Game 15

Game 15

Friday, January 20, 2012
Game 15: Wells Fargo Center
Sixers 90, Hawks 76

PHILADELPHIA — Let’s say, for instance, you are a really good painter. In fact, you’re such a great painter that galleries fight to hang your work and critics can’t get enough of it.

And yet even though you are a terrific painter, people still get on you because you are a lousy sculptor. You’re going to say that doesn’t make sense, right?

Yeah, well, welcome to Andre Iguodala’s world.

When it comes to playing defense in basketball, there are very few people on the planet as good as Andre Iguodala. Truth is, Iguodala is such a good defender that he very well may earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team set to defend its gold medal in London this summer.

“If you would talk to the best scorers in the league that he’s guarded and say who is one of the toughest guys you have to go against, they would say, Andre Iguodala,” Sixers’ coach Doug Collins said.

“From a coaching standpoint, you understand what he brings. I love what Andre does for us.”

Yet for some reason the biggest criticism of Iguodala is that he is an inconsistent offensive player.

How does that make sense?

There is perception and then there is the reality when it comes to Iguodala and his weird relationship with certain segments of the fandom. The problem with that is the perception is usually the part that gets the most fanfare.

Often, Iguodala is criticized because his salary is “excessive,” yet it barely cracks the top 40 of all NBA players. Meanwhile, it seems as if Iguodala’s perceived unpopularity comes from his personality. He’s neither boisterous nor zany. He’s not one to suffer fools as evidenced in the 2006 Dunk Contest where he pulled off the most impressive and nuanced dunk of the show only to lose to Nate Robertson because he’s short and a better story. Rather than grin-and-bear it, Iguodala hasn’t appeared in another competition figuring there are better ways to have one’s time wasted.

Iguodala is all nuance and professionalism. There are all the things we can see like the fact that heading into last year he had missed just six games in six seasons and played in 252 regular-season games in a row. He’s led the league not only in games by playing in all 82 in five of his seven seasons, but also minutes played and average minutes per game. The dude plays the game and he's rare in that he's a ridiculously talented athlete with instatiable hard-nosed/blue-collar chops, too. He's the best of both worlds and he shows up and goes to work.

He earns his pay.

Last year he played the final two months of the season with tendonitis in his knees. Actually, his condition was similar to the injury that forced Phillies second baseman Chase Utley to miss the first two months of last season, yet Iguodala is rarely talked about as a gritty and scrappy player the way Utley is.

Ah, so maybe there’s a personality issue or something.

Iguodala is a bit of a rarity in sports in that he is a truth teller. He’s immune to cliché (well, as much as possible) and actually answers questions. Want an answer? Iguodala has one. And though it could be off the mark like some of his long-range jumpers, he’s always provocative. For instance, last year Iguodala and the team's top draft choice, Evan Turner, clashed a bit. It wasn't anything serious, just two guys from diffrent perspectives trying to figure each ither out. So, when asked about it, Iguodala presented a thoughtful, honest answer.

“Evan and I have had a pretty interesting year together — good and bad,” Iguodala said. “We’ve always tried to lean on each other. Over the past week we really bonded and I was happy to see him be in position to do something good and follow through with it.

“I’ve been saying all year that he’s a confidence guy and when his confidence is high, he plays really well. When his confidence is down, he has a lot of self doubt and he doesn’t believe in himself,” Iguodala explained. “But we all know he can play ball and we’ve had many arguments throughout the year in regard to talents and he’s going to prove a lot of people wrong.

“We had a chance to sit down and we had dinner together and were together for about three hours. We just reflected on the whole year and things that happened and what could have changed and things that made us better people or held us back a little bit. It was a good chat.”

When do athletes ever talk like that? It’s kind of like when asked a simple question about whether he will return to the Sixers next year and instead chooses to discuss the legacy he hopes to build.

“I always think about that, keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever — Dr. J, Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones, Hal Greer, Wilt Chamberlain. The franchise has been here forever. And just for my name to be brought up for the guy with the most steals in team history is something I've always thought about,” Iguodala said. “I want to continue to climb the charts and take the team to the next level.”

No, Iguodala is not like most of the athletes that have come through town. He seems to be a strange mix of Charles Barkley, Donovan McNabb and Scott Rolen. At different times all three of those guys were the most beloved or loathed athletes in town. Iguodala is just different. He's the guy a lot of folks just can't accept for who he is.

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

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

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

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

My, how far we have come.

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

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

He was sick of losing.

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

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

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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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Pat Burrell is no Gil Hodges

Burrell_chooch This is the lull. Free agency doesn’t officially begin until Sunday, and the World Series was too painful for many to watch after the Phillies went belly up against the Giants in the NLCS. Of course it didn’t help that the Giants had a pretty easy time with the Rangers, either.

Still, there isn’t much that will be memorable about the 2010 World Series. The pitching duels between Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum didn’t exactly pan out, and the Rangers’ offense that tore apart the Yankees, didn't show up.

Actually, the Giants’ offense didn’t exactly conjure memories of Willie Mays or Willie McCovey or even Will Clark. Edgar Renteria was the MVP because he hit two home runs and got seven hits against a team that had one run in its last three losses.

Hitting-wise the World Series was disappointing, though not an all-time worst. That’s excluding former Phillie Pat Burrell, who not only set a record for the most strikeouts in a five-game series (in four game, no less), but also appeared to be defying physics, geometry and basic biology by failing to put the bat on the ball.

How bad was Burrell?

Let’s take a look…

***

As the 1952 World Series bounced back and forth for a week during a tense, ping-ponging of leads and ties, people in the borough of Brooklyn went to church to light candles and pray for Gil Hodges. Watch any of those saccharine-sweet documentaries about the so-called “Golden Age” of baseball when the Dodgers still played in Brooklyn and the Giants were still in the Polo Grounds in Harlem and invariably there will be a segment about Gil Hodges and the ’52 World Series.

Hodges went 0-for-21 with six strikeouts and five walks during the seven game series against the Yankees, which very well could be the most famous slump of all time. In fact, Hodges’ epic oh-fer is one of those flashpoints in time for a lot of baseball fans. Shoot, even Charlie Manuel has spoken about Hodges not being able to get a hit against the Yankees in the World Series, a moment from his youth he recounted in pre-game chats with the scribes. Manuel was eight during the 1952 World Series and said it was unbelievable to imagine a hitter like Hodges struggling like he did.

Would Gil Hodges ever get a hit? The Brooklyn fans held up their end, including Father Herbert Redmond of St. Francis in the borough who announced during an unseasonably warm mass, “It's far too hot for a homily. Keep the Commandments and say a prayer for Gil Hodges.”

With Hodges batting sixth for the Dodgers in the Game 7 at Ebbets Field, he was able to tie the game in the fourth inning on a ground out. But with no outs in the sixth inning and the tying run on first base, Hodges grounded into a double play to further dishearten the Dodgers’ spirits. They got two more base runners for the rest of the game as the Yankees won yet another title.

It’s still easy to wonder how Brooklyn’s fortunes would have turned if Hodges had gotten just one hit in the World Series. Considering he led the team with 32 homers, 102 RBIs and 107 walks, the Dodgers’ success or failure was tied to Hodges’ ability to drive the ball. Strangely, in ’52, Hodges hit 15 fair balls in seven games and not a one of them dropped onto the grass for a hit.

Funny game.

But was Hodges worse than the 0-for-13 with 11 strikeouts Pat Burrell posted for the Giants in five games of the 2010 World Series? Think about that for a second… Burrell went to the plate 15 times, he walked twice, popped out twice and was benched once. So in four games he flailed hopelessly at pitches, rarely putting the onus on the defense to make a play.

He swung and he missed. And then he did it all over again.

Now the extremists in the religion of advanced metrics will tell you that a strikeout is just one out, no different than any other. They will also explain that instead of bouncing into a double play during the sixth inning of Game 7 of the 1952 World Series, Gil Hodges would have been better off striking out. And you know what? Technically they are correct.

But do you remember the feeling of what it was like to strikeout in little league in front of family and friends or in a legion game where your smart-ass friends were sitting a few rows up in the bleachers making wise cracks at every swing and miss? You do? Well, guess what… it’s the same thing for a lot of major leaguers. The feeling of crippling failure that a strikeout leaves one with never goes away, according to some of the guys who have done it in the big leagues. In fact, some guys don’t even want to talk about the strikeouts. When the subject was brought up to Ryan Howard after he set the single-season record for whiffs, the normally affable slugger clammed up and brushed off the significance of the strikeout.

“It’s just one out,” he said dejectedly.

It is just one out, but it’s also the greatest indication of failure in sports. It even looks nasty in the scorebook with that vulgar-looking “K” slotted next to a hitter’s name. For Burrell, his ledger was riddled with them, closing out his time with the Giants with seven of those ugly Ks in his last two games.

So in going 0-for-13 with just two fair balls against the Rangers, did Pat Burrell have the worst World Series ever? Hell, is Burrell the worst World Series player to win two titles? With the Phillies in ’08 and the Giants this October, Burrell is 1-for-27 with 16 whiffs. He has fewer hits in the Fall Classic than Cliff Lee and the same amount as pitchers Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels and utility man Eric Bruntlett—in far fewer at-bats, too.

Yet his 1-for-27 has come to two rings. That’s two more than Ted Williams and Ernie Banks and one more than Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, George Brett and Mike Schmidt.

Nevertheless, it’s a tough to determine if Burrell’s performance is the worst because the Giants won the series in five games. They won it despite Burrell’s strikeout with two on and one out in the seventh inning of a tied Game 5. Burrell whiffed on a 3-2 pitch from Cliff Lee with first base open in what had been the biggest at-bat of the game to that point…

Three pitches later Edgar Renteria hit a home run to deliver the title to San Francisco for the very first time.

Burrell_parade Indeed, Burrell, unlike others, was left off the hook. Maybe that was because the Jesuits at his alma mater Bellarmine Prep in nearby San Jose, Calif. lit some candles for him?

Evan Longoria was not so lucky. In 2008 he went 1-for-20 with nine strikeouts in a series where the Phillies won three of the five games by one run. Like Burrell and Hodges, Longoria was a middle-of-the-order hitter for the Rays who’s only hit of the series drove home a run in Game 5.

The one we remember all too well in these parts came during the 1983 World Series where Mike Schmidt dug in against the Orioles 20 times and got one hit in five games. Schmidt, of course, was the MVP of the 1980 World Series, but three years later he whiffed six times and came to bat 10 times with runners on base and four times with runners in scoring position, yet got just one chance to run the bases.

When Schmidt did barely loop one over the infield and onto the turf at The Vet, base runners moved, a rally started and a run actually crossed the plate. It’s funny how that happens.

Weirdly, Schmidt batted .467 with a homer and three extra-base hits in the NLCS before managing to eke out one bloop single in the World Series. That’s kind of reminiscent of the postseason experienced by Placido Polanco in 2006.

In leading the Tigers back to the World Series, Polanco batted .471 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, including .529 during the ALCS to take home MVP honors, only to hang up an 0-for-17 in five games against the Cardinals.

Odder yet, Polanco whiffed just once during the ’06 World Series. The same goes for Scott Rolen in ’04 when he went 0-for-15 with just one whiff against the Red Sox. Rolen very well could have been the MVP of the NLCS on the strength of a seventh-inning homer off Roger Clemens to give the Cardinals the lead they never relinquished. In fact, Rolen belted two other homers in the Cardinals’ Game 2 victory and had six RBIs in the series, which was dwarfed by four homers and a 14-for-28 showing from Albert Pujols.

Of course Rolen whiffed nine times in that series, too, yet still managed to get some big hits.

Not in the World Series, though. Better yet, both Polanco and Rolen put the ball in play to make something happen, but walked away with nothing. Kind of like Hodges.

Funny game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AP101006059170 'Filthy. Filthy. Completely filthy'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Votto probably explained it best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picking on the wrong guy

RolenThe message was relayed quickly. It had to be since it was about life and death… or at least about whether or not I would be picked up and stuffed into a trash can. Considering that I am 6-foot-1 and heavier than I have ever been in my life—far heavier than the comfortable 160 pounds I prefer to carry—the fact that the trash-can stuff wasn’t hyperbole was a bit worrisome.

“You tell him the next time I see him I’m going to kick his ass,” was the message Scott Rolen sent through Mike Radano to give to me.

OK, it was a joke (I hope!), but after zinging Rolen the day before about his recent health history only to hear how back spasms kept him out of the lineup, yeah, the ass-kicking retort was the play right there.

“Tell him I’m ready whenever he is,” was my reply. Hey, why not? Since we’re just joking around (I hope!), might as well return the volley. C’mon, like Scott Rolen is really going to beat me up. Why would he waste his time? Sure, I zinged him pretty good—all in good fun—but would he really go through with a pretend threat?

Yeah, I probably should have kept my mouth shut.

That was never more evident than Tuesday night when Rolen turned into a human bowling ball before turning his former Cardinals’ teammate Chris Carpenter into a human ragdoll. Knowing the brotherhood and comradery that goes on inside of a baseball clubhouse and the fact Rolen and Carpenter were teammates for a long time with the Cardinals, I got scared. If Rolen can pick up a 6-for-6, 250-pound dude like Carpenter and heave him against the backstop with a crush of ballplayers all jostling and grabbing one another around him, I realized I was going to become intimate with the inside of a trashcan whether we were joking around or not.

This is especially true after it was revealed that Rolen was trying to be the peacemaker. Reports say Rolen rushed at Carpenter after the pitcher exacerbated the situation by yelling at Reds’ manager Dusty Baker. “We're not going to let this happen,” Rolen reportedly shouted at Carpenter before grabbing a hold of him shoving him against the backstop. “We're not going to let this happen.”

Not sure of the context there, but it makes Rolen sound like a “peacemaker” much like Clint Eastwood in Fistful of Dollars.

“It was two teams defending their own people, and standing up for their own players and managers and coaches, so … that got ugly and obviously it was heated when it started,” Rolen said.

OK, by now most baseball fans saw the donnybrook that occurred in Cincinnati last night spurred on by Reds’ second baseman Brandon Phillips calling the Cardinals, “whiny bitches.” Maybe Phillips’ words were not the most diplomatic of things to say, but harmless nonetheless. The paradox, of course, was when relayed of what Phillips said, Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa acted like a little whiny bitch. Truth be told, La Russa has been called a lot worse than a whiny bitch, but as they say, “The truth hurts.”

The only people upset by being called “whiny bitches” are little whiny bitches. At least that’s my theory.

For those who didn’t see it, take a look.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Anyway, whiny bitches aside, the Reds-Cards brawl was a pretty good one by baseball standards. It was almost like one of those classic old-timey fights from the 1970s where someone like Spaceman Bill Lee would get body slammed by Carlton Fisk or Don Zimmer… and yes, they were on the same team. Besides, when is the last time a baseball fight was sparked by a silly quote in a newspaper? Maybe that’s the underlying theme in all of this not being discussed? If not for the written word, would anyone gotten worked up over Phillips’ comment? Would Scott Rolen have had to choke a whiny bitch?

The short answer? No.

Which brings us back to the main point… why would anyone start a fight with Rolen hovering around the area? To start with, the dude has the widest shoulders I’ve ever seen. Coat racks? Not even close—they are more like the size of a walk-in closet. At 6-foot-4, Rolen has to walk sideways through a standard doorway because his shoulders are so wide. Plus, when he shakes your hand, your hand and part of the wrist disappears. He just swallows it up.

Here’s how intimidating Rolen is… when ex-Phillies manager Larry Bowa was talking trash about him in the Daily News in June of 2001, Rolen burst into the manager’s office in St. Petersburg before a game against the Devil Rays and said, “I came in here with the intent to kick your ass.”

Now as far as great quotes reported in a newspaper go, Rolen telling Bowa he was going to be turned into a hand puppet is almost up there with Phillips calling the Cardinals “whiny bitches.” The difference, of course, was Phillips’ words are very comical. They were so funny that you can go back and re-read them a second after the first read and they would still be funny. And, if they are being read aloud, the right interpretation could be a one-man act.

Imagine a dramatic reading of Brandon Phillips by Christopher Walken. It works on so many different levels.

But with Rolen telling Bowa to get ready to get his ass kicked, that was serious. If Bowa would have left a little puddle on the ground next to his shoes it would have been completely understandable. Most times Rolen is a really funny dude with that dry wit typical of his fellow Indianans, David Letterman, John Cougar Mellencamp or Larry Bird.

Yet for some reason certain folks from Indiana seem to react to every slight or insult. When he was in playing in Philly, Rolen looked like he played baseball because he wanted revenge for something. It was something to see. Sure, guys with his sensibilities have traits that can be a bit alienating, but whatever. We appreciate iconoclastic tendencies here. In fact, it’s the preferred style we like from our athletes here at The Food. Better yet, there are no hidden meanings when Rolen plays third base or circles the bases. It’s all effort and power with some finesse sprinkled in around third base with some glove work that even forced Mike Schmidt to admit that Rolen was the best he’d ever seen. There also is no searching for nuance, which somehow makes his game appealing. Rolen really doesn't have any style when he plays and anyone with a sense of fashion will tell you, sometimes no style is style.

Or something.

The point is, the next time we cross paths I’m just going to throw myself onto the ground like someone about to be mauled by a grizzly or a jaguar.

Think it will work?

Helping out with the All-Stars


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

The buck stops with Charlie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Rolen 3B — Scott Rolen, Cincinnati

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

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

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

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

But back to Rolen…

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

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

Indiana.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You talking to me?

Legend has it that rookie Scott Rolen once left the Phillies clubhouse at the Vet after getting hit repeatedly by Dodgers’ pitcher Hideo Nomo, strolled over to the visiting clubhouse, and called out the pitcher. Essentially, according to the legend, Rolen told Nomo that the beanballs stopped now, only not so nice.

From that point on, Rolen always hit well against Nomo.

This apparently occurred back when there weren’t TV cameras everywhere or guys with BlackBerrys ready to put the TwitPic online.

Yes, those were simpler times.

Nevertheless, when Prince Fielder left the visitors’ clubhouse at Dodger Stadium to go into there were teammates, cameras and security guards on the scene. The next thing you know, voila, there’s a YouTube video.

Like this one:

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.”

Baseball Heaven

image from fingerfood.typepad.com ST. LOUIS – Remember back when those quotes attributed to Scott Rolen surfaced? You remember, it was shortly after the third baseman was traded to the Cardinals from Philadelphia. It was something about his new team being located in “Baseball Heaven.”

You know, “I feel like I’ve died and gone to baseball heaven.”

Of course you remember. It just added a little more to that annoying self-image problem they have in Philadelphia.

Well, guess what? Maybe you want to come in a little closer so I can whisper this to you. Certainly I don’t want to get anyone worked up into a lather or hurt anyone’s delicate little psyche. But here it goes:

Rolen was right.

There, I said it.

St. Louis is baseball heaven. Take the way they feel about football in Texas, hockey in Canada and sprinkle in some surfing in Hawaii and then, maybe, you will understand how they feel about baseball and their Cardinals in St. Louis.

They’re nuts.

Oh, and it’s not just the kids, the 18-to-35 age demographic, or the grandfathers who saw Dizzy Dean and the Gas House Gang whip the Yankees at Sportsmen’s Park in the ’26 World Series, either. Nope. It’s everyone. They all dress in Cardinals red, they all cheer loudly for their hometown players and clap politely in appreciation for good play by an opponent.

Do they boo? Um, does the Pope date?

Actually, that’s not completely true. When Ted Lilly of the Cubs was introduced before Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, the fans sounded like Philadelphians when Rolen and J.D. Drew showed up on D-Battery night at The Vet. But before it was assumed an unruly St. Louis fan was going to reach for their flare gun and fire off a shot across the diamond, the booing stopped. Sure, it was loud, but it was good natured.

Darnit, it was friendly.

But c’mon… there is nothing more odious and ridiculous that comparing the fans of St. Louis to the fans of Philadelphia. It’s just a dumb exercise. Different folks, different strokes.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com However, the friendliest people on earth just might live in St. Louis. Make that obscene friendly. It’s like cartoonish friendliness, the kind that makes Will Rogers look like surly ol’ Dick Cheney. So mix that with the Budweiser Beer that flows deeper than the mighty Mississippi just spitting distance away from the ballpark and the surprisingly majestic Gateway Arch, and it’s no wonder everyone is so tickled and happy.

And it’s no wonder they love those Cardinals.

I saw the strangest thing yesterday while walking from the hotel (which just so happened to be located on the spot where President Harry S Truman was photographed in one of history’s greatest moments of taunting when he held up the Chicago newspaper that read, “Dewey Defeats Truman) to the ballpark for an evening of All-Star baseball, rooftop sniper sightings and Pedro-mania! What I saw was an old lady, with an uncanny resemblance to Estelle Getty, strolling around town with a Willie McGee t-shirt.

Seriously, Willie McGee! I mean, who didn’t love Willie McGee – he was a terrific ballplayer. But who would ever put Willie McGee’s visage on a t-shirt and then sell it to people. It was the weirdest thing ever.

Maybe not as weird as the veritable throng of people that lined the downtown streets like it was V-E Day and tossed back some Budweiser and some Mardi Gras beads as the All-Stars paraded from their digs at the Hyatt to Busch Stadium. The players weren’t doing anything other than riding in a car. Some waved. Others scowled. Yadier Molina, the Cardinals’ catcher, tossed baseball cards to the throng. Reports are his throws repeatedly fell short.

Oh, and get this: during the All-Star Game I crossed paths with the great Stan Musial. They called Stan, “The Man,” and for good reason. One look at his career statistics and it’s tough not to wonder why he was given the nickname of a mere mortal. Man? No, that guy could hit like 20 Men, but “Stan The Men,” doesn’t have the same ring.

Nevertheless, approaching his 90th birthday, Stan gets around in a wheelchair these days. He also doesn’t carry around a harmonica and inexplicably break into song the way he used to on those corny baseball reels. He also is depicted in his classic batting stance in 15-feet of bronze statue in front of the entrance of the new Busch Stadium located on a stretch of road named, Stan Musial Drive.

So yes, Stan Musial is kind of a big deal in these parts. People lose their minds when they see him up close even though he retired as a player at age 42 in 1963.

But get this, Stan gave me his autograph last night. It was a pre-emptive autographing. He just rolled over and handed me a postcard with his picture and signature on it. I didn’t ask – hadn’t even occurred to me that one should ask Stan Musial for his autograph – and I’m not sure it’s even something I need. However, Stan just assumed that people want his autograph so he travels with a pile of signed cards and hands them out like gum drops.

Unsolicited autographing? Really? Cool.

Maybe that just goes to show how crazy they are for baseball in St. Louis. After all, Stan Musial rolls with piles of autographs to drop onto the populace like confetti. In fact, he’s how goofy St. Louis is for baseball – old ladies who look like Estelle Getty wear Willie McGee shirts and young kids with iPhones in front of a PlayStation game at the massive baseball mall the constructed on the downtown streets, wear replica shirts with Musial’s No. 6 on the back.

St. Louis, thy name is Baseballtopia.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com But for every Willie McGee and Stan Musial shirt worn, there are 9,173 people wearing something celebrating Albert Pujols. Stan is The Man, Albert is The King or, El Hombre. The truth is Albert Pujols is so popular and beloved in St. Louis that he could strangle a man to death in cold blood in front of thousands of people beneath the Gateway Arch and the town would be cool with it.

They would probably say the guy had it coming and hope that by strangling a guy Pujols didn’t mess up his swing in any way.

Yep, they love baseball in St. Louis. When describing Philadelphia fans as “frontrunners” last year on the now-defunct “Best Damn Sports Show,” Jimmy Rollins cited St. Louis and the love the citizens have for the Cardinals as an example of how ballplayers like the fans to behave.

Guess what? Rollins isn’t the only one with that sentiment. It is Baseball Heaven, after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, that Slash.

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

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

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

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

Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

A slight return

Scott RolenWith former Phillie Scott Rolen headed for the Toronto Blue Jays (pending a physical) and their spring training camp in Dunedin, Fla. — just five miles and two turns from the Phillies’ training site in Clearwater, Fla. — who wants to make a bet that one day the new Jay forgets what year it is and accidentally drives over to the Carpenter Complex?

Anyone?

On another note, a trade from the Cardinals and, most importantly, away from Tony La Russa is just the first step… the time spent in Dunedin and the two trips to Citizens Bank Park in 2008 will convince Rolen that Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs aren’t the answer for the Phillies at the hot corner and in the interest of karma, the cycle of life and what-goes-around-comes-around, Rolen must return to where it all started…

… If he’s healthy, of course, because they always come back.

It’s not me, it’s you

Scott & TonySo the Phillies went to the Opryland Resort in Nashville for the Winter Meetings and came back empty handed (though I bet one of the guys in the travelling party swiped a towel or two and all of the sample bottles of shampoo and soap… they know who they are), which really isn’t much of a surprise. After all, just a few weeks ago general manager Pat Gillick told the local scribes to stay home to save them from the boredom.

Then he said he wanted to leave Nashville with a pitcher. In between all of that he called Randy Wolf a jerk for choosing his family and sunny California over dreary Philadelphia and its bandbox of a ballpark.

Nevertheless, the Phillies and… well, the nothing they left with was hardly the most interesting part of the Winter Meetings. Instead, the most interesting part of the Winter Meetings was Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa’s verbal thrashing of ex-Phillie (and soon to be ex-Cardinal) Scott Rolen in which he ripped the gold glove third baseman a new one before adding, “But of course we’d like to have him back… I don’t understand why he wouldn’t want to come back.”

Then he looked to the side, flashed his lashes coquettishly with his hands jammed into his pockets as he shyly twisted his foot into the ground. Seconds later, a balloon cloud appeared adjacent to the halo above La Russa’s head with, “I’m a li’l stinker,” written in it.

Tony La Russa is, indeed, a little stinker. He’s also a hypocrite and a jackass, but we’ll get into that soon enough. Let’s backtrack to the stuff he said about Rolen for a second.

Here’s the Greatest Hits version from La Russa’s diatribe at Opryland on Wednesday:

“It was unanimous that everyone was for me except him. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t care. What I care about is that he re-establish his stature as a major league productive star.”

“Scott’s got a lot of goodness to him. … I think he has been a team man. He plays a team sport. I don’t think he’s going to want to be the one guy and the 24 guys on the other side of the room.”

“There’s absolutely no intention to accommodate Scott. I mean, that’s not how you run an organization. The idea is to accommodate the St. Louis Cardinals, our team, our responsibility to our players and to the competition. So, no, I don’t want to accommodate Scott. But somebody doesn’t want to be part of the situation, you investigate it.”

“Nobody has more often said that I don’t think Scott should be traded than me. I think he should be with our club. I think we need him. We need him to reassert himself as an impact player. I don’t care what anybody wants in a trade. We need him and we expect him to be productive.”

“It’s very clear that he’s unhappy. And I’m making it clear that I don’t know why he’s unhappy. I can make a list of 50 respect points that this man has been given by our organization. It’s time for him to give back.”

“He’s got a contract to play, and we need him to play. And he’s going to be treated very honestly.”

“If he plays hard and he plays as well as he can, he plays. And if he doesn’t, he can sit. If he doesn’t like it, he can quit.”

“I think he’s strong-minded enough that I don’t see his opinion changing on a personal basis. And it’s gotten to the point that I don’t care. What I care about is that he re-establish his stature as a Major League productive star. And that’s one of the points I’ve tried to make to him.

“We’ve had issues where guys are saying, ‘What’s going on with Scott?’ And he needs to understand that he’s slipped, not in his play, but just in the way he’s perceived as being the Scott we’ve known for a few years. And I think that means a lot to him. He can play mad every day if he wants to. It’s OK.”

“He asked to be traded, so under normal circumstances if a guy doesn’t want to be part of your situation, then you consider that. So inquiries have been made. There hasn’t been anything happening so far that would make the guys in charge pull the trigger . . . I’m just saying from a manager’s point of view, I consistently say don’t trade him. And I say that because one of our important needs is to have somebody who can hit behind Albert [ Pujols].

“I think he has put some things together in his mind and I think he needs to understand that the Cardinals have given him a lot since he’s gotten here. He’s been given a contract, a world championship, and he’s given back some. And so, we need him.”

So yeah, La Russa told Rolen he’s a bad teammate and that everyone else likes the manager but him so he should just shut up and play for a guy he does not like. I don’t know otherwise, but I’m also guessing there isn’t much respect for La Russa either. Sure, he’s a good manager and all of that and Rolen had problems with his last manager before the Phillies sent him to St. Louis.

But I don’t think Rolen ever had to go to court to plead guilty for being drunk and asleep behind the wheel of his car in the middle of an intersection. I also dug around and can’t find any YouTube videos of Rolen flunking a field sobriety test.

I found one of Tony La Russa, though. Here it is:

Two months after this event occurred in Florida, one of La Russa’s pitchers (Josh Hancock) was killed when he was driving drunk. Actually, it was reported that in the days prior to Hancock’s death La Russa had a meeting with the pitcher about drinking.

But really, that isn’t La Russa’s problem. Nor does he set the agenda that Major League Baseball is in business with companies that push the last legal drug. Instead, La Russa’s job is simply to win baseball games and if it takes tearing down Scott Rolen in order to do so, that’s part of it.

Tony La RussaYes, his job is to win baseball games and it’s something he does very well. Better yet, La Russa seems to have a laser focus on winning games to the point that nothing else matters. It’s all about La Russa and winning ballgames.

For instance, La Russa has been an ardent defender of Mark McGwire and the allegations of performance-enhancing drug use during the former player’s assault on the single-season home run records. In 2006, after McGwire’s infamous showing before the Congressional House Government Reform Committee, La Russa continued to maintain that his former player was “legal,” which is a bit semantically. McGwire admitted to using then-legal steroid, androstenedione.

“I have long felt, and still do, there are certain players who need to publicize the legal way to get strong,” La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in March of 2006. “That’s my biggest complaint. When those players have been asked, they’ve been very defensive or they’ve come out and said ‘Whatever.’ Somebody should explain that you can get big and strong in a legal way. If you’re willing to work hard and be smart about what you ingest, it can be done in a legal way.”

Nothing has dissuaded La Russa from believing McGwire was clean.

“That’s the basis of why I felt so strongly about Mark. I saw him do that for years and years and years. That’s why I believe it. I don’t have anything else to add. Nothing has happened since he made that statement to change my mind.”

La Russa managed the Oakland A’s when McGwire and Jose Canseco were the most-feared slugging duo in the game. Canseco, of course, detailed his (and McGwire’s) steroid use in his book, Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big. But when he played for La Russa, Canseco was something of a “steroid evangelist,” as Howard Bryant wrote in his book, Juicing the Game:

He talked about steroids all of the time, about what they could do and how they helped him. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Canseco put the A’s in a difficult position. The question of his steroid use and the possible use by another teammate, budding superstar named Mark McGwire, grew to be an open suspicion.

Deeply compromised was Tony La Russa. Canseco often spoke unapologetically about steroids, yet La Russa did nothing about it. … La Russa knew about Canseco’s steroid use because Canseco had told him so. Under the spirit of baseball’s rules, La Russa could have contacted his boss, Sandy Alderson, who in turn could have told the Commissioner’s office. That’s how the chain of command was supposed to work, but Canseco was a superstar player, an MVP, and the cornerstone of the Oakland revival. Turning him in would have produced a high-profile disaster. La Russa, knowing that his best player was a steroid user, did nothing.

In fact, La Russa did more than nothing. He not only did not talk to Alderson, but actively came to Canseco’s defense. …

But perhaps the best example of La Russa’s unwavering focus on winning baseball games at the sacrifice of everything else came when he was just beginning as Major League manager for the Chicago White Sox in 1983. Just as the White Sox had broken camp and were to begin the ’83 season that ended with the White Sox winning the AL West, La Russa’s wife, Elaine, called from Florida to tell her husband that she and their 4-year old and 1-year old daughters would not be joining him in Chicago because she had, as detailed in Buzz Bissinger’s 3 Nights in August, been diagnosed with pneumonia and required hospitalization.

According to Bissinger:

La Russa responded to the news with a fateful decision, one that would cement his status as a baseball man but would define him in another way.

Based on a strong finish in 1982, the expectations were high for the White Sox in 1983. But the season got off to a wretched start, mired at 16 and 24. Floyd Bannister was having trouble winning anything. La Marr Hoyt had a record of 2 and 6 and Carlton Fisk was a mess at the plate. In the middle of May, the team had lost eight of nine games. Toronto swept them; then Baltimore swept them. La Russa found himself fighting for his life, or what he mistook for his life. He had a team that was supposed to win, that had spent money on free agents and had good pitching and still wasn’t winning. The only reason he was still around was because of the vision of White Sox owner Reinsdorf, who continued to stand by him. So he did what he thought he had to do: He called his sister in Tampa and asked whether she could take care of the kids so he could take care of baseball.

Bissinger writes that La Russa regretted the decision and has never forgiven himself, but a pattern of behavior that put baseball before anything and everything else was in motion.

So yeah, maybe Rolen does have a problem with La Russa, though the manager just can’t seem to figure it out.

“I keep saying it, I don’t understand. I told him this. He’s never given me an explanation,” La Russa said. “I don’t understand why he can be down on the Cardinals, and I don’t understand why he can be down on me.”

Maybe people just don’t get along? Maybe there is no explanation? Or, perhaps, maybe some people don’t want to be judged by the company they keep. Either way, it doesn’t seem as if Rolen is going to change his position and it appears very certain that La Russa hasn’t done anything different than he had done in the past.

Paying attention is hard – Part III

Scott RolenInterestingly, third basemen Mike Lowell and Scott Rolen have the same agent. Even more interesting, the Phillies have not inquired about making a deal for either player. But then again, the team says all they are interested in is adding pitching.

Yeah, we’ve been all over this before.

But it’s free agency period and everyone is into the Hot Stove stuff which means memories are short or ears are clogged or both. People will pay attention to what they want and they will only hear enough to keep the rumor-mongers in business. That’s what it is now – rumors and innuendo. Forget about facts and news. That’s boring.

It’s boring like the news from the St. Louis papers regarding Rolen, who reportedly is seeking a trade away from the Cardinals because of a damaged relationship with manager Tony La Russa. This is old news. In fact, it was well known last summer that Rolen did not want to return to the Cardinals in 2008 if La Russa was going to remain the team’s manager. But with La Russa signed on for a couple more years, it has come to light that Rolen is seeking a trade.

Again, no surprise there.

Here’s the thing though – because Rolen apparently wants to be traded away from the Cardinals and because it’s assumed the Phillies are after a third baseman because it’s also assumed that they need one (even though the Phillies say obtaining a third baseman is “not a priority”), immediately the Rolen-to-Phillies stories creep up.

What are we missing here?

Oh yeah, how about the facts. Like the fact that Rolen has a no-trade clause with an unwritten line that states, “I’ll waive it for anywhere but Baghdad or Philadelphia.” Or the fact that Rolen still has three years remaining on his contract and is owed $36 million coupled with the report that the Cards will not help pay the freight. What about the fact that Rolen missed most of 2005 and 2007 seasons because of injuries that may or may not have taken away some of his offensive punch.

Do the facts matter or do they just get in the way of a good story?

Answers: No and yes.

Either way, let us reinterate the main point again – Rolen has a no-trade clause. It means he can’t be traded anywhere unless he waives it and this is often done for a hefty fee. Knowing what we know about Rolen’s first 6½ seasons in Philadelphia and the way he was received in all of his visits since 2002, what sane person would think he’d want to return to play for the Phillies, let alone fly over the city in the Enola Gay?

And don’t give me a silly answer like, “money” because Rolen already accepted a smaller paycheck to play for St. Louis.

Look, certainly Rolen is not the first player Tony La Russa rubbed the wrong way. Needless to say, La Russa isn’t the first manager Rolen has had trouble with. Actually, it seems as if the only manager Rolen did well with was Terry Francona. Let’s be hypocrites and play the rumor game, only we’ll be a little more original and make up one of our own…

Ready?

OK, Lowell signs with the Cardinals and Rolen gets traded to the Red Sox… how does that work?

Hey, it’s the best I could come up with on short notice.

But, you know, paying attention is hard. That’s especially true when the real story gets in the way of the more entertaining story.

Speaking of which, Mike Lowell ain’t coming to Philadelphia either… then again, what does his agent or Phils’ GM Pat Gillick know?

So long, sailor…
DeitchIt’s worth noting that Dennis Deitch of the Delaware County Daily Times finally found a seat with a desk. That means regular hours, holidays off and no more travelling around following a baseball team all summer long. That frees him up to do… well, whatever it is he does. Dungeons & Dragons, I guess. Perhaps some Everquest with Curt Schilling, poker at the Borgata and more time spent honing his act as the new crocodile hunter.

To that end we wish Dennis well, note our envy and hope he learns how to duck and move a little more quickly. For us that remain the departure means no more ridiculously riotous comments made with pitch-perfect timing[1]. For us, that sucks.

But kudos, Dennis. Kudos.

If you’re scoring at home, the scribes now have subtracted Marcus Hayes and Deitch from the ranks… I say the beat guys get to vote the next guy off the island. Does it work that way?


[1] Timing, of course, is relative. Perhaps Dennis’ timing is perfect because it’s so inappropriate? That’s probably the case.

We’re so outta here

TitoThere is no such thing as the ex-Phillies curse. There might be an ex-Cubs curse and the curse of Kenny Lofton[1] appears to be alive and well, but as far as the Phillies go, there is no such jinx[2].

In fact, leaving the Philadelphia Phillies for another team is a really good career move. How good? Going back to the last time the Phillies were actually in the World Series there has been at least one former Phillie to play in the Series in every season except for 1998. If the Red Sox manage to beat the Rockies this year, it will be four straight World Series where an ex-Phillie plays an instrumental role.

Need names? OK.

Scott Rolen for the Cardinals last year; Cliff Politte for the White Sox in 2005; and of course, Curt Schilling and Terry Francona for the Red Sox in 2004.

The last two names are the most interesting. Actually, Schilling isn’t so interesting because he is one of those guys who can pick and choose where he wants to play. He wanted the Phillies to trade him to the Diamondbacks and a year later he was pitching in the World Series. When the D’backs were ready for their big fire sale, Schilling was able to wrangle a deal to the Red Sox, a team that missed out on the World Series because of Aaron Boone’s home run in Game 7 of the ALCS the previous year.

What Schilling wants, Schilling gets – but really, where’s the fun in that? It’s not exactly the noblest tact, but whatever…

But when Schilling worked the trade to Boston at Thanksgiving of 2003, one thing he wanted was Terry Francona as the manager of the Red Sox. It wasn’t the most popular move to the Red Sox fans during that 2004 season, but they got over it pretty quickly. Now in his fourth season as the Red Sox skipper, Francona is heading to his second World Series after ending the franchises’ 86-year “curse” in ’04. Francona, it seems, is a pretty good manager after all.

Go figure.

Jim Salisbury examined the rise of Tito in the Inquirer today. In the story Francona’s days as the manager of the Phillies were especially noted. Hired to manage the Phillies before the 1997 season when he was just 37, Francona’s job, it seems now, was just to bide time until the Phillies could get the new stadium built and then find a better manager.

Francona, it was reasoned, had the temperament to deal with the young Phillies players as well as take the lumps in the press. And aside from giving the manager Rolen and Schilling, the team really wanted Francona to take a beating.

Francona definitely took it, the Phillies eventually built their new stadium, but did they get a better manager to replace him? Surely there will be plenty of folks to debate that one – especially in Philadelphia where there seems to be some resentment for those who find success elsewhere. The curious part about that is Francona was never expected to win in Philadelphia – what team in which four starters made more than 30 starts during the four-year run would be?

Why the resentment? Is it Francona’s fault that the Red Sox cared about winning and the Phillies just wanted to get a stadium built and hired Larry Bowa?

Schilling summed it up in the Inquirer:

“Nobody that matters or knows what they’re talking about sees him that way,” said Curt Schilling, who has spent eight of the last 11 seasons pitching for Francona, first in Philadelphia, now in Boston.

“Unfortunately, there are some people in Philadelphia that have the ability to shape opinions. There are some people in the media there that are the most ignorant sports people I’ve ever met.

“Terry’s really not any different than he was in Philadelphia. He just has an organization that understands winning and is committed to winning.”

And like Rolen and every other former Phillie that left town for greater glory, Philadelphia is hardly even a blip in Francona’s rear-view mirror:

“Regardless of what job I’ve had, I’ve never made it about myself,” he said after his team won the American League pennant Sunday night. “Really, I don’t care what people in Philadelphia think, especially from Woodhaven Road on down.”

So can Francona and Schilling do it again?

Yeah, why not…


[1] Kenny Lofton has made it to the playoffs in 11 of the past 13 seasons with six different teams and has been to the World Series twice. Both times his team lost. Moreover, in 20 playoff series, Lofton’s teams are 9-11. Then again, Lofton was a Cub during the infamous “Bartman” series. Does that mean Lofton himself is the jinx or the fact that he was on the Cubs make him a jinx?[2] Of course there are no such things as jinxes, curses or other otherworldly influences on sports, but for the sake of this argument we’ll just pretend to be stupid(er).

Goofin’ off

Whenever I want a good laugh I read my horoscope. Better yet, the astrology stuff that attempts to pinpoint my personality and future based on my birthday are the best. Because I was born on December 10 – like Emily Dickinson, Susan Dey and that big dude from The Green Mile – I’m supposed to be inscrutable and philosophical… or something like that.

Be that as it may, there are a lot of people who take their astrological sign and star charts seriously. In fact, some people treat it as a religion.

Along those lines is a report in The New York Times where Japanese baseball players are judged on their blood type.

Why blood type and not eye color?

Anyway, new Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka is a warrior who can face down any difficult situation – like facing Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez with no outs and the bases loaded – because his blood type is O.

Think I’m kidding? Read this story… like I wrote, it’s in The Times.

On another note, I happened to hear former Phillies manager and current Red Sox skipper, Terry Francona, on Dan Patrick’s radio show this afternoon while driving home with my son from his school. During the show, Patrick asked Tito if he anticipates and communication problems with the new, $52 million man who is set to pitch for the Red Sox.

No, Francona, said, adding, “If he wants to go out and pitch seven, eight or nine innings every night, I can pat him on the butt in any language.”

Factoid
This is from sometime ComcastSportsNet.com contributor and former “Best Damn Sports Show, Period” researcher, Bill Sudell:

Here’s how things are going at the Wachovia Center: The Flyers have won eight games, the 76ers only five. There are 31 teams – 23 in the NHL, which has played more of its schedule, and eight in the NBA – with as many or more wins than the 13 the Flyers and Sixers have combined.

Don’t let the door hit you…
Here’s a surprise – some Philadelphia police officers are happy to see Allen Iverson (reportedly) on his way out of town.

Here’s the money quotes via Philadelphia Will Do, via the Inquirer’s police blog:

“”He’s a hoodlum, a thug” proclaimed one police officer. Another one of Philly’s finest said, “He doesn’t make our lives any easier as cops. He thinks he can drive a thousand miles an hour down City Avenue and that no one is supposed to say anything to him.” Another officer commented how disgusted she was when he allegedly turned down a young fan looking to get his autograph at TGI Fridays.”

Just for the sake of nothing, I decided to look up all of the 76ers’ coaches during Allen Iverson’s time in Philadelphia. They are:

Johnny Davis 1997
Larry Brown 1998-2003
Randy Ayers 2003-2004
Chris Ford 2004
Jim O’Brien 2004-2005
Maurice Cheeks 2005- present

Meanwhile, just for fun, I decided to look up the managers Scott Rolen has played for during his career. Like Iverson, Rolen was the Rookie of the Year in 1997.

Jim Fregosi 1996
Terry Francona 1997-2000
Larry Bowa 2000-2002
Tony La Russa 2002- present

As one can tell from the list, Iverson really didn’t become a coach killer until Larry Brown bolted for Detroit. Meanwhile, Brown has been in and out of two organizations since leaving Philadelphia.

Downloaded playbook
Apparently, Eagles’ rookie Jeremy Bloom is resourceful. How resourceful? Well, instead of using his iPod to listen to music or watch movies, Bloom uses his handy-dandy little computer to learn the Eagles playbook.

According to a story on ESPN.com, the rookie out of CU-Boulder records himself reading the playbook, loads it onto his iPod, and then works out while listening to himself tell himself what to do.

The winning graf:

Eagles special teams coordinator John Harbaugh observed Bloom doing his solo work, but had no idea what he was listening to. “I thought there was music in that thing,” Harbaugh said.

Game 5: Three outs to go

When the Red Sox were three outs away from beating the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series, I woke up my then six-month old son and made him sit there with me to watch it end.

I thought the proper fatherly thing to do was to make sure that my son could say that he watched the Red Sox win their first World Series since 1918. After all, the last time the Red Sox had won the World Series, my grandmother was my son’s age.

But like my 88-year old grandmother, my son was born into a world where the Red Sox were the defending World Series champions.

Tonight, my son is 2½ and fast asleep. I’m not going to wake him even though the Cardinals are three outs away from winning the World Series after Jeff Weaver mowed the Tigers down in the eighth and picked up his ninth strikeout of the game. These days it’s just too hard to get him back to sleep, especially with the threat of monsters moving into hiding places in his room while he watches the end of the game.

Besides, he’s already seen the Red Sox win it all. I’d never seen it until my mid-30s.

Generally, though, I don’t root for teams, but I’ll admit that I’m happy for Scott Rolen. He’s my favorite player to watch and as I’ve stated on these pages before, if my son is ever interested in playing baseball and wants to learn how I’ll tell him to copy No. 27 for St. Louis.

It would be much more fun if I could say No. 17 for Philadelphia.

But there is no sense re-hashing all of that.

St. Louis sits on the verge thanks to eight errors by the Tigers. I suppose that’s how this series will be remembered. The Pirates in 1979 was the last time a team made errors in each of the first five games of the World Series. But unlike “The Family,” the Tigers didn’t have the fire power – or Willie Stargell – to overcome their ineptitude.

Three outs to go. The boy is fast asleep.

Game 5: Pitching and defense

It seems as if Placido Polanco is doing his imitation of Scott Rolen’s 2004 World Series. That’s kind of ironic, I guess, since the pair were traded for one another in 2002 from the Phillies and Cardinals.

Polanco isn’t swinging that bat poorly in this World Series, but he’s 0-for-17. This oh-fer comes after Polanco was the MVP of the ALCS. In 2004, Rolen went 0-for-15 in the World Series against the Red Sox after slugging the game-winning home run in Game 7 of the NLCS against Roger Clemens.

Polanco seemed to snap his skid in the seventh, but Albert Pujols may have made the play of the series to rob him. Far off the bag at first, Pujols dived to his right and snagged the ball in the web of his far-extended glove. But in order to nail the reasonably speedy Polanco, Pujols had to roll over to his rear, find pitcher Jeff Weaver streaking for first, and hit him with a hard throw from the seat of his pants just to nip Polanco by a step.

Meanwhile, La Russa started the seventh with a new right fielder and left fielder. So Taguchi shifted from left to right and Preston Wilson entered the game. It’s all about pitching and defense now, especially since the Cardinals have three outfielders who all have spent significant time as center fielders during their careers.

Defense continued to be a bane for the Tigers in the bottom of the seventh when David Eckstein reached first with an infield single when shortstop Carlos Guillen double-clutched on the throw to first. That was followed by a walk to the free-swinging Preston Wilson from reliever Fernando Rodney, who started the frame.

Perhaps his crooked hat, fashionably askew atop his head knocked him off kilter during the first two hitters of the seventh?

But Rodney got Pujols to pop out, and Edmonds to do the same. With two outs and two on Rolen dumped an RBI single to right just a few feet in front of Magglio Ordonez in right field.

Not only did that hit extend Rolen’s hitting streak to 10 games, but also it should have cinched the MVP Award for the former Phillie if the Cardinals can hold the lead.

The Cardinals ended the seventh with the 4-2 lead. They have six outs to go.

It’s Game 4!

More observations from Thursday night’s telecast of Game 4 of the World Series:

* Here’s something from Slate that says people dislike the Cardinals because they read Moneyball.

I’m not sure about the argument, though. Tony La Russa might have something to do with people’s dislike of the Cardinals, and around here Scott Rolen may have checkered some reaction to the Cards’ run to the World Series.

* Speaking of Rolen, it might not be too far-fetched to believe he could be the MVP of the World Series if the Cardinals win. After four games Rolen’s batting average is just a shade under .500 and his .813 slugging percentage for an 1.284 OPS. Players with lesser numbers have been named the series MVP.

The drawback, of course, is the RBIs. Rolen has just one in the series, and one in the entire post-season. Excluding pitchers, the fewest amount of RBIs by a World Series MVP are two by Derek Jeter in 2000, Rick Dempsey in 1983 and Pete Rose in 1975.

Perhaps Rolen needs just one more?

* Jayson Stark wonders if La Russa is toying with the Busch Stadium radar guns just to mess with Tigers’ reliever Joel Zumaya’s head.

* This is just a guess, but I would not be shocked if everyone is sick and tired of hearing that John Cougar Mellencamp song on that car commercial. In fact, I’m so annoyed by it that I don’t even know what type of car it’s for. Worse, it is now officially more annoying than Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock” car commercial song.

I don’t know what type of car that was for either, but chances are it’s not a car I’d buy.

* ESPN is taking on the ambitious task of adapting Jonathan Mahler’s wonderful book, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning. The eight-hour adaptation, starring John Turturro as Billy Martin and Oliver Platt as George Steinbrenner, is supposed to be ready for air next summer.

If ESPN re-creation is half as good as Mahler’s book that documents the summer of tumult in 1977 New York City, it will be well worth sitting still for eight hours to watch the movie.

I’m curious if ESPN will stick strictly with the Yankees aspect of the book or attempt to reach into the political and societal narratives. If so, I’m dying to know who will play Bella Abzug.

* If I were David Eckstein I would be very tired of every talking head pointing out that I’m “little” and “scrappy.” Just once I would like to hear a guy like Eckstein look at an interviewer like Chris Myers and say, “Is that all you can come up with? I’m small? Come on, dude… people out there want your best work.”

* La Russa’s move to bring in closer Adam Wainwright for five outs was really smart. Perhaps a starter or two will be in the bullpen as the Cardinals attempt to close it out on Friday night.

* The Cardinals led the Royals 3-1 in the 1985 World Series and the Tigers 3-1 in the 1968 series. They lost both of those. Moreover, in the two previous meetings between the Cardinals and Tigers in the World Series, the team that won Game 4 went on the lose the series.

Hmmm…

In the 1982 World Series, the last time the Cardinals won one, St. Louis trailed Milwaukee 3-2 before winning games 6 and 7.

It’s the World Series!

So Scott Rolen finally got a hit in the World Series, and Albert Pujols finally smashed a home run in his fifth series game. More interestingly, after going 1-for-30 in their first World Series, Rolen and Jim Edmonds went 4-for-8 in Saturday night’s opener. These facts got me thinking…

What were the Tigers watching during their week off?

Who throws Scott Rolen a changeup when he can’t get around on a fastball? Why pitch to Pujols with first base open? Did the Tigers get a hold of the Lions’ scouting tapes?

Geez.

Nevertheless, still feeling the burn of Endy Chavez’s catch to rob him of a home run, Rolen felt a little goofy when describing his homer that snapped his World Series oh-fer.

“The ball was in the air and I was trying to figure out how was this one going to get screwed up,” Rolen told reporters. “What’s going to happen here? Hit a tree? I wasn’t sure who was going to catch that ball. I figured somebody would. I was just happy a fan did.”

Rolen also doubled in a 2-for-4 outing in which he scored twice and knocked in his first post-season RBI of 2006. After the well-publicized “feud” with manager Tony La Russa in the NLDS and NLCS, Rolen says he was happy to get the World Series and turn the page.

“It was a challenge. The NLCS was a challenge for me mentally,” Rolen said. “It was nice to turn a page on that and get a new series, a new environment and a new everything. Felt like tonight I had a little fight in me again.”

Pujols also homered, which came on a curious decision from manager Jim Leyland. Though the Tigers’ says his team is going to pitch to Pujols as if the count were 0-2, according to Fox’s Tim McCarver, Tigers’ rookie Justin Verlander grooved a fastball that Pujols smacked on a line over the right-field fence.

Leyland knew it was a mistake and told the announcers so during the inexplicable in-game interview segment.

“I have to take full responsibility,” Leyland said. “Verlander tried to get one outside but it tailed. Obviously we weren’t supposed to be pitching to him.”

Yeah, oops.

But therein lies the rub. Pujols is Pujols. He’s the reigning MVP and the game’s best hitter, so the Tigers know what they are going to get with him. But if Rolen and Edmonds start swinging the bats just a notch better than the combined 10-for-43 in the NLCS, everything changes. Suddenly, the Cardinals aren’t the 83-victory team that limped into the playoffs and surprised both the Padres and Mets.

If Rolen and Edmonds have rebounded as they showed in Game 1, buckle up.

On another note, do you think that guy with the handheld camera had a difficult time keeping up with Rolen during his home-run “trot.”

More World Series stuff
According to Baseball Prospectus’ list of the 10 biggest World Series mismatches – based on regular-season winning percentages – two of the series went to seven games, while three underdogs won.

The most notable underdog? The ’69 Mets over the Orioles.

The 2006 World Series is only the seventh most mismatched series, tied with the 1975 World Series, which lasted seven games and featured one of the most memorable games in baseball history.

Beginning in the 1987 World Series, only three teams have won Game 1 and lost the series.

Blast from the past II

Note: In our continuing “Blast from the past” series, here’s the story from July 29, 2002 when ALCS MVP was traded to the Phillies. As everyone remembers, there was another player or two involved in that deal, which makes the story a lot longer. This one is a beast, so clear your schedule and order in if you want to attempt to delve through.

‘I’ve Died and Gone to Heaven… ‘ Phillies Deal ‘Excited’ Scott Rolen to St. Louis
After months of speculation, tons of rumors and lots of innuendo, the Phillies have finally traded Scott Rolen. Once viewed as the rightful heir to Mike Schmidt’s throne at third base and as the cornerstone of a franchise on the way up, Rolen left town after an acrimonious season-and-a-half where the luster was chipped away from the city’s one-time golden boy.

And Rolen, as stated in an interview with ESPN.com’s Peter Gammons, could not be happier about the trade.

“I felt,” he said to Gammons upon hearing the news about the trade on Monday night, “as if I’d died and gone to heaven. I’m so excited that I can’t wait to get on the plane (Tuesday morning) and get to Florida to join the Cardinals.”

For Rolen, Triple-A reliever Doug Nickle and an undisclosed amount of cash, the Phillies have obtained infielder Placido Polanco, lefthanded pitcher Bud Smith and reliever Mike Timlin, general manager Ed Wade announced in a spare conference room in the bowels of Veterans Stadium on Monday.

But more than receiving three players in return for the game’s best defensive third baseman, the Phillies have ended a once-happy marriage that seemed destined to end with a ceremony in Cooperstown and his No. 17 hung on a commemorative disc beyond the outfield wall.

Instead, it ended in a soap-operatic mess filled with more whispered back-biting than an episode of Dynasty. With the dust finally clearing, the Phillies have lost their best player and receive a lefthanded pitcher in Smith who threw a Major League no-hitter last Sept. 3 but is still only in Triple-A, a one-time closer in Timlin who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season and might again be dealt before the season ends and an infielder in Polanco who is more akin to line-drive hitting Marlon Anderson than the powerful Rolen.

And it marks the second time since 2000 that the Phillies have lost a player worth the price of a season ticket. Almost two years to the day, Wade dealt Curt Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Travis Lee, Vicente Padilla, Omar Daal and Nelson Figueroa. Since the deal, Schilling has won a ring and composed a 45-14 record.

Once Spring Training was in full swing, Wade knew Rolen was not going to be a Phillie in 2003.

“I knew in Spring Training that we had a zero chance to get anything done,” Wade said.

In brokering the deal, Wade admits that the Phillies are giving up a lot, but he’s more interested in the players the team has now opposed to the players they once had.

“We did not replace Scott Rolen with an All-Star, Gold Glove third baseman, but we did replace him with a very good baseball player, and we got some other guys who should help us,” Wade said.

In adding Rolen, Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty believes his club has added the piece of the puzzle needed to finish off the rest of the NL Central. With a five-game lead over the second-place Cincinnati Reds, Rolen not only picks up a lot of ground in the standings, but also seems slated for his first-ever appearance in the playoffs. This fact should satisfy Rolen, who said during a cantankerous press conference at the beginning of spring training that the Philles were not committed to winning.

“We are very pleased and excited to add Scott Rolen to our lineup,” Jocketty said in a statement. “He is an All-Star, a proven run producer and an excellent defensive player.”

In a quickly assembled press conference in which only Wade spoke, the GM broke down his side of the negotiations and relayed Rolen’s feelings about the deal. After returning to Philadelphia from Atlanta where Rolen belted a home run in a victory over the Braves (wearing a throwback, powder-blue Phils uniform, no less) on Sunday, the new Red Bird was trying to figure out how to get to Miami where he will make his debut against the Marlins on Tuesday.

“He said he appreciated the opportunity and the organization and wondered where he goes from here and how he gets there,” Wade said. “He was fairly single-minded in getting his gear and getting on an airplane and making sure that he was with the Cardinals in Florida in time for the game [Tuesday].”

Like Rolen’s last season in Philadelphia, Wade said the negotiations with the Cardinals were quite tempestuous with each club making concessions. According to Wade, trade talks between the Cardinals and Phillies broke down without a deal at 11 p.m. in Sunday night and that as of Monday afternoon, the Phils were currently negotiating a deal with an unnamed team until the Cardinals jumped back into the fray.

“We were one phone call away from Scott not being a Cardinal and going somewhere else,” said Wade.

The Phillies’ GM faced the prospect of getting nothing for his star if Rolen stayed in Philadelphia. If the new basic agreement between players and owners includes a redesign of the the First-Year Player Draft, it’s possible that it will eliminate compensatory draft picks for teams that lose free agents.

“At some point you have to say the deal that sits in front of me is good enough that it outweighs gambling that something better is going to be out there 48 hours from now,” said Wade. “The players were right.”

According to Wade, the deal was finalized at 5 p.m. on Monday and was announced officially at 6:30 p.m. With Monday being an off day in the National League, all players will be with their respective teams by Tuesday. Smith will report to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and will start either on Wednesday or Thursday.

Still, Wade says the deal occurred because the Phillies were very aggressive. Some teams, he claims, “moved out of the process because of the ebb and flow of the labor situation.” He categorized the Cardinals as one of those teams as well as six others that he claims he was talking to.

Rolen had been the subject of trade rumors after deciding not to negotiate on a multi-year extension that Wade categorized on Monday as a “lifetime deal.” The Phillies report that they were anticipating giving Rolen a 10-year contract extension last November that could’ve been worth up to $140 million. Rolen ended up signing an $8.6 million, one-year deal in January that kept him and the Phillies away from an arbitration hearing, but made it clear he wanted to become a free agent after this season. That decision forced the Phillies to make a move or risk losing him for nothing.

“I regret the outcome,” Wade said. “We were very serious about the offer we made and when that didn’t work out we tried to get him to sign a two-year guaranteed contract with player options. We regret the outcome but don’t regret the way we approached him.”

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.

Surely it’s not a deal to sneeze at, but nowhere close to the “lifetime” contract Wade and his minions keep throwing out there.

Art of the Deal
Rolen did not sign an extension with the Cardinals, so he remains eligible for free agency. However, when rumors reached fervor on Saturday, Rolen said he would be interested in signing a contract extension with the Cardinals.

About signing, potentially, with the Cardinals, Rolen said on Saturday that the Red Birds were one of the teams he would consider.

“We all know that is a situation I’d be willing to talk about,” Rolen said on Saturday.

On Monday, he was a lot less ambiguous with his comments as told to Gammons. Growing up in Jasper, Ind., Rolen says he went to two parks as a kid — St. Louis and Cincinnati.

“I was there at Busch with my dad, sitting in the stands wherever we could get a seat, watching Ozzie Smith,” Rolen said. “It may be the best place to play in the game, and it’s the place I always dreamed of playing.

“As I said, I’ve gone to heaven.”

And dropping him in the middle of the Cardinals’ powerful lineup looks like hell for opposing pitchers. When the Cardinals come to the Vet on Aug. 16 for a three-game set, Rolen should bat fifth in a lineup that looks something like this:

Fernando Vina, 2b
Edgar Renteria, ss
Jim Edmonds, cf
Albert Pujols, lf
Rolen, 3b
J.D. Drew, rf
Tino Martinez, 1b
Mike Matheny, c

Signing potential free agents hasn’t been a problem for the Cardinals, who play in front of well-mannered fans in a baseball-crazy city. In the last five years, the Cardinals traded for potential free agents Jim Edmonds and Mark McGwire and convinced them to stay in St. Louis long-term.

However, while Wade says there were numerous suitors all clamoring for Rolen’s services, ComcastSportsNet.com sources indicate otherwise. According to one well-placed baseball executive, if a deal with the Cardinals wasn’t consummated, Rolen would still be wearing the red-and-white Phillie pinstripes.

“I really searched for another team that was interested and I couldn’t find one,” the source says. “The Phillies were trying to create a market for Rolen that didn’t exist.”

Originally, rumors circled that the Phillies were going to receive Double-A prospect Jimmy Journell, who is rated as the Cardinals’ top up-and-comer by Baseball America. However, a source says that Journell was never part of any deal. Instead, the source says, the Cardinals were not going to make a deal with the Phillies unless Timlin — a free agent when the season ends — was included in the deal.

But Wade says it was Smith who was the “deal buster.”

“He was the key part of the deal,” Wade said.

Like the other rumors, it was reported that a deal with another club would not occur if the Phillies had to pay the remainder of Rolen’s contract or if he couldn’t work out a contract extension with an interested club.

Not at all true.

“I wish I kept a list of all the misinformation,” Wade said.

The Players
Polanco, 26, is hitting .284 with five homers and 27 RBIs. He batted .307 last season and .316 in his first full year, in 2000. Wade said he’d play third base and bat second in the Phillies’ lineup against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night.

Polanco is a slick fielder who plays three infield positions and leads third basemen in fielding chances. However, he has played too many games at short and second to qualify for the league lead. A prototypical contact hitter, Polanco has struck out just 26 times in 92 games this season.

Smith, who pitched a no-hitter in his rookie season last year, was sent to Triple-A Memphis on July 20 after going 1-5 with a 6.94 ERA in 11 appearances, including 10 starts. The 22-year-old lefthander was 6-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 16 games last year.

In his last outing in the big leagues on July 19, Smith allowed eight runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings in a loss to the Pirates.

Smith is best compared to Randy Wolf.

“He’s a surplus prospect,” Wade said.

Timlin is 1-3 with a 2.51 ERA in 42 appearances and is holding righties to a .197 average. The 36-year-old righthander is in the final year of a contract that is paying him $5.25 million this season. In 1996 he saved 31 games for the Toronto Blue Jays and has saved 114 games during his 11-year Major League career. However, this season he has blown two saves working primarily in middle relief.

Timlin won two World Series’ with the Blue Jays and appeared in two games of the 1993 series against the Phillies.

Nickle, 27, was 3-5 with a 2.97 ERA and seven saves in 34 games — one of them a start — at Scranton this season. He appeared in four games — 4 1/3 innings pitched — for the Phillies this season and has made 10 career major-league appearances.

Glory Days
When Scott Rolen came to Philadelphia as a fresh-faced 21-year old, he was too good to be true. He played hard, possessed Midwestern, homespun values and spoke about fair play and hard work. If he was going to do something, he said, he was going to do it all out and to win.

Philadelphia fans immediately latched onto the quiet kid from Jasper, Ind.

After winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 1997, Rolen signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the idea that he was going to be a Phillie for life. In fact, Rolen signed for far less than he could have gotten because he believed the Phillies were on the right path and he was enamored with the idea that he was going to be like his kindred spirit, Mike Schmidt, and spend his entire career in Philadelphia.

But all those losing seasons caught up with Rolen. So too did the firing of mild-mannered manager Terry Francona, who is a close friend of Rolen’s. Meanwhile, Rolen’s quiet nature in a city full of loud and sometimes abrasive sports fans, wore thin on both sides. Sensitive and thoughtful, Rolen chose to do his talking on the field or in the clubhouse — nowhere else. Philly fans wanted their rough-and-tumble athletes’ personas to translate to a give-and-take relationship with the city that Rolen was not willing to have. His family (and his dogs, Enis and Emma) came first and nothing else was a close second.

When prodigal son and fan-favorite Larry Bowa was hired as the team’s skipper, many speculated when he and his sensitive third baseman would clash. It didn’t take long.

In June of 2001 during a series against Tampa Bay, Bowa told the Philadelphia Daily News that Rolen’s recent futility at the plate was “killing us.” Rolen took the criticism not as constructive but intended to embarrass him and had it out with the manager before a game against the Devil Rays.

“I came in here with the intent of kicking your ass,” Rolen reportedly told Bowa as he walked into the manager’s office that day.

Their relationship remained strained ever since and the soap opera began in earnest.

Later that year, Phillies executive assistant and manager of the hard-boiled manager of 1980 World Championship team, Dallas Green, told a radio station that Rolen was OK with being a “so-so” player and that his personality would not allow him to be a great player.

After the season, Rolen summed up the 2001 campaign as the worst he ever went through and cited Bowa and Green as the main culprits in his dissatisfaction. His ire manifested itself during an edgy press conference to kick off spring training.

There, Rolen held a press conference to explain why he opted for free agency questioning what he thought was the team’s commitment to winning.

“Philadelphia is the [fourth-largest] market in the game, and I feel that for the last however long, the organization has not acted like it,” Rolen said in February. “There’s a lack of commitment to what I think is right.”

Rolen pointed out that the Phillies, who entered the season with a payroll around $60 million that ranks in the bottom third of all Major League franchises, were notorious for allowing players of star quality walk away when their contracts are about to expire. It happened two seasons ago with Curt Schilling and he wasn’t so sure it was going to stop now, he said.

“Part of my whole problem is that I look around and see Bobby Abreu, I see Pat Burrell, I see Doug Glanville and Mike Lieberthal and this is the core that’s been talked about for three or four years,” Rolen said then. “These are unbelievable ballplayers. But three years from now, when everybody becomes a free agent or arbitration-eligible and it’s time to re-sign everybody, I want to turn around and see Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell and Doug Glanville and Mike Lieberthal. To me, what history shows, I will not be able to do that.”

Not unless they are playing for the Cardinals.

What followed over the next six weeks were a few public discussions with Bowa and a miserable slump in May and June that turned his .284 April into a .240 average by the end of May. In June, an unnamed teammate reportedly called Rolen a “cancer” and that his status was a distraction to the team.

However, things haven’t been all bad for Rolen this season. He started in his first-ever All-Star Game and is on pace to drive in over 100 runs for the second year in a row and third time of his career and belt 25 homers for the fifth season in a row.

But the constant circus around his future was starting to drain him, he told Gammons.

“I think I must have been asked more questions than the rest of the team combined,” Rolen said. “It was crazy. In spring training, all the way back to the winter, it was that way. Before the All-Star break, I know I was a little down. I shouldn’t have been, but having people leaning on both my shoulders all the time drained me.

“People would tell me that I needed to be more selfish, to play for numbers. But that’s not the way I know how to play. I’m not good at playing for numbers, I’m not good at playing for myself. To go from last place to first is more than I ever could have dreamed.”

The Future
Even with Polanco in the fold, Wade says the Phillies go into the offseason in a position they haven’t been familiar with in almost a decade.

“We go into the offseason for the first time in nine years potentially looking for a third baseman,” Wade said.

For now, Wade says his concern is to build for the future and not look into the past that saw superstars Curt Schilling and now Rolen leave amidst acrimony.

“I don’t think we did anything to necessarily make the player unhappy,” Wade said. “We’re always trying to do things the right way. We’re always trying to make our players comfortable. We’re always trying to compensate them fairly. We’re always trying to bring teammates around that they are comfortable playing with and gives us a better chance of winning.”

He certainly has given Rolen that chance now … problem is, it isn’t in Philadelphia.

E-mail John R. Finger

It’s the World Series (Endy Chavez edition)!

When it happened, I thought to myself, “Self, this could go down as the greatest catch ever.”

I was taking in all of the variables – the game, the inning, the circumstance, Game 7, etc. – in making the always over-the-top pronouncement of “greatest of all time.” But, of course, for a catch to go down as the greatest ever the team has to win the game.

The Mets didn’t do that so Endy Chavez just made a really, really dynamic catch.

By now, not even 12 hours after it occurred, most people have seen Endy Chavez’s catch to rob Scott Rolen of a potentially pennant-winning home run. Actually, when the ball left Rolen’s bat I thought a couple of things. One was why did Oliver Perez throw an inside pitch to Rolen? It’s the only thing he can hit.

The thing I thought was look at Rolen doing it in a Game 7 again. First the home run to beat Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS, and now this.

Then Endy Chavez did his thing and everything went crazy.

Endy Chavez? Wasn’t he so bad for the Phillies last season that Charlie Manuel simply refused to use him? Wasn’t he the team’s designated pinch runner, a la Herb Washington for the Oakland A’s in the mid-1970s? Didn’t Phillies want the season to end as quickly as possible just so they didn’t have to bother thinking about not putting Chavez on the playoff roster and they could let him become a free agent?

Didn’t Chavez make the Phillies pine for Marlon Byrd to return… well, actually, no. But the point is made. Chavez was not a good player in 2005.

But he was in 2006 where Chavez got off to a hot start during the World Baseball Classic with a couple of big home runs for Venezuela. From there he got a deal with the Mets and filled in very well for a team that came a few outs and a run away from making it to the World Series.

Actually, Chavez was a big part of that in spite of his 5-for-27 in the NLCS. But in Game 7, Billy Wagner was not.

hough manager Willie Randolph used Wagner in the ninth inning of a tie game in Game 2, the closer remained in the bullpen to watch the ninth as Aaron Heilman worked a second inning and gave up the pennant-winning home run to Yadier Molina with one out and one on.

Surely Randolph was asked quite a bit why he chose not to bring in the struggling Wagner for the ninth. That’s fair, especially since it was a move he routinely made all season long. To be sure, Randolph answered it logically and adroitly. But maybe the real reason Randolph didn’t use Wagner in the ninth was because Rolen was due up in the ninth? Rolen doubled off Wagner in his two-run ninth the night before.

“With all the righties coming up, I thought we could get through another inning with him and bring in Billy after that,” Randolph said.

Who knows? Maybe Randolph was saving Wagner for the 10th or for when the Mets got a lead. After all, the bullpen was full since it was an all-hands-on-deck Game 7.

“He wanted to go with length there,” Wagner said, defending his manager’s decision. “He’s done it both ways. It’s easy to understand, knowing he’s done it both ways. Besides, you don’t know what you’re going to get with me.”

But in the end, Wagner found little consolation in how things ended.

“It’s all for nothing,” he said. “We ain’t here to get to the playoffs and play good. We’re here to go to the World Series.

“You never know when you’re going to get another chance.”

That’s the trouble. Nothing is ever given. Neither is a lead. Now the Mets are finished and the Cardinals are heading to chilly Detroit in a rematch of the 1968 World Series.

Maybe we’ll see Mickey Lolich there? Denny McLain?

Elias says…
Did you know that Molina’s homer was just the fifth go-ahead home run in the ninth inning or later of a decisive postseason game? (By decisive we mean the seventh game of a best-of-seven series, the fifth of a best-of-five and so on.) The others were hit by Bill Mazeroski (1960 World Series), Chris Chambliss (1976 ALCS), Rick Monday (1981 NLCS) and Aaron Boone (2003 ALCS).

Or that the first-inning squeeze bunt by Ronnie Belliard was the eighth time a Tony La Russa team used such tactics in the playoffs?

Check it out.

World Series predictions
Scott Rolen will get a hit while the announcers will talk about his feud with La Russa. Albert Pujols will hit a home run. It will rain in Detroit. Phillies fans will talk about Jim Leyland and Placido Polanco because the Tigers will win in 5.

It’s Game 7!

What did we learn from Game 6?

How about that the Mets’ bullpen – excluding Billy Wagner – is the perfect anecdote to the Cardinals’ offense. Much has been made in the aftermath of the 5 1/3 innings and two-hit outing by rookie John Maine, but the Mets’ three-headed monster of Chad Bradford, Guillermo Mota and Aaron Heilman gave up two hits 2 2/3 innings before yielding to Wagner in the ninth.

Better yet, much kudos has been heaped on Mets’ skipper Willie Randolph for finding the right mix with his ‘pen. Randolph got Maine out of there at the right time as the rookie teetered on the edge all night long (he walked four and escaped a big jam in the first), and seemed to have learned a lot from Joe Torre during those runs with the Yankees.

Back then, when Randolph was a coach on Torre’s staff, the Yankees did it with their bullpen. Yes, they always had a formidable lineup and strong starting pitching, but those great Yankees’ teams were built from the bullpen forward. Mariano Rivera, obviously, is the focal point, but Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson, Ramiro Mendoza, and Graeme Lloyd were the cogs in the machine.

Plus, it always comes down to pitching. Sorry I can’t be any more insightful than that. Pitching and defense gets it done.

In that regard, I believe we found an ex-Phillie struggling worse than Scott Rolen.

Billy Wagner, come on down…

Wagner allowed two more runs in the ninth inning in Game 6, including a double to right from the slow-swinging Rolen, who may have saved his starting position for Game 7 with the hit. Never mind that Wagner sped up Rolen’s bat so that he could actually pull a fastball, or that the closer was not in a save situation – though he turned the game into one – and was just getting some work in, his playoff performances have been atrocious.

In six outings, Wagner has given up runs in three games for a 9.53 ERA. He’s also allowed 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings, though he has saved three games.

The problem, it seems, is Wagner’s fastball. It just doesn’t seem to have its old velocity or movement, which isn’t too uncommon for this point of the year. Wagner has been in 76 games since April, though his all-important strikeouts-per-nine innings (11.7) was up significantly this season. That’s probably why Tony La Russa believes Wagner will be a different pitcher if he gets into Game 7 with a one-run or two-run lead.

That’s what Wagner’s hoping for. He still wants the ball.

“This is what you dream of,” he told reporters after Game 6. “You want to go out. You dream of pitching the ninth and getting bum-rushed and going to the World Series.

“These are the games that define your year. You want to go out there and get it done.”

Still struggling…
Rolen had a chance in the first inning to knock out Maine and potentially win the game for the Cardinals, but he harmlessly flied out to right field. In fact, Rolen has had a lot of harmless at-bats despite the four-game hitting streak he’s carrying. Though the gold glover hasn’t been striking out much (three in two games during the playoffs), he hasn’t driven in a run, either.

Perhaps La Russa will place Rolen seventh in the batting order for Game 7? Perhaps he will find a spot for Scott Spiezio and So Taguchi in the lineup. The Cardinals could be tougher with Juan Encarnacion and Preston Wilson available for late-game pinch-hitting duty.

And another thing
Those white, pinstripe uniforms the Mets wore in Game 6 look sharp. It’s so 1986.

Haven’t we seen this before?

It looks as if Tony La Russa figured out what to do with Scott Rolen, which makes one wonder if he read a few of the previous entries here… hey, it could happen. I know a player or two who said they read this blog.

Then again, I haven’t been punched in the face by a player yet, so I guess they were just blowing smoke.

Anyway, Rolen batted sixth and played his typical third base in Saturday’s Game 3 rout which put the Cardinals and their 83-regular season victories just two more wins from the World Series and a rematch of the 1968 Series. Scott Spiezio, Rolen’s replacement at third base in two post-season games also started (left field) and contrubted with his second, two-run triple in as many games.

But Rolen snapping his big, post-season slump with a walk and a single mixed in with his Brooks-Robinson-and-Mike-Schmidt-all-rolled-into-one defense isn’t even half the story. Apparently, as I assumed (yeah, there’s that pronoun again. Hey, it’s my blog!) Rolen and La Russa may need some counseling.

Gee, no one saw that coming.

Jim Salisbury, for my money (what there is of it) the most interesting baseball writer out there, rightly analyzed the rift in the Inquirer today and even asked Rolen if he would be interested in a return to Philadelphia. If there is anyone who can offer an astute read on the situation it’s Salisbury since he’s seen it all before. Plus, there are very few writers that I have come across who the players respect more than Salisbury.

But enough of that… let’s get back to Rolen.

Next to Randy Wolf and Doug Glanville, Rolen is the smartest ballplayer I’ve met. However, he’s also the most sensitive. As Salisbury points out, Rolen is high-maintenance. He needs to be kept in the loop and also needs self-assurance and what he deems as fairness. I recall a time where Rolen and Larry Bowa had a long, pre-game meeting because Bowa, looking for a spark, moved Rolen to the No. 2 spot in the batting order. At the same time, Bowa shifted Bobby Abreu over to center field, but with Abreu all the manager did was walk over to his locker and ask him if he was OK with playing center field.

With Rolen, it took a closed-door meeting for a batting order shift.

As one Phillie management type once told me: “Scotty worries about everything. He cares about how the cars are parked in the parking lot… ”

The Phillies, not exactly the most astute in reading situations, placating feelings or being sensitive to others, weren’t too far off here.

Because of that Rolen, like any classic high achieving, high-maintenance person, not only expects a lot out of himself, but he also has high standards for others.

Pardon the dime store psychiatry, but as someone with similar traits – excluding the high achieving part, of course – it’s easy to understand that Rolen needs a lot of understanding. Perhaps that’s why he is the most entertaining player out there. His neurosis is on display constantly from his habits in the batter’s box to how he takes the field and his human cannonball style. What makes all that more than shtick is that he can actually play.

I can’t think of a player I’ve ever enjoyed watching more.

But through the neurosis, stubbornness and sensitivity, Rolen has to know he can’t win a battle against La Russa. Come on… he’s smarter than that. It’s not about leverage or public opinion or anything like that. It’s that La Russa is right. Sure, La Russa has an ego as large as every successful baseball man, but he isn’t Larry Bowa. It might be wise for Rolen to get past his natural tendencies and all of that other stuff and try to iron it out with La Russa.

Besides, the Cardinals won both of the playoff games where La Russa benched Rolen.

It’s the playoffs!
It may be a knee-jerk reaction, but the Cardinals might have the Mets right where they want them. This series might not be going back to Shea.

Reason? To borrow and paraphrase a political campaign mantra, it’s the pitching, stupid.

When Steve Traschel is your team’s Game 3 starter, there’s trouble. When reliever Darren Oliver gets two (two!) at-bats, there’s trouble. When Oliver is pitching six innings in one game, there’s trouble. When Endy Chavez… well, you get the idea.

The fact of the matter is the Mets’ injuries are just too much to overcome. If they can comeback and win the series, I’ll sing New York’s hosannas, but I just don’t see it happening.

At the same time, I don’t see the Tigers losing the World Series. In that regard, here’s the question I posed a couple of the Phillies writers:

How can the Tigers go from losing 119 games to winning the World Series and the Phillies can only make the playoffs once in the last 23 years?

Anyone?

Apropos…
… of nothing, is it tacky for a media member to dial up other media outlets to “volunteer” his “expertise” on their airwaves? I think so.

It’s the playoffs!

So, do I get credit for predicting Billy Wagner’s blown game in Game 2 of the NLCS? Well, I didn’t actually predict it, but I admitted that I rooted for Wagner to blow the save it in Game 1. I can’t figure out why, either, since Billy was always fair to me though I know he was annoyed by me asking him about throwing his slider?

I can’t figure out why he won the Philadelphia chapter of the BBWAA’s “Good Guy” award in 2005, either.

Wait… yeah I can. Never mind.

Nevertheless, Wagner entered last night’s game in the ninth with the score tied and promptly gave up the game-winning home run to So Taguchi. Actually, it wasn’t so prompt. Taguchi failed off four pitches before knocking one into the seats to wreck Wagner and the Mets’ evening. Interestingly, I made a note to myself during that at-bat that Taguchi was right on Wagner’s high fastball and that if he could get his bat out a fraction of a fraction of a second quicker, it was bye-bye Billy.

I’m not making that up – I made a note of it.

I wonder if anyone asked Wagner about his slider last night?

Wagner, as mentioned, was brought into the ninth inning of a tie game – a tactic that a lot of managers use with their closer. Larry Bowa used to do it with Wagner, and so did Charlie Manuel. In fact, Manuel says he views a four-run lead as a save situation even though the criteria for a save indicates otherwise.

I’m on the fence about the closer-in-the-ninth-of-a-tie-game theory. It’s hard to say it’s a good idea or a bad one unless every situation is pored over. However, in the layoffs, it’s always all hands on deck. My guess is that manager Willie Randolph would have used Wagner for a second inning if he would have slipped through the ninth unscathed. Instead, he had to get Wagner out of there so he didn’t rack up the pitches with three more games looming in St. Louis.

Plus, with the Mets’ pitching in the shape its in with all of those injuries, Wagner should be ready to go to work. He’s going to be busy with the five-playoff games in five days.

Meanwhile, on the American League side, it looks like Detroit is going to be able to be able to rest up and set their pitching rotation for the World Series while the two beat-up National League clubs beat up on each other some more.

Speaking of beat up, I guess I don’t know what goes on inside of the mind of manager Tony La Russa. Maybe that guy knows a thing or two about baseball?

Previously, I wrote that it would make more sense for La Russa to slide down struggling All-Star Scott Rolen in the batting order, a la Joe Torre and A-Rod, because Rolen’s glove at third base is just too valuable.

Shows you what I know.

La Russa benched Rolen and used him as a late-inning defensive replacement while Scott Spiezio batted fifth and went 2-for-4 with three RBIs, including a clutch, two-run triple.

When Rolen came in the game to play third in the ninth inning, the first hitter smacked one destined for left field until the six-time gold glover dived to his left – on his bum shoulder, no less – to make a spectacular play to get the out.

So who is going to play La Russa in the movie? Didn’t Tim Robbins play Albert Einstein?

Needless to say, Rolen is pretty peeved. Stubborn, sensitive and proud, it’s unlikely he’s going to get over the snub any time soon. I’ve heard of him to hold long-time grudges for less. However, if Rolen was good enough for La Russa to play every day during the stretch run when the third baseman says his shoulder wasn’t as healthy as it is now, maybe the manager should stand by his man.

About the situation, Rolen told the Post-Dispatch: “This isn’t the time or the place to have a personal issue between a player and a manager. I’m going to get ready to play tonight, keep an eye on the game and if I get a chance try to make a difference.”

La Russa doesn’t think it will be a problem, either.

“I’m not going to create a problem. I can’t believe he’s going to create the problem. So where’s the problem, except he’s worried about playing?” he said to the St. Louis paper. “I’m just trying to win the game, buddy.”

Then again, Spiezio has a history of getting big hits in big playoff games. Ask the Dusty Baker and the Giants about that.

Riding the pines

Days have passed and the next series has already put a game in the books, and all of baseball is still talking about the New York Yankees. From the manager, to the owner, the GM and the team’s best player, there certainly is not a dearth of things to talk about with the always-soap operatic ball club in the South Bronx.

Listening to the consensus, it sounds as if most commentators, columnists, etc. believe it would be a bad move for George Steinbrenner to fire Joe Torre as the manager. After all, Torre’s record speaks for itself. Under Torre, the Yankees have gone to the playoffs in 11 straight seasons, which is unprecedented in the hallowed franchise’s history.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t cracks in the armor. After all, with the stars assembled on the current Yankee clubs, and the payroll that equals the GNP of a small country, simply getting to the playoffs doesn’t seem like a difficult task. The tough part, it seems, is getting those superstars to put the egos aside and come together to win.

Kind of how the Tigers did this season.

That seems to be where Torre has had some difficulty over the past few seasons. With Paul O’Neil and Tino Martinez during the beginning of the “dynasty,” Torre never had to worry about the so-called veteran leadership. His players were in charge and that was a good thing.

But, as some Yankees observers have opined, things have not been the same since those players moved on. Coincidentally, though, those departures coincide with Alex Rodriguez’s arrival in the Bronx.

Now whether or not Rodriguez is a divisive force on a team is tough to judge. Certainly, his statistics appear to be of the caliber that should help a team win games. How can they not be? But then again, there have been MVP and Cy Young Award winners on last-place teams. In that same vain, Rodriguez’s former teams always seem to improve after he leaves. That happened in Seattle and Texas.

Will it happen in New York?

General manager Brian Cashman says the Yankees aren’t going to trade Rodriguez. But maybe those words are just a smokescreen? Do they even really need A-Rod? Sure, he’s arguably one of the best players in the game, but when he’s hitting eighth in the lineup in an elimination game, isn’t that the same as saying, “Hey A-Rod, we really don’t want you to get too many at-bats today… ”

If he’s batting eighth, why not just put him on the bench?

Tough to shoulder
Speaking of sitting on the bench, Scott Rolen has deemed himself ready to play in Game 1 of the NLCS tonight after sitting out of the Cardinals’ clincher in Game 4 over the Padres last Sunday.

It appears as if Rolen withheld the severity of his aching shoulder that was surgically repaired last season. Conventional wisdom indicates that it should take at least a year following the surgery for Rolen to be at full strength, though that didn’t appear to be the case based on his 2006 statistics.

At least that didn’t seem to be the case based on Rolen’s season leading up to September. That where the long season took its toll on his injury and also where Rolen, apparently, hid the severity of its weakness from manager Tony La Russa. Rolen, it seemed, felt the Cardinals needed him too much during the stretch run even though the team has Scott Spiezio as a fully capable backup.

According to wire accounts, La Russa was a little peeved when Rolen finally let on how much he was hurt:

La Russa seemed perturbed before Game 4 of the division series that Rolen had not mentioned the shoulder problem until Sunday. At the same time, he said Rolen’s willingness to play hurt was admirable.

“That’s why he didn’t come out and say how sore he was, because you know he wants to play,” La Russa said. “Here’s a guy that’s not fighting for a job, he’s got security, and he just wants to be a part of it.

“I was never and am not now upset with Scott.”

If there is one thing we learned about Rolen when he was in Philadelphia it is that he the proverbial gamer. If it takes running through a brick wall in order to win a game, he’ll do it. But we also learned that Rolen is also stubborn and sensitive and always trying to prove himself.

I guess that is what makes him a great athlete.

Either way, Rolen took a shot of cortisone to be ready for Game 1, which makes him the second former Phillie currently in the playoffs to take a shot within the past month (Placido Polanco, the man traded for Rolen in 2002, is the other).

Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that since slugging the game-winning home run off Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS, Rolen is 1-for-26 with three strikeouts in his last two playoff series.

Wade chooses not to wonder about the one’s that got away

bloody sockDramatically, the TV cameras zoomed in on the blood-stained baseball sock where the picture explained in great detail the heart of a pitcher that carried 86 seasons of shattered hopes and dreams of a self-proclaimed Nation.

At the same time, velvet throated announcers and poetic scribes proclaimed the pitcher’s greatness using words like determination, guts and hero.

But what they all failed to mention is the fact that he wanted to be here. He wanted to be one of us. To paraphrase W.C. Fields, if all things were equal, Curt Schilling wanted to pitch for the Phillies or Yankees, not the Red Sox.

It’s funny how things work out. Instead potentially pitching his adapted hometown Philadelphia to the playoffs for the first time since he did it in 1993, Schilling has the Red Sox two victories away from their first World Series title since the Woodrow Wilson Administration. So instead of a bloody ankle in front of the crowd at Citizens Bank Park, millions around the world are watching the one that got away.

Interestingly, the only way everyone gets to watch the pitcher once described by his boss in Philadelphia as a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four, is because the team’s doctor performs an innovative operation that involves suturing a torn tendon sheath. The technique involves stitching the tendon in place so it won’t fall over Schilling’s ankle when he pitches.

His victories over the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS and in Game 2 of the World Series were described by Fox commentator Tim McCarver another former Phillie as a “performance [that] will go down forever in New England baseball lore.”

Go figure.

Had general manager Ed Wade been able to work out a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks last November, who knows if the Red Sox would be two wins away from exercising nearly nine decades of ghosts. Who knows, if Wade had ponied up Brett Myers, as the Diamondbacks reportedly asked for, instead of Carlos Silva and Nick Punto, which Wade reportedly offered, maybe the St. Louis Cardinals with castoffs Scott Rolen and Marlon Anderson would be wrapping up a title against the Yankees.

However, one thing is for certain. If Schilling landed back home instead of Boston, Terry Francona would probably still be the bench coach for the Oakland A’s instead of the manager for the Red Sox.

It’s funny how things work out.

Francona, of course, is the manager Ed Wade fired after the 2000 season and replaced with recently fired Larry Bowa. Since leaving town, Francona has worked for the Indians, Rangers and A’s before hooking up with his old ace and taking Boston on its historical run. Actually, some have written that good old Tito is the perfect manager for a team that is a self-described band of idiots.

“I’m very happy for Terry Francona. I had a great fondness for Terry when he was here and it was a difficult for us to remove him as manager,” Wade said. “I talked to him at the end of the year when they had a crucial series against the Yankees and I told him I was very happy for him.”

Easy-going and friendly, Francona makes long-lasting relationships wherever he goes, particularly with his players. In Philadelphia, Francona was especially tight with Mike Lieberthal, Randy Wolf and Rolen. Before the World Series started last weekend, Francona told reporters about the special relationship he had with Rolen when they were both in Philadelphia.

The same could not be said for Wade and the rest of his staff in the front office. Actually, Wade has gotten pretty good at dodging questions about Schilling and Rolen. Sometimes he’s even a bit cranky about it.

“As far as players, I mean I can sit there and say, ‘Schilling was with us, Rolen was with us, Marlon Anderson was with us,’ the same way the Marlins can say, ‘(Kevin) Millar was with [them] and (Edgar) Renteria was with [them],’ and Anaheim can say, ‘we probably should have never got rid of Jim Edmonds,'” Wade said. “Look at the rosters and see how many home-grown players are involved on each side and how many guys came from somewhere else and the situations that dictated making that happen.”

Yeah, but what about those fans that tune in to the World Series and see a reunion of old Phillies. Aside from Francona, Schilling and Rolen, Anderson latched on with the Cardinals as a decent left-handed bat off the bench after Wade non-tendered him. Then there’s Sox’s setup man Mike Timlin, who the Phillies received from St. Louis in the deal for Rolen, and John Mabry, who spent a short time in 2002 with the Phils before being shipped away for Jeremy Giambi.

Then there is Game 3 starter Jeff Suppan, who the Phillies could have had at the trading deadline in 2003. Instead, Suppan went to Boston before hooking up with the Cards and becoming their top pitching during the postseason. Reportedly, the Phillies could have had Derek Lowe, the winner in Game 7 of the ALCS, for Kevin Millwood.

Is there any wonder why a lot of fans watching the series think to themselves, “Why couldn’t that be us?”

“Yeah, we could bring [Mike] Schmidt back. We could have had it so he wouldn’t have retired in ’89,” said Wade a bit smart-alecky. “I understand why fans do that and I understand how memories fade over time and reality sort of becomes blurred over the years.”

“There’s nothing I can do. I can’t stand here and say Rolen said, ‘there’s no amount of money that we could give him that would make him want to stay in Philadelphia.’ Or that Curt Schilling didn’t pull me into the back room of the trainer’s room at Shea Stadium and tell me he wanted to be traded. I can say those things, but then people would say, ‘Yeah, but you’re messing up a perfectly good story with the facts.'”

But he’s not messing up the story for the Cardinals because they got to the World Series with Rolen. And he can’t mess it up for the Red Sox fans either, because they think Francona and Schilling are going to do something that several at least three generations of Americans have never seen.

Who knew that it would take Terry Francona and Curt Schilling to break the Curse of the Bambino?

So who is going to help the Phillies break their malaise? Carlos Beltran? Nomar Garciaparrra? Carl Pavano? Randy Johnson?

Who?

“I won’t be happy until we’re playing,” Wade said, singing to the choir. “It’s not any fun being a non-participant regardless of how close the games have been.”

He can say that again.

E-mail John R. Finger

While Phillies Struggle, Rolen Having Banner Season

NEW YORK — His chin had a big brush burn, the kind kids get when they skin their knees playing football or falling off a bike onto the macadam. His forehead had some nicks and cuts and a welt that looked like a sloppy swipe of a paintbrush. None of these bruises explained the elaborate ice bag wrapped in a towel around his neck, which he unwrapped as if he were some incomplete mummy before heading to the training room for what seemed like some much-needed treatment.

Still, Scott Rolen couldn’t stop smiling.

“I went head first in Boston the other night,” he laughed while in the visitor’s clubhouse at Yankee Stadium before his Cardinals lost to the Yankees on Saturday. “I smacked my face and my feet went over my head and flipped me over.

Rolen was describing his attempt to score against the Red Sox two days earlier.

“You should have seen it,” he said.

About the only thing baseball fans in Philadelphia have seen relating to their prodigal son these days is the prodigious ink he’s littered the box scores with. A 2-for-4 with a couple of RBIs following the entry “Rolen, 3b” isn’t an uncommon sight these days. Neither are the highlight reel plays and web gems he’s made look so routine at third base. Remember all of those plays? A dive to the left in the hole. A backhand stab of a short hop and a rifle throw to beat the runner at second. A deft snag of a liner bullet-bound to the corner. They used to be a normal occurrence on the Vet NeXturf through the summer months not so long ago.

But that circus has set up its tent in another city.

Now here’s the part that Philly sports fans don’t want to hear: Rolen is the same as he was when he was a Phillie but better. Everything, from his skills on the field to his demeanor in the clubhouse, is more enhanced. His dry wit is more engaging and matched by the courteous desire to chat. Always an entertainer to the scribes, Rolen spoke quietly and engaged his questioner with a look that made one feel as if he were doing a one-on-one interview, even when there was a pack of reporters around. It was if he were the smartest and politest kid in the class but was unsure of himself and never raised his hand.

That was then.

These days Rolen is animated. Always quick with a joke wrapped in his “boy-from-Jasper-aw-shucks” disposition, Rolen is more apt to embrace his teammates, club officials and writers. Rolen not only carries the gait of a person who suddenly has had the weight of the world lifted from his coat-rack shoulders but also seems as if he’s finally comfortable in his own skin.

The real Scott Rolen has arrived.

“He’s better now than he’s ever been, and he’s the best defensive third baseman I’ve ever seen. And I saw Schmidt and Brooks Robinson,” an American League scout said at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. “Not only is he better, but he obviously has much a much better team around him. He can just show up and go to work without worrying about being the center of everyone’s attention.

“In Philadelphia he was only going to be a good player. In St. Louis he’s going to be a star.”

It’s in St. Louis, where Rolen went to catch games as a kid (he went to games in Cincinnati too) that he has come into his own. Sure, he’s done well on the field since the trade, smacking 26 homers and driving in 95 while hitting .288 in 122 games heading into Monday’s action, but it’s off the field where he has found his footing.

Rolen still makes his home in Florida but stays close to his roots in Jasper, Ind. He has launched his Enis Furley Foundation and Camp Emma Lou on Lake Monroe near Bloomington where children and their families with special needs can spend time together. The camp’s motto is, “Live, Love, Laugh� and don’t burn your marshmallow!”

That could easily be Rolen’s motto as well. While certainly not the cause of the Phillies’ backward step in 2002, Rolen and his contract situation was an admitted distraction. It was plain to see that Rolen’s marshmallow was charred in Philly. The smile that resides on his face these days, despite the stiff neck that might force him to miss a game or two this week, was no where to be found last year at this time. In fact, the team’s clubhouse was as tense as a waiting room of a root-canal clinic.

Last August, Mike Schmidt hit the nail on the head when talking about Rolen and his relationship with Philly.

“In Philadelphia, he was never able to free up enough to enjoy playing the game,” Schmidt said then. “He’s wound tight like I am. You try and please everybody and you end up not having fun. You are the focal guy and there’s always an issue. It drives you crazy. A new environment where he’s not the focal point, he’s going to blend in. That’s what he is looking for, to be left alone and play the game. He has a better chance to reach his potential in that environment [in St. Louis] than he did over here.”

Watching Rolen on Saturday made one wonder who that old guy was. Criticized by blathering talk-show types for not showing enough emotion and carrying a cool attitude toward the fans like Schmidt, that old Rolen is long gone.

“This is where I belong,” he said. “I learned a lot in Philadelphia, and I’m thankful for the time that I spent there, but it’s different here. I don’t take bitterness with me at all. If I didn’t have that experience, I don’t think I’d be as complete “

There is also a nurturing atmosphere in St. Louis that wasn’t available in Philadelphia. Although both men are old-school baseball men, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and Phils manager Larry Bowa are as different as night and day. As a Phillie, Rolen and Bowa often clashed and had two well-publicized blowups in Tampa in 2001 and Clearwater in 2002. Sensitivity training to Bowa is using a player’s proper name while showing disgust for a misdeed.

La Russa is equally intense, but he has a better rapport with his players. Part of that might be because he is a multi-lingual attorney who is an animal-rights advocate. For Rolen, who speaks of his dogs Enis and Emma as if they are his sired children, La Russa’s interest in such causes must impress the third baseman.

Rolen certainly is a fan favorite too. On June 1, thousands lined up early at Busch Stadium before a game against the Pirates to receive a Scott Rolen bobblehead doll. Apparently, as many as eight busloads of fans made the three-hour trip from Jasper, Ind. to get a memento of their hometown boy and watch him play.

They might have seen his best game as a Cardinal. Rolen reached base three times, including a key double in the third inning. He also drew an important walk in the seventh to lead a decisive two-run surge. But he saved the best for last.

With two outs in the ninth, and the Cardinals clinging to a precarious one-run lead, Rolen leaped high to snag Reggie Sanders’ sizzling extra-base bid, a backhand catch that ended the game.

The crowd, of course, forced a post-game curtain call, just like it did when he hit a grand slam to cap off a 4-for-5 win over the Orioles last Sunday. And the three-run shot he hit with two outs in the ninth to beat the Cubs on May 23. These days, Rolen has made enough curtain calls in Busch Stadium to make even Pavarotti blush, but it was something Rolen spurned in Philly. Not that it matters anymore. Rolen is exactly where he wants to be.

“I’m in a place where I’m really happy,” he said. “I always said that a happy ballplayer is a good ballplayer, and I feel pretty good.”

He ought to. Usually pegged into manager Tony LaRussa’s lineup behind Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols (“He’s the best player I’ve ever managed,” LaRussa said of Pujols in New York.), Rolen is eighth in the National League with 51 RBIs, which sets him on a pace for 125.

Of course it doesn’t hurt that Rolen’s numbers are as good as anyone in the National League. In fact, if he weren’t on the same team as Pujols and Edmonds, who are one-two in batting in the league, Rolen could be the leading candidate for the league’s MVP award.

Sorry folks, he’s been that good.

Rolen’s good fortune comes as his former team is beginning its slow spiral down the commode. Full of promise after the acquisitions of David Bell, Kevin Millwood and Jim Thome, the Phillies could most definitely use Rolen’s bat, if not his goldglove at third base. At the end of play on Sunday, Rolen is hitting .293 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs. But those numbers don’t fully explain how good he’s been. With runners in scoring position, Rolen is hitting .344 and has reached base in 56 of the Cardinals’ 66 games.

At the same time, his fifth gold glove for his work at third base is all but a given, and his team will be right there when the pennant race heats up.

Nevertheless, Philadelphia is not fully in Rolen’s rear-view mirror. He made a lot of friends during his seven years as a Phillie and still chats with some of his old teammates. Dan Plesac calls now and then. Randy Wolf’s brother Jim, a big-league umpire, passes along messages. Then there’s Jim Thome, whom Rolen was essentially traded for. According to Rolen, the pair talks regularly about baseball.

Interestingly, Rolen says he’s asked frequently about whether he’d made a mistake in leaving Philadelphia since the Phils have added Thome.

“If I would have stayed there, there was no way they would have gotten Thome,” Rolen said. “They might have been able to get Millwood, but there’s no way they would have been able to have Thome and me on the same team.”

Yeah, but Rolen and Pujols, Edmonds, Edgar Renteria and Tino Martinez on the same team?

If Rolen isn’t in heaven, St. Louis might be the next best place.

E-mail John R. Finger

‘I’ve Died and Gone to Heaven… ‘ Phillies Deal ‘Excited’ Scott Rolen to St. Louis

After months of speculation, tons of rumors and lots of innuendo, the Phillies have finally traded Scott Rolen. Once viewed as the rightful heir to Mike Schmidt’s throne at third base and as the cornerstone of a franchise on the way up, Rolen left town after an acrimonious season-and-a-half where the luster was chipped away from the city’s one-time golden boy.

And Rolen, as stated in an interview with ESPN.com’s Peter Gammons, could not be happier about the trade.

“I felt,” he said to Gammons upon hearing the news about the trade on Monday night, “as if I’d died and gone to heaven. I’m so excited that I can’t wait to get on the plane (Tuesday morning) and get to Florida to join the Cardinals.”

For Rolen, Triple-A reliever Doug Nickle and an undisclosed amount of cash, the Phillies have obtained infielder Placido Polanco, lefthanded pitcher Bud Smith and reliever Mike Timlin, general manager Ed Wade announced in a spare conference room in the bowels of Veterans Stadium on Monday.

But more than receiving three players in return for the game’s best defensive third baseman, the Phillies have ended a once-happy marriage that seemed destined to end with a ceremony in Cooperstown and his No. 17 hung on a commemorative disc beyond the outfield wall.

Instead, it ended in a soap-operatic mess filled with more whispered back-biting than an episode of Dynasty. With the dust finally clearing, the Phillies have lost their best player and receive a lefthanded pitcher in Smith who threw a Major League no-hitter last Sept. 3 but is still only in Triple-A, a one-time closer in Timlin who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season and might again be dealt before the season ends and an infielder in Polanco who is more akin to line-drive hitting Marlon Anderson than the powerful Rolen.

And it marks the second time since 2000 that the Phillies have lost a player worth the price of a season ticket. Almost two years to the day, Wade dealt Curt Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Travis Lee, Vicente Padilla, Omar Daal and Nelson Figueroa. Since the deal, Schilling has won a ring and composed a 45-14 record.

Once Spring Training was in full swing, Wade knew Rolen was not going to be a Phillie in 2003.

“I knew in Spring Training that we had a zero chance to get anything done,” Wade said.

In brokering the deal, Wade admits that the Phillies are giving up a lot, but he’s more interested in the players the team has now opposed to the players they once had.

“We did not replace Scott Rolen with an All-Star, Gold Glove third baseman, but we did replace him with a very good baseball player, and we got some other guys who should help us,” Wade said.

In adding Rolen, Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty believes his club has added the piece of the puzzle needed to finish off the rest of the NL Central. With a five-game lead over the second-place Cincinnati Reds, Rolen not only picks up a lot of ground in the standings, but also seems slated for his first-ever appearance in the playoffs. This fact should satisfy Rolen, who said during a cantankerous press conference at the beginning of spring training that the Philles were not committed to winning.

“We are very pleased and excited to add Scott Rolen to our lineup,” Jocketty said in a statement. “He is an All-Star, a proven run producer and an excellent defensive player.”

In a quickly assembled press conference in which only Wade spoke, the GM broke down his side of the negotiations and relayed Rolen’s feelings about the deal. After returning to Philadelphia from Atlanta where Rolen belted a home run in a victory over the Braves (wearing a throwback, powder-blue Phils uniform, no less) on Sunday, the new Red Bird was trying to figure out how to get to Miami where he will make his debut against the Marlins on Tuesday.

“He said he appreciated the opportunity and the organization and wondered where he goes from here and how he gets there,” Wade said. “He was fairly single-minded in getting his gear and getting on an airplane and making sure that he was with the Cardinals in Florida in time for the game [Tuesday].”

Like Rolen’s last season in Philadelphia, Wade said the negotiations with the Cardinals were quite tempestuous with each club making concessions. According to Wade, trade talks between the Cardinals and Phillies broke down without a deal at 11 p.m. in Sunday night and that as of Monday afternoon, the Phils were currently negotiating a deal with an unnamed team until the Cardinals jumped back into the fray.

“We were one phone call away from Scott not being a Cardinal and going somewhere else,” said Wade.

The Phillies’ GM faced the prospect of getting nothing for his star if Rolen stayed in Philadelphia. If the new basic agreement between players and owners includes a redesign of the the First-Year Player Draft, it’s possible that it will eliminate compensatory draft picks for teams that lose free agents.

“At some point you have to say the deal that sits in front of me is good enough that it outweighs gambling that something better is going to be out there 48 hours from now,” said Wade. “The players were right.”

According to Wade, the deal was finalized at 5 p.m. on Monday and was announced officially at 6:30 p.m. With Monday being an off day in the National League, all players will be with their respective teams by Tuesday. Smith will report to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and will start either on Wednesday or Thursday.

Still, Wade says the deal occurred because the Phillies were very aggressive. Some teams, he claims, “moved out of the process because of the ebb and flow of the labor situation.” He categorized the Cardinals as one of those teams as well as six others that he claims he was talking to.

Rolen had been the subject of trade rumors after deciding not to negotiate on a multi-year extension that Wade categorized on Monday as a “lifetime deal.” The Phillies report that they were anticipating giving Rolen a 10-year contract extension last November that could’ve been worth up to $140 million. Rolen ended up signing an $8.6 million, one-year deal in January that kept him and the Phillies away from an arbitration hearing, but made it clear he wanted to become a free agent after this season. That decision forced the Phillies to make a move or risk losing him for nothing.

“I regret the outcome,” Wade said. “We were very serious about the offer we made and when that didn’t work out we tried to get him to sign a two-year guaranteed contract with player options. We regret the outcome but don’t regret the way we approached him.”

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.

Surely it’s not a deal to sneeze at, but nowhere close to the “lifetime” contract Wade and his minions keep throwing out there.

Art of the Deal
Rolen did not sign an extension with the Cardinals, so he remains eligible for free agency. However, when rumors reached fervor on Saturday, Rolen said he would be interested in signing a contract extension with the Cardinals.

About signing, potentially, with the Cardinals, Rolen said on Saturday that the Red Birds were one of the teams he would consider.

“We all know that is a situation I’d be willing to talk about,” Rolen said on Saturday.

On Monday, he was a lot less ambiguous with his comments as told to Gammons. Growing up in Jasper, Ind., Rolen says he went to two parks as a kid — St. Louis and Cincinnati.

“I was there at Busch with my dad, sitting in the stands wherever we could get a seat, watching Ozzie Smith,” Rolen said. “It may be the best place to play in the game, and it’s the place I always dreamed of playing.

“As I said, I’ve gone to heaven.”

And dropping him in the middle of the Cardinals’ powerful lineup looks like hell for opposing pitchers. When the Cardinals come to the Vet on Aug. 16 for a three-game set, Rolen should bat fifth in a lineup that looks something like this:

Fernando Vina, 2b
Edgar Renteria, ss
Jim Edmonds, cf
Albert Pujols, lf
Rolen, 3b
J.D. Drew, rf
Tino Martinez, 1b
Mike Matheny, c

Signing potential free agents hasn’t been a problem for the Cardinals, who play in front of well-mannered fans in a baseball-crazy city. In the last five years, the Cardinals traded for potential free agents Jim Edmonds and Mark McGwire and convinced them to stay in St. Louis long-term.

However, while Wade says there were numerous suitors all clamoring for Rolen’s services, ComcastSportsNet.com sources indicate otherwise. According to one well-placed baseball executive, if a deal with the Cardinals wasn’t consummated, Rolen would still be wearing the red-and-white Phillie pinstripes.

“I really searched for another team that was interested and I couldn’t find one,” the source says. “The Phillies were trying to create a market for Rolen that didn’t exist.”

Originally, rumors circled that the Phillies were going to receive Double-A prospect Jimmy Journell, who is rated as the Cardinals’ top up-and-comer by Baseball America. However, a source says that Journell was never part of any deal. Instead, the source says, the Cardinals were not going to make a deal with the Phillies unless Timlin — a free agent when the season ends — was included in the deal.

But Wade says it was Smith who was the “deal buster.”

“He was the key part of the deal,” Wade said.

Like the other rumors, it was reported that a deal with another club would not occur if the Phillies had to pay the remainder of Rolen’s contract or if he couldn’t work out a contract extension with an interested club.

Not at all true.

“I wish I kept a list of all the misinformation,” Wade said.

The Players
Polanco, 26, is hitting .284 with five homers and 27 RBIs. He batted .307 last season and .316 in his first full year, in 2000. Wade said he’d play third base and bat second in the Phillies’ lineup against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night.

Polanco is a slick fielder who plays three infield positions and leads third basemen in fielding chances. However, he has played too many games at short and second to qualify for the league lead. A prototypical contact hitter, Polanco has struck out just 26 times in 92 games this season.

Smith, who pitched a no-hitter in his rookie season last year, was sent to Triple-A Memphis on July 20 after going 1-5 with a 6.94 ERA in 11 appearances, including 10 starts. The 22-year-old lefthander was 6-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 16 games last year.

In his last outing in the big leagues on July 19, Smith allowed eight runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings in a loss to the Pirates.

Smith is best compared to Randy Wolf.

“He’s a surplus prospect,” Wade said.

Timlin is 1-3 with a 2.51 ERA in 42 appearances and is holding righties to a .197 average. The 36-year-old righthander is in the final year of a contract that is paying him $5.25 million this season. In 1996 he saved 31 games for the Toronto Blue Jays and has saved 114 games during his 11-year Major League career. However, this season he has blown two saves working primarily in middle relief.

Timlin won two World Series’ with the Blue Jays and appeared in two games of the 1993 series against the Phillies.

Nickle, 27, was 3-5 with a 2.97 ERA and seven saves in 34 games — one of them a start — at Scranton this season. He appeared in four games — 4 1/3 innings pitched — for the Phillies this season and has made 10 career major-league appearances.

Glory Days
When Scott Rolen came to Philadelphia as a fresh-faced 21-year old, he was too good to be true. He played hard, possessed Midwestern, homespun values and spoke about fair play and hard work. If he was going to do something, he said, he was going to do it all out and to win.

Philadelphia fans immediately latched onto the quiet kid from Jasper, Ind.

After winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 1997, Rolen signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the idea that he was going to be a Phillie for life. In fact, Rolen signed for far less than he could have gotten because he believed the Phillies were on the right path and he was enamored with the idea that he was going to be like his kindred spirit, Mike Schmidt, and spend his entire career in Philadelphia.

But all those losing seasons caught up with Rolen. So too did the firing of mild-mannered manager Terry Francona, who is a close friend of Rolen’s. Meanwhile, Rolen’s quiet nature in a city full of loud and sometimes abrasive sports fans, wore thin on both sides. Sensitive and thoughtful, Rolen chose to do his talking on the field or in the clubhouse — nowhere else. Philly fans wanted their rough-and-tumble athletes’ personas to translate to a give-and-take relationship with the city that Rolen was not willing to have. His family (and his dogs, Enis and Emma) came first and nothing else was a close second.

When prodigal son and fan-favorite Larry Bowa was hired as the team’s skipper, many speculated when he and his sensitive third baseman would clash. It didn’t take long.

In June of 2001 during a series against Tampa Bay, Bowa told the Philadelphia Daily News that Rolen’s recent futility at the plate was “killing us.” Rolen took the criticism not as constructive but intended to embarrass him and had it out with the manager before a game against the Devil Rays.

“I came in here with the intent of kicking your ass,” Rolen reportedly told Bowa as he walked into the manager’s office that day.

Their relationship remained strained ever since and the soap opera began in earnest.

Later that year, Phillies executive assistant and manager of the hard-boiled manager of 1980 World Championship team, Dallas Green, told a radio station that Rolen was OK with being a “so-so” player and that his personality would not allow him to be a great player.

After the season, Rolen summed up the 2001 campaign as the worst he ever went through and cited Bowa and Green as the main culprits in his dissatisfaction. His ire manifested itself during an edgy press conference to kick off spring training.

There, Rolen held a press conference to explain why he opted for free agency questioning what he thought was the team’s commitment to winning.

“Philadelphia is the [fourth-largest] market in the game, and I feel that for the last however long, the organization has not acted like it,” Rolen said in February. “There’s a lack of commitment to what I think is right.”

Rolen pointed out that the Phillies, who entered the season with a payroll around $60 million that ranks in the bottom third of all Major League franchises, were notorious for allowing players of star quality walk away when their contracts are about to expire. It happened two seasons ago with Curt Schilling and he wasn’t so sure it was going to stop now, he said.

“Part of my whole problem is that I look around and see Bobby Abreu, I see Pat Burrell, I see Doug Glanville and Mike Lieberthal and this is the core that’s been talked about for three or four years,” Rolen said then. “These are unbelievable ballplayers. But three years from now, when everybody becomes a free agent or arbitration-eligible and it’s time to re-sign everybody, I want to turn around and see Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell and Doug Glanville and Mike Lieberthal. To me, what history shows, I will not be able to do that.”

Not unless they are playing for the Cardinals.

What followed over the next six weeks were a few public discussions with Bowa and a miserable slump in May and June that turned his .284 April into a .240 average by the end of May. In June, an unnamed teammate reportedly called Rolen a “cancer” and that his status was a distraction to the team.

However, things haven’t been all bad for Rolen this season. He started in his first-ever All-Star Game and is on pace to drive in over 100 runs for the second year in a row and third time of his career and belt 25 homers for the fifth season in a row.

But the constant circus around his future was starting to drain him, he told Gammons.

“I think I must have been asked more questions than the rest of the team combined,” Rolen said. “It was crazy. In spring training, all the way back to the winter, it was that way. Before the All-Star break, I know I was a little down. I shouldn’t have been, but having people leaning on both my shoulders all the time drained me.

“People would tell me that I needed to be more selfish, to play for numbers. But that’s not the way I know how to play. I’m not good at playing for numbers, I’m not good at playing for myself. To go from last place to first is more than I ever could have dreamed.”

The Future
Even with Polanco in the fold, Wade says the Phillies go into the offseason in a position they haven’t been familiar with in almost a decade.

“We go into the offseason for the first time in nine years potentially looking for a third baseman,” Wade said.

For now, Wade says his concern is to build for the future and not look into the past that saw superstars Curt Schilling and now Rolen leave amidst acrimony.

“I don’t think we did anything to necessarily make the player unhappy,” Wade said. “We’re always trying to do things the right way. We’re always trying to make our players comfortable. We’re always trying to compensate them fairly. We’re always trying to bring teammates around that they are comfortable playing with and gives us a better chance of winning.”

He certainly has given Rolen that chance now … problem is, it isn’t in Philadelphia.

E-mail John R. Finger

As the Clubhouse turns: Rolen takes heat from management

Try this one on for size. A player — a weak-hitting but slick-fielding shortstop at that — hosts his own radio talk show before every game. In this show, the shortstop rips his manager, calls the fans the worst in baseball and challenges his teammates to play better than they are.

In turn, the manager — an old salt of guy — alienates all of his players. He calls them names and tells them that they are an embarrassment to the uniform. The team ends up being so unified in their hatred of their boss that they go out and win the World Series for the first (and only) time in the franchises’ history.

Flash ahead 21 years. That shortstop is now the manager and the old salt is up in the front office as the team’s special assistant to something or other (thank you old-boy network). This time it’s the old salt that’s going on the radio and the manager who is alienating his young players.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

So here it is one last time before we put it to rest forever. That’s barring — at the very least — someone else associated with the Philadelphia Phillies opening their big mouth and sticking their big boot in there.

First, the recap:

Last week, special assistant to the General Manager Dallas Green, told the listeners of WIP that Scott Rolen — who won the Rookie of the Year award in 1997 and owns two gold gloves for fielding excellence at third base — was nothing more than a “so-so” player and that he lacked the “personality” to be a great player. He later reiterated those comments to the beat writers in a loud discussion in the press box before a game against the San Diego Padres.

That little turn of the soap opera dial spawned a story in the Bucks County Courier Times that the Phils’ clubhouse is nearing mutiny and if the players put it to a vote on whether manager Larry Bowa should stay or go, Bowa would be a loser in a landslide.

“He can manage. He knows baseball,” one player said. “But if we win, it will be just to spite him. Everybody hates him that much.”

You would think that a team going through all of this after just completing a three-city road trip where the team went 4-6 with four losses coming on walk-off dingers while falling three games out of first place would be the beginning of the end. After all of Green’s chirping about the players, the players whining about the manager and the manager and his coaching staff complaining to each other that the players don’t care enough or don’t take the losses as hard as they do, there was nothing more than a great big mess.

Call it As the Clubhouse Turns.

So all week this silliness is hanging over the team in its sheer pleonasm, causing anyone who wanders into the Phils’ clubhouse to think what move they should make if a rumble breaks out between the players, coaches and media. Maybe that’s why the press tends to gravitate toward the bat rack in the middle of the room — in case anything happens, they can come out swinging.

But something quite odd happened while all of this was going on. There were no fights, in fact, the warring factions were very complimentary of each other. Instead of folding up the tent and exposing their pink, rounded belly to the Atlanta Braves letting them run away with the NL East, the Phils got mad. And they fought back like a bunch of wolverines on speed.

Sound familiar?

More than 12 years ago, Bowa lost his job for many of the same reasons his players cite. One player, in a story published by the Philadelphia Daily News Tuesday, said the skipper is on them for even the most minute mistake and no one has a good word to say about him.

“He’s a real good baseball man. He knows the game and fundamentals and nobody can get lackadaisical around him,” a player told the Daily News. “If you make the same mistakes, he’ll stay on top of you.”

“The thing is, though, that it’s a 162-game season. Guys are going to struggle, and he doesn’t always seem to understand that. I think to say that [everybody hates him] might be a little overstated, but his approach might hurt in the long run.

“For a franchise-type player, [Bowa] might be a pretty good reason not to come back. Every player has his story. If you’re on his good side, you’re fine. But you can get on his bad side awfully quick, especially pitchers. He’s definitely different than any manager I’ve ever seen in the big leagues. If I was a manager, I definitely wouldn’t be like that.”

Some of the players may not want to admit it, but Bowa has a lot to do with the team’s success this season. His predecessor, Terry Francona, was widely liked by all of his players but last year they only won 65 games for him. Already this season, the Phils have won 66 for Bowa — maybe that’s because he won’t aw-shucks a loss. Last year Francona was almost glib after a loss, giving the boilerplate answer of: “We’re still running them out. Our guys haven’t quit.”

This season, losses sting and Bowa takes them hard. When his team loses, Bowa feels the loss like it’s something personal. He manages his team like they are a college basketball team in late February who desperately needs a couple of more wins to get off the bubble and get into the NCAA Tournament. It’s a nice attitude to have but can be a bit grating if you’re a player. How would you like it if your boss pointed out all of your tiniest mistakes and told you that you’re costing the company millions because you forgot to dot one “I.” Chances are you would lash out.

Barring a collapse where the Phillies fail to win at least 15 more games, Bowa will be the National League manager of the year, just as Green was in 1980. But instead of emulating that abrasive style, perhaps there could be a lesson learned from those halcyon days.

The year following the World Series victory in 1980, the Phils jumped out to a big lead in the NL East. But just before the player’s strike in 1981, the team was so fed up with Green that they couldn’t take it anymore. Winning just wasn’t worth it anymore.

So it had to end like something out of Shakespeare. Green, the only man to lead the Phils to a title was exiled to Chicago and took Bowa and Ryne Sandberg with him. After a NL East title in 1984, Green was on the move again, proving that maybe professional athletes don’t need a drill sergeant.

Hopefully, Bowa and the rest of the Phils can learn from the franchises’ history. Lord knows a lot of it has been repeated ad infinitum for 13 of the last 14 years around here.

Who’s Up First
One thing Bowa has been able to do well is measure the whims and rhythms of who is ready to go on a big hitting surge and who isn’t. Take the most recent lineup change for instance.

Just after the All-Star Break, the Phillies were 7-12 with Doug Glanville leading off, Jimmy Rollins hitting second and Marlon Anderson flip-flopping between seventh and eighth in the order. Two weeks ago, Bowa moved Anderson to the two-hole, Rollins to the leadoff spot and Glanville to seventh. Since then, they are 9-4.

The players have benefited too. Rollins is 12-for-47 in the top spot with two homers and three stolen bases. Glanville is 7-for-30, including a 0-for-5 Tuesday night in Milwaukee. Anderson is 12-for-37 with eight runs hitting second and has hit in eight of nine games since being moved up.

Quote of the Week
“I thought I had a so-so series.”

— Scott Rolen after going 8-for-11 with three home runs against the Dodgers, which helped him earn National League player of the week honors.

Stat of the Week
Wins in 2000: 65.
Wins in 2001: 66.

Bull’s Eye
It seems slugging left fielder Pat Burrell has caught the eye of a former Phils’ left fielder who was known to smack a few into the upper deck at the Vet.

Fan-favorite Greg Luzinski was at the Vet last weekend to take part in the Phils’ alumni weekend and apparently sought out the young slugger to talk a little ball.

Although much more athletic than Luzinski, Burrell’s game is uncannily similar to the Bull’s. In his first full season in 1972, Luzinski belted 18 homers on his way to 307 in an often brilliant but sometimes injury-plagued career. He also hit .281 with 68 RBIs and 114 strikeouts.

Burrell also belted 18 homers last season, drove in 79 with 139 whiffs and a .261 batting average. If he picks up the pace, he could match Luzinski’s second year homer numbers. In 1973, he smacked 29 dingers with 97 RBIs and 139 strikeouts to go with a .285 average. Burrell’s on pace for 23 homers, 95 RBIs and a .270 average.

However, Burrell’s 123 whiffs should surpass the Bull’s numbers.

During a career that spanned 15 seasons, Luzinski hit .300 four times, hit over 30 homers four times and drove in 100 or more runs four times. Looks like Burrell has a pretty good mentor in the Bull and it’s impressive that he was willing to take the time to listen to an old, wise player.

Then again, it’s not like Burrell shouldn’t know who Luzinski is. After all, Burrell chased all of the Bull’s records at Reading during the 1999 season.

On the Horizon
The two games left against Milwaukee on Wednesday and Thursday will be the easiest ones for the Phils over the next few weeks. Friday night, they open a tough, weekend series against the Cardinals in St. Louis before heading home to face the Central-leading Astros for three games and the West-leading Diamondbacks for four more.

Beginning with Tuesday night’s 10-4 win in Milwaukee, the Phils face a stretch where they will play 26 games in 27 days and only have three more off days the rest of the season.

Bowa called the homestand against Houston and Arizona “a minefield.”

John R. Finger
ComcastSportsNet.com