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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Howard, Utley have something to fall back on

Utley_howard Ryan Howard and Chase Utley just sat there in straight back chairs with bemused looks on their faces as they watched two drunks wrestle on the floor. Not until they paused to catch a breath with their dress shirts torn open, did the winning lines from the ballplayers help put a bow on the scene.

“I just saw you bite that dude,” Ryan Howard said while appearing as Ryan Howard in the program It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

That was followed by an invitation to wrestle from two of the main characters of the show, played by Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day, who were sprawled out on the floor at PSPCA benefit. Needless to say, charity events for animals have a tendency to get out of hand with grappling and/or fisticuffs popping up throughout a ballroom. It’s a serious business and some folks need to give until it hurts.

However, the invitation to Howard and Utley to join in the wrestling match because they were, “wasted,” was met with a witty rejoinder from the All-Star second baseman.

“No we’re not,” Utley said.

“No, we’re completely sober. But you guys drink a lot though,” Howard added.

“You guys drink more than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Utley finished before the ballplayers shrugged their shoulders and exited, stage right.

And to think, Utley was teammates with Vicente Padilla and has been known to work blue when delivering comeback wise cracks to fans in New York City or the home crowd when expressing delight in winning a World Series. For this occasion, Utley had to defer to the writers to craft his lines—you know, FCC guidelines and all. Plus, he seemed genuinely enthused and didn’t speak in clichés straight out of Bull Durham, unlike in situations with the press at his day job. On an everyday basis, Utley has the charisma of a toilet seat, or maybe he genuinely means that he wants to “stay within himself,” or “take them a day at a time.”

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… and Cliff Lee is ready to go in Game 1

Howard_k Let’s just cut right to it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just get me to the plate, boys.”

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

"I can't say what I want to say.”

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


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

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

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

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

Werth, Howard know that experience matters

Werth_howard1 When Jayson Werth got home after last season’s World Series, he didn’t expect to feel the way he did. Sure, losing the World Series to the Yankees is never easy and it would seem that winning it all one year and then falling short in six games the next would temper some of the disappointment, but Werth says he was actually surprised at how emotional he felt.

Granted, Werth didn’t have any expectations of what losing the World Series is supposed to feel like, but when it actually happened it was like a punch in the jaw.

“Looking back I might be a little surprised about the emptiness, but it’s not like I’m sitting around and thinking about, ‘what if, what if,’” Werth explained. “We just have to get out there and start playing. It’s the stuff that comes after—the emotions.”

Perched at a table in a parking lot turned conference hall, Werth went over what he went through during the off-season and how that has shaped the team’s goals for this season and the playoffs. With Game 1 of the NLCS against the Giants set to begin on Saturday night at the Bank, Werth and the Phillies are getting closer to where they want to be, but know all too well how much work remains.

For some reason Werth and his teammate Ryan Howard understand that their experiences have hardened their focus on the current task. They are ready for anything and everything that comes their way. But mostly Werth wants to avoid that emptiness again.

“When I look back to last offseason, I got home and I had a sour taste in my mouth,” Werth said on Friday afternoon. “I definitely have always been the type of person who wants to win and hates to lose, so it probably started last winter. You take a few weeks off and you start to work out and everything hurts and you feel like you haven’t worked out in a couple of years, you slowly build up and you get to spring training and you get ready to go at it again, but the thoughts of all your accomplishments and non-accomplishments are very fresh.

“At the start of the year I definitely had a goal in mind and here we are many months later with a chance to see those goals through with a chance to succeed on the grand stage. It’s an exciting time, but at the same time your ability to focus goes way up and the end result is so near and so close—we’re not many games away. It has a lot to do with a lot of things. You wake up in the morning and you know why you’re going to the ballpark, you know why you’re out there practicing, and you have a sense of what’s going on maybe more than a lot of people realize.

“The old saying that we live for this, I guess it holds true.”

That’s where Werth and the Howard believe the Phillies have an advantage. Experience, especially playoff experience, cannot be measured. Sure, there have been some inexperienced teams that won the World Series, but those runs rarely last more than a season or two. And yes, some seasoned baseball men will tell you that experience rarely supersedes talent or luck, but in the same breath they will explain how it’s the greatest intangible.

The Phillies are loaded with experience. In fact, Werth, Howard, Shane Victorino, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz have started 35 straight playoff games together. They have been through it all… together.

Oh sure, the Giants have six players with World Series rings, including Edgar Renteria who ended Game 7 of the 1997 World Series with a walk-off single in the 12th inning, and Pat Burrell whose long double set the table for the Phillies’ clinching victory in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. But the Giants also have 16 players who are advancing past the first round for the very first time.

“Each year you learn a little bit more—you grow. Starting in 2007 we didn’t know what to expect so we were the new guys, but once we made it again in 2008 we knew what to expect,” Howard said. “We stayed focused and we knew what we wanted to accomplish. From 2008 to 2009, we wanted to do it again and we got there, but fell short.

“Now we’ve seen all the different aspects of it from just getting there, to getting there and getting on top, to getting there and coming up short.”

Losing to the Yankees last year after setting the record for most strikeouts in the history of the World Series bothers Howard. He doesn’t like talking about failure. Never did. Then again, most ballplayers are like that, which is why Werth describing his disappointment at losing last year is significant. When it all came to a close at Yankee Stadium last November, Werth, Howard and their teammates said all the right things. They built a convincing façade that hid the reality that the defeat stung as bad as it did.

Hell, word around the clubhouse after Game 6 was that Werth announced there were 100 days to spring training during the team’s final gathering for a post-game beer.

At the same time, the Phillies would trade that experience for anything. There’s something about calloused and hardened focus that can push a guy. As one Phillie likes to say, quoting a buddy in the Marines, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

Yes, experience matters.

“It helps. It definitely does. If you look back at 2007 when we first got into the playoffs we went up against a buzz saw team in the Rockies and we didn’t fare too well. I think experience had something to do with that,” Werth said. “The next year we go to Milwaukee and the first game there—that first night in Milwaukee—it was louder than any place I’ve ever been and it affected us. We were shell shocked a little bit and we lost that game and then the next night we came out and it was just as loud, and it had no affect on us.

Werth_howard2 “We’re in our fourth year of the postseason now and there’s definitely something to be said for postseason experiences and all that going forward.”

Said Howard: “Being there. Being in those situations from before. We don’t panic. We’ve been in these situations before so we’re not going to panic. We’ve been up, we’ve been down and had to come back. We’ve seen it all.”

That’s what the Phillies are clinging to. Even going up against Tim Lincecum, who threw a magnificent, two-hit, 14-strikeout shutout against the Braves in his playoff debut hasn’t fazed the Phillies. They know Lincecum and respect him.

But then again every pitcher this time of the year is dangerous. All of them. The Dodgers were supposed to have the pitching staff and deep bullpen that was going to outlast the Phillies in 2008 and 2009, but it just didn’t happen that way. Both times the Phillies won in five games.

“We’ve seen him quite a bit. We know what he’s featuring and what to expect,” Werth said about Lincecum, but then again…

“We’ve seen some pretty good pitching over the years,” he added. “When you get to this level they’re all pretty good. We’ve been here before and with the experience we’ve had it definitely helped us along the way.”

A veteran and tested playoff club, the Phillies can’t wait to get started. They want to get back to work.

“I’m feeling good, I’m feeling alright. I’m excited for tomorrow night,” Howard said.

“Hey, I didn’t mean to rhyme. That was my Muhammad Ali moment.”

The 2010 Phillies: The greatest team that nearly wasn’t

Roy WASHINGTON — Although the Phillies have done nothing more than guarantee three more games on the schedule, there is already a buzz whether the 2010 team is the best in club history. With 94 wins and a chance to be the first National League team since the 1942-44 Cardinals to make it to the World Series three years in a row, the Phillies aren’t flirting with just franchise greatness… this is all-time stuff.

Of course the hyperbole alarm sounds whenever anyone puts out the “best ever” line, and even in this case the players are leery of celebrating anything more than what has already been accomplished. In fact, Jimmy Rollins said for this Phillies team to be considered great they have to win the World Series.

However, in the same breath Rollins says the 2010 team is the best he’s ever played on.

“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,” Rollins said. “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.”

The weird part is general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. says there were internal discussions with the team’s brass over whether or not it was time to cut bait. Struggling to score runs during an extended stretch in July where the Phillies lost three out of four in Pittsburgh and Chicago, Amaro said the idea of trading some of the integral pieces to the fourth straight NL East title had been broached.

“There was some concern that maybe guys were getting older, less productive,” Amaro said. “If you look up and down our lineup, I don’t know if there is any guy, other than maybe Carlos Ruiz, who is having a career year. We talked about this internally and yet we still are creeping up on 95 wins, which is amazing to me. I would have been the first to be able to tell you that I didn’t think we were going to get to 90 wins when we were right around the middle of July. So for us to kind of turn on the way we’ve turned it on, is even surprising to me. 

“What’s great about this is that, one, we really haven’t had the kind of production that we typically would have from even the guys in the middle [of the lineup]. Chase Utley hasn’t had his typical year. Ryan Howard hasn’t had his typical year. Jimmy Rollins obviously hasn’t had a great year, he’s had injury issues and such. We’ve got a lot of down production from a lot of guys and hopefully they can turn it on and come up with some offensive production as we get into the postseason.”

So call it the great break up that wasn’t. Following the team’s fourth straight loss and sixth in seven games to send its record to 48-46, the Phillies won eight in a row and 13 out of the next 15 games. They also made a deal to add Roy Oswalt to the rotation and became even more fearsome.

From that low point of 48-46 and seven games out in the NL East, the Phillies have gone 46-17 and six games up and winning games at a .730 clip. There was a game after a Friday afternoon loss in Chicago where Manuel sat at his desk in the cramped office and went over the math in his head while wondering aloud if his team could get it together. Less than a week later, hitting coach Milt Thompson was fired then, for whatever reason, the Phillies began winning at a rate that exceeded the more modest numbers Manuel charted in his head.

Yet paced by pitching with the hitters beginning to find their way, the Phillies are peaking at the right time. Still, the team knows that none of it matters unless they go the whole way. The great lesson learned during the current run is winning has a way of changing the way people look at things.

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?

Of course there are also the Braves that dominated divisional play for 14 years in a row, but have just one title—against the Indians in ’95—to show for it.

Going back a bit, the Orioles made it to the World Series three years in a row (1969, 1970, 1971), but won it once. The same thing happened with Oakland in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Those teams are remembered as dynasties that might have been had it been able to finish the deal.

Are the Phillies worried about how history might judge them?

“You play this game to try and win championships and that’s our focus,” Howard said. “We stay focused on the task at hand and let you guys tell us where it fits into the history books. That will sort itself out.”

Like Howard, Rollins isn’t ready for reflection. Just winning.

“I haven’t thought about it like that, but it’s something I’ll go through when it’s all said and done,” Rollins said. “It’s hard to do. Everything has to go your way, you have to have a good team, you have to have great pitching, you have to have timely hitting, you have to have guys who are having career years who are coming together where things are going your way. You don’t think too far into the future. You just try and blaze your own trail right now. And when the light is out, then you look back.”

Howard and Utley bring the chicken soup

Utley_howard Who doesn’t like a little baseball wisdom?

All it takes is one…

Take two and hit it to the opposite field…

The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers…

Oh yes, the three-run homer. Is there anything it can’t cure? It’s like penicillin or chicken soup, and oftentimes it just takes one to make everything feel better. Knowing how troubled the Phillies’ offense has been this season, it seemed as if a little three-run homer for the soul is exactly what the team needed.

Actually, if it were Ryan Howard to provide some of the medicine, even better.

Ryan Howard and home runs have kind of been strangers lately. In fact, Howard hadn’t hit a homer since July 27, a span of 13 games. Add in the 16 games he missed because of his injured ankle, and it seemed like forever since The Big Piece hit a homer. Worse, the homer drought was sort of a microcosm of his post-DL production. Going just 4-for-36 with no extra-base hits, one RBI and 16 strikeouts was just as ugly to watch as it was to read.

“You see it. If you watch the games you can see I’m not comfortable in the box. I’m just trying to get it back, get a good pitch to hit and go from there,” Howard said last week. “It’s tough when you’re on the DL and you get out of that rhythm it’s kind of like going back to spring training all over again.”

Apparently, the problem was nothing more than finding that rhythm. Knowing that Howard and Chase Utley were like bombs waiting to explode, manager Charlie Manuel may have put his guys back into the lineup sooner than he should have. But that’s the thing about explosives—there’s a lot of patience involved. You have to wait for the reward. Obviously, Manuel was willing to put up with the bad in order to get to the good.

“We wanted them back, but the people who saw them play [said they were ready] and they wanted them to come back,” Manuel said. “If we would have left them down there longer and let them get a few at-bats, yeah, they would have benefited from it. But where we were at, we wanted them back when they were healthy.”

Clearly it has to be a little more than a coincidence that the Phillies scored eight runs in a game where Howard belted a three-run homer. Truth is the Phillies hadn’t scored more than eight runs in a game in two weeks until The Big Piece hit his three-run bomb to left-center field on Tuesday night. Better yet, Howard’s homer was followed by a long double in Wednesday’s finale and five more runs to take two out of three against the Dodgers.

“I wasn’t happy about hitting a home run,” Howard said. “I was just happy to get a hit.”

Looking for something to highlight for the moment when the Phillies got it going? It just might turn out to be the Aug. 31 game at Dodger Stadium where Howard hit that three-run homer. In the two winning games against the Dodgers, the Phillies scored 13 runs which is nearly as many as they scored in the six previous games.

Howard hit the long ones and Utley… well, he just hit. Certainly that was a welcomed change considering the other big bat in the middle of the order went 5-for-9 in the two games against the Dodgers with three doubles in Wednesday’s finale. A 5-for-9 offsets a 2-for-21 jag pretty nicely.

“When we’re clicking it seems like everyone wants to hit with him,” Manuel said. “Like if Howard and Utley are hitting, everyone else does too. They want to be along with it.”

The good part about that is it’s time to hit. The Phillies have been winning games despite their offense. It’s almost as if the pitching staff has decided to carry the load alone since there has been so little help from the hitters.

Howard is a monster in September. In exactly a season’s worth of September games—162 in the month during his career—heading into Wednesday’s tilt, Howard has clubbed 52 homers and picked up 141 RBIs to go with a .314 batting average. When other plays slow down as the season dwindles, the big man heats up. With the benefit of 16 extra days off, Howard should be quite ready if he has his mojo working.

And maybe that will be the tonic for Utley, too. Notoriously a slow finisher, partially because he has played through injuries, Utley has the benefit of 46 games off. Time spent on the disabled list should rejuvenate Utley down the stretch for a change, which was the silver lining when the injuries hit.

So now that the offense is hitting back, it’s just a matter of the Halladay, Hamels and Oswalt maintaining to the finish line. Oh yes, that’s the first part of the perfect remedy. If the three-run homer is the chicken soup, the pitching is what ties it together.

The chicken soup might make the Phillies feel better, but they can’t survive without H2O.

George Brett’s ‘freak-out’ still sets the standard

Pine tar As far as angry moments go, Ryan Howard was right up there last week when he was thrown out of a game by minor-league substitute umpire Scott Barry during the 14th inning of the Phillies’ loss to the Astros at Citizens Bank Park. In fact, just the sight of the 6-foot-4, 250-pound slugger running out onto the infield to confront Barry and his bad call is one that will be etched into some folks’ minds forever.

Think about it… Howard is as laidback and affable as they come. He’s living the good life and appreciates it. He likes to laugh and have fun and hit baseballs really, really far. What’s not to be happy about that?

But even the nicest guys can only be pushed so far. Barry blew the check-swing third strike call and then exacerbated the situation by tossing Howard out of the game for nothing more than displaying emotion. The ump did the same thing a few days before when he threw out the Nats’ Ryan Zimmerman from a game for being upset at himself for striking out. Get this—Zimmerman swung at a pitch, missed and was angry with himself so he chucked his bat and helmet. To Barry, apparently, this is a major offense.

But we never heard Barry’s side of things. We also never heard from umpire Greg Gibson, who made an undecipherable call against the Phillies in the opening game of the series, which directly lead to the Astros’ game-winning runs. If that wasn’t frustrating enough, the acting crew chief Sam Holbrook claimed there was a rule from Major League Baseball that prohibited the umps from speaking with the press.

Or maybe they just didn’t want to be held accountable. Clearly Jim Joyce, the umpire who blew the call in Armando Galarraga’s near perfect game in May, missed that memo.

Obviously there were times in the past where the umpire talked about a specific call in a game. However, upon looking back at one of baseball’s most famous incidents where a player ran to an umpire to confront him, curiously, there are no post-game comments from the game officials.

Oh yes, I’m talking about the Pine-Tar Game.

Remember that one? At Yankee Stadium on July 24, 1983, George Brett hit what appeared to be the go-ahead home run off the Yankees’ Goose Gossage with two outs in the ninth inning. However, citing a rule that was mostly used during the Deadball Era, Brett was called out because his bat had too much pine tar on it. When umpire Tim McClelland signaled that Brett was out, one of the all-time greatest freak outs in the history of sports occurred. Brett stormed out of the dugout with arms flailing and mouth running before being restrained just as he reached McClelland.

Here’s how it looked:

In the moment, McClelland’s call was correct because according to the way the rule was written (Rule 1.10b), a player cannot use a bat with a foreign substance more than 18 inches from the handle. However, as interpreted by American League president Lee MacPhail, the rule was put into the books because pine tar ruined baseballs at a time when they still retrieved them when they landed in the stands. In 1983, the pine-tar rule was antiquated almost the way certain laws to translate to modern times.

Nevertheless, it was tough to find any comments from McClelland about the incident in the direct aftermath or in the decades to follow. However, in a report from The New York Times on the 25th anniversary of the incident, McClelland was disappointed that the call was overturned.

“We’ve got to rule on the letter of the law, and the letter said that we should call him out,” McClelland said. “But if I’d have gone to Billy Martin and said, ‘Hey Billy, you’re right by the rules, but come on’ — who knows what Billy would have done?”

“When the rule was originally made, it was actually for the protection of the hitter, because if the pine tar would get on the ball, then the pitcher could grip the ball better and snap off curves and stuff like that,” McClelland said. “So, really, it’s kind of funny how the rule was made for the protection of the hitter, but the penalty was on the hitter.”

Long known for his unemotional demeanor, his slow and deliberate strike calls as well as a bunch of really poor calls, i.e. Matt Holliday scoring the winning run in the NL West tiebreaker in 2007 and the play in the 2009 ALCS where Nick Swisher was called out for leaving a base too early which came before the negated double play where two Yankees’ players arrived at third base at the same time and were tagged while not standing on the base.

McClelland spoke to the media after those calls, but not after the Pine-Tar game. As a rookie ump, crew chief Joe Brinkman handled the media, which is the common protocol. However, in Philadelphia when requests for comment were made to Gibson and Barry, those requests were denied.

Regardless, it’s tough to compare Brett’s freak out with Howard’s slow dash through the infield. Sure, having Howard angry with you is probably scarier than George Brett, and there was plenty of pointing, gesturing and the always dramatic, hold-me-back posturing, but it didn’t quite grab hold the same way. Perhaps in 1983 we weren’t used to seeing ballplayers charge after the umps. Maybe we’ve built up immunity to that kind of stuff with the proliferation of media. Needless to say, the scribes in the press box didn’t have Twitter to report the action as it unfolded in 1983, while Barry’s overreaction was well documented in the moment.

So maybe that’s why it was downplayed a bit nationally. Howard’s ejection was barely mentioned by The Associated Press or by the Houston media. Apparently it wasn’t a big deal…

Meanwhile, Howard had a conversation with Barry last Thursday when they were both working at first base. Barry, of course, couldn’t be reached for comment, and Howard only confirmed that he spoke to the ump.

At least for now, Howard wants to forget about the incident.

I've seen him mad before," manager Charlie Manuel said, "but never like that."

Brett, however, never stopped talking about his place in one of the more peculiar games ever played. In fact, a couple of years ago Brett said he gathers up his family and they sit down to watch daddy’s little freak out.

“I probably watch it at least once a year with my boys," Brett said during the 25th anniversary of the game. “They just want to watch the aftermath of when the umpire threw me out.”

Better yet, Brett said the Pint-Tar game helped people forget that he had hemorrhoid problems during the 1980 World Series against the Phillies. Because of that Brett went from being the hemorrhoid guy to the pine-tar man.

“Actually, when I ran out of the dugout I had no idea I looked like that. When I saw my reaction I said, ‘You've got to be (kidding) me,’ Brett remembered during the 25th anniversary. “That's the one at-bat you're remembered for and it was an at-bat in July. I never thought it would be that big a deal. Only in New York.”

So that’s what it was… maybe it would have been a bigger deal that Howard was ejected had it been a game against the Mets?

Brown making his way in a familiar manner

Brown It was after the third inning of a Sunday afternoon game at The Vet on Sept. 17, 2000 when it was painfully obvious that Jimmy Rollins was never going to spend a minute in the minor leagues again. Only 21 that afternoon, Rollins hit a triple to lead off the inning for his first hit, but didn’t move too far from the bag afterwards as Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Travis Lee struck out in order to end the inning.

But the point was made. Rollins was a big leaguer. No longer did he have to defer to the likes of Desi Relaford, Tomas Perez and Alex Arias because he needed to spend time at Triple-A so he could get the chance to play every day. All Terry Francona—and then Larry Bowa—had to do was write his name in the lineup and let him go.

Actually, the third-inning triple was just for show. Rollins walked into the old clubhouse ready to go. There was no sense denying it any more.

Just about 10 years later, Rollins snuck a peak over at rookie Dom Brown as he fished through his locker for his batting practice gear, and was asked the same question. He’d sign his name on a bat, glance over at the 6-foot-6 outfielder, and then smile mischievously remembering what it was like back when he was trying to elbow his way into the big-league lineup for good.

“You’ll have to ask Ruben that,” Rollins said with a knowing smile when asked if Brown will ever have to go back to the minors to be a regular player.

In other words, the answer was no. Rollins didn’t say it because he didn’t need to. If the Phillies wanted to send Brown back to the minors for more seasoning, they had plenty of chances to do it by now.

So let’s ask the general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. about Brown’s immediate future.

“It would have been nice [to get Brown more playing time], but right now we’re trying to win as many games as we can and he has the ability to do some things that even if he’s not playing every day to help us,” Amaro explained. “He has the ability to run the bases and hit with some power from the left side as we’ve seen. He gives us the chance to have the best club out there.”

Certainly Brown is in a position Rollins never went through. When he came up from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to play shortstop he didn’t have to look over his shoulder or wait his turn. From Sept. 17, 2000 to today, Rollins has been the Phillies shortstop without question. In fact, there stands a good chance that the team will offer Rollins a contract extension simply because there is no one in the minors breathing down his neck. Plus, even though Rollins is the longest-tenured Phillie, it’s not like he’s old or getting old. He’s coming into his prime athletic years right now with contract that ends after the 2011 season.

Rollins_rookie “I’m only 31,” Rollins said. “And the only reason I’ve been here the longest is because Pat (Burrell) left. You have to give those guys credit for drafting guys, bringing them along and keeping them together.”

In other words, Rollins wants to stick around for a while. And who knows? Maybe if the right deal is struck Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels very well could spend their entire careers playing for just one team. Needless to say, in the free agency era players tend to bounce from team to team a lot so if the Phillies are able to keep their main guys together. It says a lot about the guys running the club and the players, too.

A few lockers down, the next great Phillie quietly prepared for a game where he might only get in to pinch hit. Interestingly, Brown has been called on to pinch hit as many times (9) as Rollins has since 2006. Chalk that up to an experience Brown will have when he is a veteran that guys like Rollins, Howard and Utley don’t know all that well.

Where they all have common ground is in the waiting. Like Brown and Rollins, Utley and Howard had to wait in line to get into the big leagues, too. For Rollins it simply was a matter of seasoning since it’s likely he could have skipped the 2000 season at Triple-A and hit .221 like Arias, Relaford and Perez combined for that year. But unlike those guys, Brown is attempting to establish himself on a team that went to the World Series for two straight years. Rollins joined a Phillies team that was on the way to 97 losses and replacing the manager. That’s about as different a situation as one can get.

In other words, it was a good idea for Rollins to spend the season playing for a team that went to the championship round of the playoffs. Just like it’s a good idea for Brown to take the ride with the two-time defending National League champs instead of dominating for a Triple-A club playing out the string.

Brown definitely will learn more in the big leagues than he would in Allentown for the rest of the season.

In the meantime, Brown will wait for his chance just like the other big guns on the team had to do. Of course before he realizes, he’ll blink and will be 10 years into his major league career just like Rollins.

“It feels like it was just yesterday,” Rollins said about that sunny Sunday in September of 2000 when he hit that first triple.

It always feels that way. No matter what.

Does Charlie have Phillies on the right pace?

Big_chuck From the way Charlie Manuel explains it, he’s an organic kind of guy. In baseball there is a natural ebb and flow of things that Charlie doesn’t like to mess with. With its rhythms and whatnot, a baseball season unfolds a certain way for a reason so when there is anomaly that pops up, Charlie rarely bats an eye.

For instance, if a player comes out of the gate hitting everything in sight and posting huge numbers, Charlie doesn’t get too excited. Just wait, he says, everything will even out as long as nature is allowed to work its course. After all, it would be silly to sprint the first mile of a marathon with 25 miles left.

Pace yourself.

So with Shane Victorino back with the team after going 6-for-8 with a homer, triple and four RBIs in two Triple-A rehab games, and Chase Utley cleared to resume his hitting drills while Ryan Howard was back to taking grounders, don’t get too crazy with excitement yet. Charlie says there will be a period where the players will have to knock off some rust.

It won’t be the players’ fitness or skills that will be the issue, the skipper says. It will be the hitters’ timing. As Charlie explains, it often takes a player more time to recover his timing at the plate and his in-game conditioning. Sometimes just gripping a bat feels a bit weird even though the hits could be dropping in. As a result, a late-season injury to guys like Howard, Utley or Victorino might not be the boon logic would dictate.

On the plus side, the Phillies will have some depth.

“I feel like when we get everybody healthy our bench definitely should be as strong as it’s been all year,” Charlie said. “Without a doubt.”

That’s the only doubt Manuel doesn’t have. Otherwise he’s full of them. Baseball managers always are—even successful ones like Big Chuck. Truth is, calling them “managers” is a misnomer this time of year considering there is very little they get to manage at all. With the Phillies it has been about the injuries as well as some inexplicable ineffectiveness with the bullpen. Sure, Brad Lidge appears to have it together despite a bit of a dip in the velocity of his fastball, but the club’s lone lefty, J.C. Romero, is dealing with some strange “slow hand” phenomenon.

“My hand was slow,” Romero explained after a rough outing on Tuesday night against the Dodgers. “Not my arm. My arm got there. My hand was slow.”

Wait… aren’t they connected?

“I still, to a certain extent, don't understand what the problem is,” Charlie said about his lonely lefty. “We have to find out about it.”

See what were saying about “managing?” How can anyone have a say over a guy whose arm is moving faster than his hand? Perhaps it could be Romero’s mouth is working faster than his brain in this instance?

But don’t think for a minute Charlie would trade his injuries for the one Braves’ skipper Bobby Cox is dealing with, or for the craziness Mets’ manager Jerry Manuel has going on with his closer. After all, Victorino can go out there and play tonight while Utley and Howard should be back before the end of the month. Actually, the toughest decision Manuel has looming is whether or not to keep top hitting prospect Dom Brown in the majors or send him back to Triple-A for the final week(s) of the International League season.

Certainly there are some big issues concerning the Phillies, like what they are going to be able to do about the left-handed reliever problem. For now, we’ll just have to pretend that Ryan Madson is a lefty and hope he continues to strikeout left-handed hitters at a rate of 25 percent per at-bat. The righty handled two of the Dodgers’ toughest lefties in the eighth inning of a close game on Wednesday night and might find himself pushed into more righty-on-lefty action as long as Romero’s left hand continues to belabor the pace.

Still, no one with the Phillies was called down to the precinct house in order to post bail for the closer early Thursday morning. According to published reports, the Mets’ All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez cursed at reporters before allegedly walking to another portion of the clubhouse where he was accused of committing third-degree assault on his 53-year-old father-in-law. The 53-year old went off to the hospital, while K-Rod was arraigned and released on $5,000 bail on Thursday.

With the rival Phillies headed for Queens this weekend, K-Rod likely will be serving a team-issued suspension. Meanwhile, ace lefty Johan Santana has been sued for rape by a Florida woman after authorities declined to prosecute.

ChuckIn comparison, Charlie will take those injuries.

But certainly not the one that appears to cost Braves’ future Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones the rest of the season. It came out Thursday that Jones tore the ACL in his left knee and likely will have season-ending surgery. If that’s the case, the first-place Braves will go into the final month of the season without their best hitter, who just so happens to be a Phillie killer, while hoping the aches and pains suffered by All-Stars Jason Heyward and Martin Prado relent enough so they can carry the load.

“When you think of the Atlanta Braves, the first guy you think of is Chipper Jones,” Braves’ GM Frank Wren told the Associated Press. “His presence in our lineup has been increasing based on his performance the last couple of months. He was a force. So, yeah, we're losing a lot.”

So put this way, the Phillies might be coming together just in time. Considering spring training lasts approximately six weeks, Charlie’s boys ought to be running at full steam in time for the last week of the season.

Talk about perfect timing.

Missing the Big Piece could cause big problems

Ryan_howard So far the Phillies have done OK without slugger Ryan Howard. Of course it’s been just one game, but Ben Francisco and Carlos Ruiz popped homers and piled up seven hits on Tuesday night in Miami. That’s good because if the Phillies are going to survive the spate of injuries plaguing the team, guys like Ruiz, Francisco and new cleanup hitter, Jayson Werth, are going to have to deliver.

Because teams with injury problems like the Phillies don’t win otherwise.

Yeah, there have been a few teams in recent history that lost its top slugger during the regular season and were able to keep it together to get to the World Series. For instance, the Yankees played the first 28 games of 2009 without Alex Rodriguez, which would have been a crippling loss, if the team didn’t have guys like Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira ready to pick up the slack.

In 2007, Manny Ramirez missed 24 games in September for the Red Sox and hit his final homer of the regular season on Aug. 28. But when the playoffs started, Ramirez was back in the lineup and batted .400 with four homers through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

It also didn’t hurt that the Red Sox had David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis and American League rookie of the year, Dustin Pedroia. The Sox were so stacked that they traded Ramirez to the Dodgers midway through the 2008 season.

There’s always a fallback slugger, like in 1990 when Eric Davis missed 23 games in May and the last week of the regular season, but was ready to go in the playoffs when Reds’ teammates Paul O’Neil, Chris Sabo and Mariano Duncan stepped up. Davis was the best player on the Reds in 1990, but registered a 2.6 Wins over replacement (WAR) because guys like Billy Hatcher and Glenn Braggs kept the machine running.

Ah yes, running. That’s one way to combat a power deficiency. That’s how the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals made up for losing Jack Clark for 34 games in September and October. Considering that Clark banged out 22 homers in 122 games, which was exactly two more than the combined total of the six players on the team that played 100 games that year, his loss was significant.

Nevertheless, the Cardinals won 101 games and made it to the seventh game of the World Series (they actually won it in six games, but Don Denkinger… you know) partially because they swiped 314 bases—110 from Vince Coleman—and had a .335 on-base percentage as a team. Tommy Herr led the team with 110 RBIs even though he hit just eight homers. Willie McGee drove in 82 runs with just 10 homers and 18 triples to capture the NL MVP Award.

The strangest stat from the 1987 Cardinals is that they won 101 games with two pitchers that won 21 games with five players getting at least 30 stolen bases. Herr and Ozzie Smith swiped 31 bags in ’85, which would have led the Phillies in 2009 and been the fourth-best in the National League.

Yes, the game has changed.

But speed, as they say, kills, and it’s a weapon the Phillies used to their advantage to get to the World Series the past two seasons by swiping bags at a better than 80 percent clip. However, the running game for the Phillies has been grounded a bit, too. Shane Victorino leads the club with 20 steals, but he’s out for another few weeks with an abdominal injury. Jimmy Rollins hasn’t been caught stealing all season and has the second-most steals in franchise history in the modern era. But between the calf injury that led to a pair of DL stints and a sore foot that ballooned after getting smashed by a foul ball, Rollins has simply trying to hold it together.

So the Phillies are missing their speed and power as we head into the throes of August. And if that isn’t enough, Chase Utley is still days away from simply gripping a bat after he ripped the ligament on his right thumb. Over 162 games, Howard and Utley average nearly 80 homers per season, which is seven fewer than what the 1985 Cardinals hit all season.

What can the Phillies do if they can’t bash and run past the opposition? Werth, the darling of the SABR set, is streaky at best and followed a two-doubles effort in Washington with four strikeouts against the Marlins. There’s Rollins and Placido Polanco, but those guys are still recovering from stints on the disabled list. Raul Ibanez is starting to swing the bat, and catcher Carlos Ruiz is putting together his best season offensively. Also, Dom Brown is holding down a spot in the heart of the lineup, but is it fair to ask a rookie to keep the team together until the big guns start to trickle back?

So what do they do without Howard, a player that has dominated Septembers past?

How about pitching and defense?

Good thing the Phillies have the Roys and Cole, huh? Now if they can just close out some games they’ll be OK… maybe.

Sign of respect

Dbrown WASHINGTON — Shane Victorino was incredulous when he saw the clubhouse attendants at Nationals Park walking to the locker to the right of his holding a couple of baseballs to be signed. The Phillies’ centerfielder just couldn’t get past it.

“I’ve been here for four years and never been asked to sign anything,” Victorino yelled in mock indignation. “He’s been here for one day and he’s already signing.”

It’s a common rite in baseball circles, actually. One player on an opposing team gives a shiny, new baseball to a clubbie and sends him over to the other clubhouse to have it signed by a certain player. Players love signed those baseballs, too. It’s like a great sign of respect if a peer asks for an autograph (without actually asking), usually reserved for the big-time players. Word is Cal Ripken used to make special time just to sign items from the other team, and I once saw Red Sox old-time legend Johnny Pesky exhilarated by the fact that Jim Thome had sent two baseballs to have signed a few years back at Fenway.

“Are you joking with me,” Pesky said, amazed that Thome wanted the balls signed. “Jim Thome wants me to sign these?

This time it was a player on the Nationals who sent Victorino into a faux tizzy for asking Dom Brown to sign a baseball. After all, to that point Victorino had played in 775 career games including the playoffs and All-Star Game, while Brown had been in just three games with just two starts.

Here was a kid, just 22 and drafted in the 20th round from Stone Mountain, Ga. because scouts thought he was going to go play wide receiver for the University of Miami, signing autographs for other major leaguers. Moreover, when Brown entered the clubhouse at Nationals Park on his first road trip as a big leaguer, a guy with a rookie of the year award, an MVP, and four of the top most prolific home run-hitting seasons in franchise history, was the first to greet him.

“Hello, Mr. Brown,” Ryan Howard said.

Mister Brown?

So much for the rookie hazing.

Then again, the Phillies organization isn’t treating Brown like a typical rookie. No one is expecting the team’s untouchable prospect to just blend in to the background, with his eyes open and mouth shut. Instead, because of the injuries to nearly every starter this season, Brown is going to be treated like a 22-year old rookie in his first trip to the big leagues.

Nope… Instead, the Phillies are going to treat Brown like a major leaguer.

Actually, there aren’t too many major leaguers that had to have a press conference before his first game and then another for the TV audience as he jogged off the field after he got two hits in his debut. That kind of proves that the Phillies are expecting things from Brown they wouldn’t ordinarily expect from a kid called up from Triple-A in late July. Though manager Charlie Manuel says he’ll likely use Brown 70 percent of the time, and likely against just right-handed pitchers at that, the idea is for Brown to produce.

“Domonic Brown is going to have to come up and make an impact,” general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week. “I remember talking to Paul Owens about this. You've done your job if you have one or two players per year to have some kind of impact from your system on your major-league club. We have to have that happen. Otherwise, we won't be viable.”

In other words, there’s a lot riding on Brown’s production.

But so far he’s handling it well. He’s started four games and has two multi-hit games. He’s driven in a few runs, swiped a bag, and played solid in right field. After Brown made a diving catch last Saturday night at Nationals Park, center fielder Jayson Werth paused to watch the replay on the giant video screen hanging above the ballpark.

That’s just it… lots of the players are paying attention to Brown. Aside from asking for him autographs, the three wise guys of the Phillies—Victorino, Howard and Jimmy Rollins—marveled over the kid’s physique as much as the time he spent in the batting cage. None of the former MVPs or All-Stars on the team was built like that when they were 22.

And just like the rookie is expected, Brown smiled and took the good-natured ribbing from his older, wiser teammates. Hey, it’s his first big-league road trip and rather than head out on the town to dinner with teammates, or museums and sights in D.C. (“Yeah, I’m going to go to the zoo with Dom Brown,” Victorino mocked his inquisitors over his mentorship), Brown is just worrying about making a good impression.

“He’s very mature for his age. He has his head on right and he likes to play and he puts a lot into it so that’s going to help him,” Manuel said.

“Strawberry had the same type of body, he might be a bit taller. He’s a little like [Braves’ rookie Jason] Heyward, but a different style of hitting. [Brown] keeps his bat up higher and has different kind of a swing. It’s high and he comes down on the ball, but he’s bigger, of course.”

Bigger in many senses, too. Not even a week into his big-league career and Brown is being called Mister by Howard and signing autographs for his new peers, much to Victorino’s chagrin. Now all he has to do is go hit.

The next big thing

Dom_brown DENVER — Hang around baseball long enough and you will learn some lessons, most of them the hard way. It’s guaranteed if you’re smart enough to keep your eyes and ears open. It doesn’t matter how smart a guy thinks he is, how many good sources he has or how many games he has seen in person, there is always something.

So the best lesson I’ve learned about baseball that has been incorporated into my regular, civilian life is a hard one. There is very little wiggle room in this lesson and it is deliberate and foolproof if applied correctly.

Believe nothing. Unless you can confirm something or saw it occur in front of your own two eyes/ears, don’t believe it. In fact, even then it’s a pretty good idea to go out and get a secondary source. For instance, if you believe Albert Pujols is the best hitter you have ever seen, it’s a really good idea to get some back up. Try to find someone who has seen a lot of different hitters from all kinds of backgrounds and ask for their opinion.

Regarding Pujols, I asked Mike Schmidt and Charlie Manuel if he was, indeed, the greatest hitter I had ever seen. Schmidt went so far as to demonstrate Pujols’ batting stance right there in the clubhouse at Veterans Stadium where he described the genius of the Cardinals’ slugger.

“Watch what he does,” Schmidt said, squatting down low with his hands held high, choking up on an imaginary bat. “He always goes in there like he was two strikes on him.”

The thinking, according to Schmidt, is that Pujols is always weary, always thinking and always protective of his strike zone. Pujols wasn’t going to give in to a pitcher’s pitch or chase garbage. The theory is to kill a pitch over the plate and if a guy is good enough to throw one of those fancy breaking pitches on the edge of the plate, just tip your cap and walk quietly back to the dugout.

After that Schmidt went back to trashing Pat Burrell and his lack of hitting acumen.

Big Chuck didn’t demonstrate Pujols’ stance or make any over-analyzed hitting theories. Instead, Charlie made me think and dig between the lines. He does that a lot, actually. A big one with Charlie is, “Watch the game.” That means don’t believe the hype.

“He’s up there,” Charlie said. “He can be whatever you want him to be.”

What does this long-winded preamble have to do with uber-prospect Dom Brown? Well, everything actually. The truth is Brown’s long-awaited ascent to the Majors has sent lots of smart folks struggling to control their emotions. Long, rangy, smart, powerful and fast, Brown comes billed as the ultimate post-steroid era ballplayer. What do you need? Well, guess what? Brown has that trait in his repertoire. He was drafted in the 20th round out of high school as a left-handed pitcher because most teams thought he was headed for the University of Miami to play wide receiver. Since then he’s never thrown a pitch in a game and the only catches he makes are in right field.

What those teams didn’t know was that Brown was a baseball player who grew up idolizing Ken Griffey Jr., which is perfect. Brown, a lefty in the field and at the plate, could be a stronger, faster version of Griffey. If Griffey was the ultimate player for the pre-steroid era, Brown is his successor.

Oh yes, he’s that good.

That’s the hype machine talking, of course. Griffey, ideally, should be a unanimous Hall-of-Fame pick five years from now. Of course there were a lot of players that should have been unanimous selections in the past—Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Tony Gwynn, etc.—spring to mind, but the BBWAA votes on these things… what are you gonna do?

The question no one has pondered is if the hype and the expectations are fair to Brown. There is a lot of pressure put on the 22-year-old kid to live up to a standard set by others. Yes, it’s the way it goes in this over-populated media landscape of ours, but that doesn’t make it right. Too often we are so quick to anoint everything the greatest hero or flop of all time. There’s never just good or mediocre anymore—it has to be extreme.

We saw this happen to Burrell when he was summoned from Scranton during the 2000 season and we could not understand why the Phillies took so long to call up Marlon Byrd in 2002 because we were told he was going to be the next great center fielder. Eventually Byrd became an All-Star, but it took three teams and six years after he left the Phillies to get there.

Then there were the untouchables, Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels. When the Phillies were hanging around the cusp of a playoff berth in 2003 and 2004 as the trade deadline loomed, Floyd and Hamels were the first players every team asked for only to be told to beat it or were given a counteroffer that included Ryan Howard.

It was the Pirates, not the Phillies, which backed out of the Oliver Perez-for-Ryan Howard deal at the last minute. Coincidentally, Floyd was included in the trade that sent Howard’s roadblock, Jim Thome, to Chicago in order to clear a path for Howard.

As Charlie would say, “Funny game.”

Here’s what I know… having seen Burrell, Byrd, Chase Utley, Floyd, Hamels, Howard and Brown play in the minor leagues, I’d like to think my eyes and ears haven’t mislead me. I thought Burrell would be better with at least one All-Star berth to his credit. Byrd was marketed wrong and probably needed a little more work on his makeup in order to be a star for the Phillies.

Utley was raw and no one really was sure if he’d ever be able to field an infield position. When it appeared that Scott Rolen wasn’t going to re-sign with the Phils, Utley was promoted from Single-A to Triple-A where he spent the season playing third base. Sure, he hit fairly well, but some are still amazed that Utley didn’t kill someone (or himself) with the way he played third base. But out of all the players listed, he has come the farthest as a player. No one expected him to be the best second baseman in the game. Burrell was supposed to have the career that Utley has put together and Utley was just supposed to be a really good hitter.

Who knew?

Floyd was a talent, but not as good as Hamels and certainly lacked that cockiness and swagger the lefty had even way back when he was pitching for the Reading Phillies.

Howard? Wow, was he smart as a minor leaguer. The aspect to Howard’s game that goes unnoticed is how quickly he can make adjustments and alterations at the plate. There’s a lot more than sheer brute force to what he does up there and the massive amount of strikeouts is a byproduct of something. What has been missed is the intelligence for the game Howard had even as a minor leaguer.

Brown_lopesHoward and Hamels were the best of the bunch until Brown came along. In his first game for Reading last summer, Brown hit a home run that will go down as one of those legendary moments they talk about years from now. The problem with this legend, however, is that there isn’t much room to embellish it. C’mon… Brown hit a ball about as far as a human being could smash a baseball at Reading’s ballpark without it sounding cartoonish or like something conjured in a video game.

Even better than the talent, intelligence and everything else, Brown was grounded. People kept spelling his name wrong but he was too polite to correct them. When he answered questions he used the word, “sir,” and he wasn’t being sarcastic. Know what? Pujols did the same thing a decade ago.

For now Brown is perfect. His first plate appearance ended with an RBI double crashed off the wall. Famed documentarian Ken Burns was even on hand to see it, which hardly seems like a coincidence.

But Brown is also the one player general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. would not part with when he was cleaning out the farm system to get Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Brown is the chosen one even though Amaro went on Daily News Live last week and plainly stated that the kid wasn’t ready for the big show yet. Perhaps that was just Amaro trying to tamp down expectations in order to keep the hype from overwhelming us. A little breather, if you will.

Oh, but we know better. Amaro had no other way of dodging it. Money is always at the fore and guys like Brown (and Howard before him) have the natural flow of their development slowed in order to keep that arbitration and free agency clock from ticking. It stinks because there’s something truly sinister about those motivated by money over merit, but so far we’ve seen guys like Howard and Utley get theirs after toiling away in the minors for no good reason.

Maybe we are jumping the gun on Brown a little bit. Maybe he’ll be more Burrell and Byrd than Howard or Utley? Baseball has a way of separating the champs from the chumps really quickly. You can go to the bank on that.

But I know what my eyes have seen and I know that Brown made it through every level of pro ball with tons of scouts and management types watching his every move with the intent on prying him away from Philadelphia. There’s a reason why Halladay didn’t pitch for the Phillies in 2009 and it was because there was no way Amaro was giving up Brown to get the best righty pitcher in the majors.

Now both Brown and Halladay are teammates with lockers on the same side of the clubhouse. Chances are they’re going to remain so for a while, too. Needless to say, it’s going to be fun following Charlie’s advice…

“Watch the game.”

How can you not?

Howard’s end

Howard We interrupt the trade chatter and the latest disappointing
loss in order to strap on the rose-colored glasses with a hypothetical.


Let’s say the Phillies figure out the mess that has placed
them in the middle of a 1-5 road trip, they relearn how to score runs and get
into the playoffs for a fourth season in a row. Hey, it could happen, after all
they benefited from the Mets’ collapse in 2007, overcoming a deficit worse than
the one they face now. Anyway, so if the Phillies get into the playoffs and
Ryan Howard continues to produce at the current rate, is he the MVP again?

Like mentioned before, this is a hypothetical and since
there are two-and-a-half months remaining in the season, there still is a lot
to be determined. However, the one thing that is guaranteed is that Howard will
hit at least 40 home runs and top 120 RBIs this season.

Let’s put those numbers in perspective for a moment before
we get into the real reason why Howard could be the MVP.

Currently, Howard is one of four players in Major League
Baseball history to reach the 40-120 plateau in four consecutive seasons. If
Howard were to get there again this year, he would join Babe Ruth as the only
players to club 40 homers and drive in 120 runs in five consecutive seasons.

For even more historical perspective on Howard’s numbers, he
has 714 RBIs in 824 career games which comes to an average of 140 RBIs per 162
games. Considering that Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Jim Rice maxed out
at 140 RBIs in a season and that Howard’s career-high is 149, it shows Howard’s
historical and uncanny consistency.

Howard hit four homers in four games last weekend at Wrigley
Field, one that bounced out onto Sheffield Avenue that witnesses say was the
longest hit in the ballpark this season, and appears to be getting into that
zone he finds during the last few months of every season.

Oh yeah, that late-season surge. Though they say there is no
way to apply a metric to how “clutch” a hitter is, maybe we can try with
Howard, so here it goes:

Of Howard’s 243 career homers, 96 of them have come during
the final two months of the season, while 247 of his 714 RBIs have come during
the same time period. Yes, that’s 40 percent of his career home run total and
35 percent of his RBIs when the games seem to matter the most.

Homers and RBIs don’t do anything for you? OK, try
this—Howard’s OPS in September is 1.112 with a .314 batting average, and his
second half OPS is 1.047.

That points to the fact that Howard gets going when a lot of players start to
wind down. You know how they compare Howard to other big sluggers that faded
out during their early 30s with injuries and broken down bodies? Guess what?
They were wrong. Hey, I was one of those guys and once put Howard in the same
class as guys like Mo Vaughn, Greg Luzinski and Boog Powell—big fellas who
piled up the numbers early and faded soon after their 30s. I’ll admit it, I was
wrong, wrong, wrong. Howard is an athlete. He’s big, but not built like those
other guys and he’s never been injured. He had a sinus infection, but never an
injury. Not once.

None of this explains why Howard could be an MVP in 2010,
though. To start, his strikeouts are down a bit and as a result his batting
average is right around .300. His slugging is down slightly, but he’s on base
for a career-high in hits, doubles and runs.

Howard Howard’s also on pace to lead the National league in RBIs
for a fourth straight season. No one in Major League Baseball history has ever
led the league in RBIs for straight seasons.

Howard will have competition, of course. Count on Albert
Pujols being in the mix, along with Joey Votto from Cincinnati, David Wright
from the Mets and Corey Hart from Milwaukee to name a few. However, special
recognition goes to players who carry their teams into the playoffs and if the
Phillies get there it likely will be because Howard takes them there.

Yes, the Phillies need some pitching and some support for
Howard since Jayson Werth appears to have gone into the tank. Still, Howard is
the man for the Phillies. He’s been the team’s best hitter and the go-to guy in
the clubhouse, as well. In the quiet din of the clubhouse after games, Howard
has assured the traveling media that they could rely on him for quotes and
insight. No, it doesn’t sound like much, but that’s leadership that often goes
unnoticed. See, Howard does the dirty work of dealing with the press so his
teammates can go about their business. Pete Rose famously did that for the Big
Red Machine and the 1980 Phillies, allowing Joe Morgan and Mike Schmidt to
become MVPs.

The difference in this case is that Howard is the MVP. He’s
been rewarded with the big, fat contract and as a result has kept the team on
his back. If the Phillies rally to get back to the playoffs, Howard will have
earned that salary and he’ll probably have the numbers to show it, too.

How deep do the Phillies’ problems run?

At this stage it’s pretty easy being negative. Considering that the Phillies have lost six of eight games to NL Central doormats Pittsburgh and Chicago, and struggled even to score runs off the Cubs at Wrigley Field, yeah, it’s easy to be down on the Phillies.

There’s a lot to be disappointed about, too. Cliff Lee is gone, traded for prospects that may not be able to help the club for the length of the next contract the All-Star lefty signs. Plus, because general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. thought the Phils were better off without Brett Myers, a pitcher who is putting together the best year of his career with the Astros, the Phillies’ rotation is left with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and a bunch of guys.

Sometimes those guys pitch well, but most of the time they don’t.

Indeed it was a tough winter for Amaro. Juan Castro, his addition to the bench, was given his unconditional waivers last Saturday. That was because Placido Polanco, the splashy free-agent signee of the off-season, had returned from a stint on the disabled list.

Moreover, Amaro called lefty reliever Scott Eyre’s bluff… and lost. Eyre claimed he would retire rather than play for a team other than the Phillies and kept his word. Future Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez was not offered a contract following a postseason in which he started 30 percent of the team’s final 10 games, including two of the World Series games at Yankee Stadium, and now also appears to be retired.

Both pitchers wanted to play for the Phillies, and certainly would have contributed to the team. But for whatever reason their help wasn’t needed. Hell, even Chan Ho Park took a smaller contract than the one offered to him by the Phillies in order to pitch for the Yankees.

Just to pile on, last-year’s free-agent signee Raul Ibanez has struggled after a winter where he had surgery for a sports hernia, and Shane Victorino seems unable to get a hit unless it’s a homer or extra-base knock. Meanwhile, free-agent to be Jayson Werth has turned surly and his attitude questioned as his batting average plummets and his strikeout totals pile up. In four games at Wrigley Field last weekend, Werth struck out nine times—the first five of those came in the first eight plate appearances where he didn’t even move the bat from his shoulder.

“Swing,” manager Charlie Manuel said exacerbatedly after a game in which the team racked up eight strikeouts looking as frozen as an angry possum cowering under the back tires of a car on a pitch-black night.

Meanwhile, Brad Lidge hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t exactly inspired confidence, either. Ryan Madson’s season has been better known for his ability to kick chairs like a wacko David Akers more than setting up games. Off-season addition Jose Contreras has been inconsistent, while countryman Danys Baez has turned into another one of Amaro’s follies.

Quick, does someone know the opposite of the word, architect?

The most frustrating part of a season that has the Phillies fighting to make up 5½ games in the suddenly competitive NL East, and has driven Manuel crazier than anything has been the offense’s inability to score runs consistently. Post-game meetings with the manager are like summer reruns where the former hitting coach attempts to explain away the dearth of hitting and energy before finally giving up and falling back on his old standbys.

“You guys are stat guys… take a look. If you can't see where the problem is at,” Manuel said after Sunday night’s loss where the ace Halladay gave up six runs in six innings while a lefty named Tom Gorzelanny shut them down. “I don't have to sit here and say anything about anybody. You should be able to read the stats and read what happens and watch the game every night. I don't have to sit here and say anything negative about anybody. It speaks for itself. Nobody can take away your performance. No one can hide it, though, neither.”

The issue for Manuel is inconsistency. Lots of inconsistency.

“It’s the same thing every night,” he said.

Manuel is wrong about the inconsistency. The thing is the only way his team has been consistent this season is with its maddening and inexplicable inconsistency. For a manager who prides himself on his knowledge of hitting with intricate insight on nearly every hitter he’s ever seen, the lack of production from his hitters is especially maddening. In fact, sometimes it seems as if Manuel prefers the teams he coached in Cleveland even though they never won the World Series.

Hitting solves a lot of problems, goes Manuel’s logic. When a team hits, he says, mistakes don’t stand out and the pitching looks better if it’s not really the case.

“Everything looks good when you hit,” Manuel said.

In the interest in fairness, however, Amaro was able to made deals to get three different Cy Young Award winners on his team (even though he dumped two of them). He also put deals in place for Hamels and Howard. With Howard it appears as if the slugger will be with the Phillies for the rest of his career. Halladay likely will finish his career with the Phillies, too. Those players are a very strong cornerstone.

However, Lee is gone, presumably over money though we’ve never received a straight or satisfying answer as to why the pitcher was traded. That’s especially maddening considering Amaro threw good money at bad contracts for Baez and Castro, as well as a three-year deal for starter Joe Blanton at $8 million per season.

Moreover, the team will be saddled with $23 million owed to Lidge and Ibanez in 2011, with extensions for Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson and Hamels.

The bottom line is that the Phillies still need pitching and a bat or two in the outfield. Sure, Domonic Brown is on the way, but that still doesn’t answer the pitcher issue…

Or why two guys like Lee or Myers were allowed to walk away.

World Cup action scores big in Phillies’ clubhouse

Mmaicon NEW YORK — It wasn’t so much the audacity of the shot from the end line that snaked between the North Korean goalie and the right post that stopped people in their tracks, it was the lavishness of the celebration by Brazil’s midfielder, Maicon. Part interpretive dance mixed with equal parts long-distance dedication, Maicon says the goal in Tuesday’s World Cup match was a dedication to his wife.

Which kind of makes the rest of us look like a bunch of slackers…

Nevertheless, it was the celebration that got the most attention in the Phillies’ clubhouse at Yankee Stadium nearly three hours before that night’s game against the defending World Champion Yankees. Oh sure, players like Ryan Howard—a standout soccer player when he was kid, he says—love the competition and the athleticism of the game and have a bit more than a passing interest in the World Cup (they are sports fans after all), but more than anything else it’s the theatrics.

Ryan Howard couldn’t get enough of the showmanship.

Oh make no mistake about it; Howard is a savvy fan of soccer. He knows which teams are usually strong in international play which is why Spain’s loss to Switzerland on Wednesday raised a few eyebrows around the team’s clubhouse. But the Phillies’ cleanup hitter also knows that every goal scored in the World Cup is a small miracle. They are like lightning strikes or immovable forces of nature calmly brushed aside. In a more hyperbolic and extreme sense, a goal like Maicon’s proves there are forces larger than us in the universe.

Or something like that…

“A 1-0 game is like 10-0,” Howard said, comparing soccer scores to baseball. “A 2-0 game is a blowout and the 4-0 game like Germany had the other day, that’s ridiculous.”

Surely some saw Maicon’s post-goal celebration as ridiculous. Better yet, it was arguably more compelling than the shot that tucked into the net just inside the left post. In fact, after such a magical goal everyone in the room knew the celebration would be equally as spectacular. When we all realized that the shot had indeed found the net, someone said, “OK, here we go,” in anticipation of what was to come next.

Maicon didn’t disappoint.

Overflowing with emotion, Maicon ran toward the sidelines with his eyes and index finger pointed toward the heavens before he dropped to his knees and put his fingers to his mouth that from the first glance looked as if he were imitating Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies or was sucking his thumb. Only later did we learn that he was giving tribute to his wife in a manner that would make former NBA player Doug Christie jealous.

“And to score in the first game? I cried, but I was happy. I kissed my wedding ring for everything that my wife has done for me,” Maicon explained to reporters after the match. “It is a thank you for everyone who has been by my side.”

Later, Maicon got into wardrobe and performed the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.

Kidding aside, Maicon’s celebration led to an interesting topic of discussion, one I’m sure others have pondered as well…

How come baseball players don’t celebrate the way they do in other sports? Certainly a home run is a physics experiment that could have saved Sir Isaac Newton some time waiting for that piece of fruit to clunk him on the head. Moreover, a perfect swing of the bat that meets the ball oh so perfectly is just as artful as anything that occurs in the so-called, “Beautiful Game.” Clearly this was a question for Howard, one of history’s most prolific home run hitters.

Howard “The next time you hit a home run you should celebrate like that,” I said to Howard while pointing to Maicon on the TV hanging above the clubhouse.

“What, you mean drop to my knees and suck my thumb?”Howard answered with a big smile and a laugh.

“Well, maybe not like that, but it looks like [Maicon] could get around the bases pretty quickly. Maybe you could just do that slide on the knees or do a little touchdown dance?”

Obviously this was all so ridiculous. Howard hits so many homers that he be worn out simply by getting around the bases. Still, it is worth mentioning that Howard’s current home run trot has its own panache with its relaxed movement around the bases that finishes with a little skip at home plate where he registers the run with his right foot as though he were dipping his big toe into a swimming pool to test the temperature of the water. Howard is cool with his own unique style. Howard’s big, smooth and strong vibe works in baseball so much better than anything that could have been choreographed by Bob Fosse or even Charo.

Either way, it never gets old. We could watch Howard or Maicon do their thing all summer long. At least that’s the sense one would get in a stroll through Manhattan where restaurants and pubs entice potential patrons by advertising the day’s World Cup games with big signs out front, while stores dress up mannequins in the latest team kits. Better yet, there were more folks seen around town in soccer gear than there were people dressed in Mets garb.

Was that dude really wearing a Lionel Messi shirt on the No. 4 train?

Adapt, evolve, survive

UtleyWell now everything dies baby that's a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back
—Bruce Springsteen

Now we don’t know what is happening with the Phillies. The issues regarding the collective offensive slump could be one of those fluke things or maybe even something larger at work. We’ll be able to figure out those things at the end of the season when we ask what went wrong or right for this ballclub.

But make no mistake about it… something is wrong with the Phillies these days and walking in to Yankee Stadium for three games beginning tonight is probably not the best remedy. After all, not only do the Yankees have the best record in baseball, but also they are 22-7 at home this season.

So as the Phillies hope for a resurrection and look for a big-time measuring stick, we can only project and ask questions. No, it’s not the best situation, but until something breaks it’s all we have.

The question:

Is this it? Is this 32-29 version of the Phillies — the team that is 6-14 in the last 20 games — what we’re going to have to deal with for the rest of the season? And if so, how did we get here?

No, things don’t look too promising, and though manager Charlie Manuel remains upbeat and continues to trot of the mantra that his guys will hit (and pitch?), secretly he is worried. Why wouldn’t he be? Manuel knows as well as anyone that sometimes the twists and turns of the game have a way of settling in. At some point the trends stop being aberrations or spikes in a chart and become the norm. Just listen to Manuel speak if you need proof. He’ll cite line and verse about a time when the Phillies dropped into an offensive swoon, stayed there and never really wiggled out of it.

It began, Manuel recalls often, with a 20-run explosion in St. Louis in 2008, followed by the thought that the Phillies were on the way to scoring 1,000 runs for the season only to replaced with the reality that the team wasn’t going to score many runs without slugging a home run.

Worse, the great hitting coach’s team went on to win the World Series that year not by slugging past teams, but with pitching and defense.

Of all the indignities!

In the meantime the numbers are pretty harrowing. Worse, the owners of some of the ugliest digits are the players the Phillies can least afford to post them. After tying Reggie Jackson's World Series record with five homers in last October's Fall Classic, Chase Utley has dropped off considerably. Though he clubbed 10 homers in the first two months of the season, the All-Star second baseman has not hit one since May 20, a span of 21 games. Uglier yet, Utley has batted just .153 in that span. That's far worse than the .230 with two homers Ryan Howard has provided over the last 20 games or the .164 average and lone homer from free-agent to be, Jayson Werth in that same period.

As the manager might say, “Not good…”

The most alarming of the team-wide slumps is with Utley, who looks as if he is a marathoner who hit the wall. It’s not that Utley isn’t posting the numbers because sometimes that can be subjective and/or not an accurate measure. No, the part that Utley barely has warning track power anymore is what is strange. Last year Utley was whipped at the end of the season because had off-season hip surgery, rushed to get back to the lineup and then played in 156 regular-season games and 15 more in the playoffs. It was understandable for a guy to wear down under those circumstances.

However, how could Utley look so tired just 59 games into this season considering Manuel promised to give his second baseman more days off during the season? Instead, because of the Phillies’ struggles it’s become a vicious cycle. Manuel can’t rest Utley because the team needs to win games, but by continually trotting him out there he has begun to take the shape of a pencil worn down to the nub.

There are other variables at work, too. For instance, pitchers appear to have regrouped after being bludgeoned during the so-called “Steroid Era.” In making up for lost time and fighting back against ballparks built to cater to baseball’s lost age, the big-league pitchers have mounted an insurrection with three no-hitters and two perfect games already this season. Those tallies would be four and three if Jim Joyce hadn’t missed a call at first base in Detroit two weeks ago.

Like any living species, pitchers adapt and evolve. So after more than a decade of being treated like chum for hitters, the tables have turned. For a team filled with talented yet strikeout-prone and flawed hitters like the Phillies, opponents finally appear to be exploiting certain weaknesses.

All of those theories and questions only create more theories and questions. Still, the only question that matters in the short term is to wonder how quickly can the Phillies adjust, adapt and evolve.  Because if the answer is not, “very quickly,” what we see might just be what we’re going to get.

Werth the money? The fans think so

Jay_werth Congressmen often make the assumption that the folks who write letters to their office typically are ardent voters. Certainly that seems like the proper conclusion to make since if people are moved enough to put their feelings into words, they probably will drag their rears out of the house and go to the polling place.

A similar assumption can be made by taking a look around the ballpark on Friday night. Indeed, it’s one thing to go out and purchase a team shirt with a favorite players’ name on the back, but it really says something about the fan if they spend time creating a sign or poster with some sentiment attached to it.

Think about like this: money comes and goes. Certainly folks waste a bunch of hard-earned cash on trivial things that they will grow tired of or too big for. Of course there’s always a chance that favorite ballplayer could get traded and there you are stuck with a Kenny Lofton shirt.

Hey, it happens.

But if a person wastes time, it will never return and can’t be replaced. That makes one’s time the most valuable commodity. It also means if a person gets out the markers, poster board and glitter gun, they are invested in something significant. What makes it doubly important is that if a person takes on a big project that sends words out for all to see. Moreover, carrying a sign with a message arranged on it means the person is hardly sitting on the fence.

That message… yes, they mean it.

So considering the number of homemade signs imploring the Phillies brass to re-sign right fielder Jayson Werth, an interesting predicament could arise if the off-season arrives without a new contract in place.

How will the fans get out the message if Werth is allowed to test free agency?

It could be an interesting development considering the Phillies are reported to have a limited amount of cash to spend on player payroll and a significant portion of that money already committed to some key members of the team. Plus, with Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Ryan Madson available for new contracts after the 2011 season, the Phillies have some decisions to make.

Based on the feelings put onto poster board on Friday night, the decision is pretty easy. Then again, it’s always easy to spend someone else’s money.

We don’t yet know what type deal Werth will be seeking come this winter, but it’s safe to assume it will be a bit more than the $7 million he’s getting this season. Sure, Werth should cool down a bit as the season wears on, but there are very few players in the game producing the way the Phils’ right fielder has.  Heading into Friday’s game, Werth ranked in the top 10 in most every significant offensive category in the league, including the second-best OPS and the most doubles. Moreover, based on the Phillies’ attendance at home and the amount of signs professing love for Werth, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where he is not playing in July’s All-Star Game.

In fact, Ryan Howard says the rest of the lineup is keying off Werth, who slugged his second two-out, three-run homer in as many days on Friday night. Eventually, Howard says, the opposition will have to figure out whether it’s better to go after the cleanup man or Werth.

“In time it will. It’s one of those things where I will probably get some better pitches, but now I’m just trying to get on and ride on Jay-Dub for a little while,” Howard said.

Oh yes, even with a late start to his career, Werth, soon to be 31, is becoming a star. When GM Pat Gillick snapped up Werth for $850,000 after the Dodgers let him go before the 2007 season, who could have guessed the player would be so beloved? Seriously, when the Phillies picked up Werth in December of 2006, the most common reaction was, “Who?”

Certainly Werth would have joined that chorus considering he was nearly out of baseball because of a wrist injury and had bounced around through the Orioles, Blue Jays and Dodgers organizations before Gillick snuck in and grabbed him. His career was over before it started until Geoff Jenkins was injured during the 2008 season and Werth could finally move into an everyday role.

“I don’t see any reason why he can’t keep it up,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “He’s a big strong guy with a lot of talent. I’ve said it before, but I see him getting better.”

But where Werth’s worth (like that?) is most evident is not from the prodigious numbers he’s posted through the first month-plus of the season. Sure, that stuff helps when it comes to contract time and voting on the awards and stuff like that, but Werth is one of those guys who can, in Manuel’s parlance, “be whatever you need.”

It’s not unreasonable to believe that Werth could be a leadoff hitter because of his speed and ability to get on base and milk pitchers, just as it’s not insane to see him batting cleanup. Sure, Manuel uses him for protection in the lineup behind Ryan Howard, and he’s come through with big-time slugging. However, Werth’s versatility is what the Phillies cannot replace.

“He’s playing very good,” Manuel understated.

And they know it.

“He’s just going out there and having good at-bats and he’s not missing,” Howard said. “Basically, he’s there waiting for Chase (Utley) and I to have good at-bats so we can get on for him.”


Howard Truth be told, we don’t have much to be angry about here at The Podcast of Awesomeness. No one is living out on the streets and we’re all in reasonably decent health. Sure, there might a few mental issues here or there, but for the most part life is good.

That doesn’t mean we don’t engage in our share of dramas or controversies. Sometimes we even stick our snouts into places they don’t belong and then yelp when they get snapped. Chalk that up to human nature… or just plain busybody-ness.

With that in mind the gang was unified in the simmering anger over numerical order. Yep, those tricky numbers—or statistics as they sometimes like to be called—got our rugs in a bunch. It’s not that we don’t appreciate representative digits and all they do for us, it’s just that sometimes they ruin all the fun.

For instance, when it pertains to Ryan Howard and his statistical body of work and how it relates to his contract extension, well, we just have no patience. The thing of it is there is so much the numbers do not reveal about Howard, which is something else considering he has already posted several of the most statistically awesome seasons in Phillies history.

Look, we all appreciate “advanced metrics” and what they explain about baseball. We get it. The numbers actually paint some sort of a portrait. However, if it comes down to the numbers over the nuance of the game and the sheer beauty of watching the drama and stories unfold, the numbers can go pound sand.

Yeah, that’s right.

Anyway, listen to the gang as we react to the reaction about the Howard deal and discuss hockey player, Ian Laperriere. Check it out:


Oh yeah, it should be mentioned that this little dog-and-pony show will evolve into a videocast. And you know what? We’re going all out with it, too. We’re talking a live band, solid production values and a desk from Ikea.

Nope, we can’t wait either.

Does Howard’s deal put Brown on fast track?

AP100306126622 READING, Pa. — The steady rain and foreboding forecast
leant itself to some light workouts on Monday, so the Reading Phillies’
right-fielder Domonic Brown knocked off a little early. With a doubleheader on
the slate for Tuesday against Harrisburg’s star Stephen Strasburg, a little
extra rest was in order.

Besides, Brown suffered a concussion last week when he
collided with teammate Tagg Bozied when chasing after a fly ball. With a long
season ahead that likely will surpass Brown’s previous career-best for games
played, an easy day here and there isn’t a bad thing.

Then again, that’s just the thing — what are the Phillies
plans for Brown this season? When asked last week, the team’s latest can’t-miss
prospect said he didn’t know what his immediate future held. For now the plan
is to suit up for Reading, get his at-bats and wait for further instructions.

It’s not known if those instructions will include a
late-season call from the big club, because teams aren’t too keen on getting
the service-time clock started on a player sure to command a big paycheck in
the future.

After all, as of Monday afternoon the Phillies are paying
out a lot more cash to a handful of players for the better part of the next
decade. In fact, it might just be because of Ryan Howard’s new five-year, $125
million contract extension that Brown is officially placed on the fast track to
South Philly.

See, if Jayson Werth hits the free-agent market this
winter looking to cash in, then yes, chances are the Phillies won’t be able to sign
him to a contract extension. Sure, the Phillies are making plenty of money with
sold out crowds every night at Citizens Bank Park, but to quote Bill Gates as
depicted in an episode of The Simpsons,
“You don’t get rich by writing checks.”

However, if Werth wants to give the Phillies the ol’
hometown discount, then general manager Ruben Amaro should be ready to listen.

“Naturally we’d like to keep all of those guys, but we’ll
go by a case-by-case basis,” Amaro said from San Francisco during the press
conference to officially announce Howard’s new deal.

That’s kind of like saying, “Water is wet.” It’s obvious
the Phillies will weigh all their options before deciding which players to keep
and which ones to let go. Clearly the team had no trouble in letting Brett
Myers walk away even though he might not look too bad pitching for the Phillies
these days. Along those lines, the Amaro Gang was not averse to shelling out
three years to veterans Raul Ibanez (at age 37) or Placido Polanco (age 34).

Plus, after the 2011 season Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels
and Ryan Madson can become free agents. Theoretically the Phillies will have
enough money to go around re-signing all of those players, but you know what
they say about theories.

So with the harebrained theory that the Phillies will be benevolent with that extra dough they
are raking in from all those sellouts, it might be wise to look ahead at
cheaper alternatives. That’s where Brown comes in.

And by most accounts Brown could have cracked the 25-man
roster this spring if the Phillies needed the depth on the bench. The thing
there is that Brown is at the stage in his development where he needs to play
as much as possible. At 22, Brown has hit .289 in 49 games for Reading,
including a .325 mark this season though he has hit just one homer.

Still, Brown has a .386 on-base percentage this season
and said he hoped to improve his plate discipline since jumping to Double-A.
That’s an interesting notion considering Werth routinely leads the Majors in
pitches seen per plate appearance and has a robust .400 on-base percentage this

Brown was the one player the Phillies would not part with
in any deal even if it meant they would not be able to trade for Roy Halladay.
He rewarded the Phillies for sticking with him by batting .417 in 11 games this
spring with two homers and a pair of doubles with eight RBIs. Only Howard and
Ben Francisco had better numbers in Grapefruit League action.

Here’s the crazy part… Brown was the team’s 20th-round
pick in 2006 and 606 players were taken ahead of him. Yeah, that’s right,
Brown, the untouchable, was a 20th round pick in the 2006 draft for the
Phillies. The reason he dropped nearly off the charts was because he had a
scholarship offer to play wide receiver at the University of Miami (Fla.).
Odder yet, Brown was listed as a left-handed pitcher when the Phillies drafted

Needless to say Brown hasn’t thrown a pitch since turning pro.

“He’s ridiculous,” said former Phillies starter and Brown’s
teammate Scott Mathieson. “He’s one of the best outfielders I’ve ever seen.”

Still, Brown needs some honing. In 49 games at Double-A,
Brown has struck out 46 times. He also has been caught stealing 29 times in 102
attempts in his minor league career. In other words, there are a lot of rough
edges. Still, the potential and the raw talent that project to a five-tool
All-Star is what turns heads at Reading.

“It should be lot of fun to watch him develop,” manager
Steve Roadcap said.

That’s what the Phillies want to see happen. Ideally,
when Ibanez’s contract runs out, Brown could create a seamless transition. But
if the money runs out and Werth moves on, Brown might be needed much sooner.

Catch him in Reading while you can.

Oh, so you want to talk about crazy trades…

Howard_pujols SARASOTA, Fla. — OK, here's one for you…

What if the Phillies traded both Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer to the Mets and got back Johan Santana? Huh? How's that one grab you?

Alright, that doesn't sound fair. Let's say the Phillies throw in some cash, too. Why not? Maybe then they could flip Santana to Seattle to get back Cliff Lee.

Then we'd be getting somewhere.

Look, as far as outlandish and ridiculous ideas go, the Kendrick, Moyer, cash, and Santana for Lee deal I just proposed is not any crazier than the one ESPN put out there when they floated the always mysterious "sources" rumor that had the Phillies dealing away Ryan Howard to St. Louis for the game's greatest player, Albert Pujols. Actually, my idea is a lot less crazy than the Howard-for-Pujols bit because at least it makes sense. No, neither deal is ever going to happen.

Never, never, never, never.

In fact, Phils' general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. called the very notion of it, "irresponsible," on the record to Insider, Jim Salisbury.

So there's that.

But what the hell… at least my idea is reasonable.

Let me explain:

You see, to a team like the Mets — one that stinks and is going nowhere, post-haste — a pitcher like Santana is a luxury. Better yet, it's like living in a trailer park with an Escalade parked out front. Those are some mixed up priorities and financial irresponsibility. If the Mets can remove Santana's salary quickly, it would be wise.

That doesn't mean they'll do it, though. Wise and baseball GMs are two terms that rarely appear in the same paragraph, let alone right next to each other.

Kendrick makes barely above the minimum and Moyer gets a nice salary so that's what the cash is for. Essentially, the Phillies would be doing the Mets a favor in all aspects. And since the Mariners appear to be spending some cash and rebuilding their roster, maybe they’ll go for the Santana for Lee deal, too.

See how easily that came together? Now someone take me to Bellevue. I want the ESPN suite/

Oh yes, there are many reasons why the Howard-Pujols idea is nuts, and most of them are quite obvious. Yes, Howard was born and raised in the St. Louis suburbs and is revered like a hometown hero. When the season ends Howard goes home to Missouri to hang with his friends and family and uses his home base for his off-season workouts before heading to Florida.

Here’s the thing about that… Pujols is from Missouri, too. Sure, Howard is a hometown hero, but Pujols is a hometown god. Not only is he the best player in the game right now, but he might be the greatest Cardinal ever, too. That’s saying something since Stan Musial (the man who should have gotten the same hero worship and publicity for being one of the greatest hitters the way Ted Williams has) is synonymous with the organization. Just nine years into his career, Pujols is poised to own every major hitting record if he doesn’t get bored with it all. Last spring after the Cardinals visited Clearwater for a Grapefruit League game, I asked hitting connoisseur Charlie Manuel his take on Pujols and he dropped a line on me like he was Yoda or something.

“He can be whatever you want him to be,” Charlie said. “Home runs, ribbies, slugging, average, he can do whatever you want.”

Yes, that was the manager’s way of saying Pujols can do it all.

Look, we know Pujols is really, really good. No needs Charlie Manuel’s explanation to see that. Just watch the guy, for Pete’s sakes. If there is one snake the is out of the can of peanut brittle it’s that maybe the idea of trading Howard (and Pujols, too) means the Phillies see a day when they won’t be able to afford him. Coincidentally, Howard and Pujols have contracts that expire after the 2011 season. By then, of course, both men could have another 100 home runs and 300 RBIs tacked onto their stat sheet.

Even scarier, both players will have their Hall-of-Fame credentials stamped and ready for induction despite the fact that they will just be coming into their athletic prime. Imagine that… born months apart in 1979 and 1980 (Pujols is two months younger), both sluggers are on an unprecedented path and they just now are beginning to enter their prime.


But with that kind of talent comes a high price. Howard gets $19 million in salary this year and $20 million in 2011, while Pujols gets $16 million for the next two years. In fact, he’s not even the highest paid player on his team.

Sure, Pujols already has more money than he’ll ever be able to spend, but there is pride, ego and all of that stuff. Maybe at the end of his deal Pujols will want to cash in for all the years he was a relative bargain for the Cardinals. Shoot, if Howard is looking for a deal in the A-Rod range (an average salary of $27.5 million over 10 years), what’s Pujols worth?

Does the treasury even print that much money?

Now try this out—and understand we’re just riffing here… maybe the Phillies might believe that if they have to pay upwards of $30 million per season for one player, why not go all in and get the best guy out there. Hell, if you’re already spending $30 million, what’s another $5 million?

Could that be the logic in all of this?

Who knows? Chances are it was just a way to get a few extra clicks on the ol’ web site and to get people talking about baseball again. Certainly there is no harm in that, is there?

Still, the idea of Howard and Pujols both with expiring contracts looming and the potential salary both men could command is quite intriguing. What makes it even more interesting is the notion that if the Phillies can’t afford to keep a guy like Jayson Werth beyond this season, how in the world are they going to be able to afford Howard and/or Pujols?


Ryan_howard CLEARWATER, Fla. — So I get to this ‘burg yesterday afternoon and immediately my sinuses exploded. At least I think it was my sinuses. It was (and is) a tightness around my head, some achiness around my eyes that makes it feel like I’m squinting even when I’m not.

I can feel it in the back of my head, too, but that’s not as annoying as the squinting sensation or the pressure on the temples.

Truth is it’s put a damper on the trip already. Usually, it takes a smart-alecky retort from the GM or a drive out of Clearwater and to some weird, backwoods outpost like Lakeland or Port Charlotte before I want to go back home. As it stands, the thumping in my head has already started.

It should be noted that I’m a hypochondriac of sorts. I’m a lot like George Costanza that way in that if I have a headache with symptoms that correspond to stress, tension or sinus trouble, I immediately think it’s cancer. I usually start with the worst possible diagnosis and work my way backwards to something reasonable. Trust me when I say it’s no fun.

So it goes without saying that I would have no idea how I could have handled the sinus infection Ryan Howard had last June. Remember that one? Twice in the span of 24 hours Howard was rushed to the hospital with a fever of 104 and no clue as to what was causing it. The crazy thing about that was Howard—more or less—climbed out of his hospital bed to slug a pinch-hit, three-run homer off then-Orioles’ reliever Danys Baez to spark a rally.

Unfortunately, the Phillies ended up wasting Howard’s heroics, which were a little too cliché to begin with. Seriously, a high fever and a clutch, late-inning pinch homer over the center field fence… oh, he couldn’t set off fireworks by smashing one into the light fixtures?

Anyway, it was later learned that the source of Howard’s problems that June day was a sinus infection. Make that one whomper of a sinus infection because Howard is a big fella. You know, one of those rawboned strong men the type Grantland Rice and Heywood Braun would compose lyrical poems about because not only could he knock over walls with a line drive, but also he could chop down a redwood with his trusty ox JRoll by his side.

Nevertheless, if Ryan Howard was knocked to the deck by a sinus infection, I figured he must know a thing or two about fighting the dastardly symptoms. Hey, I was about ready to drop to one knee, but fought it because everyone knows you can’t show weakness in a big-league clubhouse. The vultures are circling even on the best days so the instant anyone lets their guard down, it’s over.

I learned that Howard still has some minor sinus trouble from time to time, but nothing remotely close to the incident last June.

“Mostly it’s some nasal congestion and some post-nasal [symptoms],” he said. “But it has never been as bad as it was last year.”

Like the rest of us, Howard is not immune from some aches, pains and sniffles. He is human, after all. But unlike most humans, Howard can go from the hospital, whack a monster homer and then get dropped off back at the emergency room.

“Yeah,” Howard said with a wry smile and shrug of the shoulders. “Sometimes that’s the way it’s got to be done.”

Nope, it wasn’t exactly, “Just get me to the plate, boys,” but to those of us who seem to have chronic sinus issues, it may as well have been like FDR’s first inaugural address when he told Americans beaten down by The Great Depression that, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Better still, no one had to shove a rubber hose from a Neti Pot up the ol’ schnoz. Hell, Howard did everything but have outpatient surgery where he was given a shot of whiskey and a bullet to bite down on to serve as an anesthetic. If that guy can knock one 420-feet after getting knocked down, I guess I have to nut up and take the vice-like pressure on my melon like I have a pair.

What would Ryan do?

He’d hit a three-run homer, Shirley.

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.

World Series: Howard’s End

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com NEW YORK—In 1983, Mike Schmidt had one of those playoff series that people remember forever. In four games against the Dodgers in the NLCS, he very well could have been the MVP if ol’ Sarge Matthews hadn’t hit three homers and driven in eight runs in four games.

The fact of the matter is that Schmidt and Lefty Carlton single-handedly won Game 1 with a homer in the first inning of a 1-0 victory. All told, the Hall-of-Fame third baseman went 7-for-15 with five runs, a pair of walks and a .800 slugging percentage.

Statistically speaking, the 1983 NLCS was far and away Schmidt’s best postseason effort.

The thing is no one remembers how good Schmidt was in the 1983 NLCS because he was so awful in the ’83 World Series.

So it’s kind of odd that he followed up the success against the Dodgers with one of the worst showing by a Hall of Famer in World Series history. In fact, take away the 0-for-21 effort by Brooklyn’s Gil Hodges in the seven-game defeat to the Yankees in the 1952 World Series, and Schmidt’s 1983 World Series could go down as the worst by a superstar.

Schmidt went hitless in his first 13 at-bats with five strikeouts in the series against the Orioles. Had it not been for that broken-bat bloop single that just made it past shortstop Cal Ripken’s reach, Schmidt would have gone 0-for-20 in the series.

Not quite as bad as Gil Hodges in 1952, but pretty darned close.

After wearing out the Dodgers to get the Phillies to the World Series, the Orioles had Schmidt’s number. There was the hit against Storm Davis and a bunch of oh-fers against Scott McGregor, Mike Flanagan, Sammy Stewart, Jim Palmer and Tippy Martinez.

Schmidt had no chance.

Kind of like Ryan Howard against the Yankees in the 2009 World Series,

Just like Schmidt, Howard wore out the Dodgers in the NLCS with eight RBIs and four extra-base hits out of the five he got. Moreover, with six walks, Howard reached base in 11 of his 21 plate appearances.

Mix Howard’s NLCS with his performance in the NLDS, and it truly was an epic postseason. With an RBI in the first eight games of the postseason, Howard tied a record set by Lou Gehrig. Then there was the career-defining moment in the clinching Game 4 of the NLDS where trailing by two runs and down to their last out, Howard blasted a game-tying double to the right-field corner.

After the Rockies took the lead in the eighth inning, Howard paced the dugout during the top of the ninth and calmly told his teammates to, “Just get me to the plate, boys.”

That’s pretty darned cool.

celebrate1983.jpg But will anyone remember the RBI streak, the production in the NLCS and that clutch at-bat in the ninth inning of the NLDS after the World Series Howard had?

Better yet, how does Howard get people to forget about the World Series?

Needless to say it will be difficult. After all, Howard whiffed a record-breaking 13 times in six games. He managed just four hits and one, stat-padding homer in the final game. Until that homer, Howard had just one RBI. After piling on 14 RBIs in the first eight games, Howard got one in next six games before that meaningless homer.

“Sometimes you’ve got it and sometimes you don’t,” Howard shrugged after the finale.

Actually, the Yankees had Howard’s number largely by scouting the hell out of the Phillies for most of the second-half of the season. So what they saw was that the best way to handle Howard was with a steady diet of left-handers. Howard batted .207 with just six homers against lefties in the regular season so that was the strategy the Yankees used.

Against the Yankees, Howard faced lefties in 18 of his 25 plate appearances. And against righties he didn’t do much better by going 0-for-6. Charlie Manuel calls Howard, “The Big Piece,” and clearly the Yankees saw the Phillies’ lineup similarly.

Schmidt said the one thing that bothers him the most about his career was his 1-for-20 performance in the 1983 World Series. If that’s the case for Howard, he has been as candid about it—of course he doesn’t have the luxury of time and space to properly analyze his showing.

“I feel cool,” Howard said. “The only thing you can do now is go home and relax and come back for spring training.”

For now, that’s it.

The NLCS: Pre-game 3 notes and whatnot

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

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

Yep, it’s chilly.

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

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

Here are your pre-game factoids and whatnot:

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

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

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

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

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

The NLCS: Chase Utley no Mr. October

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

As Charlie says, “Funny game.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So maybe the Phillies are in their heads?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

93 wins and more holes than a slice of domestic Swiss

image from fingerfood.typepad.com It wasn’t that long ago that Game 162 meant the end of the line for the Phillies. In fact, we were used to it that way. As September morphed into October, that was pretty much it for the baseball season. If the Phillies could make the season last up to the last few days of the regular season, then it was a pretty successful year.

That was then, though. Now, we’re beginning to get spoiled with baseball. Game 162 is nothing more than a dress rehearsal or when the season really begins to get interesting. Sure, the regular season is important, but the post season is what we’ll all remember.

It’s what we expect, because we’re spoiled.

Don’t believe me? OK, the Phillies won 93 games this season, which is two more than the World Series champs in 1980 and one more than the 2008 champions won. Ninety-three wins are the most by a Phillies team since the 1993 club won 97. Since 1883, the Phillies have had just four team win more than 93 games in a season—in 1899, 1976, 1977 and ’93.

In other words, the 2009 Phillies won more games than 122 other teams in franchise history. Yet strangely, we’re kind of disappointed with the Phillies.

Go ahead; admit it… there was a bit of disappointment in how this season played out. Sure, the Phillies won the NL East rather easily, but the rational fan is worried about the NLDS against the Rockies. That’s especially the case with Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels pitching the way they have lately. And the bullpen in the shape it has been in this year.

Can you believe the ‘pen had 22 blown saves this year? Actually, make that 17 blown saves for the two guys (Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson) that likely will be closing out games in the playoffs.

And then there is the matter of hitting with runners in scoring position. Sure, the Phillies led the league with 224 home runs this year, but they hit .253 with runners in scoring position, including just .216 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

The most worrisome aspect of the hot-and-cold offense has been Chase Utley, who finished the season bone tired. In fact, manager Charlie Manuel should have told his All-Star second baseman to spend the week at home sleeping and replenishing for the playoffs. Think about it—not only did Utley play in 156 games in 2009, but also he did so after spending the winter busting his rear to rehab his surgically repaired hip in order to be ready for Opening Day. Add this onto the fact that Utley played a month longer than normal in 2008, had surgery, rehabbed from it and then played in all put six games in 2009…

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com Yeah, he’s whipped.

Need proof? Look at how Utley finished the season. With a 0-for-2 on Saturday, Utley ended the year hitless in his last five games and 17 at-bats. Actually, Utley finished 2009 with a 3-for-37.

Notably, Utley hit just two homers in September/October and none since Sept. 12.

Though Utley finished the season in an ugly slump, Ryan Howard solidified himself as the team’s MVP by capturing the RBI crown for the third time of his career with 141 and belted 45 homers.

So for the third year in a row, Howard slugged at least 45 homers and got 140 RBIs—only Sammy Sosa and Babe Ruth have done that in Major League Baseball history.

No, Howard is not the top MVP candidate in the NL. That’s Albert Pujols all the way. But since the end of May, Howard improved every month culminating with a final month where the lefty slugger batted .302.

And whereas Utley can’t buy a hit, Howard has a hit in 10 of his last 11 games.

Still, the fifth-most winningest team in franchise history heads into the playoffs with more holes than a slice of domestic Swiss. There are just so many question marks and they all are fairly significant. From the injuries to the offensive production. From the end of the ‘pen to the middle of the order.

So many questions and so little time… it starts for real on Wednesday.

The Big Piece

The Big PieceATLANTA – OK, let’s take a break from all the injury talk and bullpen question marks for a day… or at least until J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre complete their bullpen sessions on Saturday.

And then there is the issue of Carlos Ruiz’s sprained wrist suffered on a play at the plate during the second inning on Friday night.

Oh, and J.A. Happ came out of the game after three innings because Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley saw him grimace after a play and alerted Charlie Manuel. Needless to say, Happ wasn’t too pleased about coming out of the game.

“There was a lot of debate and I lost,” Happ said after the game, adding that his argument to stay in the game included a lot of nodding and telling anyone who would listen that he was OK. “It seems like the player always loses those debates.”

But what about Ryan Howard? After all, for the second straight game he got drilled by a pitch on the same exact spot on the right forearm.

What are the odds of that happening?

“Probably pretty high and I beat them,” Howard laughed.

Ruiz’s injury as well as the injuries to the relief pitchers is of the most concern to Manuel, who believes Happ will take the ball in his next start. As far as Howard goes, well, those two shots to the forearm should have felt like nothing more than a bee sting to the big fella.

Make that, “The Big Piece,” as Manuel calls him.

“He’s all right,” Manuel said. “What did I tell you about getting hurt? Don’t be getting hurt. That’s three feet from Ryan’s heart. He ain’t dead by a long shot. If I had arms that big, hell, a baseball wouldn’t hurt me.”

It’s more like the other way around. Howard has been the one hurting the baseball these days. Actually, make that a lot of days since it appears as if The Big Piece is well on his way to becoming the most prolific slugger in team history.

Friday night’s pair of homers made Howard the first Phillie ever to bash 40 in four different seasons. And not only did Howard hit his 40th homer for the fourth season, but he did it with panache.

For Howard it’s 40 homers AND 120 RBIs in four straight seasons. Not only hasn’t a Phillie ever pulled off such a feat, but very few Major Leaguers have accomplished it. In fact, Howard became just the fourth member of the club on Friday night at Turner Field.

The Big Piece joins Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa as the only sluggers in Major League Baseball history to slug 40 homers and drive in at least 120 RBIs in four straight seasons. That’s it.

But get this, only one other hitter accomplished the 40-120 trick in more than four straight seasons and that was The Sultan of Swat himself. The Babe did it in seven straight.

Here’s the amazing stat for Howard – in 717 career games, he has 620 RBIs. That comes to an average of 140 RBIs per 162 games, which is the career high of Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Jim Rice.

And that’s Howard’s average.

There’s more to consider, too. Howard doesn’t turn 30 until November 19, he never drove in more than 149 RBIs in a season which points to his uncanny consistency. However, the numbers that really stand out are the splits from August, September (and October) from the Big Piece.

Check this out: 91 of Howard’s 217 career homers have come in the last two months of the season. Additionally, 254 of his 620 career RBIs have come in the last months, too. That means Howard feasts on pitching late in the season when the games take on added significance.

Enjoy it folks… sluggers like this Howard kid don’t come around that often.

The Big Piece

image from fingerfood.typepad.com ATLANTA – OK, let’s take a break from all the injury talk and bullpen question marks for a day… or at least until J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre complete their bullpen sessions on Saturday.

And then there is the issue of Carlos Ruiz’s sprained wrist suffered on a play at the plate during the second inning on Friday night.

Oh, and J.A. Happ came out of the game after three innings because Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley saw him grimace after a play and alerted Charlie Manuel. Needless to say, Happ wasn’t too pleased about coming out of the game.

“There was a lot of debate and I lost,” Happ said after the game, adding that his argument to stay in the game included a lot of nodding and telling anyone who would listen that he was OK. “It seems like the player always loses those debates.”

But what about Ryan Howard? After all, for the second straight game he got drilled by a pitch on the same exact spot on the right forearm.

What are the odds of that happening?

“Probably pretty high and I beat them,” Howard laughed.

Ruiz’s injury as well as the injuries to the relief pitchers is of the most concern to Manuel, who believes Happ will take the ball in his next start. As far as Howard goes, well, those two shots to the forearm should have felt like nothing more than a bee sting to the big fella.

Make that, “The Big Piece,” as Manuel calls him.

“He’s all right,” Manuel said. “What did I tell you about getting hurt? Don’t be getting hurt. That’s three feet from Ryan’s heart. He ain’t dead by a long shot. If I had arms that big, hell, a baseball wouldn’t hurt me.”

It’s more like the other way around. Howard has been the one hurting the baseball these days. Actually, make that a lot of days since it appears as if The Big Piece is well on his way to becoming the most prolific slugger in team history.

Friday night’s pair of homers made Howard the first Phillie ever to bash 40 in four different seasons. And not only did Howard hit his 40<sup>th</sup> homer for the fourth season, but he did it with panache.

For Howard it’s 40 homers <em>AND</em> 120 RBIs in four straight seasons. Not only hasn’t a Phillie ever pulled off such a feat, but very few Major Leaguers have accomplished it. In fact, Howard became just the fourth member of the club on Friday night at Turner Field.

The Big Piece joins Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa as the only sluggers in Major League Baseball history to slug 40 homers and drive in at least 120 RBIs in four straight seasons. That’s it.

But get this, only one other hitter accomplished the 40-120 trick in more than four straight seasons and that was The Sultan of Swat himself. The Babe did it in seven straight.

Here’s the amazing stat for Howard – in 717 career games, he has 620 RBIs. That comes to an average of 140 RBIs per 162 games, which is the career high of Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew and Jim Rice.

And that’s Howard’s average.

There’s more to consider, too. Howard doesn’t turn 30 until November 19, he never drove in more than 149 RBIs in a season which points to his uncanny consistency. However, the numbers that really stand out are the splits from August, September (and October) from the Big Piece.

Check this out: 91 of Howard’s 217 career homers have come in the last two months of the season. Additionally, 254 of his 620 career RBIs have come in the last months, too. That means Howard feasts on pitching late in the season when the games take on added significance.

Enjoy it folks… sluggers like this Howard kid don’t come around that often.

What, me worry? About Ryan Howard?

Ryan HowardI picked up something interesting on the Baseball-Reference Blog the other day. But before we get into that, we must point out that Baseball-Reference.com just might be the greatest web site ever invented. For baseball geeks (like me), it’s an unending source of amusement and entertainment.

The truth is the little site that grew into a fulltime job for former St. Joe’s professor Sean Forman, is exactly what the web should be. It is perfect, and better yet, it keeps guys like me from lugging around silly things like media guides or the Baseball Encyclopedia from city to city and ballpark to ballpark.

So for that, thank you Dr. Forman.

But really… actual media guides in a digital world?

Anyway, the thing I picked up on the blog carried the headline, “What worries me about Ryan Howard.” That’s a pretty catchy headline considering the Phillies’ offensive success hinges largely on Howard’s ability to hit home runs.

Actually, the Phillies’ success is all about the home run. If they don’t homer, they have trouble scoring runs. For instance, 25 of the team’s last 36 runs have come on home runs. That’s a whopping 69.4 percent. Moreover, this season the Phillies lead the Majors in runs from homers with more than 46 percent of their runs coming from homers.

Nevertheless, the Howard entry came with two graphs of stats showing the worst OPS+ values for 45 HR seasons in big league history, and the lowest OPS values for hitters with more than 30 bombs this season. In both Howard ranked third.

Check ‘em out…

Now here’s the thing… how can averaging 50 homers per 162 games throughout his career be worrisome? Sure, Howard strikes out a lot and his walk totals have dipped this season, which has more to do with the fact that he no longer has Pat Burrell hitting behind him in the batting order.

As Howard himself might say, “It is what it is.” The Big Piece hits home runs at the expense of a lot of things, but he’s hardly the current version of Dave Kingman. Saying it’s worrisome that a guy slugging more than 45 homers a season and owning three of the franchise’s top four home-run producing seasons is kind of silly. It doesn’t really explain the type of player Howard is – or has become.

The guy actually fields his position now, and may finally be learning to use the entire field when making contact which could render those dreaded shifts as useful as an actual media guide.

This isn’t to say Howard is the most complete player on the team – far from it. But there isn’t a real reason to be “worried” about Howard yet. In fact, saying there’s worry over a guy who has blasted 214 home runs in 698 games (with 610 RBIs) is kind of like eating ice cream and complaining that there weren’t enough red sprinkles on it.

Even if the green, yellow and blue clearly outnumbered the red ones, it’s hardly a rip off.

No, the time to get worried about Howard is when he stops hitting 45-plus homers a season. Because when he stops doing that, he becomes the current-day Steve Balboni and (nothing against Balboni) no one wants to see that.

But really… what’s with the Phillies and homers? Here’s a little stat from the 2008 post-season – the Phillies scored 64 runs against Milwaukee, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay to win the World Series and of those runs 32 came on homers.

It breaks down like this:

14 of 24 in the World Series
8 of 25 in the NLCS
10 of 15 in the NLDS

Feast or famine, huh?

What, me worry? About Ryan Howard?

image from fingerfood.typepad.com I picked up something interesting on the Baseball-Reference Blog the other day. But before we get into that, we must point out that Baseball-Reference.com just might be the greatest web site ever invented. For baseball geeks (like me), it’s an unending source of amusement and entertainment.

The truth is the little site that grew into a fulltime job for former St. Joe’s professor Sean Forman, is exactly what the web should be. It is perfect, and better yet, it keeps guys like me from lugging around silly things like media guides or the Baseball Encyclopedia from city to city and ballpark to ballpark.

So for that, thank you Dr. Forman.

But really… actual media guides in a digital world?

Anyway, the thing I picked up on the blog carried the headline, “What worries me about Ryan Howard.” That’s a pretty catchy headline considering the Phillies’ offensive success hinges largely on Howard’s ability to hit home runs.

Actually, the Phillies’ success is all about the home run. If they don’t homer, they have trouble scoring runs. For instance, 25 of the team’s last 36 runs have come on home runs. That’s a whopping 69.4 percent. Moreover, this season the Phillies lead the Majors in runs from homers with more than 46 percent of their runs coming from homers.

Nevertheless, the Howard entry came with two graphs of stats showing the worst OPS+ values for 45 HR seasons in big league history, and the lowest OPS values for hitters with more than 30 bombs this season. In both Howard ranked third.

Check ‘em out…

Now here’s the thing… how can averaging 50 homers per 162 games throughout his career be worrisome? Sure, Howard strikes out a lot and his walk totals have dipped this season, which has more to do with the fact that he no longer has Pat Burrell hitting behind him in the batting order.

As Howard himself might say, “It is what it is.” The Big Piece hits home runs at the expense of a lot of things, but he’s hardly the current version of Dave Kingman. Saying it’s worrisome that a guy slugging more than 45 homers a season and owning three of the franchise’s top four home-run producing seasons is kind of silly. It doesn’t really explain the type of player Howard is – or has become.

The guy actually fields his position now, and may finally be learning to use the entire field when making contact which could render those dreaded shifts as useful as an actual media guide.

This isn’t to say Howard is the most complete player on the team – far from it. But there isn’t a real reason to be “worried” about Howard yet. In fact, saying there’s worry over a guy who has blasted 214 home runs in 698 games (with 610 RBIs) is kind of like eating ice cream and complaining that there weren’t enough red sprinkles on it.

Even if the green, yellow and blue clearly outnumbered the red ones, it’s hardly a rip off.

No, the time to get worried about Howard is when he stops hitting 45-plus homers a season. Because when he stops doing that, he becomes the current-day Steve Balboni and (nothing against Balboni) no one wants to see that.

But really… what’s with the Phillies and homers? Here’s a little stat from the 2008 post-season – the Phillies scored 64 runs against Milwaukee, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay to win the World Series and of those runs 32 came on homers.

It breaks down like this:

14 of 24 in the World Series
8 of 25 in the NLCS
10 of 15 in the NLDS

Feast or famine, huh?

Ryan Howard hits right

Ryan HowardIf there was one player who was the very definition of the word, “streaky,” it is Ryan Howard. It was during his rookie year where he set the precedent for getting home runs and big hits in bunches by becoming one of the few first-year players to smack 11 homers in September.

Ted Williams did it. So did Mark McGwire.

Ryan Howard is that kind of hitter when he is on a roll. Lately, well, the big fella has been that guy. In his last eight games he is 12-for-28 (.429) with seven extra-base hits (four homers) with six walks and 12 RBIs.

But there are a few interesting items about Howard’s latest surge. For one thing he has moved in closer to the plate. As a result of that the slugger is able to hit pitches the other way and is able to reach off-speed and breaking pitches better.

The second and biggest reason why Howard has been hitting the ball better is that in the last eight games he hasn’t faced too many lefties. In fact, in the last eight games Howard is 4-for-6 against lefties. That’s pretty good for Howard considering he is hitting just .196 (33-for-168) with 13 extra-base hits against southpaws this season.

Still, in only getting six at-bats against lefties over the past week means Howard gets to face right-handers and he eats those guys up. Over the recent spate of good hitting, Howard is 8-for-22 against righties and has 27 of his 30 homers against right-handers.

The thing is, the recent .363 batting average against righties is only slightly better than his season rate. With a .314 batting average and 1.085 OPS in 271 at-bats against righties this year, it’s a wonder why any team would ever bring in a right-handed reliever to face Howard.

Nevertheless, last week Cubs’ manager Lou Piniella did just that. With two outs and the bases loaded Piniella allowed righty Carlos Marmol to face Howard even though he had two lefties (Sean Marshall and John Grabow) available in the bullpen. No, they weren’t warming up, but Piniella had them if he had chosen to look at the season splits and seen that Howard just doesn’t hit lefties too well.

In that situation at Wrigley, Marmol walked Howard to force in a run and to give the Phillies the go-ahead run in the eighth inning. Had closer Brad Lidge nailed it down in the ninth, Howard’s bases-loaded walk would have been the most pivotal play in the game.

So if opposing managers are smart, they’d get their lefties ready to face Howard. Otherwise, he just might keep the good times rolling.

Ryan Howard hits right

image from fingerfood.typepad.com If there was one player who was the very definition of the word, “streaky,” it is Ryan Howard. It was during his rookie year where he set the precedent for getting home runs and big hits in bunches by becoming one of the few first-year players to smack 11 homers in September.

Ted Williams did it. So did Mark McGwire.

Ryan Howard is that kind of hitter when he is on a roll. Lately, well, the big fella has been that guy. In his last eight games he is 12-for-28 (.429) with seven extra-base hits (four homers) with six walks and 12 RBIs.

But there are a few interesting items about Howard’s latest surge. For one thing he has moved in closer to the plate. As a result of that the slugger is able to hit pitches the other way and is able to reach off-speed and breaking pitches better.

The second and biggest reason why Howard has been hitting the ball better is that in the last eight games he hasn’t faced too many lefties. In fact, in the last eight games Howard is 4-for-6 against lefties. That’s pretty good for Howard considering he is hitting just .196 (33-for-168) with 13 extra-base hits against southpaws this season.

Still, in only getting six at-bats against lefties over the past week means Howard gets to face right-handers and he eats those guys up. Over the recent spate of good hitting, Howard is 8-for-22 against righties and has 27 of his 30 homers against right-handers.

The thing is, the recent .363 batting average against righties is only slightly better than his season rate. With a .314 batting average and 1.085 OPS in 271 at-bats against righties this year, it’s a wonder why any team would ever bring in a right-handed reliever to face Howard.

Nevertheless, last week Cubs’ manager Lou Piniella did just that. With two outs and the bases loaded Piniella allowed righty Carlos Marmol to face Howard even though he had two lefties (Sean Marshall and John Grabow) available in the bullpen. No, they weren’t warming up, but Piniella had them if he had chosen to look at the season splits and seen that Howard just doesn’t hit lefties too well.

In that situation at Wrigley, Marmol walked Howard to force in a run and to give the Phillies the go-ahead run in the eighth inning. Had closer Brad Lidge nailed it down in the ninth, Howard’s bases-loaded walk would have been the most pivotal play in the game.

So if opposing managers are smart, they’d get their lefties ready to face Howard. Otherwise, he just might keep the good times rolling.

Breaking up the band

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Sometimes breaking up the band isn’t such a bad thing. Imagine the stuff the Beatles or Led Zeppelin would have trotted out there if they were just playing out the string and trying to fulfill a contract. I’ll get to the point in a bit, but first some blather…

Guess what? The Phillies did add to the payroll by trading for Cliff Lee. The tally is an extra $2 million, which is approximately twice the salary Pedro Martinez will get paid for this season.

So yeah, figure this one out – according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Phillies added two pitchers to their roster that have a combined four Cy Young Awards and it cost them around $3 million for 2009. That means Lee is eighth on the club in salary and Pedro 18th. Pedro gets approximately the same paycheck as Scott Eyre and significantly less than Chan Ho Park.

Meanwhile Lee is getting a little bit more than Joe Blanton and significantly less than Jamie Moyer.

Isn’t baseball great like that? A meritocracy? Well, kind of… maybe. Put it this way – the MLBPA protects its members just as long as their names don’t appear on an ambiguous list that should have been destroyed or even compiled in the first place.

Nevertheless, the interesting part about the salaries isn’t the names attached to them or the high figures that make them seem so unreal. Nor is it the fact that all of those contracts are guaranteed and often have incentives built in, too.

Who cares about all of that.

No, the interesting part is that the Phillies can afford to pay out those salaries in a depressed economy and not too long after the team never gave out that kind of cash. Remember when the Phillies claimed to have offered Scott Rolen a 10-year contract worth more than $140 million? In reality, the Phillies never offered the 10-years and $140 million they keep touting. Instead, it the guaranteed portion of the offer was six years, $72 million. The deal stretched to 10 years and to $140 million only if one included all the options and incentives and buy-outs in the package, all structured in the club’s behalf.

If Rolen had signed that deal he would have been a Phillies last season. Had that occurred the Phillies never would have signed Jim Thome nor would they ever have had Placido Polanco. That means the paths to the Majors for Ryan Howard and Chase Utley would never been blocked.

How different would it have been if Utley would have gotten a chance to play every day in the big leagues when he was 24 instead of 26? Perhaps Howard would have been with the Phillies in 2003 or 2004. Coming off a minor league season where he belted 46 homers between Reading and Scranton in 2004, Howard played 61 games in Triple-A in 2005. That was 61 too many.

So imagine if Rolen had remained in Philly instead of escaping to St. Louis and then Toronto.

Howard, Utley, Rolen and Rollins?

But who knows – maybe it wouldn’t have worked out after all. Bobby Abreu, an offensive statistical fiend in his days was the Phillies, was dumped by Pat Gillick because, apparently, he made everyone around him worse.

Of the Turn of the Century Phillies that were supposed to be long-shot contenders for the wild card in aught zero, only Mike Lieberthal, Pat Burrell and Randy Wolf were able to collect all of their Ed Wade graft in a Phillies uniform. When they were free to go elsewhere, the Phillies let them.

And somehow it worked out.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com But since Gillick was so quick to give kudos to his predecessors after the World Series for drafting the likes of Rollins, Howard and Utley, what kind of credit would they have gotten if the long-term, big-money contracts they gave out weren’t cleared out?

Suppose the Phillies traded Howard and stuck with Thome. Or maybe they could have dealt Utley and gone with Polanco.

And maybe Rolen could have signed that deal in 2002… if so would we be talking about Cliff Lee, Pedro Martinez and a repeat in ’09?

Speaking of Rolen, the big fella was beaned on the helmet by Jason Marquis on Sunday in just his second game with the Reds since being dealt at the deadline from Toronto. After crumpling in a heap to the ground, Rolen quickly sat up and immediately began yapping about it…

Apparently he was discussing his on-base percentage.

“I was a little dizzy. It stunned me. But it helped my on-base percentage, even though I still haven’t touched first base (as a Red),” Rolen said after Sunday’s game. “I talked to Jason. I’m fine. I motioned to him when I left the field to let him know that I wasn’t dead.”

Take a look at the video here.

“He’s lucky,” manager Dusty Baker said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ball ricochet that far. That ball went out to third base.”

Rolen still hasn’t actually stepped on first base since joining the Reds.

“I was just happy to get on base,” Rolen said. “I still have yet to get to first base. I haven’t met (first base coach) Billy Hatcher yet.”

Oh snap, son!

I am tough but fair and so I retract my entire notion that ballplayers are not funny. The fact is they are very funny…
More specifically, Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard are very funny. Take a look at the latest Funny or Die installment called "Fantasy Camp:"

First Jimmy takes fastballs from an iron mike off the chest and Ryan drops an "Oh snap, son!" on the White House chef
Pedro is going to have to pick up his game.
(links fixed)

It’s a Swing Off!

image from fingerfood.typepad.com So Ryan Howard will move on to the second round since the Twins’ Joe Mauer only hit five home runs. Howard didn’t look awesome, like he’s known to be with some bombs during actual games, but he hit one 470-feet plus.

That counts.

Instead of having Mick Billmeyer pitch to him as he usually does, Howard’s high school coach was thrown into the gig. That’s cool. After all, when does a guy from the St. Louis suburbs ever get to hang out at the All-Star Game.

But you know, what about Mick? All he gets is batting practice.

Then again, when you meet Mick and talk to him, you realize the guy is living a charmed life. The guy knows a lot about catching and all that, but really every day he has in the big leagues is something else. Besides, it’s guys like Mick who make the big leagues interesting.

Anyway, Albert Pujols came up and suddenly the ballpark turned into the dance floor at the club with all the camera lights flashing.

On another note, it would seem that the ball would fly out of the park considering how humid it is. It’s downright soupy here in The Loo, and much too warm for my liking. However, a few of the ol’ salts still banging around the big league writing circuit say that for St. Louis in July this weather is downright temperate.

Plus, it’s difficult for paint to dry in this type of climate. If one were to ask if a basic, one coat of paint on a wall would dry faster than the Home Run Derby to end, it would be a push.

As a betting man I’d take paint in a squeaker. That’s especially the case with Pujols needing his last swing to forge a tie to get into the “swing-off” with David Cruz and Carlos Pena. The winner advances and the loser(s) get to kick back with the kids running wild on the sidelines with their dads.

Where did those wavy lines come from?

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Just did a stroll around the press box and noticed the Home Run Derby on TV… what’s with those tail lines coming off the ball? Is that cool?

I’ll tell you what is not cool (and by that I don’t mean jerky, just geeky), Jayson Stark is tweeting his crazy facts and stats about the Home Run Derby. There’s this one for instance:

Albert will be the 12th straight hometown Derby participant not to win — unless everybody else gets shut out. Last to win: Sandberg in ’90


This is only the 2nd swingoff since they abandoned the old format, which broke ties based on season totals. The other: 2007, won by Pujols!


Howard 6 HR in last 9 swings. But will it be enough?

I think I’m going to stop following him.

(I’m joking, Jayson, I’m joking… without Crasnick and Stark, ESPN.com would have no ball writing.)

Nevertheless, Ryan Howard climbed into first place in the Home Run Derby, but will have to hope for a slump from Prince Fielder and David Cruz. Certainly a Cruz-Prince final was not what the heads at ESPN wanted, but sometimes reality TV shows take a crazy turn.

Note: Howard dropped out of the top spot while writing this. Prince Fielder knocked him out of the finals.

So before the next walk around the box, here are some more facts:

The last time the All-Star Game was in St. Louis was 1966. The 42 years between All-Star Games is the longest span between hosting the Midsummer Classic. However, Kansas City seems poised to break it. The All-Star Game hasn’t been to KC since 1973.

Maybe they ought to have the All-Star Game in Las Vegas? Why not… the Winter Meetings were there last year and it was a huge hit. This December they’re having them in Indianapolis. Vegas to Indianapolis.

More facts:

The last time an NL team sent its entire outfield to the All-Star Game was in 1972 when Pittsburgh sent Willie Stargell, Al Oliver and Roberto Clemente. In the late 1970s, the Red Sox did it three years in a row.

President Barack Obama will throw the ceremonial first pitch at Tuesday’s game. The last President to do this was George H.W. Bush in 1992. President G.H.W. Bush did it in 1991, too.


Here we go…

image from fingerfood.typepad.com We're getting ready to hit some dingers here at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, or The Loo, as they say. Oddly, there is a band warming up the crowd with some faux alt-rock and pyro. Lots and lots of PYRO!

The set up the stage with all banners representing all the corporate sponsors blocking the monitors and PA and set up the stage behind second base.

Is David Cook a band? If so, that just might be who was on FIRE!

Anyway, Prince Fielder will hit first and Berman is doing the intros. Luckily, we can't hear him so well up here in the press box. Which is fine.

But make no mistake, St. Louis homeboy Ryan Howard got the loudest ovation if you exclude Albert Pujols. The truth is if you own a company that makes Albert Pujols shirts or memorabilia in St. Louis, you are a very wealthy person.

You can't shake a dead skunk in The Loo without hitting a dude in a Albert Pujols shirt. Albert is The Man. Stan Musial needs a new nickname.

It ain’t about the numbers

image from fingerfood.typepad.com I can’t help it. I know all about the objectivity of the job and all of that, but I really can’t help it.

I really hope Shane Victorino makes it to the All-Star Game next week in St. Louis.

There, I said it. In fact, I told Victorino as much before Monday night’s game against the Reds. Of course I told him this after I busted his stones about Pablo Sandoval having far superior statistics and that the Giants’ rookie really suffered an injustice when he wasn’t named to the National League squad.

“It ain’t about numbers anymore,” Victorino said. “It’s a popularity contest.”

He has that right, but then again it’s always been a popularity contest. But my motives for Victorino getting to St. Louis are completely selfish. Oh sure, Victorino is as worthy of an All-Star nod as anyone in the league. Though his numbers don’t pop off the page, they are above average and he has been a consistent cog for a team that has been wildly inconsistent.

But I told Vic that I hope he gets there even after he explained how he spent Monday afternoon going door-to-door along Oregon Avenue with Mayor Michael Nutter. Of course he had to endure more teasing about the mayor of Philadelphia taking time out of his busy day to help him get to the All-Star Game.

“What, are you going to go help him with his budget deficit after the game? You’re doing all of this just to spend three days in St. Louis?”

Victorino knew why guys like me want him in St. Louis. He understands the media-player dynamic and has seen how stodgy and scripted ballplayers are in press situations. It’s like they are coached to be as uninteresting as possible, which is no fun for anyone.

Nope, there is no altruism about wanting Victorino to get to the All-Star Game and he knew it.

“You just want me to do something bleeping stupid at the All-Star Game,” he said.

“Well, yeah…”

Oh, but it was much more than that. Certainly if Vic were to “do something bleeping stupid,” it would be very entertaining. In fact, it was a blast to see him in the World Baseball Classic and the madness he must have spewed into the notebooks of the scribes covering those games. However, if Victorino were to get to St. Louis there would actually be someone (gasp!) to talk to. That’s downright revolutionary in this age of verbosity.

Besides, the other Phillies in St. Louis won’t be free to cut loose like Victorino. Chase Utley doesn’t have much to say unless he’s dropping F-bombs before large crowds and Ryan Howard will be in his hometown and surely will have a limited amount of time to hang around and chat. Manager Charlie Manuel likely will only be able to offer official comments from a podium or to the right’s holders, though we’re pretty sure Chuck will offer up some nuggets to the hometown scribes.

Charlie is good like that.

Nevertheless, it’s Victorino who might be the go-to guy. Hey, the guy just can’t help himself. Here’s an example of that:

After Game 3 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium last October, I waited out Victorino. Taking his time to emerge from the off-limits areas, Victorino knew media types wanted to ask him about the bench-clearing incident with Hiroki Kuroda. Word had been sent out that he wasn’t going to talk about it, but c’mon. We all knew how he was.

So when he walked over to his locker in that old visitors’ clubhouse in Los Angeles, I kind of held up my palms, shrugged my shoulders and said, “Yo Shane, what’s up?”

“What’s up with what?”

“You know what I’m talking about.”



“I’m not talking about it.”

That’s when he talked about it for 15 minutes.

Hey, the guy just can’t help himself and bygolly, get this guy to the All-Star Game so we have someone to talk to.

And just to be sure, I won’t cast a vote for Victorino. I’ll root for him to get there, but won’t cross the line to actually cast a vote.

Besides, have you seen Sandoval’s numbers? How did he get left off the roster?

Oh yeah, has anyone seen the big No. 8 on the big Amtrak building next to 30th Street Station? Obviously the city is rallying to try and get Victorino that trip to St. Louis, but what about the guys who actually made the team already? Charlie, Utley, Howard and Raul Ibanez are in… where’s their building?

Ryan Howard and The White House Garden

howard subway adAs we all know by now, Ryan Howard trimmed down and got into top shape during the off-season. To do so he didn’t hang out as much with Jared in those Subway commercials and really took it up a notch with diet and exercise.

In fact, Howard’s prowess in eating healthy matched some of his long-distance home runs — something acknowledged during the Phillies’ visit to The White House last month.

Here’s Howard in a suit checking out some of the veggies in The White House garden that was planted by the Obamas earlier this year:

Did Ryan Howard drop a, “Oh… snap, son!” on The White House chef?

Ryan Howard and The White House Garden

image from fingerfood.typepad.com As we all know by now, Ryan Howard trimmed down and got into top shape during the off-season. To do so he didn't hang out as much with Jared in those Subway commercials and really took it up a notch with diet and exercise.

In fact, Howard's prowess in eating healthy matched some of his long-distance home runs — something acknowledged during the Phillies' visit to The White House last month.

Here's Howard in a suit checking out some of the veggies in The White House garden that was planted by the Obamas earlier this year:

Did Ryan Howard drop a, "Oh… snap, son!" on The White House chef?

All rock all the time…

image from fingerfood.typepad.com It's definitely going to be a crazy week around these parts. Not only do we have Villanova heading to the Final Four and all the pomp that goes with that, but also the Phillies return to Philadelphia this week for a pair of exhibition games against Tampa on Friday and Saturday before kicking off the season for real on Sunday night against Atlanta.

Who knows, the most anticipated Phillies season ever could be sandwiched between 'Nova's national semifinal game and a National Championship on Monday night.

Hey, crazier things have happened.

Anyway, we'll have a bunch of 'Nova and Phillies stories all week leading to the big weekend. Until then, here's a short list of the things I won't write about this baseball season.

Before I start, I know how lame the list is. After all, don't you hate those radio ads in which a station defines itself by what it doesn't play? Then they cue them up and play programmed and contrived crap. I heard one the other day where the station's big calling card was, "We aren't iTunes, we are your tunes."

What? This is what they announce before they launch into Don Henley.

No, take them… they're definitely your tunes.

So from here on out I'm drawing a line and painting myself into a tidy little corner. These are the stories I'm going to work as hard as possible not to write this baseball season:

1.) Jamie Moyer's age

Yes, we all know that Jamie Moyer is old. In fact, he's 46 and there have been just a select few ballplayers that had careers to that age. It's remarkable, sure, but not necessarily such an anomaly anymore.

The fact of the matter is that 46 isn't as old as it used to be. Better yet, a ballplayer only gets old if he allows himself to be that way or injuries add up. Ask Don Wildman about how limiting his age is. Or Dara Torres. Or Chris Chelios. Or Jamie Moyer.

Better yet, don't.

"Some players get injured and others just lose the desire," Moyer told me last August. "Then some, for one reason or other, are told to quit because they reach a certain age or time spent in the game. Some just accept it without asking why."

Along the same vein, Moyer's age won't be used as a crutch, either. He's 46. So what? He's as fit as any player in the league and he hasn't lost a thing off his fastball (tee-hee), so if he's walking out there he's no different than anyone else.

He's 46? Big deal.

2.) J.C. Romero's suspension

Oh yes, this is an important issue. It's especially important since the Phillies won't have their workhorse reliever for nearly a third of the season. But stories knocking it down as no big deal or some type of insignificant or unfortunate occurrence don't get it. The truth is MLB did not want Romero to pitch in the playoffs, but they allowed him to do so anyway.

Why? And why not?

3.) Lefty lineup

Chase Utley to Ryan Howard to Raul Ibanez… deal with it. Certainly the opposing managers will have to figure out a way to deal with it. Last year Utley his .277 with 13 homers against lefties, while Howard hit 14 homers (just .224 though) and Ibanez batted .305 with seven homers vs. lefties.

Oh sure, in the late innings the Phillies will face a ton of situational lefties, but any time a manager goes away from his regular habits to rely on a pitcher generally used to facing just one hitter just might level the odds a bit.

For that middle of the order trio, even odds are pretty good.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com 4.) Charlie Manuel's managerial acumen

These are the facts: Charlie knows more about baseball than you. Actually he's forgotten more about baseball than you have ever known. To top it off, he's funnier than you and tells far better stories.

Plus, the way he handled that great comeback against the Mets last August in which he used to pitchers to pinch hit, had Carlos Ruiz play third base and put Chris Coste into the game in the eighth inning and watched him get four hits. The guy is always looking at the big picture and sometimes, just for fun, he'll play a hunch.

What he doesn't do is try to over think or out-fox the game like Tony La Russa or some other new age type. He'd rather beat you Earl Weaver style – sit back and wait for a big home run – but if he has to get some base runners moving with some steals or hit-and-runs, that works, too.

Meanwhile, he likes to put his pitchers into firm roles. Yeah, sometimes that can get him in trouble, but the good part is that everyone on the roster understands their role. Big league ballplayers love that.

And if that doesn't work, Charlie will pull out the old, "Just hold 'em, guys… I'll think of something."

It's worked so far.

5.) Raul Ibanez vs. Pat Burrell

Stat heads aren't going to like this one, but Ibanez's superior batting average and lower strikeout rate will matter. It mattered in Seattle and it will matter at cozy Citizens Bank Park, too.

The reason is as simple as the triple-digit RBI totals over the last three years – Ibanez hits the ball a little more. With Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Utley and Howard hitting in front of him, the 20 fewer times Ibanez strikes out as opposed to Burrell could be significant. Figure there are 26 weeks to a season with the potential for one more run a week produced from one spot of the lineup could add up.


There you go. Now I'm going to go put the iPod on shuffle… yep, my tunes.

Whatever the hell that means.

The MVP and the shrine

Baring a collapse of Mets-like proportions, the Phillies will be in the playoffs for a second year in a row. It will be the first time the Phillies made the post-season in consecutive years since 1980-81 and if history is about to repeat itself, we are in 1977 of the second golden age of Phillies baseball.

Maybe soon the new general manager will find this club its Pete Rose.

Nevertheless, with winning come the personal accolades from the old media groups that give out the awards. Obviously, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins took home the MVP award the last two seasons, and Charlie Manuel should be in the mix for manager of the year this season, while Brad Lidge will likely get a Cy Young Award vote or two.

But as the Phillies surge on to October, it’s Howard and his chances for another MVP Award that has the pundits chirping. This month Howard has batted .379 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 18 games. He also has reached base safely in 26 of the last 27 games and leads the Majors in homers (46) and RBIs (141) by a wide margin.

Based on those numbers Howard has to be a shoo-in, right?

“Those numbers speak for themselves,” Manuel said. “You can say whatever you want to say, he’s the best run producer in the league. He has the RBIs and he has the homers.”

Well… not so fast. Howard also has the strikeouts with 194 – just five shy of the all-time record he set last season. Then there is the matter of that .247 batting average, heightened, of course, by an April in which he hit .168 and the fact that Howard did not crack the Mendoza Line until late May. Plus, Howard’s slugging percentage is just .534, which is 10th best in the National League, an indicator that he just isn’t getting enough hits…

Other than home runs, obviously.

Still, Howard is a top candidate for the award with Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman, Carlos Delgado and Manny Ramirez, all of whom have better all-around stats than the slugging Phillie.

But so what? Howard has clearly been the straw that stirs the Phillies, just as he was in 2006 and Rollins was in 2007. If the MVP trend remains as an award for the player who is the catalyst on a contending team, Howard’s September just might have put him over the top regardless of the batting average and the strikeouts.

Meanwhile, the last time two players for the same team won three MVP Awards in a row was when Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds  did it for the Giants from 2000 to 2004. Before that, Joe Morgan and George Foster won it for the Reds from 1975 to 1977.

In the American League, the last time such a feat occurred was when Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Elston Howard won the MVP from 1960 to 1963 for the Yankees.

Speaking of the Yankees, click on any web site out there for any number of laments about the final game of Yankee Stadium set for tonight. As cynical I am about such things, it is significant day not just in the history of baseball, but also for America. After all, more than just being a mere baseball park Yankee Stadium is/was a tourist destination and a true image of Americana.

In fact, the first time I ever went to New York City, the one thing I wanted to see more than anything else was Yankee Stadium.

I actually didn’t get inside the place until 1989 when I took a solo, post-high-school graduation road trip through the Northeast. Just for the occasion, I popped in a cassette of Lou Reed’s New York, which played as I crossed from Manhattan into the South Bronx.

The Yankees won that day when Randy Velarde led off the ninth with a triple and Wayne Tolleson singled him home. Who would have known that the Yankees had just six wins left in them before George Steinbrenner decided to give his manager Dallas Green the axe?

Nevertheless, I wasn’t ready for the hardcore vibe of the Stadium the first time I visited the place mostly because the first few games I ever attended were at The Vet and Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. Baseball is a much more serious endeavor when played at Yankee Stadium, just as I imagine any event would be. In fact, watching a baseball game in Yankee Stadium is probably the same significance as watching the Declaration of Independence be signed at Independence Hall.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to get back to The Stadium a few more times as a fan and another time for work where I had a long pre- and post-game chat with Scott Rolen before taking a solo tour of the entire playing field, clubhouses, bullpens, Memorial Park and anywhere else all by myself. To leave, I walked through left field and up a ramp in some dirty and forgotten corner of the building and to the subway platform bound for Grand Central Station.

Oddly, every trip to Yankee Stadium always felt like the first one – that hardcore vibe never waned.

So it all ends for Yankee Stadium tonight. Next year the new $1.3 billion new Yankee Stadium will open just across the street from the old shrine. Frankly, those old buildings struggle to keep up in our new age, though there is a troubling trend that has developed in the new places in that regular folks quickly get priced out.

The best thing about baseball when it was played in places like The Vet and Memorial Stadium was that it was egalitarian. People of modest means and families could afford to attend a bunch of games a year.

But like the glory days of Yankee Stadium, those days are long gone.

Doesn’t that sound better than drudging up 1964 every time a team chokes away a late-season lead?

Ryan Howard’s long bomb

WASHINGTON – According to the dusty old archives stashed back in the vaults at Nationals Park, Ryan Howard’s home run in the fifth inning of yesterday’s 12-2 victory over the Nats was not only the first ball to reach the upper deck at the stadium, but also it was the longest fair ball ever struck in The District’s Southeast quadrant.

Apparently the homer went 441 feet. That’s like Tiger Woods taking a three-quarters swing with a 9-iron.

Anyway, here’s Howard’s bomb:

[redlasso id=”578480d6-85dc-4dab-a1b6-4d8399f3ee97″]

It should be noted that there is no happier room in the country than a big-league clubhouse following a win on the road just before they leave to go to another city. The Philadelphia ballclub was downright giddy after pasting the Washington Nine for 12 runs last night. Jimmy Rollins even interjected into Shane Victorino’s post-game deconstruction of his 3-for-5 performance (double, HR, 3 runs, 2 RBIs) with some members of the local press.

“Anything Ryan can do, I can do,” Jimmy said, mimicking Victorino. “I hit a double, he hits a double…”


“I hit a home run,” Rollins laughed, still imitating his teammate “but he hits a BOMB!”

Tired, tired, tired

sleepyI’m tired. Just beat. Frankly, it’s all I can do to keep my eyes open or from pitching forward off the couch and onto the floor. If I’m not rubbing my eyes I’m yawning. And if I’m not yawning, I’m quickly trying to snap my head back up after quickly dozing off.

In other words, I’m tired.

But the reason for my languor is not from too much exercise or other “lifestyle” choices. Generally, I eat well, though this week I had my first pizza, beer and ice cream-type dessert of the year. I figure a person needs to earn those types of things and after four months I relented. Besides, the next shot I get at those types of things won’t be until November so I might as well enjoy the week of letting go.

Still, I get plenty of rest, drink lots of water and take vitamins. Additionally, I give badass lessons on the side for folks interested in becoming a man of steel though the ability to fly and the vertical leap are not in the syllabus. We just deal in hard-headed toughness.

Anyway, the reason why I’m beat and bone weary is because of all these damn late-night starts for the Phillies. Sure, Arizona, where the Phillies are knee-deep in a four-game set with the Diamondbacks, is just two hours behind us on the east, but that’s an extra two hours I have to think about a nap and rearranging the daytime schedule. Just wait until the Phillies get to San Francisco on Friday night when the first pitch isn’t thrown until after 10 p.m.

The thing about time zones is that they get better the farther west you go. I remember Randy Wolf explaining the reason why he was a Braves fan as a kid instead of the nearby Dodgers was because the Braves were always on TV when he got home from school. He could come home, put his books down and there was Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz pitching for the Braves every day at 4 p.m. Perhaps the fact that California kids get so much more exposure to the game than the kids living in the Eastern Time zone is the reason why there are so many west coasters in the Majors.

We get bad traffic, foul attitudes, snowy winters and humidity and they get 300 days of sunshine a year, beautiful landscapes and the Braves game at 4 p.m.

Surely that theory as to why California is home to the most baseball players is correct, but it doesn’t do anything for hardcore Phillies’ fans that need some sleep. Better yet, imagine trying to follow a game when you’re fatigued after a long day, you finally get the kids off to bed after an argument with a four-year old over whether it’s the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Leaning Tower of Pizza only to settle in front of the tube on the night Jamie Moyer is pitching.

The drug companies ought to try to make a pill that can put a guy out faster than a west-coast game pitched by Jamie Moyer. Hell, that’s a narcotic.

Inevitably, though, it’s about the seventh inning when you finally shake off the cob webs and look up to see red caps and visiting grays dashing around the bases in the desert. But just when you think it’s some sort of Alice in Wonderland-type dream without the backwards clock, big No. 6 takes a called third strike and reality returns.

KSo yeah, Ryan Howard’s slump is well into its second month and has shown the slightest interest in taking a break. In fact, it’s really quite confusing why Howard’s dead weight continues to fill up the cleanup spot in the batting order between the hot-hitting duo of Chase Utley and Pat Burrell.

Worse, it seems as if Howard really doesn’t have a clue at all right now. Always quick to make adjustments at every level of his pro career, Howard seems perplexed as his average dips closer to .160 and his strikeout total edges closer to triple digits with each passing week.

Remember, it’s still May.

Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if Howard finishes the season with a .220 average and 220 strikeouts even though to boost his average that high would take some work. In the meantime, Howard could at least feign interest in the field or stop acting like the umps are ringing him up on bad or borderline calls. He should take his medicine like a man or at least in the same manner in which he fought for the $10 million for the season.

Better yet, dig this quote lifted from Scott Lauber:

“To me, it’s all about seeing the ball and having good at-bats,” Howard said. “To everyone else, it’s about results. That’s how it is in the media and everywhere else. So that’s that. People see what they want to see. There’s a lot of stuff that you don’t see, other stuff that’s going on. I try to do what I can to help the team win in whatever ways I can.”

No, trying to help the team in whatever way he can is something Eric Bruntlett or Chris Coste says. For Ryan Howard, who whined about money for the past two years, it is about results. If he wants to blame the media for focusing on things like “results,” fine. But if that’s the case he shouldn’t go crying to the media when he doesn’t get the contract he wants or when his new video game comes out.

Then again, video games are for guys with results so that’s that.

Here’s a theoretical:

Who is out of baseball first? Jim Thome or Ryan Howard.

Ode to spring

Ryan HowardCLEARWATER, Fla. – The best part about spring training is the informality of it. The strict protocol and rules of the regular season are pushed aside explicitly for the regular season, but while in Clearwater for seven weeks in preparation for when the games really count, the Phillies have been pretty good about keeping it light and getting their work in.

Frankly, the best part about baseball is spring training. In the laidback atmosphere here in Florida, the players’ and coaches’ love of the game oozes like lava down the side of a volcano. For a change – at least when there are no cases for the arbitration panel to hear – baseball looks like a game. The corporatization of a simple ballgame takes a backseat until the scene moves north to the big, taxpayer subsidized stadiums.

Aside from getting in the work (who doesn’t love watching players do their strides on the warning track while the game is still in progress), players experiment and try things they would never do in a real game. For instance, if Ryan Howard would have come to the plate with runners on second and third with two outs in the fourth inning of a regular-season game, he never would have taken the bat off his shoulder. He would have taken four pitches wide and outside and then trotted to first.

But in Clearwater against the Pirates on Thursday afternoon with runners on second and third and two outs, Howard got a fastball right down the pipe. Needless to say, the big fella knocked it over the berm ringing the ballpark beyond the outfield fence and into a pond just shy of the chain link fence separating the grounds of the park from southbound lanes of US-19.

Chances are the ball turned into a meal for an alligator.

The best part about the homer was that Howard talked to the scribes about it just a few innings later. No one had to wait until the end of the game because the clubhouse opens up for media access a few innings into the game so that the ballplayers can take care of the reporters before taking off for the day. Frankly, it’s an odd thing being in the clubhouse while a game is in progress, just as it’s a peculiar thing to watch the final innings of a game from foul territory in left field.

Do that during the regular season and it’s off to the roundhouse.

Anyway, the proverbial book goes out the window at spring training. Instead it’s a straight ahead, backyard game. Pitchers challenge hitters and hitters swing (or don’t) at pitches they normally would not. That’s because it’s not about the stat numbers on the page, but instead it’s about being able to play baseball.

And who can’t appreciate that?

The Phillies will play a regular Grapefruit League game against the Pirates at Bradenton’s McKechnie Field at 1 p.m. in front of paying customers featuring a majority of the players on the spring roster. However, the more interesting matchup will be the “B” game played at Pirate City located at 27th Street in Bradenton, which is where newly-named Opening Day starter Brett Myers will make his 2008 spring debut. Lefty reliever J.C. Romero is also scheduled to pitch in the “B” game.

Two players that will not make the trip to Bradenton are catcher Carlos Ruiz and shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Both players were given the day off, which, for Rollins means an early morning workout and then some relaxation at home for the rest of the day.

Rollins, needless to say, is pretty excited about the rare day off.

On another note, at his locker in the veterans’ corner of the clubhouse in Bright House Field, Rollins proudly displayed the championship belt awarded to him as the team captain in the weekly bowling matchup against a team led by Ryan Howard and featuring bowlers Brett Myers and Shane Victorino. Apparently Rollins’ team is such a juggernaut that Howard and his club were pleased that they pushed the best-of-3 series to the limit.

Afterwards, when asked whether the problem was the management as opposed to the bowling, Howard complained that the Philadelphia media was calling for his head.

“You lose one game and the Philly media tries to get you fired!” he yelled.

Hey, you can’t fire the bowlers.

Priced out?

Ryan HowardSomewhere the brass for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees quietly noted the landmark $10 million payout to Phillies’ slugger Ryan Howard and stashed away the information for later. After all, depending upon what type of season Howard puts together in 2008 it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the slugger could wind up with one of those teams in 2009 and/or beyond.

Seriously, after the arbitration panel ruled on Thursday that Howard has earned a $10 million salary for 2009 after just two full big-league seasons, the big question is this:

How much longer will the Phillies be able to afford him?

Think about it – the Phillies and Howard will more than likely be back in the same position again next year, only this time the slugger won’t be asking for a measly $10 million per season.

At least that’s the way the trends skew. Howard not only has set precedents in terms of salary for a player with his limited Major League experience, but he’s also operating in unchartered territory when it comes to prolific power statistics. In fact, his 105 home runs and 285 RBIs during the past two seasons could be the greatest debut power years (non-alleged steroid division) ever. Forget the first full two seasons, there aren’t too many players in baseball history that have hit 105 homers in two consecutive seasons.

So where does that leave the Phillies now that Howard and his camp swayed arbitrators to break precedent? And what happens if the big fella clubs 60 homers and 150 RBIs for a playoff team in ’08? Can the Phillies afford not to work out a long-term deal with Howard just so they can avoid record payouts in arbitration year after year until 2011?

Or, did Howard price himself out of Philadelphia? Though Howard won in arbitration, like a majority of the fandom thought was appropriate, have the fans really lost? After all, there is chatter out there that Team Howard is seeking a long-term deal in the A-Rod strata. Surely the Phillies can’t be pleased with that development and where it could be the negotiations for here and beyond.

“This is too fresh in our minds right now to even start dealing with that kind of stuff,” assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told reporters in Clearwater, Fla., Thursday. “I think what we’re focused on now is, one, it’s over with. And two, we have to go play baseball now.”

Howard wasn’t sure, either.

“I’m not Miss Cleo, I can’t predict the future,” he said.

Oh, but even the omniscient Miss Cleo cannot gaze into a crystal ball and figure out this riddle. Because what she sees can’t bode well for the Phillies – a team that has a recent history of allowing some high-priced talent to deal with other clubs. Sure, the Phillies were creative when they signed Pete Rose in 1979, they had Mike Schmidt when he was the highest-paid player in the game, and they signed Lance Parrish for (relative) big money when the other owners had been judged to have colluded against free agent players. But the Phillies have never dealt with something like Ryan Howard.

Not many teams have.

But the Phillies and Howard will be back to do it all again next year. Again they will row out into unchartered – and deep – waters with their greatest slugger ever. Only next year there’s a good chance that Howard won’t be alone when asking for a record payout.

Pitcher Cole Hamels could be there, too.

Who knows what will happen in another year. Maybe the Phillies will empty out their pockets and dig into the sofa cushions and find a $200 million check sitting around. Plus, there will likely be a lot of fans willing to shell out plenty of money for tickets to watch the Howard and his Phillies’ teammates attempt to repeat as NL East champs in 2008.

A bake sale ain’t getting this one done, folks.

Still, the important question remains:

Could Howard envision playing the rest of his career with the Phillies?

“It would be nice,” he said. “It’s one of those things we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

It’s sure to be eventful, that’s for sure.

Howard, Phillies meet at hotel… leave through different exits

Ryan HowardActually, I don’t know if that’s true because I don’t get to Clearwater until Monday (should I take my spear-fishing gear?), but the representatives of the Phillies and slugger Ryan Howard met at St. Petersburg’s tony Vinoy Hotel & Resort to present their respective cases in today’s arbitration hearing.

According to reports on CSN, the hearing lasted for approximately five hours after which the groups were besieged by a gaggle of reporters that had been casing the joint all morning. Upon greeting the arbitration parties, the reporters reportedly asked if the hearing had been contentious.

Now I don’t know much about anything, but considering the Phillies offered Howard $7 million to play baseball for one season, I’m not sure how contentious the hearings could be.

What are they going to say:

“Your honor, Howard is such a slouch and such a poor player that we only want to pay him the equivalent of the gross domestic product of several of the smaller countries in Europe.”

Nevertheless, whatever the final decision it seems as if Howard is going to make out all right.

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

Ryan Howard… get a blog. Or better yet, just invite the writing media over to the locker to chat instead of those pesky TV folks with their makeup and those white, hot lights and cameras. Besides, talking to actual humans instead of inanimate objects like cameras and TV reporters is much more revealing anyway. Sure, the fans might like tuning in from so far away to watch a guy talk with those lights and the microphones bearing down, but come on… no one really enjoys it.

At least that’s the way it was for Ryan Howard in Clearwater today. Rather than do the whole big ballyhoo and faux production of a made-for-TV inquiry about his contract and whether or not animosity has festered like a bad blister because the Phillies only want to pay him $7 million for 2008 instead of $10 million just chatted up a few scribes and some inanimate objects in the clubhouse.

It made for a more contemplative, more intimate, more revealing and perhaps even a more trenchant conversation. That’s the key word there – conversation. Look, when dealing with athletes, pro writers are dealing with a short deck mostly because they don’t know a damn thing about exercise or fitness or training or anything. But that’s beside the point. When the glare and scrutiny beats on a guy, it gets hard to explain things, so everyone loses.

Or something like that. Who knows. I’m just making this all up as I go along and I’m sure that five minutes from now I’ll have no idea what I wrote. But don’t let that stop anyone from acknowledging that sooner or later Ryan Howard will have to answer questions about his contract. What, do you think the writing press is a bunch of shrinking violets? Hey, they might not know the ins and outs of exercise or physiology, but that’s not going to stop them from using clichés oh so cavalierly.

You know, whatever.

Here’s a question: is it worse that someone made a typographical error in typing up a document filed yesterday in the Barry Bonds perjury case that erroneously stated the player tested positive for steroids in November of 2001, or is it worse that so many media outlets blindly jumped on the story without checking it out first.

Look, people trust the wire services and the big names in the media business without giving it much thought. But even the tiniest bit of research over the false Bonds report should have had folks scratching their heads a bit with wonderment over why the star-crossed slugger would have taken a drugs test in 2001.

Plus, knowing that there are no more secrets anywhere and that the truth always rears its troll-like face, the notion of a failed drugs test by Bonds in November of 2001 should have had the fact-checkers scrambling.


Nevertheless, the underlying problem was evident: Media types are too worried about being first instead of being right.

Pedro Finally, my favorite story of the day comes out of the Mets’ camp in Port Saint Lucie where Pedro Martinez rightfully claimed that he stared down the so-called Steroid Era and plunked it on its ass.

According to Pedro, “I dominated that era and I did it clean.

“I have a small frame and when I hurt all I could do was take a couple of Aleve or Advil, a cup of coffee and a little mango and an egg – and let it go!”

It sounds like Pedro (and Cole Hamels) are wannabe marathon runners who wake up every morning with everything hurting, shuffle stiff-legged downstairs for some coffee, a vitamin, maybe a Clif Bar or even an ibuprofen with the thought of visiting the chiro for some Active Release Technique therapy before heading out the door for the first of two brutal workouts.

Drugs tests? Where the cup…

“I wish that they would check every day,” Pedro said. “That’s how bad I want the game to be clean. I would rather go home (than) taint the game.”

Here’s a theory: the pitching during the so-called “Steroid Era” wasn’t so bad. Oh sure, certain media types — blabbermouths on certain radio stations in particular — are quick to point out how today’s pitchers can’t throw strikes, won’t work deep into games and how some of them shouldn’t be in the big leagues. Expansion, they say, has watered down the game.

Maybe so. But try this out: in facing hitters with baseballs that are wound tighter and who are using harder bats made of harder wood against a tinier strike zone in ball parks that are smaller still, pitchers have to add guile to the repertoire. And we didn’t even get into the performance-enhancing drugs part yet. Nonetheless, pitchers just can’t lean back and huck it up there as fast as they can — pitchers have had to pitch in the post-modern era of baseball.

Jamie MoyerSpeaking of doing it the right way for a long time, Sully Salisbury turned in a great story on the meritorious Jamie Moyer, who is heading into his 22nd big league season.

A few minutes in the presence of Moyer makes it easy to believe that you never, ever have to get old. You never have to burn out, get tired, act old, compromise, get mediocre or slow down. Moyer turned 45 last November and be sure that there are players on the Phillies who are “older” than he is – they’ve stopped being engaged, they know what they know and they don’t want to be exposed to anything new. They are already completely formed and they might only be 23 years old.

Not Moyer, though. In a conversation last October, the pitcher says one of the best parts about playing for so long has been the exposure to new people and ideas.

“A lot of times, I just focus on the simplicity of things, and not be the focus of what should be going on here, and just keep things simple. I call it the K.I.S.S. factor — keep it simple, stupid,” he said last October. “I look back on instances in my career like that — good and bad – but things that I’ve learned from, and try to re-educate myself and rethink things, and reinforce what I already know. A lot of times, we can overlook things and forget, and after the fact, after the mistake is made, you’re like, ‘Oh, I knew that. Why did I do that?’ You can’t catch everything. But if you can catch some of it, hopefully, it’ll work out. What’s been fun is being around this group of guys and the energy they bring.”

As Moyer told Sailisbury yesterday:

“I’m not as proud of the age thing as I am of the ups and downs I’ve overcome to create some longevity,” Moyer said after yesterday’s workout. “I’ve enjoyed that part. I can smile and say I’m doing what I want to do.”