questions, but he had already bolted for the evening.

Then Hamels walked into the room. Certainly Hamels would be able to satisfy my need for overwrought analysis. After all, he is a pitcher, right? A pitcher has to be fascinated by the art of pitching…


What I learned was that Hamels didn’t see things my way when I asked him my questions.

I said something like, “do you look at a game like the one Pedro just pitched the way a painter or a musician might admire another artist? Was it fun to just watch the pitch sequences and wonder what he might do next?”

The answer?


“I don’t look at things that way. I just saw it as a guy going out there and doing his job,” Hamels said.

Certainly there is something to be said for a guy doing his job. That’s an admirable trait for a man to have. But we weren’t talking about a guy who spent all day working in the mines and then went home and helped his neighbor put in a patio. This was Pedro Martinez we were trying to talk about. If Sandy Koufax was the Rembrandt of the mound, Pedro certainly was Picasso.

But at that stage of his development, pitching was just hammer-and-nail type stuff to Hamels. Not even a year after he had won the MVP in the NLCS and World Series, Hamels had just won a game two days before Pedro’s work of art to improve his record to 9-9 and his ERA to 4.21. Clearly those were the numbers of a pitcher fighting against himself.

Eventually Hamels got it. Yes, it took some time away for the field and maybe even some work with a mental guru/coach, but Hamels finally understood what pitching coach Rich Dubee and manager Charlie Manuel had been trying to tell him.

Hamels_card He needed more tools in his belt than just the hammer and nail. Hamels’ arsenal of fastball and changeup just wasn’t enough anymore.

“He’s added a cutter,” Manuel said during Monday afternoon’s workout at AT&T Park on the eve of Game 3. “His fastball, his velocity is up from last year. Basically he sits there right now I’d say he sits there like 92, 94, 95 consistently, and whereas before he was like 88, 92. And I think the cutter’s helped him.”

It doesn’t hurt that Halladay throws a cutter—a pitch that is held very much like a four-seam fastball except for the pitcher’s thumb, which rests closer to his index finger. Halladay (obviously) has had great success with the pitch this season. Mariano Rivera could go down as the greatest closer and the greatest breaker of bats because of his hard cutter. Just like the split-finger fastball that Bruce Sutter and Mike Scott made famous in the 1970s and 1980s, the cutter is the pitch these days.

Still, the light bulb didn’t go off above Hamels’ head until he watched Cliff Lee throw it during the postseason of ’09. Actually, Lee’s cutter has been so good during the 2010 postseason that the Yankees’ announcers have accused the pitcher of cheating by using rosin on the ball. But it was such a silly premise that Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi debunked it.

Adding on his latest gem, Lee is 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 24 innings this season. Coupled with his run for the Phillies in 2009, Lee is 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA with 67 strikeouts and seven walks in 64 1/3 innings.

Now the question is if Lee gets some inspiration points to his stat line for his influence on Hamels.

“I think being able to watch Cliff Lee last year throwing the cutter and how much it really helped out this game, and having Roy Halladay come over and seeing what a significant pitch it is to his repertoire, I felt it could be a very good pitch for me to add especially because it goes the other direction as a change-up,” Hamels said. “It’s just a few different miles an hour off in between a fastball and a change-up so it’s just kind of makes it a little bit harder for hitters to really pick a pitch and a specific location to really get there type of better approach.”

Hamels picked it up quickly, too. By the third game of the season his cutter was good enough that the lefty could throw it confidently in any situation or any count. Better yet, the addition of the cutter with a curveball for show, too, has made Hamels’ best pitch better.

And to think, all he had to do was watch what the pitchers were doing out there.

“He can throw the ball inside effectively and it opens up the strike zone for his best pitch, the change up,” said ex-teammate and current Giants’ center fielder, Aaron Rowand.

Of course it’s just one pitch and the selection of when and where to throw it is always important. However, Hamels finally added to his repertoire just like Manuel and Dubee wanted, and all he had to do was watch what was going on.

A look back at the Halladay-Lincecum duel

Roy_tim Pat Burrell and Cody Ross were downright giddy sitting while sitting at the dais to answer questions after Saturday night’s first game of the NLCS. It was no wonder considering Burrell and Ross were the big hitting heroes in Game 1, which made the actual conversing with media types a slight bit tolerable.

At least for Burrell.

There was more to it than that, of course, and it had little to do with the fact that both Burrell and Ross were players that we let go by the teams they began the season with. Burrell, of course, was not re-signed by the Phillies after he led the World Series parade down Broad St. and then was waived by Tampa Bay in May.

Ross was claimed off waivers by the Giants from the Marlins in late August not because he was wanted, but to stop the outfielder from going to divisional foe San Diego. The Giants were 5 ½ games behind the Padres when Ross joined them and didn’t even a need a month to slip into first place. Were Ross and his .286 average for the Giants the difference? Probably not, but the home run in the clincher in Game 4 of the NLDS along with the two bombs in Game 1 against the Phillies made the Giants’ prevent defense against the Padres look pretty good.

No, Burrell’s RBI double and Ross’s homers were most responsible for ruining the expected pitching duel between Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum. In fact, Halladay looked like he was on his way to another epic performance in his first start since his no-hitter against the Reds in his playoff debut.

Halladay retired the side in order on eight pitches in the first and 11 pitches in the second. He got an out on three pitches in the third until Ross swung at a 2-0 pitch, did a little crow hop and watched the ball sail into the left-field seats. They seal had been broken.

Starting with Ross’s homer, the Giants rapped out eight hits over the next 22 hitters covering 4 2/3 innings. Still, there was the two-strike pitch with two outs to Burrell that Halladay thought was good he began his first steps back to the first-base dugout. Inexplicably to Halladay, home-plate umpire Derryl Cousins called it a ball. One pitch later, Burrell bashed his double off Raul Ibanez’s glove and the left-field wall.

Some duel, huh?

“I made some bad pitches at times. The first pitch to Ross I didn’t think was that bad, but the second one I left a ball over the plate. And then in the sixth a couple pitches there cost me,” Halladay said. “At this point you make a couple mistakes and they end up costing you.”

Ah, but maybe there was a pitching duel after all. You see, after Halladay gave up the homer to Ross, Lincecum served up one to Carlos Ruiz. He also gave up a homer to Jayson Werth to help the Phillies crawl back to within a run. That’s exactly where Lincecum was better than Halladay because he was able to recover from the initial home run.

That, obviously, was the difference.

Lincecum held the Phillies to an 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and 1-for-11 with runners on base. Better yet, Lincecum held the Phillies to a 2-for-11 with two outs, which made sure to kill any hope for a late rally.

“It wasn’t about the numbers. It was about giving us a chance to win,” Lincecum said after the game. “I put those home runs behind me. You could squash yourself on that, make some more bad pitches, but I just took it on to the next batter after that, man. It was just enough to squeak by for us.”

Yeah, man.

Now here’s the really crazy part…

With 22 strikeouts (14 vs. the Braves in the NLDS, 8 vs. the Phillies) in his first two playoff games, Lincecum is tied with the great Bob Gibson for the most Ks in the first two games pitched. [1] Yes, Lincecum and Bob Gibson.

Bob-gibson Let that soak in for a bit.

Now what’s the first thing a person thinks about when Bob Gibson’s name is mentioned? If it isn’t intimidation, brush back pitches, a nasty fastball and intensity. His teammates were afraid to talk to him and opponents were just afraid of him. Jim Ray Hart, a slugging third baseman for the Giants in the 1960s and early ‘70s, tells the classic Bob Gibson story:

“Between games, Mays came over to me and said, ‘Now, in the second game, you’re going up against Bob Gibson.’ I only half-listened to what he was saying, figuring it didn't make much difference. So I walked up to the plate the first time and started digging a little hole with my back foot… No sooner did I start digging that hole than I hear Willie screaming from the dugout: ‘Noooooo!’ Well, the first pitch came inside. No harm done, though. So I dug in again. The next thing I knew, there was a loud crack and my left shoulder was broken. I should have listened to Willie.”

Hart should have called time out and filled up the hole the way it was.

Now compare Gibson with Lincecum, the floppy-haired 26-year-old right-ahnder from the Seattle suburbs. He kind of blends in with the kids hanging out in the Haight or Mitch Kramer in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, than the typical ballplayer sent from central casting.

But here’s the thing about that—like Gibson, Lincecum can pitch. He has a fastball he’s not afraid to challenge hitters with and has added a changeup to go with it. And like it was with Gibson, sometimes it’s just not fair when Lincecum takes the mound.

Of course there are also other times when Lincecum can be gotten to, like Game 1 at the Bank. The problem for the Phillies was Lincecum gave the Phillies a few chances and opened the door ever-so slightly before slamming it closed before it was too late.

Will Halladay and Lincecum get after each other again?

[1] Gibson struck out nine in a loss to the Yankees in Game 2 of the 1964 World Series, then came back to get 13 in 10 innings in Game 5. For good measure, Gibson went the distance in Game 7 and got nine more strikeouts to lead the Cardinals to the title.

Measuring the postseason gems

Halladay CINCINNATI — The so-called year of the pitcher has made a seamless transition into the postseason. Obviously, Roy Halladay’s no-hitter against the Reds in Game 1 of the NLDS stands out, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Heading into Saturday’s action, the Texas Rangers had allowed just one run against Tampa Bay in the first two games of the ALDS. That wouldn’t be as extraordinary if the Rays hadn’t finished the regular season with the best record in the American League and were one game behind the Phillies for best record in the majors.

In Game 1 Texas got a 10-strikeouts, zero-walks gem from Cliff Lee followed by 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball from lefty C.J. Wilson, a pitcher wrapping up his first season as a starter in the big leagues and his first real chance to star since 2005 when he was in Double-A.

Cole Hamels again tore through the Reds’ lineup in Game 3 of the NLDS, clinching the series with a five-hit, nine-strikeout shutout. As a result, the Phillies got their first-ever sweep of a playoff series (they were swept, coincidentally, by the Reds in 1976), posting a 1.00 ERA and holding the Reds to a .124 batting average.

Think about that for a second… the Reds led the National League in runs, batting average, homers, on-base percentage and slugging, but got just four runs and 11 hits in three games.

The year of the pitcher, indeed.

Nevertheless, the pitching performance that everyone has been yapping about since it went down on Thursday night is Tim Lincecum’s 14-strikeout, two-hitter in the Giants’ 1-0 victory over the Braves in Game 1of the other NLDS matchup. Forget that the Giants only scratched out one (controversial) run against Derek Lowe or the fact that the Giants weren’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball, the big theme of this postseason is all pitching.

Then again, that doesn’t make this season any different from any other baseball playoffs. However, through just the first round this year there have been as many top-shelf pitching performances by guys in their playoff debuts in recent memory. In fact, there has even been some chatter that Lincecum’s two-hitter was a better pitched game than Halladay’s no-hitter.

Certainly by the Bill James devised Game Score, Lincecum’s gem registered a 96 and was the second-best pitched game in the history of the postseason. That, of course, is according to the formula that skews toward strikeouts and innings pitched, but gives no credence to efficiency, the significance of the game, or emotion. For instance, the highest rated postseason game ever was a 98 by Roger Clemens’ one-hit, 15-strikeout victory over the Mariners in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS, a game that gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead in the series.

Meanwhile, Jack Morris’ 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series rated just an 84. Hamels’ shutout on Sunday night to beat the Reds scored an 86 and the Phillies’ lefty threw a half-dozen fewer pitches and one less inning than Morris.

Plus, it wasn’t the seventh game of the World Series, either.

Anyway, to rate Lincecum’s two-hitter higher than Halladay’s no-hitter, Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, or even Morris’ gritty gem, is just plain silly. This isn’t to take anything away from Lincecum, who was brilliant in the Giants’ Game 1 victory over the Braves, but it wasn’t nearly as good as Halladay’s no-hitter in Game 1.

Do we really need to spell it out?

Well, OK… try these:

  • Halladay threw just the second no-hitter in postseason play. Moreover, Halladay was the first pitcher to carry a no-hitter into the eighth inning of a playoff game since Jim Lonborg did it in the 1967 World Series. The Major League Baseball postseason began in 1903 and has taken place every season since 1904 and 1994. Imagine the tension that goes on in a typical no-hitter, let alone one in the playoffs.
  • Halladay threw a no-hitter against the team that led the league in every important offensive category (and even some unimportant ones), while Lincecum beat a team that struggled at the plate during the final month of the season and featured a lineup without Chipper Jones and Martin Prado.
  • Lincecum Did you see the swings the Reds took at the pitches Halladay threw? He owned them. Better yet, Halladay needed just 104 pitches to finish his no-hitter. Lincecum needed 119 pitches to finish his game and gave up a pair of doubles, including a ringing shot by Brian McCann, a hitter who has batted .381 in his career against the pitcher. Conversely, Halladay gave up 13 hits to the Reds in a loss in June, but figured out how to get them out in the playoffs.
  • Lincecum gave up a hit to the first batter of the game, removing all the pressure and tension that goes with throwing a no-hitter. The kid could simply settle in and go about his work. Halladay was so good that it would have been shocking for him not to throw the no-hitter.

Frankly, it seems as some have claimed that Lincecum’s gem was better than the no-hitter just to be different or make an argument. Whatever. Either way, it’s not correct. Halladay’s no-hitter was dominant and sublime. It was a work of art—poetry come to life.

However, where Lincecum scores points comes from this interview with Wiley Wiggins, the actor that played Mitch Kramer in the phenomenal Dazed and Confused. Mitch Kramer was a pitcher who won big ballgames, too. That ought to count for something.

Is Roy Halladay ready for the Hall of Fame now?

Roy The press release came out on Thursday afternoon that the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum had accepted a donation from Roy Halladay to display the jersey he wore during Wednesday night’s no-hitter. The curators of the museum already have the cap Halladay wore on that humid night in Miami during May when he pitched a perfect game against the Marlins.

In other words, a visit to the museum on Main Street in Cooperstown, N.Y. will reveal a veritable Roy Halladay wing where baseball fans can inspect a handful of artifacts from the big right-hander’s most memorable season.

So with half his uniform ready to be displayed behind glass at the Hall of Fame, it’s just a matter of time before Halladay heads up to Cooperstown himself to accept a plaque and induction alongside the all-time greats of the game.


Actually, that’s kind of a tough question and I posed to a bunch of members of the Baseball Writers Association of America with the right to vote for the Hall of Fame thusly:

If his career were to end with Wednesday night’s no-hitter in the NLDS against the Reds, would you cast your Hall-of-Fame vote for him?

The overwhelming consensus of voters polled reported that they would indeed cast a vote for Halladay even if he were to call it quits tomorrow. At worst, Halladay might cause a voter or two to mull over his worthiness for the Hall of Fame for a night or two before finally giving him the nod.

And why not? In addition to pitching a no-hitter in his playoff debut, Halladay has led the league in wins twice, shutouts three times, innings pitched four times and complete games six times. He led the league in all of those categories this season all while wrapping up his third 20-win season and probably his second Cy Young Award. With a 169-86 record with a 3.32 ERA all while averaging 235 innings per year in 13 seasons.

It’s an easy case to make, says Randy Miller, the longtime Phillies writer from the Bucks County Courier Post and Hall-of-Fame voter.

“If Roy Halladay walked away from baseball today, he would get my Hall-of-Fame vote,” Miller wrote to me. “Along with Greg Maddux, he’s the best pitcher I’ve ever covered in my 15 years on the Phillies beat. Yes, preferably you'd like him to get more wins before retiring, but he’s won 20 three times, 19 once, 17 once and 16 twice. He’s been to seven All-Star Games, and this year he’s a lock to win his second Cy Young. I’m a very strict HOF voter. Last year,I only voted for Roberto Alomar. That said, I vote for greatness, and Roy Halladay has been great for a decade.”

Easy, right?

Well, yeah simply because we know in the back of our minds that Halladay will pitch for at least four more years and will soar past 250 wins during that time. But we’re talking about right now. Forget about the future if you can. Has Halladay accomplished enough to be a Hall of Famer tomorrow?

That’s tough.

Consider this… After 13 seasons Halladay’s stat line matches up almost identically with former Yankees’ southpaw, Ron Guidry. In 14 years Guidry went 170-69 with a 3.29 ERA. Like Halladay, Guidry won 20 games three times, including the otherworldly 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA and took home the Cy Young Award in 1978. Also like Halladay, Guidry averaged 235 innings per season and tallied 21 complete games at age 32 in 1983. More notably, Guidry got to the World Series three times, won twice and went 3-1 with 1.69 ERA in four starts.

Now here’s the kicker… Guidry was taken off the Hall-of-Fame ballot in 2002 after nine years where he never achieved more than 8.8 percent of the vote (75 percent is needed for enshrinement).

Are we sure Halladay is a Hall of Famer right now?

Yes, comparing statistics across different eras is usually foolhardy. Hell, it’s even tough to compare stats amongst players on the same team or across leagues in the same year. The great players don’t play the game to achieve stats and sometimes the natural course of the game can skew the numbers is all sorts of directions. However, it’s worth noting that like Halladay, Guidry was viewed as the best pitcher on earth for a number of seasons.

Ron_Guidry Look at this quote from Guidry’s old teammate Willie Randolph:

“I’ve always said Ron Guidry, pound for pound, was the fiercest competitor I ever played with. Nobody wanted to give him a chance when he first came up. Too skinny, too small, they all thought. They couldn’t see what he had in his heart. He had a big one and a lot of determination.”

Then there’s this one from his teammate Reggie Jackson in an Sports Illustrated story from the 1978 season:

“He and [Jim] Palmer are the two best athletes among pitchers I've ever seen. The few times I've seen him swing the bat make me think he could be an every-day player, the way Bob Gibson could have been.”

And of course this gem from longtime rival manager Whitey Herzog:

“He’s not God, but he’s close.”

The thing about that is Guidry never got a sniff for enshrinement into the Hall of Fame and his 1978 season was one of the greatest of a generation.

Now this isn’t a case for Ron Guidry (or anyone else) or against Roy Halladay—far from it. Nor is it an expose on the knee-jerk tendencies of the Hall-of-Fame vote. Maybe the point is, after all, we going to get a few more seasons to watch Halladay pitch and it’s going to be a blast watching him put the finishing touches on his Hall-of-Fame resume.

Just how great was Roy Halladay’s playoff no-hitter?

Roy The thing about unprecedented events is it’s difficult to place it in the proper perspective. Not only is there no historical context in which to measure something, but also it’s tough to wrap your brain around just what it was that occurred.

Then there is Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in his first playoff game on Wednesday night at the Bank against the Cincinnati Reds. Yes, there once was a no-hitter in the post-season—a perfect game, in fact. More notably, Don Larsen’s perfect game came before there was such a thing as divisional play. The first place teams in both leagues went from the regular season straight to the World Series. No fuss, no muss.

So Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series happened so long ago that it doesn’t really translate to a modern audience. Oh sure, a perfect game is easy to understand. It’s 27 up and 27 down. But can a no-no in the World Series be properly compared to a no-hitter in the NLDS 54 years later? The game is different than it was even a few years ago, forget about more than a half a century.

Plus, consider this… only five players who appeared in Larsen’s perfect game are alive today. Four of those players were on the Yankees (Larsen, Yogi Berra, Gil McDougald, Andy Carey) and just one was from Brooklyn (Duke Snider). Even the eye-witnesses to both Larsen and Halladay’s historical games are few and far between. Dallas Green, the former Phils’ manager and current senior advisor to GM Ruben Amaro Jr., says he saw them both putting him in a class not quite as elite as the other club he belongs to.

That even rarer group? Only Green and Charlie Manuel managed the Phillies to a World Series title.

Nevertheless, just how does Halladay’s no-hitter rank in the history of postseason performances? It wasn’t a Game 7 like the 10-inning, 126-pitch shutout Jack Morris pitched in the 1991 World Series to lead the Twins over the Braves. Nor was it a World Series game, like the epic 17-strikeout shutout the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson threw at the Tigers in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series.

Halladay’s gem came in the opening game of the first of three playoff rounds where teams can play as many as 19 postseason games compared to two rounds in Morris’ day and just one series in Gibson’s. If the Phillies go the limit in all three rounds, Halladay could start as many as seven games.

Halladay has never started more than six games in a single month in his career.

Indeed, the game is played much differently these days, and Halladay’s pitching line from his playoff debut speaks for itself. The only way it can improve is if he cuts down on the walks by one. But in using just 104 pitches, the one walk given to Jay Bruce wasn’t that significant. All it did was create a really weird moment when Halladay had to pitch from the stretch. Now that was awkward. While pitching with a runner on base Halladay looked like a newborn fawn attempting to take its first step. It just didn’t look right.

Anyway, stat wizard Bill James came up with a metric called “game score,” which attempts to measure a pitcher’s outing by giving him points for innings pitched and strikeouts and penalizing him for hits, walks and runs allowed. Game score is measured up to 100, a score never achieved.

What game score does not measure  or even consider is the magnitude of the game. It also eliminates the humanness of the game. For instance, Halladay’s 104 pitches were amazingly efficient, but he needed seven more pitches than Larsen needed in his perfect game in ’56.

Meanwhile, Morris’ effort in Game 7 scored only an 84. Larsen’s perfecto? That’s only a 94 with three games rated higher. In 2000, Roger Clemens’ tossed a one-hitter against Seattle in the ALCS to garner an all-time high of 98. The second-highest scored game was an 11-inning, three-hit shutout by Dave McNally of Baltimore against the Twins in Game 2 of the 1969 ALCS.

A 25-year-old rookie for Billy Martin’s Twins named Chuck Manuel had a pretty good seat on the bench for McNally’s gem.

No. 3 on the list is a 14-inning effort by Babe Ruth of the Red Sox against Brooklyn in Game 2 of the 1916 World Series. The Red Sox beat the Dodgers for their second straight World Series title that year.

Halladay’s playoff no-hitter is tied with Larsen’s epic with a 94. That supplants Cliff Lee’s 86 in Game 3 of the 2009 NLCS for the best postseason score by a Phillies pitcher in the postseason, but is four points less than the 98 Halladay scored during his perfect game against the Marlins on May 29 of this year.

It’s far from a perfect measurement, but given some semblance of a historical perspective only three games in 107 years of postseason history were better than Halladay’s effort in Game 1 of the NLDS.

AP101006059170 'Filthy. Filthy. Completely filthy'

Frankly, I prefer to measure great games with my newly devised “talk test.” This is measured by going into the clubhouses of both teams after the game and measuring the hyperbole. In fact, if a player actually uses the word, “hyperbole,” the way Joey Votto did on Wednesday night, give up a million bonus points.

So as far as the talk test goes, the best read comes in the losing team’s clubhouse. In that regard, the adjectives and awed expressions from the Reds were just like those from the Phillies.

“I wonder how many times I would have struck out if I would have kept going up there,” said Scott Rolen, who went 3-for-3 in strikeouts against Halladay in Game 1.

Rolen was a teammate of Halladay’s for parts of two seasons in Toronto and knows what it’s like to be in the field with the big righty on the mound.

“Being his teammate, [a no-hitter] could happen every time he goes out there. You know that,” Rolen said. “You don’t expect it, though. We didn’t draw it up like that in our hitters’ meetings, but we had our hands full. He’s the best pitcher in baseball in my opinion.”

That opinion was the consensus on Wednesday night. When asked what he thought about Halladay’s pitches from his spot at shortstop, Jimmy Rollins shook his head and searched for the words.

“Filthy,” Rollins said, adding that Halladay’s pitches were nastier on Wednesday than during his perfect game in May. “Filthy. Completely filthy.”

Votto probably explained it best.

“When you’re trying to thread a needle at the plate, it’s miserable. It’s not fun up there trying to hit nothing,” Votto said.

So again, what do we compare it to? Sure, it’s easy to compare statistics from games throughout time, but what about the repertoire of pitches? Is it possible?

Probably not, but let’s try anyway. From the Phillies side, rookie Dom Brown said it was like watching a video game the way Halladay’s curve swept from right to left and the way his cutter snapped like a branch breaking off a tree.

Jonny Gomes, the Reds’ left-fielder who struck out twice in three at-bats, said that while he didn’t waive the white flag, he pretty much ceded one side of the plate to Halladay so that he could concentrate on the opposite side in the odd chance that he might get something to hit.

I’ll liken Halladay’s cutter on Wednesday to the splitter Mike Scott threw in the 1986 NLCS for the Astros against the Mets. Scott pitched two complete games in the ’86 series, allowed eight hits against 19 strikeouts and one run. Fourteen of those strikeouts came in the Game 1 shutout and left the Mets scrambling to collect game-used balls in order to send them off to the league office as some sort of proof that Scott was scuffing them in order to make the splitter dance out of the strike zone so effectively.

The difference between Halladay and Scott, however, was the balls collected by the Reds were to keep for the trophy case to show people they were there. 

And the winners are… (please hold your applause to the end)

Votto WASHINGTON — We all know that art and athletic performance are subjective in nature and just because one person thinks Dadaism best expresses the human condition or Adrian Gonzalez’s performance can be measured by newfangled metrics, doesn’t mean that everyone has to appreciate it.

That’s what makes the world go around.

Nevertheless, since the regular baseball season is all over except for a couple of playoff teams and the ledger sheets are all but balanced, it the perfect time of year to submit a non-voting/non-BBWAA submission to the post-season award discussion. That is, if I were allowed to vote, this is the way it would go. 

We can debate the works of Marcel Duchamp in a post to come. For now, the arts (National Leaguers only):


  1. Joey Votto, Reds
  2. Albert Pujols, Cardinals
  3. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
  4. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
  5. Roy Halladay, Phillies
  6. Adrian Gonzalez, Padres
  7. Matt Holliday, Cardinals
  8. Brian McCann, Braves
  9. Aubrey Huff, Giants

10.  Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies

Generally when selecting these types of awards I prefer to eschew the stats and focus on the best player on the best team. As my good friend and producer of the Daily News Live program on CSN, Dan Roche, says, “Wins are a fancy metric that explains which teams gets to go to the playoffs and which does not.” So based on that astute (and right) point, Joey Votto is the MVP over Albert Pujols in the National League.

Of course it helps that Votto also rates in the top three in the Triple Crown categories and has the best OPS in the league, but simply, Votto’s team was much better than those of Pujols and Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m a sucker for a good story and Votto and the Reds are all of that. Last season Votto went on the disabled list for clinical depression brought on by the sudden death of his father, a condition that inflicts many but is still kind of a taboo issue in the slow-to-change world of baseball. Meanwhile, the Reds ran away with the NL Central just a season after their ninth straight losing season. The Reds success comes from their improved hitting, which paced by Votto, led the National League in batting, runs, slugging and homers.

So Votto is the MVP because winning matters.

Cy Young

  1. Roy Halladay, Phillies
  2. Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies
  3. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals

Go ahead and rate the No. 2 or No. 3 finisher wherever you like, just put Halladay at the top of the Cy Young list. Indeed, the winning argument plays big here since Halladay went 21-10 and had just two no-decisions, which means when the game was on the line he was in there.

Then again, with 250 2/3 innings and the league leadership in complete games, shutouts, wins and walks per nine innings stand out, too. But here are some other interesting stats on Halladay’s season.

  • Halladay walked just four batters in four pitches in 2010. That’s up from one in 2009.
  • 26 percent of the hitters Halladay faced in 2010 fell into an 0-2 count.
  • Nearly 70 percent of Halladay’s first pitches were strikes.

Obviously, Halladay’s command and repertoire of pitches plays well. So too does his standing as the ace amongst aces on the Phillies staff. Not only was he the first Phillies pitcher to win 20 games since Steve Carlton in 1982 and the first righty in club history to win 20 since Robin Roberts in 1955, but also no Phillies pitcher has sniffed at 250 innings since Curt Schilling tallied 268 in 1998.

Meanwhile, Halladay should be the first Phillies pitcher to win the award since Steve Bedrosian in 1987 and the fourth different Phillie to do it (Bedrosian, Carlton, John Denny).

Rookie of the Year

  1. Buster Posey, Giants
  2. Jason Heyward, Braves
  3. Jaime Garcia, Cardinals

Wait a second… where’s Stephen Strasburg? Perhaps he’ll return to battle for the Cy Young Award in 2012 after a partial rookie season ended with an appointment with the orthopedist. Nevertheless, the 2010 rookie class in the National League is pretty solid. Gabby Sanchez and Mike Stanton of the Marlins had strong seasons, but didn’t make the list. In the NL Central Neil Walker of the Pirates, Chris Johnson of the Astros, and Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin of the Cubs, should be mainstays.

Still, the Giants Buster Posey can hit, and better yet, he’s a catcher who can play some first base when he needs a break from squatting. Really, it’s a pretty crowded field where six or seven different guys could win and no one should complain.

Manager of the Year

  1. Dusty Baker, Reds
  2. Charlie Manuel, Phillies
  3. Bud Black, Padres

One of these years Charlie Manuel should win the manager of the year award, and if there was ayear to do it, 2010 seemed right. After all, Manuel might have done his best skippering this year, keeping together the team as it busted at the seams and fell to 48-46 shortly after the All-Star Break only to go 47-18 the rest of the way. But Dusty Baker gets it since the Reds had nine straight losing seasons and haven’t been to the playoffs since 1995.

Plus, Dusty is just so cool, isn’t he? With the always-present toothpick, fashionable glasses and wristbands it’s hard to deny Dusty’s style. Why would a manager need wristbands? Really, Dusty… wristbands? Does Ttto Francona even wear a jersey under his windbreaker?

Besides, who didn’t want to see Dusty smack up Tony La Russa during that brawl between the Reds and Cardinals last month? Come on… admit it. You wanted to see Dusty put him in a figure-four leg lock.

Phillies take celebrating seriously

Sweeney WASHINGTON — Sometimes life’s moments are fleeting. They pass by without pausing ever-so slightly to allow someone to run out to the car to get the camera or go to the Men’s Wearhouse for the proper costume.

Of course if a person has to abide by a dress code to properly commemorate anything, it probably isn’t worth it.

Nevertheless, with folks in the regular, old square world, certain passages of time are celebrated. Only instead of reveling when the moment actually occurs, we plan parties, send out invitations, order a cake and drinks, establish a dress code and then allow everyone to come over and treat their space like it’s a hotel room.

But major league baseball players don’t live like the rank-and-file. No, they live in the moment, take them on day at a time and don’t go planning for big events down the road when games remain on the schedule. They don’t dance if there is no music and don’t party if there is nothing to celebrate. More than keeping it real, ballplayers simply do not sweat the small stuff.

Isn’t that a good way to be? Sure, baseball players are blissfully ignorant and live life inside an insulated cocoon, shielded from such scary things like the news or weather reports and ushered from city to city via a cortege of busses, shuttles and chartered flights where only suckers stand in line or can’t get after-hours room service.

Hey, that $81 per diem isn’t going to spend itself.

But there is something pure about living in the moment. It’s a lot like baseball before the American League instituted the designated hitter and Tony La Russa began batting his pitcher in the No. 8 spot. It’s very real and in the workaday world where we’re continually told what we’re supposed to like and what we have to consume in our diets—media or otherwise—it’s refreshing to know that ballplayers still no how to party.

Sure, the Phillies’ goal is to sew up the NL East as quickly and efficiently as possible. However, the team’s Amtrak train was probably just outside of Baltimore on Sunday night when they learned they were eligible to advance to the postseason. Seeing as the iPad has rightly surpassed the Bluetooth ear piece as the must-have bit of uncommon man, geek couture in the Phillies’ clubhouse, the ballplayers likely knew instantly when the Reds sealed the deal by beating the Padres and secure a spot for the local nine in the playoffs. As such, Brad Lidge said he and his teammates thought about adjourning to the club car for a tall, cold one and raise a glass to leaping over the first hurdle, but once the moment came it was a little too anticlimactic.

“We didn’t do anything,” Lidge said with a shrug. “I suppose another team would be doing back flips, after all, you want to just get in the dance.”


“You know…”

Roy It’s not quite a been-there-done-that jawn for Lidge and some of the team’s veterans, but at the same time, it is. This ain’t the first rodeo for most of these guys so if they are going to dance, there better be some music. Besides, it’s important to take the time and celebrate manager Charlie Manuel says.

“If you go all season and you win your division you should celebrate,” Manuel said. “I think the team should have some free time—cocktails, a little drink or whatever else you want to throw in there. I think it’s a time to celebrate and rejoice. You did something and it’s been a long year. You’re fighting to get to the World Series, but I call it the first step. There are four steps to it and the first one is to get in.”

But what about the guys who haven’t been there before?  Every season there are a few new guys who are integral to the success of the team, but haven’t danced the dance before. This year it’s Roy Halladay and Mike Sweeeney ready to make their first ever playoff appearances. Only the interesting thing with Halladay and Sweeney is they have played a combined 29 seasons without so much as a sniff at the postseason.

Needless to say, after 16 years in the big leagues to finally sew up a playoff spot while riding an Amtrak train to Washington, was a bit anticlimactic to say the least.

But no worries there, says Sweeney.

“It was a bit anticlimactic, but over the past few months my goal has changed,” Sweeney explained. “It went from, ‘Golly, I’d really like the chance to play in the postseason.’ And now that it’s becoming a reality, my goal has changed because of my teammates in this locker room. It’s no longer, ‘I just want to play in a playoff game.’ It’s, ‘I want to win the whole darn thing.’”

With Halladay pitching on Monday night with the chance to seal it, Manuel expects him to amp it up a notch. Oh, he won’t let on that anything is different, but Manuel knows better and it appeared as if Halladay and his catcher Chooch Ruiz spent some extra time going over the Nationals’ hitters before the game.

Hadn’t they already seen the Nats plenty of times this year?

No way… Halladay isn’t leaving anything to chance.

Neither is Sweeney, who is solely focused on the task at hand.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet, so hopefully we win tonight and get to splash some champagne and it feels like a reality,” said Sweeney, nothing that he and his high school teammates sprayed apple cider after a schoolboy championship. “I hope we can get the win tonight so I can really embrace that emotion.”

Halladay lucky and good to get to 20 wins

Halladay A couple of years ago, the media grabbed onto the Phillies’ 10,000th loss as way to prove the futility of a ballclub that had captured just one championship in 124 years to that point. Missing from all the point-and-laughter over the milestone loss, of course, was any semblance of context. Yes, the Phillies were a flat-out dreadful baseball club throughout the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, most of the 1950s, a majority of the 1960s, the first half of the 1970s, the latter part of the 1980s and all but one year of the 1990s.

But really… that’s just nitpicking.

Seriously, if we have said it once we’ve said it a thousand times: stick around long enough and your team will lose some games. And as one of the older clubs in the history of Major League Baseball, the Phillies have lost more games than any other team in professional sports history.

Hey, there always has to be a loser, right?

But during this portion of franchise history, the Phillies are on an unprecedented run. They are about to lock up a playoff appearance for the fourth straight season for the first time in club history, and baring a seismic collapse the Phils should finish the year with a win total that rates in the top three or four in club history.

Indeed, these are heady times for the Phillies. That’s especially the case considering the team has had just one losing season since 2001[1], a streak only surpassed by the run the club had during its first Golden Age during the mid-1970s and early 1980s.Considering the Phillies have an excellent shot to become the first National League team to make it to the World Series in three consecutive years since Stan Musial’s Cardinals did it in 1942, 1943 and 1944 (they made it back in 1946, too), we’re going to be talking about these Phillies for decades.

So why is it that until Roy Halladay finished the deal on Tuesday night that the Phillies had not seen a pitcher win 20 games in a season since 1982? Or, better yet, how come a right-handed pitcher hadn’t come close since Robin Roberts did it in 1955?

Maybe if folks were looking for something to grab onto to personify the amount of difficulty winning games the Phillies have had historically, perhaps the dearth of 20-game winners is the trenchant caveat. After all, since Steve Carlton last did it in ’82, 20 games had been won 98 times in the major leagues. In fact, three men in the Phillies clubhouse—Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Jamie Moyer—did it a combined six times during the Phillies’ drought.

Hell, Joaquin Andujar, the flakey right-hander with the Cardinals, won 20 in consecutive seasons in ’84 and ’85. Other infamous notables to win 20 games between Carlton and Halladay are pitchers like Lamar Hoyt, John Smiley, Jose Lima, Ramon Martinez (Pedro’s brother), Richard Dotson, Esteban Loiaza, Jon Lieber, Mike Hampton, Matt Morris, John Burkett, Rick Helling, Scott Erickson, Bill Gullickson and Danny Jackson.

Meanwhile, the Phillies had one pitcher win 19 games in a season (John Denny in ’83) and another lose 19 games in a season (Omar Daal in 2000). Otherwise, few, if any, Phillies pitchers even flirted with winning 20. Lieber got to 18 in 2005 and Curt Schilling won 17 games once. During the 1987 season, Shane Rawley was 17-6 on Aug. 31 then proceeded to lose his next five decisions while the Phillies went 2-5 in his final seven starts.

Look, we all know that wins is hardly the most important stat to determine the ability of a pitcher. After all, Nolan Ryan went 8-16 with a league-leading 2.76 ERA and 270 strikeouts during that odd 1987 season and finished in the top five in the Cy Young Award balloting.

But as manager Charlie Manuel tried to explain after Tuesday’s game, there’s something magical about a pitcher who wins 20 games.

“To me, 20 wins in the sign of an exceptional season,” Manuel said. “It'’s a prestige thing. People remember when you win 20 games.”

Still, that doesn’t explain why the Phillies have not been able to have a 20-game winner until now. Halladay says typically a 20-game winner pitches for a good team and that it is a “team accomplishment” where the pitcher often doesn’t have much control.

“I think it says more about the team than anything,” Halladay said. “In the past when I had done it, the team played well when I pitched, but not so well the other times.”

Lefty Nevertheless, how does a team like the Phillies go 28 years without a 20-game winner? Better yet, how does a team go 55 years without a right-handed pitcher getting 20 wins in a season? It has to be some sort of a freak thing, right…

“I would think so,” Halladay said. “Based on the teams they’ve had here it’s just a matter of time before Cole [Hamels] does it. I think that with a little bit of luck he probably could have done it this year. There’s definitely a lot that goes into it, but there are a lot of guys here who are capable of doing it.”

Halladay explained it perfectly. To win 20 games in a season a pitcher has to be both lucky and good with an extra serving of lucky. Think about it… Halladay has 20 wins this season, but he also has 10 losses. In those 10 losses Halladay’s strikeouts-to-walks ratio is actually better than it is in his wins. Plus, six of his losses have come in games where he received two runs or less in support. Strangely, Halladay has a losing record (8-9) when the Phillies score up to five runs for him.

Along those lines, Hamels has suffered eight of his 10 losses in games where the Phillies scored two runs or less and he’s 9-2 when he gets at least three runs.

So let’s chalk it up to 28 years of weird luck as the reason no Phillies’ pitcher has broken through the 20-win barrier. It’s just one of those baseball things that can be explained to a point and then everything just falls apart.

Kind of like a calculus class.

As for the 10,000-plus losses since 1883, talent, more than luck, ruled there.

1 The Phillies went 80-81in 2002, a fact that drove then manager Larry Bowa insane. The record was one thing, but the reason why the Phillies lost the last game of the season to the Marlins might be something that ends up causing the stress that finally kills the man. Locked in a tie game with one out in the 10th inning and the speedy Luis Castillo on third base, Juan Encarnacion lifted a pop up in foul territory that first baseman Travis Lee would have been wise to let drop. But Lee had a plane to catch in order to get home for the off-season. If the game lasted too much longer, he would miss that flight. So he caught the ball with his back to the infield and his momentum carrying him away from the action. Castillo easily scored on the sac fly, the season ended and Lee caught his flight.

As Halladay wins again, Drabek quietly makes his entrance

Kyle_drabek BALTIMORE — Kyle Drabek spent the afternoon before his first big league start walking around the streets near Camden Yards, the memories flooding back like faded, old pictures. Then again, the last time he walked around these streets he was 10 years old and his dad was winding down his major league career with the Orioles.

“I remember the Astros, White Sox and Orioles and I do remember coming here,” young Drabek said about life growing up with a dad working as a big-league pitcher. “Today, when I was walking around the city I was able to point out to my mom things that I could remember.”

Strangely enough, the very first start of Doug Drabek’s big league career came in Baltimore when he was coming up with the Yankees. In a perfect bit of symmetry, the elder Drabek’s final game in the big leagues came when he was pitching for the Orioles.

It’s also a fun, little coincidence that Kyle Drabek, the Phillies’ much-ballyhooed first-round draft pick in 2006, made his major league debut on a night when Roy Halladay sewed up his 19th win of the season for the team that drafted him. The differences, of course, are vast. While Drabek was taking the ball in a September call-up for the Blue Jays who were playing out the string against the Orioles at Camden Yards, Halladay was in Florida helping the Phils display their dominance over the rest of the NL East.

At Camden Yards, Drabek lasted six innings where he allowed nine hits, three runs, three walks and got five strikeouts. Four of those whiffs came during the first two innings and the young righty pitched from the stretch to 16 hitters. In other words, Drabek had his back against the wall quite often, yet displayed some big-time maturity in a game that lasted just one-hour, fifty-five minutes.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Drabek said after the game. “I felt like I was taking more time between pitches. It wasn’t moving too fast.”

So even in Toronto, Drabek is a piece of the puzzle for the Phillies. After all, Halladay would not be in Miami solidifying his Cy Young Award credentials if it weren’t for Drabek potential and polish. It’s also doubtful that Drabek would be pitching in a major league game at this stage of his career if it weren’t for general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.’s obsession with acquiring Halladay. After all, Drabek appears to have the inside track for a spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation in 2011and that’s without spending a single day at Triple-A.

Talent, of course, wins out. At least that’s what Phils skipper Charlie Manuel always says. And in that regard Drabek is one of a kind. Just 22 with five pro seasons and a Tommy John surgery already under his belt, Drabek is wise beyond his years on the mound. Mix in the fact that his dad, Doug, spent 13 seasons pitching in the big leagues and won the NL Cy Young Award in 1990 and the young Drabek has a pedigree better than most Kentucky Derby winners. 

In other words, the kid knows how to pitch. So much so that Manuel didn’t compare him to his dad when discussing Drabek before the trade, but to another hard-throwing right-hander…

Yeah, try Tom Seaver.

“It'd be tough for me to trade Drabek,” Manuel said last year when the Phillies were talking about dealing the kid. “I like Drabek because he’s strong in his legs and his hips and he’s a drop-and-drive kind of pitcher. I’m not a pitching coach, but I like his mechanics and I like where he comes from and he’s a strong-bodied kid, like a Tom Seaver type or a Bartolo Colon, and he’s got that kind of stuff. And he’s young, and I think he has a big upside to him.”

His stuff is pure power pitcher. Drabek throws a fastball in the upper 90s and a hard slider that looks like it’s going to kneecap the hitter before it takes a hard left to the opposite corner. It’s a repertoire that is rarely learned and seldom taught. It’s force of nature stuff.

But like any kid his age with a right arm touched by the baseball gods, Drabek just shrugs when asked about the nuances of the game. He was simply happy to be pitching and having fun with his family making the trip from their home near Houston, Texas to watch him play. He couldn’t stop smiling when talking about how his dad must feel watching a second generation of Drabeks make it to the majors.

“The main thing I wanted to do was finish the whole season without any injuries and I was able to do that,” the kid said. “Then, getting called up was just icing on the cake.”

Big-time potential
Drabek’s current skipper, the well-regarded Cito Gaston, sees something different in Drabek that most doe-eyed kids stepping into a major league clubhouse don’t possess. It’s self-assurance that he belongs in the big leagues, as if a birthright. Moreover, unlike most of the entitled elite class, Drabek has paid some dues. He’s been smacked around and he’s had to go through seasons of rehab. In Drabek, Gaston sees something that he has seen in other sons of big leaguers he worked with.

“They have been around the park and they have been around the game. I think they have some of that bloodline in them so most of them know how to stay calm and cool,” Gaston said. “Kids of major leaguers, you can tell, they’re different. … They have been a part of this for a long time.”

So in his debut in the big leagues, add another bit of wisdom to the young Drabek’s development. After throwing a first-pitch strike to Brian Roberts and waiting for a new ball to replace the one tossed aside for a keepsake, Drabek’s second pitch was laced to left for a single. His third pitch was also smacked to left for a single, too, before he settled in and retired the next three hitters in the one-run first.

For Drabek, the first outing in the big leagues opened with three pitches, two hits, two stolen bases, one run and one loss.

“Good damage control,” the beaming dad Doug said as his son walked out of the third-base dugout to the mound during the third inning. “It could have gotten bad, but to get out of it with just one run he had good damage control. Probably on my report it would say, ‘Good damage control in the first inning.’”

Drabek continued the damage-control theme in the third and fifth innings, too, but it was the fourth inning that sealed his fate when the Orioles cobbled together two runs on three hits. In six innings Drabek pitched to eight hitters with runners in scoring position, but still managed to keep the Blue Jays in the game. That’s where the pedigree comes in, says Gaston.

“That’s part of him growing up in a family of baseball players,” Gaston said afterwards. “Guys that know how to stay calm in tough situations end up staying up here and guys that can’t stay calm, don’t. He showed a lot of poise when he got in trouble.” 

Doug_drabek Cool and calm
The son probably showed more poise than the father. In fact, it will probably take a chisel to remove the ear-to-ear smile off the elder Drabek’s face that was put there with equal parts nervousness and immense pride.

But rather than act like an overbearing stage dad, the elder Drabek said he just wanted his son to enjoy the moment. Careers in baseball don’t last too long, and even though the father spent 13 years in the majors, he was gone from the game when he was still a relatively young man. He was actually two years older than his son is when he broke in and spent six years as one of the best pitchers in the National League. However, after he signed a big free-agent deal with the Astros, Drabek won just 42 more games in the big leagues and by 1998, the career was over.

He was just 35.

“The only thing I told him was not to change anything – it’s still the same game,” Doug said. “I just want him to soak it all in and enjoy it.”

That’s what the old man did.

“My first start was [in Baltimore at] the old stadium,” he remembered, smile plastered on his face. “My first game was in Oakland and I remember my first two pitches were two sliders to [Jose] Canseco and I got a popup. Then Dave Kingman was next and then [Mike Davis] was after him. That’s three big guys. That’s what I remember the most.”

Kyle, on the other hand, faced a team headed for 100 losses while the team that dealt him was increasing its lead on the way to a fourth straight playoffs appearance. But Kyle didn’t care much about the Phillies. Not anymore. Sure, they helped him get started, but figured they didn’t need him to get another trip to the World Series.

Maybe in time the Phillies will kick themselves for trading away Drabek, but for now it’s working out pretty well for both sides.

“It kind of felt like any other day. I got a few more texts than I normally get, but it was a lot like any other day,” the rookie said.

“I was glad that my whole family was here.”

Oswalt pushes the pace

Oswalt NEW YORK — To call Roy Oswalt quiet is a disservice to the word. Tranquil might be a better description. Maybe understated, unflashy, unpretentious fit in there, too. After all, when Oswalt speaks with his soft, Mississippi drawl, it’s best to move in close or risk a chance at not hearing anything.

His body language is the same way, too. When Oswalt walks on (or off) the mound, it’s placid, efficient and light. It’s almost as if his feet glide over the grass on his way to the dugout and he shows no emotion with eyes focused and posture as straight as a country mile.

But don’t mistake Oswalt’s quietness for shyness and don’t think that because he’s a kind sort that he is soft. Considering that his goal is to make hitters look dumb whenever he throws a baseball, Oswalt has a sadistic side. Affable off the mound, Oswalt is nasty on it and if there is one pitcher opponents have struggled with lately, it’s been the quiet kid from Weir, Mississippi.

There were 32 kids in Oswalt’s high school class where he was a pitcher for the baseball team and a defensive back on the state championship football team at Weir. His dad, Billy, is a logger and served in Vietnam, and his grandfather, Houston, was a logger, too. Logging is tough work and a hard way to make a dollar with injuries, and worse, a regular occurrence. But as the story is told, when Astros owner Drayton McLane asked Oswalt what his goal was in baseball it was related to a life spent on the stark and austere land near the gulf coast of Mississippi.

“I want to own a bulldozer,” is what Oswalt reportedly told McLane.

So maybe that’s why Oswalt carries himself the way he does. Knowing how harsh the land can be he chooses to show respect until he has to go to work. Then, like logging and pitching, he attempts to decimate wood. Perhaps that’s also where the rumors indicating that Oswalt preferred not to play for Philadelphia came from, too. Long since denied, those reports about a pitcher from a town with a population of 553 not wanting to pitch in Philadelphia are missing the point. Philly is a blue-collar city only different from Weir, Mississippi as it relates to population, area and types of industry.

In both places they appreciate people who have a strong work ethic and they really like to win.

“I feel like I got a new life coming over here,” Oswalt said with his soft, Mississippi drawl. “I’d been out of playoff contention for five years and now we’re trying to get back into the playoffs. (Most of the guys) got a ring. I don't. Hopefully I can push them to get another one.”

And since joining the Phillies at the end of July, Oswalt has had an impact not just in the game he’s pitched, but on the entire rotation as well. In nine starts since the trade from the Astros, Oswalt is 6-1 with a 1.98 ERA. Take away his debut against the Nationals that came not even 24 hours after the trade went down, and Oswalt is 6-0 with a 1.56 ERA.

More importantly, he has been the catalyst of a friendly competition between fellow aces Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, as well. Since arriving in Philadelphia, Halladay solidified his Cy Young Award credentials by going 6-2 with a 3.12 ERA to boost his wins total to 18. But of The Big Three, Halladay is actually the worst of the trio, statistically speaking. Over the same span, Hamels is 3-3 with a 2.09 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 56 innings. The lefty is also riding a scoreless innings streak of 25.

It’s the damndest group of pitchers, according to manager Charlie Manuel. Not only are they at the top of their games, but not one of them has an ounce of hubris.

“[Oswalt is] quiet. Between those three, Cole talks the most, but he’s not what anyone would call [talkative],” Manuel said. “All of them work hard. You don’t see [Halladay] around much because he’s always doing something. He’s always working or looking at videos or something. All three of them have the same work ethic and they sit there together a lot. I’m sure they’re talking about pitching.”

Nevertheless, Oswalt’s arrival begs the question… if all three pitchers are rested and ready to go in a Game 7 elimination game, which one gets the ball?

(You hesitated before answering, didn’t you?)

“Halladay and Cole are tremendous pitchers,” Oswalt said. “They go out there and compete every day. It’s a friendly competition with each other—at least I try to treat it that way because it pushes me even more, makes me try to go deeper into games. And I'm trying to push them a little bit, too.”

It’s worked. In fact, it’s worked in a manner similar to how it was in Houston when Oswalt was the third wheel in the bulldozer driven by Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. Not exactly the most demure guy on the planet, it would seem as if there would be some personality conflicts in the Astros’ trio that went to Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS and the World Series in 2005. However, to see Oswalt tell the stories it seems as if he enjoyed the wildness and the antics from his better-known teammates.

“Roger was kind of standoffish. He had something written into his deal that he didn’t have to be there every day because of his family, but when he was there you couldn’t ask for a better teammate,” Oswalt said with a smile that seemed to indicate that there were stories he couldn’t tell in polite company. “He still keeps up with me and will probably send me a text today. He has a great presence and pushes guys.

“Pettitte was the same way. He had a demeanor where he didn’t think he ever should lose. These guys are the same way. When Halladay gives up a hit he looks like it’s the end of the world. So you have to have to have that competitiveness.”

Oswalt’s demeanor always stays the same. He doesn’t fluster easily, not even when a tornado touched down in Weir last April and destroyed his boyhood home where his parents live, barely a mile away from Oswalt’s current home. But having acquired that bulldozer long ago, Oswalt simply had the house rebuilt. His parents moved back in just last week.

Oswalt turns Cliff Lee into a fond memory

Oswalt I haven’t counted, but I’m willing to bet that the player I wrote the most about during the first half of the baseball season was Cliff Lee. Some of the reasoning behind this deduction is obvious because for about seven months after Lee was traded to Seattle on a whirlwind December day in which the Phillies got Roy Halladay, he was the lightning rod we all fired strikes at.

The Phillies would have been better with Cliff Lee, we reasoned, not wrongly. Worse, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. never offered a reason for dealing away Lee that we would accept. Oh sure, we got it, but we didn’t like it.

The constant harping about Lee always got back to a couple of main points. For one, there was the money thing. It wasn’t our money and as a public trust that has sold out 108 straight games in the relatively brand-new park, the team ought to spend, spend, spend. Then, there was the idea of the Phillies going down the stretch with a starting rotation that featured two guys who won Cy Young awards, and another who was MVP of the NLCS and World Series. Would any team want face a team that went Halladay, Lee and Hamels in three straight games of a playoff series?

No. No way.

But a quick perusal of the archives of this little site shows that Lee’s name hasn’t been mentioned since July 29. That date—two days before the annual trading deadline—not only is the anniversary of Lee’s arrival in Philadelphia where he wore the Phillies’ pinstripes for approximately three months covering just 17 starts, including the postseason, but also it’s the date of Roy Oswalt’s arrival to Philly. It kind of makes sense now why Lee hasn’t been mentioned all that much anymore.

In his first seven outings for the Phils, Oswalt is 4-1 with a 1.89 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings. No, Oswalt hasn’t won the Cy Young Award like Lee, but he has won the MVP in the 2005 NLCS with the Astros. Better yet, Oswalt says he pushed through the usual “dead arm” stage of the season that seems to strike high-innings pitchers late in the summer and certainly will see his workload increase the rest of the way. Manager Charlie Manuel hinted as much on Friday afternoon when he alluded to the experience Roys Halladay and Oswalt have with pitching on short rest. If that’s not planting a seed of thought, nothing is.

Regardless, Oswalt’s arrival has made us stash Lee’s name away into the attic of happy memories after he posted the greatest statistical postseason by a Phillies pitcher since Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1915, which only makes sense. Still, after pining for Lee into July, some have gone into a full-out sprint in the other direction by wondering if all the carrying on was wrong. Maybe trading Lee away wasn’t such a bad idea after all, went the reasoning, especially when one considers that Lee missed the first month of the season, got traded to Texas, slumped a bit and now is struggling with some back discomfort. Since being traded to the Rangers, Lee has gone 0-3 with an 8.26 ERA during the past month and just got an anti-inflammatory injection for his back this week.

That’s a far cry from what Oswalt has done in his seven starts with the Phillies, or even what Lee did in his first seven outings with the Phillies last year at this time. Lee had a 3.37 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 48 innings when he first joined the club last year.

So yes, statistically Oswalt has been better. Moreover, because Lee might be injured Oswalt is clearly the more valuable pitcher right now.

See, trading Lee wasn’t such a bad idea after all… right?

Well, yes and no. The yes should be obvious because Oswalt is healthy, happy and pitching well. Before he was traded to Philadelphia there was concern that Oswalt, a quiet and private man from Weir, Mississippi (population 553), might not fit in well in a hardscrabble northeast city. Sometimes, athletes in Philadelphia are judged more by emotion and personality than talent or results. Not exactly the most demonstrative man on the mound and straightforward and soft spoken with the press, it’s understandable if Oswalt was apprehensive.

Yet by all accounts, Oswalt, like Lee, has fit in quite well in Philadelphia. Of course the excitement of a pennant race has something to do with that, but that’s kind of the whole point… right?

“I can tell he’s happy here,” said Brad Lidge, Oswalt’s teammate from their days in Houston. “You can see that extra pep in his step. I think he feels the change in energy and he’s enjoying being part of this as opposed to just another season going by. You can see him thinking about trying to achieve that ultimate goal.

“And he’s throwing great.”

Conversely, the move to get Oswalt before the deadline is an admission that the Phillies needed a pitcher of high caliber. Lee’s contract status might have spooked Amaro into trading him, but that never changed the desire to have three horses at the top of the rotation.

And now that he has them, Manuel hopes they are ready to run for the next month-plus.

“The best part about that is Halladay and Oswalt have pitched on short rest,” Manuel said. “They have that experience and that becomes very big.”

That’s down the road, of course, but for now the best part about Halladay and Oswalt is that they made folks forget about Cliff Lee for a little while. Besides, Oswalt has a no-trade clause and a contract for 2011. Looks like the Phillies are stuck with him.

Strong finish could result in playoffs, cool trophy for Halladay

Halladay If we’re ranking the off-season deals around baseball, the one that brought Roy Halladay to the Phillies just might be the best one. The truth is Halladay has been everything as advertised for the Phillies and maybe more. Of course the final analysis cannot be completed until Halladay pitches in the playoffs (IF he pitches in the playoffs), but so far there isn’t anything to complain about.

As a result of his performance, Halladay is right in the mix to win his second Cy Young Award along with Tim Hudson of the Braves, Adam Wainwright from the Cardinals, Ubaldo Jimenez from the Rockies, and the Marlins’ Josh Johnson.

Interestingly, four of the top 10 pitchers in wins, ERA and strikeouts come from the NL East, which shows how well pitch Halladay has to pitch in every game. Moreover, since the Phillies play the Braves and Marlins 13 times in September, Halladay will have to dial it up for his final half-dozen starts.

But that shouldn’t be a problem. After all, this season Halladay leads the league in ERA (2.22), innings (207), complete games (8), shutouts (3) and strikeouts (186). He also leads the league in WAR, walks per nine innings (1.1) and could move into a tie for the league leadership with 17 wins if he beats the Dodgers on Monday night.

The Phillies have not had anyone win the pitching triple crown (wins, ERA and strikeouts) since Steve Carlton in 1972, a 20-game winner since 1982 (Carlton) or a Cy Young Award winner since 1987 (Steve Bedrosian). In fact, the Phillies haven’t had a right-hander win 20 games since Robin Roberts did it in 1955.

With those milestones also comes the perfect game in Miami where Halladay retired all 27 Marlins in a 1-0 victory against Johnson. So yeah, as far as resume fodder goes, Halladay likely will have it all.

“I think he should definitely be in there,” manager Charlie Manuel said a couple of weeks ago. “There are some guys having some big years, but he’s definitely right in there with complete games and our team has definitely been in contention, so I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be there. He has a chance to pull that off if you guys vote for him.”

Yeah, there it is. Will the voters go for Halladay if he has a bad, relatively speaking, September? Halladay is just outside of the top 10 in losses, which is hardly his fault given the Phillies’ streaky offense this season. Though Halladay has a 4.87 ERA in his nine losses and has allowed 13 of his 16 homers in those games, the Phillies have scored three runs or fewer in eight of those games and zero or one in four of them. Even in his no-decisions the Phillies didn’t give him much support, either. One of those resulted in a 1-0 victory for the team and the other turned into a 4-3 defeat.

In fact, in six of Halladay’s 16 wins he received either one or two runs of support.

Sure, these superlatives are fantastic, but they don’t really answer the question…

Can Halladay win the Cy Young Award?

Well, that all depends. Counting Monday night’s start at Dodger Stadium, Halladay will make seven more starts this season. But even if he wins them all and the Phillies fall out of the playoffs, he could have a tough time winning the Cy Young. See, BBWAA voters are a fickle bunch and they seem to put a lot of stock in winning. Even still, it will be very difficult to deny Halladay.

Better yet, considering Halladay has never gone into September with his team within 10 games, this should be an exciting time for him. Actually, the reason why he wanted to join the Phillies was to get a chance to pitch in meaningful, late-season games. It also didn’t hurt that he would not have to move from his Florida home since the Blue Jays and Phillies train next to each other in Dunedin and Clearwater.

Nevertheless, Halladay said he wanted to pitch in some big games and it looks like he got his wish. Starting on Monday night and going to the last regular-season game in Atlanta on Oct. 2, every start will be a big deal.

“Obviously it’s been a while since I’ve gotten to this part of the season and been on a team that’s been knocking on the door, so yeah, I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Halladay said a couple of weeks back. “We have a couple of guys coming back and it’s going to be fun. This is the biggest reason why I wanted to come here and to give ourselves a chance is pretty important.”

So if Halladay comes through in September not only will he probably get a cool looking plaque, but also it should put the Phillies into the playoffs.

The (re)maturation of Cole Hamels

Hamels WASHINGTON — The busy-ness of the pregame clubhouse at National Park on Friday afternoon was slightly unnerving. With the Phillies gearing up to make a run at a fourth straight trip to the playoffs with newly acquired ace Roy Oswalt on the mound in his first day in a Phillies’ uniform, the visiting clubhouse was more crowded than usual.

On one side of the room shortstop Jimmy Rollins held court, commenting on everything from the X Games shown on one of the TVs hanging from the ceiling of the clubhouse while discussing everything from Sponge Bob Square Pants, Scooby Doo and the 1960s live action Batman series with Adam West.

Oh, it was deep.

Boom! Bash! Pow!

Meanwhile, in the opposite corner from Rollins, Cole Hamels sat slouched in a chair in front of his locker, with his Barnes & Noble Nook, lamenting the fact that if he would have waited he would have probably purchased an iPad, like most of his teammates, instead.

See, it’s never easy to be a ballplayer like Hamels. No, he’s in a financial situation where he can have a Nook and an iPad, but that seems a little superfluous to Hamels. Besides, in due time the next version of the computer gizmo will come out and it will likely be better and faster than the current one. In the meantime, he’ll get all he can out of the Nook.

No, where it’s not easy being Hamels is playing in a place like Philadelphia. Forget all the stuff about how he’s Southern California cool with so much talent brimming over the surface that he makes the game look effortless by default. Forget that he’s similar to Mike Schmidt in that sometimes it’s not cool to be cool even if that’s just the way the guy is.

He’s so cool that the cockiness and arrogance just oozes from every pore when he walks on and off the field. It’s not exactly a trait that works for everyone, but with Hamels it’s real. It’s him. There was never a time where he didn’t think he could routinely throw a baseball past the best hitters on the planet.

And we ought to know the guy by now, right? Drafted not long after he turned 18 in the first round of the 2002 draft, the first world out on Hamels was that he was damaged goods. Sure, he could throw 94-mph and developed an otherworldly changeup after his pitching coach, Mark Furtak, taught him the circle change grip, but the broken left arm when he was a sophomore in high school scared away teams. Even his hometown Padres shied away and took college shortstop Khalil Greene with the 13th overall pick.

Eight years after that draft Greene is out of baseball while Hamels is going through another resurgence of his own.

In fact, Hamels ought to be good at that by now. Five seasons into his big league career, Hamels has been damaged goods, a delicate injury-prone lefty, a knucklehead from breaking his hand in a bar fight that cost him much of the 2005 season, a phenom, a future Cy Young Award winner, the MVP of the NLCS and World Series, to struggling pitcher trying to find his game.

Now he’s a spoke in the wheel of one of the best starting rotations in baseball and working on his renewed focus and maturity. No longer is he just the cocky kid with injury problems, Hamels a father and a husband now. On one hand he says his four-year marriage and 10-month old son, Caleb, haven’t changed anything from the way he goes about his business or approaches a game, saying, “I don’t bring [family life] to work.” However, he added, being the father to an active, healthy 10-month-old boy changes a guy’s perspective.

On the field it has made him understand things a bit more. For instance, he’s not buying the hype about the Phillies’ new, “Big Three,” the top-notch pitching trio that also includes Roy Halladay and Oswalt. The Big Three play for the Boston Celtics, he said, giving a nod to Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce over the Miami Heat’s LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

“I feel like I'm building on things,” Hamels said. “I'm more aware of what I have to do, how to pitch guys, and I'm comfortable in throwing all the pitches I have.”

Truth is, Hamels talks like a veteran pitcher now instead of the young, brash guy who talked of pitching no-hitters, winning Cy Young awards, going to the Hall-of-Fame and gallivanting with Letterman or Ellen DeGeneres and appearing on his wife’s (second) reality show, as well as the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Those things are fun, but they really don’t mean too much. Take, for instance, the 10-strikeouts he got in seven innings against the Nationals on Sunday afternoon. Sure,

“That was great and all, but I left two pitches up, one to [Ryan] Zimmerman and one to [Adam] Dunn,” he said. “That kind of sums up the game. You can be on things, but you make that one mistake to those two guys and it's costly.”

See… so mature and only 26.

It doesn’t make Hamels less enigmatic, though. After all, some people find a path and that’s the only one they need. Hamels, on the other hand, has been all over the map, especially at the end of the 2009 World Series when the frustration of a mediocre season boiled over into bad body language on the diamond, a misconstrued (foolish) comment, and a minor tiff with a teammate. In Philadelphia, during the digital age, those things get blown up.

Philly ballplayers are supposed to take their beatings stoically. If a player like Chase Utley makes a throwing error, the pitcher has to be cool and can’t go skulking around the mound with bad body language or public displays of dissatisfaction. That’s especially the case during the playoffs where an error by Utley at Dodger Stadium sent Hamels into a mini-tizzy on the mound.

As the post-season wore on and the performances weren’t as good as they were the season before, folks started to turn on Hamels a bit. That was exacerbated by some post-game comments after a poor outing in the World Series when Hamels said he could not wait for the season to end. Sure, it came out harmless and was probably taken a bit out of context, but what ballplayer in the World Series wants the season to end?

How did things change so fast? How does a guy go from 4-0 in the postseason in one season to a combined 11-13 with a 4.61 ERA through the entire 2009 season?

Better yet, who cares? Based on the first half of the season Hamels has rewarded general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and manager Charlie Manuel for their faith in him. Aside from the strong numbers, Hamels has regained his cool even when things don’t go well. Take Saturday afternoon’s game in Washington where Hamels rebounded from Dunn’s homer to retired five straight with a pair of strikeouts. He also whiffed the next two hitters after Zimmerman’s two-run double in the fourth inning and racked up eight strikeouts between the fourth and seventh innings.

The 7-7 record is not indicative of the season Hamels has had. Obviously, the record and the 3.56 ERA show a lack of run support. Considering that the low run support was part of Hamels’ frustration in 2009, the fact that he’s been steady throughout 2010 with nearly a full run less of support from last year, Hamels has impressed his bosses.

“I think right now he’s very good. I can tell you this, he should have more wins than he’s got—without a doubt. He’s pitched good,” Manuel said.

Hamels_kid“Hamels is a big-time pitcher. If you sit there and watch how he pitches and things like that, hey, over the course of his career he’ll be known as a big-time pitcher. He’s a good pitcher and he’s smooth and he has a tremendous feel for how to pitch, and yeah, he gets hit some, but so does everybody else.”

As far as comparing the postseason of 2008 to now, don’t bother. Hamels, still far from his prime, hasn’t lost a thing.

“Talent is great. If you can’t see talent then something’s wrong with you,” Manuel said. “Hamels has got good talent and he’s a great pitcher. He might not have a 95-to-100 mph fastball, but he knows how to set up his fastball and when he’s throwing 93 or 94, he can put the ball by you. He can strike people out. That’s hard to find.”

It’s also hard to find a guy who realizes what needs to change and jumps on it. Hamels is still a work in progress — his metamorphosis is far from complete. Hamels refuses to remain static, which might be his best trait…

He’s not boring.

Philly boy Roy(s)… and Cole, too

Oswalt His puffy eyes tinged with red and blurriness gave it away that Ruben Amaro Jr. had not slept much lately. If his appearance wasn’t a giveaway to how little he’d been sleeping, his voice did. No, his words weren’t quite slurred together, but they weren’t exactly robust, either.

No, Amaro wasn’t commiserating the one-year anniversary of the acquisition of Cliff Lee, which, coincidentally, was Thursday. Those no more lamenting the one that got away since it’s not unfair to suggest that the team’s starting staff is stronger now than it was then.

Instead, the Phillies general manager had to be thinking about the few mornings of extra sleep-in time based on his work transforming the Phillies’ starting rotation. Actually, Amaro just didn’t transform the Phillies’ rotation. No, that’s far too tame. Instead, those sleepless nights could result in the Phillies going to battle over the next two seasons—and possibly the season after that—with a top of the rotation that rivals any put together in team history.

See, from here on out the Phillies have three aces, a veteran wild card and fifth starter that performs along the lines of which a fifth starter should. In fact, if the Phillies get into the playoffs for a fourth year in a row, there is no team in the National League that can match up with their top three.

Seriously, what team wants to face Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and the new ace, Roy Oswalt, over a five or seven game series? Sure, those are just names on paper and the game is, as pointed out by Amaro, played by human beings.

As far as that goes, with Thursday’s acquisition of Oswalt, the humans assembled by Amaro just might be the best trio ever to wear a Phillies’ uniform.

Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt? More like electric chair, lethal injection and firing squad.

After the 1916 season where Grover Cleveland Alexander (33 wins), Eppa Rixey (22) and Al Demaree (19) combined for 74 wins, the next best starting trio in team history was on the 1977 club that got 53 wins from Steve Carlton (23), Larry Christenson (19) and Jim Lonborg (11) on the way to a 101 win season and an early exit in the playoffs. The World Champion 1980 club got 52 of their 91 wins from Carlton (24), Dick Ruthven (17) and Bob Walk (11) with no club coming close since.

What does that mean now that the Phillies have Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt, three All-Stars and perennial Cy Young Award candidates?

“I think it’s time for them to go pitch and win,” Amaro said.

That shouldn’t be a problem considering the Phillies’ penchant for scoring runs and the fact that the Philly Big Three are hitting their prime athletic years. Yes, with the addition of Oswalt the Phillies’ budget is pushed to the max. In fact, The Big Three are owed $45.5 million in salary for 2011 on top of the combined $31.5 million owed to Brad Lidge, Raul Ibanez and Jimmy Rollins in the final year of their deals, with the $35 million owed to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley means many more sleepless nights for Amaro as he attempts to figure out how to stretch his dollars.

A baseball roster is like a human body in that if something is wrong with the foot, it could have an effect on the back. Everything is connected, and if that means eight guys are owed a combined $112 million, it’s going to be tough to squeeze in Jayson Werth and/or Chad Durbin when nine other players are owed $38.75 million if J.C. Romero’s option is exercised. That’s more than $150 million with eight spots left open on the roster.

In 2009, only one team spent more than $150 million in player salaries.

Want to guess which team that was?

“This is not easy and it’s not going to happen all of the time,” Amaro said, sounding a lot like a guy who spent way too much money on a really cool car that he wanted. “We don’t have unlimited funds.”

The Phillies have issues, too. For instance, they surely want to bolster the backend of the bullpen with a more efficient closer. They also could use a bat for the bench and a lefty specialist in the ‘pen. They could probably stand a few more seats in the ballpark in order to add on to the revenue from ticket sales, too.

But the bigger question is this…

Is it worth it?

Halladay_hamels Not since the Braves had Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz has a team in the National League had a top of the rotation as fearsome as the Phillies. The 1971 Orioles got to the World Series (and lost in seven) with four starting pitchers that won at least 20 games. More recently the Oakland A’s had a strong threesome with Tim Hudson, mark Mulder and Barry Zito before they were faced with matching process in free agency.

Heck, even Oswalt was part of a nasty group with Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte with the Astros (and Lidge as the closer) that got to the World Series. But for the Phillies? Yes, this is unprecedented.

That ought to make a manager like Charlie Manuel feel lucky, huh?

“I feel lucky every day,” Manuel said about his fearsome threesome. “That’s good. I like it. Five [ace starters] would be good, too. What the hell? I want to be the best.”

With the best starting pitching trio Manuel should be set for a franchise best fourth straight trip to the playoffs and it “sends a message that we’re all about winning,” Manuel said.

Combined, Hamels, Halladay and Oswalt have a Cy Young Award, a pair of NLCS MVP Awards, and a World Series MVP Award, too. Add in the 11 combined All-Star appearances and four 20-win seasons, and clearly the Phillies are stacked.

But it guarantees nothing. In the past the Phillies never won it all with three aces, though to be fair, they never had three studs like Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt before, either.

“I want the most perfect team I can get,” Manuel said.

Tall order. For now he just has the best team Amaro could squeeze in under $150 million.

The winter of the Phillies’ discontent

Brett_myers CHICAGO —
Charlie Manuel was quick to tell his National League All-Stars that someone in the victorious clubhouse following the 3-1 victory on Tuesday night was going to enjoy playing Game 1 of the World Series this October in their home ballpark.

But Manuel was quick to point out that he wasn’t just talking to the players from the Braves, Reds, Padres or Cardinals, but looking straight at Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay from his club when he said that. See, Manuel very much enjoyed getting to the World Series the past couple of years and very much wants to pad his resume with a few more trips to the Fall Classic, too.

“Keep strivin’,” Manuel said. “I want to keep going.”

The want-to and the able-to are always so fickle, though. Absolutely, a third trip in a row to the World Series just might cinch Manuel’s legacy in Philadelphia — that is if he hasn’t done that already with a title in 2008 and a return trip to the big dance in ’09. No, the Phillies never have had a manager go to the World Series twice and only one other guy, Danny Ozark, went to the playoffs three times like Manuel.

Still, to hear it in the manager’s voice and to see the wear on his face following the 12-6 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Thursday night, the Phillies could be headed for a light schedule in October for a change. Indeed, there is trouble lurking in the not-so distance horizon for the Phillies and things could spin out of control quickly if they aren’t careful. See, this season Manuel’s crew is much more flawed than in seasons past. The inability to generate offense without a home run has caused some trouble, while injuries have forced guys like Wilson Valdez and Greg Dobbs into key roles.

Certainly games missed by Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz have hurt the team, but definitely not more than the pitching has hurt.

“We have holes,” Manuel pointed out after the latest loss that set the team to 5½ games off the pace in the NL East and two back for sixth place in the wild-card chase.

Manuel knows as well as anyone about the team’s shortcomings, but he only scratches the surface. Sure, the Phillies’ starters had an ERA of 3.95 and led the league in complete games, innings pitches and strikeouts-to-walks ratio, but those numbers lie.

Bald-faced lie.

What those numbers don’t reveal is that the Phillies desperately need pitching because they are all skewed by Halladay’s presence. Even the relief pitchers have fared well with Halladay’s addition to the staff because the corps of bullpen men have worked the fewest innings in the majors. Needless to say it helps that Halladay can gobble up nearly eight innings every time out.

So what happens when Halladay is taken out of the equation? Do you really want to know?

Try this out: with Halladay the Phils went into Thursday’s second-half opener with the sixth best starter’s ERA in the National League and sixth-best mark overall. But take Halladay’s 2.19 ERA out of the mix and overall ERA jumps to 4.43 while the starters’ sky rockets to 4.54.

In other words, the Phillies need some pitching… before it’s too late.

Now there are two ways to handle this—three if complaining about the Cliff Lee trade is an option, because let’s face it… it’s was a really bad move and could be the reason why the team has been so unhinged this season. No, trading Lee wasn’t the worst possible trade general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. could have made, but it’s up there.

Regardless, one way to make a charge is simply for the rotation to dial it up. Sure, Cole Hamels has been good this year, but he is also prone to inconsistency like the rest of the staff. If the Phillies are going to get back into the playoffs for a fourth straight season, Hamels is going to have to pitch like it’s 2008 or if he magically morphs into Cliff Lee.

Consistency is the key.

“Is it good enough? I don’t know. I mean we gotta pitch,” Manuel said. “If we pitch consistently, put it like this, for where we want to go we have to play high .500 [winning percentage] or low .600 the rest of the way. That means ours pitching has to be very consistent.”

Another way for the staff to gain consistency is to add a missing piece. Nope, unless Amaro has a time machine, either DeLorean model or hot tub, Lee is gone forever. It also doesn’t appear as if Pedro Martinez will be ready to help the club the rest of the way this season, nor does it seem likely that they can get a stud like Roy Oswalt since the y have a dearth of bargaining chips. Trading Jayson Werth clearly has become a very wise move because it seems apparent that he will not be re-signed, but what kind of value does he have?

A player like Werth would be desirable on a club making a push for the playoffs, but even there he isn’t very attractive since he likely could only be a two month rental. Besides, if a team is in contention, it is not going to deal away valuable pitching talent for Werth. That wouldn’t make sense.

Then again, trading away Lee and re-signing Joe Blanton for three years after he was shopped during the winter meetings only for the Phils’ to learn there wasn’t any interest. That’s no knock on Blanton, but really… why sign him for three years and $24 million when there is a chance to give Lee an extension?

It doesn’t make any sense.

Speaking of not making much sense, the decision to allow Brett Myers to walk away seems to have come back and bit the team on the rear, too. Making matters worse is the fact that Myers is exactly the type of pitcher the Phillies need right now. In fact, Myers is quietly putting together the best season of his career with the Astros, checking in with a 3.41 ERA in 18 starts and 121 innings.

Sure, there was plenty of baggage that came with having Myers on the team, but there was no shortage of enthusiasm. These days the only way some of the players on the club express themselves is by screaming expletives at a father and his son sitting in the right-field seats.

Maybe we can rephrase the old baseball adage by pointing out that a team can’t win a pennant in December, but this one just might have lost one last winter.

Phillies want what they already had

Cliff_lee The most telling story I’ve heard about the Phillies lately comes from Braves’ manager Bobby Cox when he heard that his NL East rivals were able to make a deal with the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay. When told that Halladay was joining up with the two-time defending National League champs, Cox didn’t quite break into hysterics like Nancy Kerrigan when she was kneecapped (literally) by a lead pipe, but it was close.

Cox says he cursed at a rate he saves for the likes of C.B. Bucknor or Dan Iassogna. It was more than angry over the fact that the Phillies had added the best pitcher in the game to a roster that went to the World Series twice in a row. Cox was upset because he’d been on the other side and knows what pitchers like Halladay can do for a team.

Remember back when the Braves, fresh off two straight trips to the World Series, added Greg Maddux to the staff with John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery? The troubling part wasn’t that the Braves suddenly had three future Hall of Famers and a fourth guy—Avery—who had already piled up two 18-win seasons and an MVP in the NLCS before he had turned 23. Nope, that wasn’t the part that drove everyone upside down.

The part that was the most heart wrenching was that with Maddux the Braves suddenly had three future Hall of Famers who were not even in their primes yet. All three guys were 26 or 27 when they joined up together and each had four seasons where they won at least 14 games in a season. In the case of Maddux and Glavine, 20 wins per season was the base line, while Smoltz, the least accomplished of the trio at the time, is the only pitcher to ever win at least 200 games and save at least 150.

Nope, the Braves weren’t messing around back then and when he heard that the Phillies had traded for Halladay, he saw history repeating itself. The Phillies, like the Braves, were poised to dominate the NL East for at least half of the next decade considering the ages of their stars of the rotation and the ability of their hitters. The Braves and Mets were going to have a tough time.

But then Cox heard that the Phillies had traded Cliff Lee and suddenly he wasn’t so worried any more. Oh sure, Halladay and Cole Hamels is a pretty nice combo, especially considering the fact that Hamels is just 26 the way Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux were two decades ago. Halladay, 33, was a bit older, but he had moved past the injury-prone years and was looking at another five seasons of top-level pitching.

Add Halladay to a rotation with Hamels and Lee and it’s the modern version of the ’93 Braves with J.A. Happ starring as Avery and Joe Blanton playing the role of Pete Smith. With that rotation the only thing the Phillies would have to worry about is injuries (duh) and whether the National League could win the All-Star Game to give the Phillies home-field advantage in the World Series.

But then Cox found out that the Phillies had traded Lee, too, and suddenly he wasn’t so upset any more. He didn’t have to worry about the best pitching trio in the game because Phils’ general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. believed it was more important for his team to be competitive for many years instead of great this year.

Those weren’t his words, of course, but they could have been. At least that’s the way it seems considering the Phillies added three prospects in J.C. Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont and Tyson Gillies from Seattle for a pitcher who might win his second Cy Young Award if he spends the entire season in the American League. Sure, there was a money aspect to it, too. Amaro says the Phillies could have afforded Lee this season, yes. However, it appears as if he was scared off by demands of a potential long-term deal from Lee’s camp.

This comes despite the fact that if Lee were to pitch 2010 for the Phillies at $9 million and then walked away in the winter because of some over-the-top contract demands, it’s the pitcher who suffers and not the club. At least that’s how it plays out in the always important PR aspect of it.

What makes all of that funny (not ha-ha funny) is the fact that four months after Lee was traded for those minor leaguers, Amaro and the Phillies gave Ryan Howard a five-year, $125 million deal that doesn’t kick in until 2012 and lasts until 2016. This is no to debate the merits of Howard’s contract extension. Good for him, I say. Instead, the curious thing about the contract extension for Howard was that his current deal won’t end until after 2011. And considering that Howard just got a $50,000 bonus for being named to the All-Star team, it’s been a pretty good year for the big fella.

Lee only got $10,000 for making the All-Star team and gets $250,000 more for winning the Cy Young. All he got for putting together the greatest postseason in team history since Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1915 was a trade to Seattle.

But even that’s not the funniest part (again, not ha-ha). The funniest part has been listening to the GM go on and on about how the Phillies need to add pitching possibly before the July 31 trading deadline with this fantastic quote:

image from“My job is to continue to make this team better.”

He said this long after Lee was traded and now wants to go out and get a pitcher.

“I’m always more concerned about pitching,” Amaro said. “At the end of the day our team should be able to handle some losses in the lineup. With the offensive talent we have, we should be able to absorb some losses. But you can never have enough pitching if you want to contend.

“For me, pitching (remains a priority) because we know our infielders will be back.”

Nope, you can never have enough pitching if you want to contend. That’s what the Phillies’ general manager said on Tuesday afternoon before his team’s extra-inning loss to the Cox’s Braves, where Hamels again pitched well a day after Halladay beat the Braves with a complete-game gem.

However, instead of going for the triple threat with Lee, the Phillies closed out the series against the first-place Braves with 47-year-old lefty Jamie Moyer.

“If we had Cliff Lee, we wouldn’t have Roy Halladay,” Amaro said. “It’s pretty simple. Time and circumstance dictate what you can and can’t do. We felt like we were in a position to hold on to one and not the other, and long-term we couldn’t leave the cupboard bare.”

Oh, but the GM said the team could have kept them both in 2010. Instead, he’s talking about years down the road because in the Phillies’ world it seems it is better to be competitive than great.

Helping out with the All-Stars

— Guys like me have no particular insight or influence when it comes to Phils’ manager Charlie Manuel and his decision making. Come to think about it, no else really does, either. Charlie is his own man and isn’t afraid to put his ass on the line.

The buck stops with Charlie.

So when discussing the All-Star Game and Manuel’s job as manager for the National League for the second year in a row, there wasn’t much reading between the lines. Charlie said he had a deadline in which to submit his roster and like anyone with a busy life and a job that takes him to place like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, he was probably going to go right up until the last minute.

Actually, that makes sense because choosing an All-Star team isn’t exactly like writing a paper for an anthropology class. History doesn’t change, but baseball statistics are never static. Just when you think you have a handle on what the numbers show about a ballplayer he’ll ground out to end the fourth inning somewhere or some nerd will develop some new metric that revolutionizes everything.

Ultimately, however, it comes down to the numbers and more than anything Charlie will take a look at the more mainstream of them before submitting his selections.

And because we’re like that in the sports writing business, I took the time to come up with a starting nine for both leagues. No, Charlie didn’t ask me to do it and as stated earlier, it’s doubtful this exercise will have any influence. Truth be told, I didn’t even vote in the All-Star balloting.

But because there’s nothing else really going on and no World Cup action to tune in for, here’s my starting nine for the National League:

C — Miguel Olivo, Colorado
Actual pick — Yadier Molina, St. Louis
This was purely a statistical and offensive selection seeing as Olivo leads all National League catchers with 11 homers and 39 RBIs. Truth is I can’t really recall an instance when I saw Olivo play this season and his numbers could be inflated because he’s playing for the Rockies at Coors Field this season instead of for the Kansas City Royals. It’s a lot different when a guy gets to bat behind Jason Giambi instead of Alberto Collaspo.

Brian McCann of Atlanta just might be the best all-around catcher in the league and will be there with Molina and Olivo, though it would be interesting to see if Carlos Ruiz would have been in the mix had he been able to stay healthy.

1B — Albert Pujols, St. Louis
Actual pick: Pujols
I didn’t even bother looking up Pujols’s stats and I haven’t checked his line in a box score all season. Oh sure, Joey Votto from Cincinnati is having a monster first half and Ryan Howard has posted some decent numbers, too. But as long as Pujols is drawing breath on this planet, he’s in the All-Star Game.

In fact, Pujols could be 90 and retired for 20 years and I would write his name in for the All-Star Game. I wouldn’t even care if his UZR was subpar because Pujols is the best hitter we have ever seen.

2B — Martin Prado, Atlanta
Actual pick: Chase Utley, Philadelphia
Going by what I get to see on a regular basis, a guy like Prado deserves some investigation. Did you know that Prado comes from the same hometown (Marcay, Venezuela) as ex-Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu? Or that last season Prado hit three homers with 10 RBIs and a .432 batting average in 15 games against the Phillies?

How about this one… did you know that Prado leads the National League with a .336 batting average and finished first in the player’s balloting for the All-Star Game? It’s true. Prado beat Utley in the player’s vote, 472-276. That’s right, Prado beat Utley like a gong.

Because Utley is out with a torn up thumb until September, Prado will get the starting nod for Big Chuck’s National Leaguers.

Rolen 3B — Scott Rolen, Cincinnati

Actual pick: David Wright, New York
I have a confession to make and it makes me a little uncomfortable, but here it goes… Scott Rolen is my favorite player. Yes, Pujols is the best hitter I’ve ever seen. Much better than even Rod Carew, George Brett or Tony Gwynn, but if my sons ever are interested in playing baseball seriously, I’ll get a DVD of Rolen, pop it into the machine and show it to my kids.

Then I'd probably say something like, "That, son, is how you play the game."

Because Rolen plays the game exactly the way it should be played and it's not really very subtle, either. For now though, the kids like the big fella. For intance, my oldest likes Ryan Howard because he had a life-sized poster in his room and the Phillies’ first baseman has some flair in the batters’ box with that exaggerated trigger with his bat pushed forward like a sword and, of course, he hits a lot of homers. Kids like big dudes who hit homers. When I was my son's age it was Greg Luzinski that every kid copied. Now it's The Big Piece.

Meanwhile my youngest doesn’t know what the hell a baseball is yet, but he'll learn because he's a lefty. All they both know about baseball is that it often keeps their daddy away from home and that’s not a good thing.

But back to Rolen…

There are no hidden meanings when Rolen plays third base or circles the bases. It’s all effort and power with some finesse sprinkled in around third base with some glove work that even forced Mike Schmidt to admit that Rolen was the best he’d ever seen. There also is no searching for nuance, which somehow makes his game appealing. Rolen really doesn't have any style when he plays and anyone with a sense of fashion will tell you, sometimes no style is style.

If there is something beneath the surface with Rolen it's that he has an iconoclastic quality, if you will. It was something that the folks in Philly didn't get at all, and maybe the only explanation is it's some sort of Indiana thing that is ingrained with dudes from that part of the world as if it’s part of their DNA. Letterman, John Cougar Mellencamp and Larry Bird all seem to have the same kind of qualities as Rolen, and they all come from the same place. 


For some reason certain folks from Indiana react to every slight or insult. When he was in playing in Philly, Rolen looked like he played baseball because he wanted revenge for something. It was something to see. Sure, guys with his sensibilities have traits that can be a bit alienating, but whatever.

Do you think everyone likes Letterman, Mellencamp or Bird? Do you think they care?

As far as the 2010 season goes Rolen seems to be on the path for the comeback player of the year. Healthy for the first time in about a half a decade, Rolen won the player’s balloting by 30 votes over David Wright. Plus, with his sixth All-Star appearance, Rolen has the third-most All-Star appearances on the squad behind Pujols and Roy Halladay.

He's old, but at least he has his panache back.

SS — Hanley Ramirez, Florida
Actual pick: Ramirez
There are two things that are peculiar about Ramirez. One is to wonder how he would be discussed if he played in Boston, Philadelphia or New York instead of Miami. If he spent five minutes playing for the Yankees or Mets, folks would probably be talking about Ramirez as if he were the second coming of Honus Wagner. Instead, we get to chalk down Jose Reyes as the most overrated New York player.

The second peculiarity is that most people only know Ramirez as the guy who lollygagged after a ball and then battled with his soon-to-be ex-manager. Of course that has a lot to do with Ramirez playing in Miami instead of an actual sports town, but hey, what are you going to do? Ramirez was voted to start in the All-Star Game for the third time so it appears as if they’ve heard of him somewhere.

OF—Andre Ethier, Los Angeles; Corey Hart, Milwaukee; Josh Willingham, Washington
Actual picks: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee; Ethier; Jason Heyward, Atlanta
My picks are all statistically based because if I was going by what I have seen, Hart would never be there. Has there ever been a player that always ends the season with great statistics, but whenever you get the chance to see him play, he stinks? That’s Corey Hart for me.

Corey_hart Then again I’m probably focusing on Hart because he won the final five Internet balloting two years ago and I was unfamiliar with his body of work aside from the humiliating 3-for-13 he posted in the 2008 NLDS against the Phillies.

Besides, who didn’t love that tune, “Sunglasses at Night” by Canadian pop-rocker Corey Hart back in 1983? Just thinking about it makes me want to break out a key-tar and rock out.

Either way, Corey Hart (but not Corey Hart) is having a solid season. I still haven't seen him play this year and I'm sure if I did he'd go 0-for-4 with a couple of K's and a throwing error, but whatever. His numbers look really good.

P — Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado
Actual pick: Jimenez (player vote)
Remember the first time you saw Jimenez pitch? It was probably in September of 2007 at the Bank or maybe even in October of that year in the NLDS. If you’re like me (and why wouldn’t you be?) you probably said aloud, “Holy bleep, what was that pitch?!”

You also probably thought, “I bet that guy is going to be a star if he can put it all together.”

Jimenez’s had what big leaguers like to call, “electric stuff.” He was raw back then, but threw 98 with breaking pitches that hissed and slithered like a snake. He was exciting in a way folks get excited when they discover a really good band that no one else has heard of, but now that everyone has caught up with the proper way of seeing things, you somehow feel justified and self-assured that you know baseball talent when you see it.

Hell, you might even be ready for a gig as a scout so you can go bird-doggin' around looking for the next best thing.

Anyway, Jimenez pitched the clinching Game 3 at Coors Field in the ’07 NLDS and held the Phillies to just three hits in an interesting duel with Jamie Moyer, which was his coming out party. People got a good, first look at him then though it took some time for him to get right here.

Two years after that rookie season, Jimenez won 27 games and showed flashes of brilliance though the rawness was most prevalent. This year, though, it appears as if he’s put it all together. At 14-1 with a 2.27 ERA, Jimenez already has a no-hitter to his credit and should get the starting nod for the National Leaguers.   

Interestingly, Halladay finished second in the player balloting behind Jimenez. However, since Manuel will be thinking more about his club than the National Leaguers, don’t expect Halladay to get into the game.

And that's it. There are you're National League All-Stars as defined by me. Get busy debating the merits of Omar Infante or Joey Votto. There's seven days to fight about it until everyone shows up in Anaheim for the big game.

Taking on the World

Bradley_usa The texts and messages rolled in almost as quickly as it
happened. Mostly, with the group of folks I have given my contact information
to, the knee-jerk response was laughter. After all, it’s not every day that the
general manager of a baseball team that is coming off of two straight trips to
the World Series takes a shot at you on live TV.

Call it a badge of honor or something like that. After
all, acknowledgment is a good thing (or something).

Anyway, when I learned about the comments they were
always followed up by the question, “are you mad?” My theory on why this was the question is because I’m sure the
cats who asked were hoping for a little tête
à tête
between the GM and me. Look, I don’t associate with the most noble
of folks. Actually, these are the types of people who take delight in the
failure of others and love a good soap opera more so than a digging through the

Yes, my friends are weasels. Then again, that’s why they
are my friends.

So once I pieced together the smarty-pants comments from
the GM about me on live television, the easy answer to the questions was, “No,
why would I be angry?”

That was the truth, too. Angry? Nope, not with the GM.
Considering I compared him to Nixon bombing Cambodia during the Vietnam War
when playing us press types for fools during the Winter Meetings. Remember
that? The GM told us the Phillies weren’t in the mix for Roy Halladay, but then
a couple days later he made the big trade. Incidentally, Halladay pitches
tonight against the team he was traded from.

Synergy, huh?

Nevertheless, for those of us who like to dish it out we
sure as shoot better be able to take it, too. There might be a little bit of
crying allowed in baseball, but there is no place for whining. Rub some dirt on
that bruised ego and get back out there is what I say.

So what does this have to do with the United States
national team and the World Cup? Well, not much unless we relate it to me (and
this is all about me). See, a couple
of weeks ago I sat at the Linc and watched the World Cup squad take on Turkey
in their last game in the U.S. before jetting off to South Africa. From that
game and the reports on the previous game against the Czech Republic, my
thought was Bob Bradley’s team could be setting itself up for a big crash.

I even wrote this:

Bob Bradley is a
smart man. As the coach of the U.S. World Cup team headed for South Africa on
Monday, Bradley has to be pretty sharp. So when listening to the coach speak
after games it’s best to listen to the words he’s not saying as opposed to what is said.

Now this isn’t to
say that Bradley is performing avant jazz by bebopping and scatting confusing
and cryptic phrases on our ears. No, far from it. However, following the 2-1 victory
over the national team from Turkey on Saturday afternoon at the Linc, it was
evident that the coach believes his team has some more work to do before its
first match against England on June 12.

Again, Bradley
wasn’t hiding anything, but then again he really didn’t have to. There was no
conspiratorial tone from Bradley whatsoever. Still, it seemed as if Bradley was
trying to sell the notion that everything was going to be OK.

Certainly that’s a relative
term when it comes to U.S. soccer in international competition. Still, based on
the team’s painful 0-3 showing in the last World Cup and the experience of the
players on the current roster, Team USA has to be a little better than OK. It’s
the round of 16 or bust in South Africa for the U.S.

Yep, Bradley knew what he was saying that afternoon in
Philadelphia. He outlined exactly
what his team had to do in the final week and a half leading up to the World
Cup opener against England and things have actually gone better than planned.
Oh yes, there were some tense moments there before Landon Donovan scored in
extra time to boost the U.S. to the win of Group C, and it’s not unfair to
suggest that Bradley’s boys deserved a lot less stress on their run to the
final 16.

But you know what? Bradley gets it. The coach really
knows what he’s doing. He knows when to push his guys and when to relax on the
whip a bit. Moreover, there is nothing about the undefeated round robin stage
that has been a mistake. The U.S. won the group because it was the best team.

As far as dealing with the press in South Africa, it
appears as if Bradley has kept it just as avant as he did that day in
Philadelphia. If the quarterfinals game against Ghana comes down to strategery
and acumen, the U.S. is going to march on.

So here we are with another big plate of crow, a fork and
a sharp knife. In fact, if it comes to that I’m going to hold my nose and take
a big bite.

No, the U.S. is not
going to win the World Cup. At least not until the next Kobe Bryant and LeBron
James opt for soccer instead of other sports.In other words, this could be a
very good year for U.S. Soccer… that is if it can take care of a few issues
before the games start. That means no more repeats of the first half of the
game against Turkey in Philadelphia.

Yep, that was me. I typed that just enough arrogance to
force others to believe that I knew what I was talking about. So now with it
all out on the table like this, let’s entertain the thought for a moment—y’know,
tempt fate, the football gods and
Posh Spice with some crazy talk…

What if the U.S. wins this thing? Really, what then? Will
there be an explosion, a war, a day off from work, a chance for the
international community to question the very nature of life?

Yes, what if the U.S. wins the World Cup?

Is this the craziest thing ever?

Chooch gets the party started

Ruiz Carlos Ruiz runs pretty well for a catcher. No, he’s not going to go from first to third on a single hit in front of the right fielder. He’s also not going to steal too many bags or stretch a double into a triple. That’s just not his game.

But Ruiz will always run full out even for something as simple as backing up first on a grounder to second. In fact, catching Ruiz in a forgetful state is a rarity. If he needs to be somewhere he will get there as quickly as possible.

That’s an important role on a team as good as the Phillies. After all, when the team clinches a spot in the playoffs or World Series, it needs someone like Ruiz to hustle to the mound in order to wrap up the pitcher into a bear hug. The best example of this was after Brad Lidge threw that slider past Eric Hinske to end the 2008 World Series. Not even a beat after the ball hit his glove, Ruiz was up and sprinting toward Lidge. Two steps into his dash, Ruiz flung his mask aside like he would if he were chasing down a foul pop behind the plate. A couple more steps and he had collided into Lidge’s arms seconds before Ryan Howard and the rest of the team buried him.

Ruiz is eerily consistent, too. After the Phillies sewed up the NLDS and NLCS in 2009, he was right there on top of Lidge by the time the last out was recorded. Certainly there’s rarely a time before the playoffs begin where a party starter like Ruiz is needed, however, because the Phillies have been so good lately the catcher has ironed out his routine pretty quickly. Undoubtedly, those abilities came in handy on Saturday night after Roy Halladay finished up his perfect game in Miami.

So when Ronny Paulino hit a sharp grounder to Juan Castro at third, Ruiz took a route to back up the play not too far from the base line so that when Howard picked the throw he could be a few steps closer to mob Halladay.

And just like in the postseason, Ruiz dashed toward his pitcher with his arms, eyes and mouth wide open. It’s almost as if any great moment can be officially complete for the Phillies unless there’s that shot of Ruiz running with unbridled joy bursting through the picture.

Just don’t take this as proof that Ruiz is some M.L. Carr type waving a towel and firing up the crowd, guess again. Not only could Ruiz get to an All-Star Game—thanks in part to all those sellouts at Citizens Bank Park—but he very well could be on the way to establishing himself as the best Phillies catcher ever.

OK, that’s a bit of bold line considering Ruiz is in his fourth full season in the majors with a .251 lifetime batting average and is already 31-years old. Actually, the fact that he even made it to the big leagues at all is a testament to his fortitude. Shifted to catcher even though he was signed as an infielder, Ruiz fought against himself and the position to succeed. As a result, he got the nickname, “Chooch,” because he used a derivation of that term as a self-insult to not be afraid of the ball when turning into a catcher.

Not only did a nickname emerge from the veritable trial by self-masochism in a mask, but also a really good catcher arrived, too. Initially, Ruiz was seen as a stop-gap or transitional backstop between Mike Lieberthal and some other guy. The problem with that idea was no other guy emerged. Sure, maybe someone will come along soon, but no time soon.

That means more Chooch… and that’s good.

So aside from his ability to get to the mound quickly, Ruiz is the catcher the Phils’ pitchers love to throw to. Watching Halladay in interviews after his perfect game, he was quick to give credit to his catcher.

“I can't say enough about the job that Ruiz did tonight, really," Halladay told reporters. I felt like he was calling a great game up until the fourth or fifth, and at that point, I just felt like I'd let him take over and go with him. He did a great job. Like I said, it was kind of a no-brainer for me. I'd just go out, see the glove and hit it."

It’s always big deal to Ruiz. Bullpen coach and catching instructor Mick Billmeyer says if there is one fault Ruiz has in his game it’s that he cares a lot. If a pitcher has a bad outing, Billmeyer says Ruiz looks at it as a reflection on him. Even when pitchers shake him off, Ruiz takes it seriously.

Indeed, he is a serious man. So much so that when asked which catcher he is most impressed with in the majors, Billmeyer's answer was quick and to the point.

Chooch "I like our guy," he said.

Now where does Ruiz rank amongst the past Phillies’ catchers? He doesn’t have as much experience as guys like Darren Daulton, Bob Boone, Andy Seminick, Clay Dalrymple and Lieberthal, but his career averages are just as good in most offensive categories. The difference is unlike Boone and Lieberthal, Ruiz doesn’t have a Gold Glove Award, but even there it’s just a matter of time.

Meanwhile, though Ruiz has been dealing with a sore shoulder he’s hitting this season like he usually does in the playoffs. Better yet, in 38 games Ruiz leads the league in pitches seen per plate appearance and is second in on-base percentage.

In other words, he’s a hitter now, too.

He’s a catcher first, though. When it comes to that, Ruiz spent the night after Halladay’s perfect game on the phone with his mother in Panama reliving the big night.

“It was special for me,” Ruiz told reporters.

That’s evident, and that’s a big reason why Ruiz has endeared himself to the Philly fans. He might not look like Johnny Bench back there, but he’s going to figure out how to get it done.

There is no way to forget Robin Roberts

Robin_roberts Robin Roberts was one of those guys your grandfather always talked about. But rather in hushed tones and clinical recitation of the finer points of his Hall-of-Fame baseball career, your grandfather and the other old timers talked about Robin Roberts with excited exuberance.

See, Robbie, who died this morning at his home in Florida of natural causes at age 83, was a horse. He was the guy who started both ends of a doubleheader, or threw until there was no one else to pitch to. If he didn’t finish the first game and take the hill for the night cap, chances are he’d get into the game as a pinch hitter. Robin Roberts was a baseball player. Baseball players play every day.

Oh, but Roberts was a pitcher, too. He had to be. For a guy to rack up 305 complete games in 609 career starts over 19 Major League seasons, yeah, he absolutely had to know something about how to pitch. It was more than simply blowing the ball past a hitter or leaning back on one unhittable pitch in order to rack up all those innings for so many years without breaking down.

“I liked him when I was a kid,” Charlie Manuel said, noting that the high heat that Roberts was known for overshadowed a pretty nice curveball, too.

There was an art to his craft. Sure, there was brawn and strength, but there was guile, too. How else does a pitcher pile on seven straight seasons of 300 innings?

Yeah, imagine that… 300 innings. Do you know when the last time was when a pitcher got 300 innings in a season? Try 1980 when Steve Carlton got 304. Indeed, baseball has traversed through three decades since a pitcher accomplished what Roberts did as a routine part of the job.

There was more to it than that, though.

“The kind of person he was will stand out more than the numbers on the back of a baseball card,” Roy Halladay said, adding that he was overwhelmed to learn that Roberts wanted to meet him and sought him out during spring training.

“Everyone aspires to be that good.”

Halladay has been labeled as the modern-day version of Roberts, only he has only completed as many as nine games in a single season and topped out at 266 innings. However, like Roberts, Halladay rarely played for good teams (until now). The Phillies won the pennant in 1950 and were swept out of the World Series by the Yankees. So when one looks at the career stats there is just that one trip to the postseason. That’s it. Moreover, Roberts’ teams finished as high as third place just twice in 19 seasons. So beyond 1950 and two other seasons, Roberts’ teams were pretty much out of it by September. There really wasn’t all that much to pitch for since the season could easily be charted out on the calendar with no hope for a trip to the World Series.

Actually, after going to the World Series in 1950, the Phillies finished better than fourth place just one time in Roberts’ tenure with the team. Somehow, the great righty figured out how to win at least 20 games in six straight years.

Yet Roberts completed all those games anyway. He won 286 despite pitching almost exclusively for second-division teams.

With that in mind, imagine how your grandfather would talk about Roberts if he had pitched for the Yankees, Dodgers or Cardinals. Think about that for a second… You would probably be told that Roberts was the greatest pitcher of all time, only without all that exuberance. Had Roberts been lucky enough to pitch for a team in the pennant chase every season, you’d hear his name whispered in those tones reserved for Cy Young or Christy Matthewson. He would be seen as otherworldly and his stat sheet would be difficult to look at without breaking into historonics.

He could have gotten 400 wins with the Yankees.

But Roberts was of this world. He wouldn’t have been Robbie had he been the star of New York. You see him in those grainy old photos smiling and striking a pitching pose, hardly broken by all those losing seasons. Better yet, when he career had ended after hanging on for a few extra seasons with Baltimore, Houston and Chicago, Roberts was more than the Phillies greatest Hall-of-Famer and greatest ambassador…

He was the game’s greatest gentleman.

Time_RR I’d like to think Roberts’ gentlemanly ways are what drew in my grandfather. Sure, those stats are amazing, and the kind of stuff to dig into like an old box in the attic filled with photos never seen before. Roberts was retired long before I was born and, ridiculously, needed 10 years for enshrinement into the Hall of Fame. But when he was in the room, flashing that great smile of his that shined from his eyes as if it were a floodlight filling every corner, you were sucked in.

He didn’t even have to say a word and everyone was charmed by his charisma.

I first met Roberts in 1984 just as I was heading into junior high.

Back in 1984 in the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C., I stepped onto an elevator with Roberts and he was kind enough to indulge me and my questions about the Olympics. I had seen where Roberts was a consultant for Team USA and with the L.A. Games quickly approaching, I saw it as my in.

So when I had the chance to shoot the breeze with Roberts again, 24 years after that first meeting, I brought up that ’84 Olympics team again.

They sure did. Mark McGwire, Will Clark, Barry Larkin, B.J. Surhoff and a catcher from Philadelphia named John Marzano took the silver in the first year baseball was re-introduced to the Olympics.
Strangely, the next time I talked to Roberts about Olympic baseball was before the last time the sport was part of the Olympic program.

Good memories. That was the charm about Roberts… he loved the game and he loved talking to people about it. He loved his memories and seemed to be part of a time when stories were passed down from one generation to another. Better yet, he wasn’t so self-absorbed that he looked down on modern players for not playing the way they did back in his day. He also showed no bitterness about the amount of money they make these days, either. He was wise enough to know that the game and times had changed and accepted his era for what it was.

The bottom line was that he loved baseball and life. To create an unforgettable legacy playing a game was a charmed fate for a person, and Roberts knew it.

The last time I saw Roberts was shortly before the 2009 World Series was to begin. Once again the Phillies were playing the Yankees, and Robbie riveted us with stories about closer Jim Konstanty taking the ball as a starter in Game 1.

“The Konstanty thing was a miracle,” Roberts said last October about the league’s top reliever starting in Game 1 of the 1950 World Series. “(Manager) Eddie Sawyer gave him the ball and he went out there like he was doing it his whole life. … That really was a miracle. If he would have won that would have been something they talked about forever, but because he lost people kind of forgot about it.”

No one will ever forget about Robin Roberts, though. Your grandfather was rarely wrong, and when he told you all about Robin Roberts, he was totally correct…

He was as great as they came—off the field more than on it.

Pitching help for the Phillies? Absolute-Lee

Cliff_lee Following yet another poor outing from Phillies starter Kyle Kendrick, a rough five innings in a rehab assignment at Double-A Reading from Joe Blanton, and at least another three weeks on the disabled list for lefty J.A. Happ, it must have been difficult for diehard Phillies’ fans to follow the game between Texas and Seattle on Friday night.

Actually, following the inning-by-inning reports from Seattle was enough to muster up pangs of jealousy and maybe even a little resentment. Considering the Phillies trotted out Kendrick on Friday and will go with the aged Jamie Moyer on Sunday night, Cliff Lee’s debut for the Mariners was enough to make one want to beat on their head with a shoe.

Or something like that.

Nevertheless, all the old arguments and sports-talk radio styled knee-jerk reactions reemerged even before Lee exited the game after spinning a three-hitter without allowing a walk or a run in seven innings. Add in the eight strikeouts and it’s an insult-to-injury jawn.

That’s especially the case if Moyer rolls out a clunker on ESPN on Sunday night.

Nevertheless, not even 12 hours after his gem for the Mariners reports out of Seattle indicate Lee will likely be headed to free agency this winter. Given his consistency and the fact that his run during the 2009 postseason was the greatest by a Phillies pitcher since Grover Cleveland Alexander, Lee just might be able to demand the long-term deal he’s reported to be seeking. If John Lackey can get five years and more than $80 million from Boston, what will Cliff Lee get?

That’s going to be a big issue for the Mariners, a team that should be right in the thick of things in the AL West this season. Considering that the Mariners have the core group under contract until 2011, Lee should be the team’s lone long-term priority.

Still, from the looks of things it appears as if the Mariners are taking a wait-and-see approach with Lee. According, to a report from ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Mariners and Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker, are at an impasse.

“We're five months away from free agency,” said Braunecker, “so I think that's the most likely scenario at this point.”

“We've not really had any significant discussions with Seattle. I wouldn't anticipate a deal [with the Mariners].”

Now let’s trot this scenario out there just for fun…

Let’s say the Mariners fall way out of the race in the AL West by the All-Star Break while the Phillies remain scuffling along with some inconsistent performances from the starting staff. Perhaps even Cole Hamels’ inconsistency is enough to make some believe that the Phillies need another pitcher to back up Roy Halladay. Let’s just say all of this unfolds just in time for the July 31 trade deadline…

Do the Phillies again swoop in and make another move for Lee?

Since it’s not my money and I was on record as calling the trade to send Lee to Seattle a mistake, then yes, go get him again. If Pedro wants to sign up, go get him, too. After years of doing all the work in Toronto and carrying the Phillies through the first six starts of the season, Halladay deserves a little more help.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. doesn’t discuss internal matters, rumors or even share his thoughts on certain matters, so who knows what’s going on in regard to bolstering the pitching. However, when asked about the team’s pitching after Halladay’s spot, manager Charlie Manuel admitted he was a bit worried.

“I’m concerned about our pitching, really,” Manuel said. “We have to show that we can pitch and we gotta show that we can be consistent doing it. But you have to have confidence in your pitchers. I’ve seen our guys pitch and we have to get Happ and Blanton back, though. And the guys we have I have confidence in them, but they have to do the job.”

No one needed to watch Halladay spin a three-hit shutout over the Mets to know he was a good pitcher. After six starts the righty leads the league in innings with 49 to go with the 5-1 record and 1.47 ERA. But take that out of the mix and the Phils’ starters are 5-5 with a 5.18 ERA while allowing the opposition to hit .283 off of them in 17 starts.

If Lee isn’t an option, maybe Roy Oswalt will be one. Either way, the Phillies need some help.

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…


“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.

Poll numbers strike out

Wade One of the funniest moments from writing about the
Phillies for all those years came back in 2002 in the midst of Larry Bowa’s
reign of error. It had just come out in one of those ubiquitous Sports Illustrated polls in which the
players voted the then-Phillies skipper as the worst in the big leagues.

Sure, it was an ambiguous poll to say the least, but the
point was players from around the league saw what was going on inside the
Phillies dugout during games and wanted no parts of it. Hell, the team even
asked that shots of the manager in the dugout during games be limited. No sense
putting the dysfunction out there on the airwaves.

Anyway, Bowa said he didn’t care about what the Sports Illustrated poll indicated when
asked before a game at the Vet during the 2003 season. In fact, he didn’t care
so much that he spent a good portion of the pre-game meeting with the writers
talking about how much he didn’t care and how dumb the players were for not
seeing his brilliance. OK, he didn’t say it like that in so many words, but he
clearly was bothered by his status in the poll.

The funny part wasn’t Bowa’s reaction to his No. 1
status, but the reaction by the players in the Phillies’ clubhouse. When asked
about it, most of the players treated the question as if it were a flaming bag
of dog crap on the front porch. Rather than jump on the bag to put out the
fire, and thus getting soiled shoes, most of the players just let it smolder
itself out. They said all the right things, peppering the writers with a steady
barrage of jock-speak clichés.

That is except for Mike Lieberthal, another Bowa
foil, who gave the best answer of all.

“If I played on another team I’d hate him, too,”
Lieberthal said, before explaining how it must look in the Phillies’ dugout to
a bystander. Gotta love Lieby… he had trouble figuring out how to use those clichés
knowing that his true thoughts were much more fun.

So what’s the point? Who cares about that cantankerous
era of Phillies baseball where one never knew what type of land mine rested
just around any corner? How about this… maybe there’s something to those polls Sports Illustrated conducts?  After all, in a recent issue, the Sixers’ Andre
Iguodala was voted to be amongst the NBA’s most overrated players and the Phillies’
Ruben Amaro Jr. was rated as a middle-of-the-pack general manager in Major
League Baseball. Make that, second-division, actually. Ruben came in 19th
while ex-Phillies GM Ed Wade was 29th out of 30.

Those ratings seem to be a bit off… at least for Wade.
Taking his full body of work into account Ed Wade might be a vastly underrated as
a big league general manager.

Really? How so? And why does it appear as if I’m talking
to myself?

Here’s why Wade is underrated:


Don’t sleep on this factor. In a business where hubris
and self-absorption are the norm (see: Amaro, R.) and a sense of humor is
viewed as a determent, Wade’s unintentional comedy is nothing to sneeze at.
Really, do you have to ask? Wade was the guy who parachuted out of a plane—a ballsy
act in itself—only to get all tangled up in a tree in South Jersey. You can’t
make that up, folks. Wade just hung there in a tree with a parachute strapped
to his back. That’s hilarious on so many different levels. If comedians told
jokes about big league GMs, Ed Wade would be like George W. Bush.

Plus, Wade has some sort of fetish (yes, it’s a fetish)
with former Phillies players/employees. Now that he’s with the Houston Astros,
Wade was signed and hired countless dudes he had in Philadelphia. For instance,
not only did Wade trade/sign Randy Wolf, Tomas Perez, Jason Michaels, Geoff
Geary, Michael Bourn, Matt Kata, Chris Coste, Mike Costanzo, Pedro Feliz, and,
of course, Brett Myers, but also he took former Phillies PR man Gene Dias to
the Astros with him.

With moves like this and a run-in with pitcher Shawn
Chacon where Wade ended up getting choked, the Astros did the only thing they
could… they gave Wade a two-year extension.


OK, we don’t know if this is masterful foresight or just
dumb luck, but Wade should get a ton of credit for not trading minor leaguers
Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels when he has the chance and everyone
pleaded with him to do so. Remember that? Of course you don’t because you don’t want
to admit how dumb you were. Still, it’s hard to believe a few folks got all
lathered up because Wade refused to make deadline deals involving Howard that
would have brought back guys like Jeff Suppan or Kris Benson from Pittsburgh.

With the core group of Howard, Utley and Hamels, Wade’s
successors could be bold enough to do things like trade for Cliff Lee and Roy
Halladay as well as sign Pedro Martinez, Greg Dobbs and Jayson Werth. In fact,
it was Wade who swiped Shane Victorino away from the Dodgers in the Rule 5
draft in 2005. Sure, the Phillies eventually offered him back, but sometimes it
counts to be lucky, too.

Make no mistake about it, Wade’s fingerprints are all
over the Phillies’ roster. Maybe as much as Amaro’s, who has the strange honor
of being one of the only GMs in the history of the game to trade and sign three
Cy Young Award winners in the span of five months.

Oh yes, Amaro’s moves have been solid, considering the
trades for Lee and Halladay and knowing when to cut bait on guys like Pat
Burrell. However, he loses points for giving Jamie Moyer a two-year deal worth
$13 million. With that money on hand, the Phillies probably would have had a
rotation with both Lee and Halladay at the top and Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and
J.A. Happ filling out the other three spots.

Imagine that… Amaro got all those Cy Young Award winners,
but would have had two of them in their prime at the top of his pitching
rotation if he had allowed then 46-year-old Moyer to walk away.

Hindsight. It has to be a GM’s worst enemy…

Or best friend.

Using pretzel logic

Ruben_roy When he was at Stanford, presumably on a baseball scholarship, Phillies’ general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. majored in human biology. Certainly a subject as complex as that meant hours of study and lab work that most college students never put themselves through.

And then to play baseball on top of that… hey, Ruben can retain some information. He may be a lot of things, but dumb ain’t one of them.

Hey, if you don’t believe me just ask Ruben.

“I was talking to some people the other day and I said, ‘I’m not a dummy,’” the GM said on Monday night at the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet in Cherry Hill.

That wasn’t just some pre-emptive sweeping statement or a bit of braggadocio, either. It was some way for Amaro to flaunt that B.S. from Stanford that his baseball ability got him. Not in the least. It’s just that Amaro knows about all the folks forlornly kicking stones into the gutter because the Phillies traded Cliff Lee. He senses the touch of melancholy amongst the baseball die hards.To use a phrase, getting Roy Halladay, but dealing Lee is a major bummer.

But it wasn’t dumb trade because Amaro is no dummy. He wants you to know that because there was a method to his madness. He didn’t catch a case of the dumbs and trade away the pitcher with a Cy Young Award who just completed the greatest postseason ever by a Phillies pitcher.

“I know what Cliff Lee means to our rotation in addition to Halladay and [Cole] Hamels. It’s a no-brainer,” he said, talking about brains and relative dumbness again.

“Our goal is to be a contender every year,” he continued. “It’s not just to be a competitor, but to be a contender every year. That’s really my job. As an executive of the club, it’s my job to do what I can to try to maintain that level of talent on the club and that hope from the fans. So, yes, I’d like to have a championship, but not at the cost of having our organization not be good for 10 years. Absolutely not. That’s not the goal. The goal is to be a contender every year. And once you get to the World Series or get to the playoffs, it’s really a matter of who’s playing the best baseball, who’s hottest, who has the karma.”

Go ahead and pick that apart if you like. Certainly Amaro left himself open to more criticism there, but any sentence spoken by any pro sports exec is fair game for second-guessing. That’s what we do. But it’s only fair to acknowledge that Amaro has thoroughly and meticulously explained why he felt he had to trade Cliff Lee. Frankly, people with the ability to think and reason with logical and cogent points should understand that by now.

You don’t need a B.S. from Stanford or the School of Hard Knocks to figure that one out.

But that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

No, Amaro is not a dummy. We’ve established this already. But maybe he thinks you are a dummy. It kind of sounds like that when he says:

“We cannot be the New York Yankees,” he said before sitting down to dinner in Cherry Hill. “We have to have people that we can bring to the big leagues from our system. The guys who are our core players are guys from our system.”

Now some people might reason that the GM is rightly explaining how the Phillies cannot buy championships or have a payroll up to a third more than the record $140 million the team is spending on salaries in 2010. At some point, they’ll explain, low-priced rookies and up-and-comers will have to take over for potential high-priced All-Stars like Jayson Werth or Ryan Howard.

To those folks we ask, how’s that Kool-Aid taste? Is it fruity?

Chuck_ruben When a Phillies executive says his team cannot be like the New York Yankees and up the payroll in order to make sure guys like Werth and Howard and Utley and Rollins spend the rest of their careers in South Philly, it does not mean anything about giving the young and hungry kids a chance. Nope, all it means is that the Philadelphia Phillies L.P., are a corporation that plans to be run as a business with its eyes on the bottom line. Sure, they would all like to win championships and they have hired Amaro to be the guy to put together a championship-level team as long as he comes in under budget and maximizes profit.

It means they want to keep all that cash that hard-working people spent on tickets, shirts, concessions and parking from all those sellouts over the past three seasons is something the organization wants to keep for itself and not waste on some silly overhead like baseball players.


“I guess I’d characterize myself as someone who is aggressive and someone who understands what the fans want,” Amaro said. “But at the same time, I have to do right by this organization, and in turn, I think that’s doing right by the fans.”

In biology they study how form develops and grows. Mixed in there are theories of evolution, function and structure. Students of biology have a good idea of how an organism will travel from infancy to adulthood, which seems to be a perfect training ground for a future baseball general manager. Cliff Lee an organism in its complete and mature form. He was in his peak and was on target for another above-average season.

But Lee was traded for ballplayers still in development. Though baseball people have a pretty good idea of what they will be when they are ready for the big leagues, nothing is promised or guaranteed.

In other words, Amaro traded the known to Seattle for the unknown only he’s talking like it’s a given.

Does your head hurt, too?

“It’s going to be difficult to look fans in the face and say two years from now, ‘You know, why we don't have any players to supplant some of the guys we have now is because I went for it with Cliff Lee and now we have no players to fall back on,’” Amaro said. “That's not the goal.”


The logic makes sense. We get it. But just think about how fired up the fans in the city would be heading into spring training in two weeks with Halladay, Hamels and Lee. Go ahead and think about that for a second and then think about how uninspiring minding the bottom line really is.

When Roy (nearly) fought Larry

Bowa_halladay By 2003, there were plenty of players in the Phillies’ clubhouse who wanted to take a poke at their manager and the pitching coach. Eventually, one pitcher is said to have cold-cocked the pitching coach, but the manager only ever (publicly) started fracases with the opposition.

That manager, of course, was Larry Bowa whose house-divided style of skippering never really caught on. And certainly we’ve seen enough of his act to know how it works. It’s just like clockwork:

• Something happens in the game that wrankles Larry’s delicate sensibilities.
• Larry starts talking trash.
• Benches clear.
• Larry gets behind two or three players/coaches in uniform who, “hold him back.”
• Rinse and repeat.

It was something that was put on display a few times during Bowa’s stint as manager of the Phillies and then, famously, during the 2008 NLCS where as a coach for the Dodgers, Bowa was reported to have been chirping, “You started it!” toward Brett Myers.

Cooler heads prevailed before Davey Lopes could put Bowa over his knee.

Nevertheless, one of Bowa’s better known bench-clearing incidents with the Phillies happened in a spring training game during 2003 at Jack Russell Stadium against the Blue Jays. That was the one where Roy Halladay plunked Jim Thome with a pitch and immediately got an earful from Bowa. By the time Halladay took his turn at the plate, he had heard all he could handle from Bowa and did what most sane people do in those situations…

Try to stick a foot down his throat.

Before he could dig in, Rheal Cormier missed twice while attempting to plunk Halladay. Still that wasn’t enough to stop Bowa from running his mouth. By the sixth inning of the game, Halladay had heard enough and went after the Phillies’ skipper only to be intercepted before he could shove his foot down Bowa’s throat. Bowa, meanwhile, fell back into his old tricks… he talked, postured and talked some more.

Take a look:




After the game Bowa claimed Halladay intentionally tried to hit Thome—in a Grapefruit League game—and based it on the fact that the Jays’ pitcher has really good control. Ultimately, Bowa was suspended for a game. He later had his revenge, too, when he had rookie Ryan Madson drill a Blue Jays hitter in a Grapefruit League game in 2004.

Halladay, meanwhile, was a bit stunned by the whole thing. He said he told Bowa that he didn't try to hit Thome, but just got cursed at.

"He said a lot of things," Halladay said back in 2003. "But when he finally came close, I said, 'I didn't mean to hit the guy.' And he said, '[bleep!]' and a few other four-letter words."

All that yelling by Bowa was a bit confusing to Halladay.

"I don't understand why anybody would think I'd intentionally hit Jim Thome in that situation," Halladay said. "After all the times I faced him in the American League and never hit him, I can't imagine why they thought I'd intentionally hit him here."

Halladay continued:

"I didn't mean to hit the guy, but I understood why they were upset," Halladay said. "So you take your shots at me. Then it's over and done with. That should have been the end of it. … If he hits me, fine. He tried twice, and he didn't get me. But to come out there screaming and yelling … that was ridiculous."

Bowa was a bit more, um, curt.

"I don't know what he said, to be honest with you, and I really don't give a damn," Bowa relayed from his on-the-field "conversation" with Halladay.

So not only was Halladay a next-door neighbor to the Phillies during spring training at the Jays’ base in Dunedin, but like a lot of the old-time Phillies he also wanted to fight Larry Bowa.

Welcome aboard, Roy!

Halladay the latest to join greatest era in Philly sports history

Presser Sometimes it’s easy to get excited about the littlest things. Maybe it’s a new episode of a TV show, or a favorite meal. Or it could be a small gift or a short trip to a favorite place.

You know what they say—sometimes it’s the small things that matter the most.

So when the team you’ve written about for the past 10 years gets the game’s best pitcher who just so happened to be the most-coveted player on the trade/free-agent market, it should be pretty exciting…



Sitting there and listening as Roy Halladay was being introduced to us media types during Wednesday’s press conference in Citizens Bank Park, a different feel pervaded. Usually, during such settings it’s not very difficult to get swept up in the emotion. After all, teams usually trot in family members, agents, front-office types and other hangers-on. In rare cases, like Wednesday’s Halladay presser for example, the national cable TV outlets turned out to aim cameras at the proceedings.

But when a team introduces its third former Cy Young Award winner since July after trading one away, there’s a tendency to become a little used to big events like introductory press conferences. Think about it—this year the Phillies have added Pedro Martinez, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay. That’s five Cy Young Awards right there.

At the same time, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Charlie Manuel, Jayson Werth and Ruben Amaro Jr. all got new contracts since the Phillies won the World Series. Not to mention, the team signed Placido Polanco, Brad Lidge, Raul Ibanez and, of course, had that little parade down Broad Street.

In other words, you can see why it was easy not to get too worked up over Halladay’s arrival. That’s doubly the case considering the Flyers fired a coach and the Sixers welcomed back Allen Iverson within the past two weeks. Add in the facts that the deal for Halladay took three days to come together after Amaro spent the week in Indianapolis denying involvement of anything and it’s easy to get a little jaded.

Wait… is Ruben denying he was even in Indianapolis now?

Of course with success comes boredom. In fact, a wise man once told me that championships were boring and bad for business. Perhaps he is correct, because while people are excited about the recent developments with the Phillies, they also are expected now. It’s not quite complacency, but during the past decade every Philadelphia team has been in the mix to acquire the top players on the market. Sure, we’re still getting used to all of this largesse and therefore go a little wild for guys like Halladay, but really…

Been there, done that.

That brings us to the grand point—this is the greatest time ever to be a Philadelphia sports fan. Ever. Since 2001, every team but the Flyers have been to the championship round of the playoffs and every team has made gigantic, stop-the-sports-world acquisitions.

Just look at the list of names:

Roy Halladay
Cliff Lee
Jim Thome
Larry Bowa
Jeremy Roenick
Chris Pronger
Peter Forsberg
Chris Webber
Elton Brand
Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo
Terrell Owens
Asante Samuel
Jevon Kearse
Michael Vick

If the team wants them, they are pretty darned good at getting them.

Certainly that wasn’t always the case. A friend’s dad often tells the story about how he and his friends were amazed that a Philadelphia team could get a player like Julius Erving, and I remember watching on TV when Pete Rose signed his four-year, $3.2 million deal with the Phillies. The fact that the Pete Rose signing was on live TV proves how big it was because, a.) there weren’t a whole lot of channels on the dial back then. Just 12 and none of them offered all sports programming. Cable? What?

And, b.) I didn’t even live in the Philadelphia region when Rose signed. Hell, I didn’t even live in Pennsylvania.

Oh, there were other big deals, too. Like when the Sixers traded Caldwell Jones to get Moses Malone, for instance. But they were few and far between. For every Moses, there was always a Lance Parrish lurking at the podium ready to take questions about how he will deliver the championship.

Thome_cryAs far as those big moves go, the mid-season trade for Dikembe Mutombo was the first major move for us at the site. We had three people on the staff back then and the trade came down on a snowy February afternoon that kept us cooped up in our little corner of the second floor in the Wachovia Center. Better yet for the Sixers, the deal for Mutombo was one of the few that worked out as designed. Mutombo gave the team the defense and presence in the middle it lacked and made it to the NBA Finals.

With Shaq and Kobe in mid dynasty, a trip to the finals for a team like the Sixers was as good as winning it all.

Jim Thome’s arrival was bigger yet. Not only was Thome the biggest name on the free-agent market, but also he was a symbol that there were big changes coming. Of course the unforgettable moment of Thome’s first visit to Philly was when he popped out of his limo to sign autographs and pose for pictures with the union guys from I.B.E.W. who held an impromptu rally outside the ballpark to try and sway the slugger to sign with the Phillies.

Moreover, Thome’s introductory press conference was memorable because the big fella was reduced to tears when talking about the switch from the Indians. It was a scene that hadn’t been repeated in these parts until Allen Iverson got a bit weepy when talking about his return to Philadelphia.

Oh yes, Philadelphia will make a guy cry.

Or maybe even do a bunch of sit-ups in the front yard.

Maybe in a different era, the acquisition of Roy Halladay would be a bigger deal. Maybe when the contract plays itself out—potentially five years and $100 million—we’ll view it differently. Until then he’s just another big name in a veritable cavalcade of superstars that seem to wind up in our town.

Trading Cy Youngs

Cys With all that is involved in simply signing a player to a standard baseball contract, it’s no wonder that huge, blockbuster trades don’t happen much anymore. Actually, forget about blockbuster deals, just making a trade is work enough.

That’s why the proposed blockbuster with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and a pile of top-ranked prospects makes one’s head hurt. There are so many moving parts, so many different contracts, so many different wants and pieces of the puzzle in which even the tiniest misstep will ruin the whole thing.

So the fact that the two teams involved (Mariners and Blue Jays) with the three way trade with the Phillies were able to keep their eyes on what was coming and going is laudable enough.

However, to make such a huge trade with two former Cy Young Award winners still in their primes in not just unheard of, but also unprecedented.

Cy Young Award winners rarely (if ever) get traded. Sure, they become free agents or essentially force a trade lest a team risk allowing the pitcher to walk away without compensation. But willingly traded after winning two games in the World Series and putting together the best postseason in franchise history?

Nope, never happens.

Until now, that is. Leave it to Ruben Amaro Jr. to pull the trigger on the biggest trade since Paul Owens dealt Rick Wise for Steve Carlton.

Amongst the Cy Youing Award winners to be traded in recent history, Lee and Halladay will join Jake Peavy, Roger Clemens, Johan Santana, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux as pitchers to be traded after they won the big award. There are others too. Tom Seaver and Fergie Jenkins were involved in a bunch of trades after great seasons.

Of course this doesn’t include all the great pitchers who were released and/or granted free agency late in their careers. Around here, we certainly remember how Carlton bounced from the Giants to the Indians and Twins after the Phillies released him in 1986.

But as far as Cy Young Award winner traded for another Cy Young Award winner, it’s happened one time and that was long before either pitcher had established himself as a big league pitcher.

Moreover, if it happens again in the Lee and Halladay deal, one of the guys will hold the odd distinction of being the only Cy Young Award winner to be traded for another Cy Young Award winner twice.

In June of 2002 and still pitching for the Expos’ Double-A club Harrisburg, Lee was traded to the Indians for Bartolo Colon. Actually, the Expos gave up Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore for Colon and Tim Drew.

With the luxury of hindsight that trade looks horrible. Making it look worse is that the Expos traded Colon during the off season to the White Sox for Orlando Hernandez, Rocky Biddle and Jeff Liefer. Two years after that, Colon went 21-8 for the Angels to win the 2005 Cy Young Award.

With the 2008 American League Cy Young Award in his trophy case, Lee is likely on the move again—this time for the 2003 American League Cy Young Award winner.

So what’s this say about Lee that in two of the three trades he’s been a part of, the other piece to the deal is a Cy Young Award winner?

Cliff Lee’s lasting legacy

image from Sometimes it doesn’t take long for a ballplayer to create a lasting legacy. Other times it takes just one game. For instance, Don Larsen scuffled around the Majors for 14 seasons, lost way more than he won, but one October afternoon in 1956 he became one of the most famous ballplayers ever.

All he had to do was pitch a perfect game in the World Series.

Cliff Lee did not pitch a perfect game in the World Series for the Phillies, but then again he didn’t have to. If his career with the Phillies lasts just those 12 starts in the regular season and five more in the playoffs, he already has left an undeliable mark on the franchise.

There were those first brilliant five starts after the trade from Cleveland that painted images of another parade down Broad Street bookended with the five extraordinary starts in the playoffs that lifted Lee shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the great postseason pitchers of all time.

The first five starts after the trade, Lee piled up 40 innings, a 5-0 record, with 39 strikeouts, and a 0.68 ERA. In the five starts in the playoffs Lee went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in 40 1/3 innings.

It was two of those outings that stood out the most. The first one was the 11-0 shutout against the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLCS. According to the stat formula called “Game Score” devised by guru Bill James, Lee’s eight innings where he allowed three hits without a walk to go with 10 strikeouts and no runs on 114 pitches, was the best postseason game ever pitched by a Phillie. Moreover, according to Game Score only 45 playoff outings since 1903 rated higher than Lee’s effort in Game 3.

Though the statistical metrics don’t register it as such, Lee’s effort in Game 1 of the World Series was more impressive than the NLCS game against the Dodgers. Not only should Lee’s Game 1 outing go down not only as an all-timer in Phillies lore, but also as one of the great Game 1 performances in World Series history. Truly, the list of superlatives from the game is pretty impressive. Actually, my favorite of the bunch was that Cliff Lee was the first pitcher to strike out 10 hitters without a walk in Game 1 of the World Series since Deacon Phillippe of the Pirates beat Cy Young (the man himself) in the very first World Series game ever played.

In other words, Lee did something in Game 1 that was done just once and it was 105 years ago.

Just to top it off Lee got an single, pitched all nine innings, and made a flat-footed basket catch on a popup back to the mound that only would have been more quirky if he had caught it with his cap. Plus, Lee not only was the winning pitcher in the first regular-season game at the new Yankee Stadium, but he also won the first ever World Series game played in the new park.

Pretty amazing.

Better yet, Lee dared you to take your eyes off him. Even when he took the mound he had a unique ritual where he mimed a pitch into centerfield, he ran on and off the field and he worked very, very quickly. Lee caught it, threw it and then dashed off the mound.

Cliff_lee After games he didn’t treat his arm with ice like most pitchers. Even after a career-high 272 innings pitched (counting the playoffs), Lee never strapped his arm in an ice pack after a game. In 16 of his 39 starts Lee pitched into the eighth inning. He averaged 104 pitches per start and hardly walked anyone.

In other words, Lee was a legit ace for a team that went to the World Series for the past two seasons.

But there is the matter of those seven starts wedged between the first five and last five where the innings and pitches seemed to catch up with the lefty. Even with a shutout against Washington mixed in, Lee posted an ERA over 6 during that stretch.

As they say, though, it’s how you finish that everyone remembers the most. With that in mind Lee finished the season better than any other pitcher in team history.

Obviously, if Lee goes in order to make room for Roy Halladay, the pressure is squarely on Cole Hamels’ shoulders. Perhaps if Lee and Halladay could have been teammates in Philadelphia, Hamels could fit in nicely as the No. 3 starter behind the two aces.

Imagine that: Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Blanton and Happ?

Still, Hamels needs to deliver in 2010. Obviously the Phillies are counting on him.

The art of the bluff

Roy In poker they say it isn’t so much about playing the cards you’ve been dealt as it is playing the man across from you. Of course the cards matter, because otherwise what’s the point? But if you can represent like you have good cards, well, even better.

They call this “bluffing,” which is kind of like lying only without the anguish of a real lie. In sports like poker or baseball, those who are the best at distorting reality are lauded as masters of the game. In fact, long after other important skills have eroded, players can get by on bluffing or making certain adjustments.

It’s a skill not relegated just to the players, either. For instance, take Phillies’ general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. Not even a week ago he sat in a comfortable suite littered with snacks and room-service trays in the Downtown Marriott in Indianapolis and told the Philly-based media that a deal for a pitcher like Roy Halladay was, “unlikely.”

Hey, that’s what he said.

Of course people in the position to make big decisions say a lot of things. Some of them might even be true. Like I’m sure even Tiger Woods had a few standbys he used at the Perkins when he was (allegedly) picking up a waitress that could have been based in truth, but when poked or prodded further turned out to unravel sloppier than an old, worn out slinky.

So when the cards hit the felt and you belly up across from Amaro, just be sure to know that the term “unlikely,” actually means, “we’re going to fly the guy up to Philly in four days to see if we can iron out something.”

Oh sure, that’s a mouthful, but that’s the underappreciated skill of being a big-league GM. The art of misdirection is just like a dab of Vaseline under the bill of the cap or sneaking a glimpse at where the catcher sets up while digging in at the batters’ box. This comes despite the knowledge that everyone in baseball has their own little tells. People talk—like all the time. There are no more secrets anymore so the practice of misdirection or bluffing is futile.

And yet we play the game anyway. Actually, it’s kind of fun. The scouts, assistants to the traveling secretary, stat crunchers, and PR types leak like sieves. They also have the ear and the information discarded from the GM, which makes the whole thing comical.

In other words, when a management types says the team has tossed around the idea of trading Cole Hamels for Roy Halladay and then less than a month later the GM says any trade for the Jays’ ace is “unlikely,” it actually means it’s Cliff Lee and it’s a three-way with Seattle and Toronto.

So there.

But make no mistake about it, the Phillies never moved off of Halladay. Not after they traded for Lee and not after they had Pedro Martinez pitch in two games of the World Series. That’s why it was so funny to hear national pundits to write/Tweet things like, “The Phillies are quietly back in the mix to deal for Halladay.”

Really? When did they ever leave?

Maybe there’s a different message in here, too. Maybe when following the hot stove fest that has been buzzing up the Internets like a hornet’s nest, it’s best to stay close to home. Like politics, all sports scribing is local.

Either way, after the Halladay deal reaches its climax and Lee, et al find their new teams, there next bluff is just a moment away. After all, Amaro still has to get a reliever and a No. 4/5 starter in order to finish the off-season shopping. Strangely, finding that last bullpen piece has proven to be most elusive for the Phillies.

Getting Halladay, on the other hand, just took a lot of patience and a lots tangos with semantics.

Day 3: Time keeps on slippin’…

Dali clock INDIANAPOLIS—Time moves fast here at the Winter Meetings. With everybody running around like the building is on fire hoping to get the teensiest morsel of information, an hour feels like an eternity and a day feels like forever.

Five minutes is still five minutes, though.

So while we were throwing around names like Joe Blanton, Ross Gload, John Smoltz, Brandon Lyon, etc., etc., as if they snowflakes into the gale-force winds here in Indy, one name kind of disappeared for a bit. Actually, for that hour or two when nothing was blogged, tweeted or whispered about Roy Halladay, it was like he fell off the face of the earth.

Oh, but he’s back now.

The scuttlebutt before the carnival hit the Downtown Marriott was that the Red Sox were the favorites to land Halladay in a trade. And if the Red Sox are interested that means the Yankees’ spidey senses get tingling by default.

Yet because the Yankees and Red Sox get into it, perhaps it’s automatically assumed that no other team can compete with the cash and the high price those teams are willing to pay to make a trade for the best righty on the market.

Where is the report, tweet, blog or whisper that the Phillies’ interest in Halladay has waned? As far as I can tell, the pieces the Phillies would have had to offer the Blue Jays last summer are still there. Besides, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has done a pretty damn good job so far in assembling the pieces for his team this winter. If any one can pull it off, why not Super Rube?

No, this doesn’t mean the Phillies will get knee-deep in trying to wrest Halladay away from the Jays. After all, who really knows what goes on inside of that mind. My guess most thoughts are at least PG-13 and that’s not including the ratings for the folks reading things to him.

When asked if the Phillies could get involved in a deal for a "high-profile American League right-handed pitcher," Amaro spoke in GM-ese.

"Is there anyway possible? I guess there is. Uh, is there a likelihood of us getting involved in something that big? Probably not," he said.

Hey, he didn't say no.

Nevertheless, if the Phillies come out these meetings with a pitcher of some sort, then the people who give out trophies for being a good organization ought to just give one to the GM. At least it’s something, right? After all, the trophy that really matters isn’t handed out for making a good move in December in Indianapolis.

That gets back to an old running adage us geeky, over-the-hill marathoners liked to trot out—they don’t give awards for workouts. Sure, doing the ground work is a necessary and important thing, but winning the big race has more to do with how well the workouts compliment talent and luck. If Amaro is lucky enough to get into position to swing a deal to get Halladay, then maybe it will come down to the talent part.

Hot time in the old town with the hot corner

image from Without so much as a flick of an eyelash, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. set the Phillies’ offseason into full swing. He didn’t have to issue a statement, hold a press conference or even sign anything.

Hell, he didn’t even have to answer any questions because that was already handled for the GM by other people. There was a quick e-mail sent out to reporters regarding Pedro Feliz’s option, and Brett Myers told people that Amaro told him that he oughta just go be a free agent.

So now Amaro needs to find a third baseman to replace the sure-handed Feliz, and a knucklehead to replace Myers. And of course, as written three times on this space already (this is the fourth), the Phillies hope to make a trade for Roy Halladay.

Whispers from Phillies sources is the deal for Halladay could include Cole Hamels.

That still leaves the team down a knucklehead with Myers’ departure. Perhaps they’ll go knucklehead-less?

Anyway, as Amaro hangs out at the O’Hare Hilton in Chicago—the very same hotel O.J. Simpson checked into after flying from L.A. the night of the murders—his off-season plans were laid out in appropriate order:

* Third baseman
* Relief pitcher(s)
* The bench

And if there is enough time or money left over maybe they can find a clubhouse knucklehead to replace Myers. But you know… only if they have time.

The search for a new third baseman is an interesting proposition for Amaro. After all, this is one of those rare cases in which it will be difficult for the GM to mess it up since there are plenty of quality free-agent third basemen. Certainly Chone Figgins of the Angels is the cream of the crop, but the Angels want him back and his asking price is reported to be 5-years for $50 million.

Five years for a guy about to turn 32 might be a bit much, but Figgins could be a valuable piece for the Phillies. No, he’s not much of a slugger, but he would be the perfect leadoff hitter in this lineup. Last year he walked 101 times and has an on-base percentage over .385 in the past three seasons.

Compared to Jimmy Rollins, well… there is not much of a comparison. Figgins’ OBP in 2009 was exactly 100-points higher than Rollins’. Plus, as a leadoff hitter Figgins sees 4.21 pitches per plate appearance. On the Phillies, only Jayson Werth saw more pitches (4.51) and he led the Majors.

Figgins also steals more bases than any player for the Phillies, and though he led the league in caught stealing in two out of the past three years, a spring with Davey Lopes could turn him into a 70-stolen base threat.

Figgins would be a perfect table setter for the Phillies’ sluggers and fits in nicely in that he strikes out a lot, too (his BAbip was .356). However, the addition of Figgins would probably rock the boat a little too much because Rollins, for some reason, is the leadoff hitter for life.

He might be the worst leadoff hitter in the big leagues, but Rollins’ is the leadoff hitter nonetheless. Egos are a helluva thing, especially within the space of a baseball clubhouse. Though the Phillies might be better served with Rollins hitting further down in the lineup—like second, seventh—manager Charlie Manuel has bought the idea that he has one leadoff hitter and one only.

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.comYes, Figgins is the best option for the Phillies. That’s especially the case considering his fielding, statistically speaking, was just as good as Feliz.

Other names that will be whispered into the wind like so many dandelion spores are Adrian Beltre and Mark DeRosa. The fact is, the Phillies have had the hots for both players for years and put the moves on DeRosa during the winter meetings last December. However, neither player is as consistent as Figgins.

Worse, Beltre and DeRosa have had their share of injuries. DeRosa, the former Penn quarterback, has never played more than 149 games in a season (he’s done it twice) and will be 35 in February. Plus, he had surgery on his wrist last week.

Beltre is 13 years into his career and is coming off his worst season. The Phillies can definitely do better.

And certainly they should do better. With the attendance numbers they posted (102 percent capacity for 89 games in the regular- and post-seasons), money isn’t an issue. Plus, with the ever fickle window of opportunity just an injury away from closing, the Phillies aren’t risking all that much by making a move on Figgins (or Halladay, a bullpen piece, and a knucklehead).

Besides, third base is one of those marquee positions for the Phillies, like left field for the Red Sox or center field for the Yankees. Dick Allen played third base. So too did Mike Schmidt and Scott Rolen. They seemed to be in a good spot with Placido Polanco at third, but needed guys like David Bell, Tomas Perez, Tyler Houston, Shawn Wooten, Ramon Martinez, Jose Hernandez, Alex Gonzalez, Wes Helms, Abraham Nunez, Greg Dobbs, Miguel Cairo, Eric Bruntlett and Feliz to hold down the hot corner.

Hey, you had us at Polanco.

Make a deal? Cole Hamels is no Rick Wise

image from A quick look at his career transactions shows that Rick Wise was involved in a couple of franchise-changing moves. In two of the instances, trading away Wise actually benefited the team that got rid of him.

That’s definitely not a knock on Wise or his career. The fact is he was pretty good with more highlight moments than most big leaguers. For instance, Wise was the winning pitcher in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, a game many regard as the greatest ever played. Wise came on in the top of the 12th, faced Hall-of-Famers Johnny Bench, and Tony Perez as well as 1977 NL MVP George Foster, and was the pitcher of record when Carlton Fisk hit his famous homer.

Wise was also an 18-year-old rookie in 1964 when he took the mound for the second game of a Sunday doubleheader at Shea Stadium in which the opening act was Jim Bunning’s perfect game.

Wise wasn’t nearly as good as Bunning though he allowed just three hits in an 8-2 victory for the first win of his big-league career. One of those wins includes the no-hitter he threw against the Reds at Riverfront Stadium in 1971. Not only did Wise come one walk away from a perfect game, but also he slugged a pair of homers in the game to drive in three of the four runs.

Despite a resume that includes two All-Star Game appearances, a modest showing on the MVP and Cy Young balloting in 1975, as well as 188 career wins—more than Jimmy Key, Fernando Valenzuela, Ron Guidry or Sandy Koufax—Wise was better for the teams that shipped him out.

Before the 1978 season, the Red Sox sent Wise to the Indians for Dennis Eckersley. Those were the days before Eckersley was a Hall-of-Fame closer, but for two years he was the ace for the Red Sox staff that should have been in the playoffs at least once. In ’78, Eckersley won 20 games for the Sox while Wise lost 19 for the 90-loss Indians.

That’s not the trade that became the legacy of Wise’s career, though. No, more than the no-hitter and the win in Game 6, Wise might be best known as the player the Phillies swapped to get Steve Carlton.

Some say it’s one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history, which is no knock against Wise. It’s just that Carlton was that good.

For the next 15 years Carlton won 241 games for the Phillies, guided them to a championship once, the playoffs six times, and became the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award four times. Wise went on to win 113 games for St. Louis, Boston, Cleveland and San Diego over the next 11 years. The Cardinals got two years of 32-28 pitching with a decent 3.24 ERA. That’s not bad, but in his first year with the Phillies, Carlton nearly amassed Wise’s two-year totals with the Cards.

So why bring this up? What does Rick Wise and Steve Carlton have to do with anything these days, considering the Phillies just went to the World Series for the second year in a row?

Well, let’s just use it as a reference point for the idea of history repeating itself.

Chances are there won’t be as loud an outcry if the Phillies were to trade away Cole Hamels in a blockbuster as there was before the 1971 season when they dealt away Wise. After all, though he was coming off a 20-win season, Carlton was still a relative unknown in provincial Philadelphia. Wise, on the other hand, had that no-hitter to go with three straight seasons in which he pitched at least 220 innings, including 272 1/3 in ’71.

At age 25, Cole Hamels is certainly no Rick Wise.

Wise did all of that before the age of 25, too, which just so happens to be the same age as Hamels. Sure, Hamels has the NLCS and World Series MVPs, but hardly is the most durable pitcher out there. After turning in 227 innings during the regular season of ’08 and 35 more in five playoffs starts (totals lower than Cliff Lee in ’09), Hamels struggled through the 2009 season.

He showed up for spring training not as prepared as in years past, but at least he ahd been on TV with Ellen, Letterman and the deer-in-the-headlights, “Who are yoooo?” commercial, a performance so wooden that only Howdy Doody would have been proud.

But the Phillies believe in Hamels. At least that’s what they say publicly. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. believes the real Hamels is closer to the one who went 4-0 in the 2008 playoffs than the one who went a combined 11-13 with a 4.61 ERA through the entire 2009 season.

“He’s a top-of-the-rotation starter who had a tough year,” Amaro said. “He had to deal with some adversity for a change. It’s the first time where he’s ever had to deal with some struggles. We fully expect him to come back and be the pitcher he’s always been.”


cole_hamels.jpg “I have to go on the assessment on what we see on him from a scouting point-of-view,” Amaro said. “It would be hard to find a better left-hander in the league.”

Actually, the Phillies already have a better lefty on their staff in Cliff Lee. In fact, it would be hard to find a better left-hander in all of baseball. Teamed with rookie-of-the-year candidate J.A. Happ, the Philllies have a formidable lefty tandem even before Hamels enters the equation.

So why not trade away Hamels—a real bargaining chip—for a better right-handed pitcher. Heck, trade him to Toronto for the best right-hander.

Though they failed miserably in their attempts to deal away Roy Halladay before the July deadline, the Blue Jays will more than likely be looking to move their ace this winter. With just the 2010 season remaining on his contract, Halladay will likely command a multiyear extension only teams like those in New York, Boston and Los Angeles can afford.

With Lee heading into his walk year, too, Hamels represents the stable future in terms of the financial side of things.

But does Hamels represent another shot at the World Series? Who knows? However, team insiders are whispering about a Hamels-for-Halladay blockbuster that probably is just wishful thinking.

Halladay, teamed with Lee, Happ and Joe Blanton, gives the Phillies the best starting staff on the planet. The only way a team with guys like that doesn’t get to the World Series is because of injuries or bad luck.

If the goal is to win right now and take advantage of that always fleeting window of opportunity, then a move on Halladay isn’t just logical, it’s necessary.

Hamels may very well fulfill his promise like everyone says. But then again, maybe not. We’ve already seen what happens when accolades, awards and a new contract are bestowed on Hamels. In fact, he can barely top 190 innings.

Yes, Hamels may very well turn out to be the next Steve Carlton…

But maybe he ought to be Rick Wise first.

Sizing up the rotation now and later (a.k.a. Hamels for Halladay)

image from While we’re waiting for the Angels and the Yankees to decide the American League champion, and as the Phillies take that last official day off, maybe we oughta play a little hypothetical…

You know, just for fun.

So let’s dive right in with the World Series starting rotation. We know—though not officially—Cliff Lee will pitch in Game 1. Chances are Lee will pitch in Game 4 and Game 7, too. After that, it kind of depends on which team the Phillies play. If it’s the Yankees, who wouldn’t want to see Pedro Martinez take the mound at Yankee Stadium? In fact, in the celebratory clubhouse after the Phillies, Pedro was lobbying/serenading pitching coach Rich Dubee about starting a game at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees have to get there first, which is another story, but also Pedro has an ERA near 6 in his last handful of appearances in the playoffs against the Yankees. That’s where all that “Who’s your daddy” stuff came from.

Of course, Pedro pitched a two-hit, 12-strikeout gem against the Yankees in the 1999 ALCS, but that game was at Fenway Park. In Yankee Stadium during the playoffs, Pedro has 15 strikeouts and 14 hits in 13 1/3 innings of two starts. The Red Sox lost both of those starts with Pedro checking in with a 0-1 record and a 5.40 ERA.

The Yankees don’t play in that stadium anymore, though. It’s still standing there empty with overgrown grass and a crumbling interior while the Yankees and the city of New York argue over who gets to tear it down.

No, these days the Yankees have a new Yankee Stadium that cost more than a billion dollars to build, has cracks on the cement ramps that reportedly will cost millions of dollars to repair, and the best press-box food in the business.

So there’s that.

Even though it’s not the same place and Pedro pitches for the Phillies and not the Mets and Red Sox, the New York fans are still obsessed with the guy. If the TV Networks are going to ruin the organic nature of the game by forcing longer commercial breaks between innings, night games in November and Joe Buck upon us, couldn’t they mandate that Pedro pitch a game at Yankee Stadium?

Man, that would be fun, wouldn’t it?

“I don’t think you can go wrong with Pedro Martinez,” Brad Lidge said. “He’s such a big-game pitcher. And then when you see what he did against L.A., he’s pretty impressive.”

And oh yeah, Pedro wants it. He lives for the show and the drama. The Yankees in the World Series at Yankee Stadium? Oh yes, bring it on.

“That’s my home, did you know that? That’s where I live, you need to understand. The Yankees? Get your ticket, you’ll find out fast,” he said as champagne dripped off his face following the clincher over the Dodgers.

But does it make sense? With the DH and the American League-style of game in the AL park, the Phillies might be better served with Cole Hamels pitching in Game 2… or would they?

Numbers-wise, Hamels stinks in these playoffs. Six of the 20 hits he has allowed in his 14 2/3 innings have been homers, which is amazing when one considers that Hamels gave up zero homers in seven of his last regular-season starts and just seven total runs in five postseason starts in 2008.

Still, it’s interesting to wonder how different Hamels’ NLCS would have been if Chase Utley would have been able to make a good throw on a potential inning-ending double play in the fifth inning of Game 1 at Dodger Stadium. Hamels made the pitch he needed to get out of a jam.

As (bad) luck would have it, Hamels gave up a homer to Manny Ramirez a couple of pitches after the botched double play.

So what do we have other than Cliff Lee in Game 1 and Pedro and Hamels in one of the next pair of games? Well, there’s Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ who both will start the World Series in the bullpen. If needed, one of those guys could get a start in the series but that probably depends on the opponent.

In 15 career games against the Angels Blanton is 3-7 with a 3.48 ERA and two complete games. In four career starts against the Yankees, Blanton is 0-3 with an 8.18 ERA.

Happ has never faced the Angels, but in his first start of the season in 2009 at the new Yankee Stadium, he gave up a pair of runs on four hits in six innings.

image from Meanwhile, both the Yankees and the Angels hit .286 against lefties this season, though the Yankees’ lefty hitters were significantly better against lefty pitchers.

Still, it’s worth noting that the debate seems to be using Hamels in either Game 2 of Game 3 and whether he’s ready to face the Yankees lefties in Yankee Stadium. But as long as we’re throwing things out there, how about this:

Would you trade Cole Hamels this off-season? Oh, not for just anyone because good pitchers have tough seasons all the time. Hamels is only 25 and his best days are clearly ahead of him—why else would the Phillies have signed him to a $20 million deal last winter?

But the Phillies will be a contender for the World Series again next year, too, and there were times when the starting rotation lacked consistency. Certainly Hamels was one of the biggest culprits in that regard.

So here it is: Let’s say the Blue Jays come back to the Phillies looking to move Roy Halladay, who is headed into the final year of his contract…

Would you send Hamels to the Blue Jays for Halladay? Would that be the one pitcher the Phillies could trade away Hamels for?

Hey, nothing is going on (as far as we know), but think about it—Hamels for Halladay?

Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay at the top of the rotation followed by J.A. Happ, Pedro Martinez and Joe Blanton… that could work, right?

Family history repeating itself?

Drabeks Selected in the 11th round of the 1983 draft, Doug Drabek was the property of four different organizations before his son Kyle was born in 1987. In fact, Doug’s rights were held by the Twins, White Sox and Yankees before he made his Major League debut.

So it’s kind of interesting that the son of the 1990 NL Cy Young Award winner and first-round draft pick of the Phillies in 2006 is in such an interesting spot. Kyle’s dad was once the proverbial player-to-be-named-later. No one ever coveted Doug Drabek as a minor leaguer until he actually got to the big leagues and proved he could pitch.

And pitch he did.

From 1988 to 1993, Doug tossed at least 219 innings and averaged 245 innings per season, counting the playoffs. He also never missed a start during that six-year span, won 71 games and finished in the top 5 in the Cy Young balloting three times.

The older Drabek was The Horse of the rotation that Charlie Manuel always talks about. He was the type of pitcher that gave the manager, pitching coach and bullpen a break every five days.

Now here’s where it gets interesting – when Doug Drabek was his son’s age (21), he was dealt from the White Sox to the Yankees organization and got a promotion from Single-A to Double-A. The following year (1985), Drabek spent the entire year in Double-A before starting ’86 in Triple-A for a handful of games.

At age 24, Doug Drabek was in the big leagues for good. For six years of his 12-season career he was one of the best pitchers in the National League, though hardly a Hall of Famer. After he signed a big free-agent deal with the Astros, Drabek won just 42 more games in the big leagues and by 1998, the career was over.

He was just 35.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Roy Halladay pitches until he is 35. That means he has three more years to go, which, if history (the Phillies, family and natural development) is an indicator, three years should be the time when Kyle Drabek is in the big leagues for good.

That is if he stays healthy long enough to make it to the big leagues.

Comparisons between father and son are inevitable. Why not … it’s easy. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, they say, and besides, Doug Drabek was a really good pitcher until the end. However, it seems as if the only thing the Drabeks have in common when it comes to pitching is that they both are right-handed and have the same last name.

Otherwise, Doug Drabek was crafty. He struck out a bit more than five hitters (5.7) per nine innings in the Majors and had roughly the same ratio (5.4) in the minors. Doug was efficient as a pitcher. He threw a sinker and made the most of his pitches. Even when he was racking up more 250 innings per season, Doug never averaged more than 109 pitches per game.

image from This season Kyle Drabek has 118 strikeouts in 122 innings. He’s has a big fastball which he used to rack up 74 whiffs in 61 2/3 inning in his first crack at advanced Single-A for Clearwater. More importantly, the injury issues seem to be behind the 21-year-old and he made the transition to Double-A rather seamlessly.

In other words, the kid knows how to pitch. So much so that Manuel didn’t compare him to his dad, but to another hard-throwing right-hander…

Try Tom Seaver.

“It'd be tough for me to trade Drabek,” Manuel said. “I like Drabek because he's strong in his legs and his hips and he's a drop-and-drive kind of pitcher. I'm not a pitching coach but I like his mechanics and I like where he comes from and he's a strong-bodied kid, like a Tom Seaver type or a Bartolo Colon, and he's got that kind of stuff. And he's young, and I think he has a big upside to him.”

But Roy Halladay… name three pitchers in the big leagues that are better than him. If Manuel wants The Horse, there he is. In fact, Halladay could get traded to the National League tomorrow and still likely get votes for the AL Cy Young Award. If Halladay were to join the Phillies and spend the remainder of his contract in Philly, a three-peat is not an unreasonable thought.

So here it is – what should the Phillies do?

• Bank on a can’t-miss kid with the pedigree and big right arm.

• Go for the short-term glory because titles come twice in 126 years in these parts.

Certainly they are tough questions and one that might keep general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. awake at night. But is there a wrong answer? Is this a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t situation?

Anyone have a crystal ball?