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.

Aaron Rowand saw this coming

Rowand It’s amazing what a guy can do with his time when he’s been away from the ballpark for almost a week. For me, for instance, I have allowed the charms of the Pacific time zone to wash over me even though it’s been several days since we returned from San Francisco.

Hey, if you can’t beat them, join them.

Nevertheless, in trying to figure out just how the San Francisco Giants beat the Phillies in the NLCS and why we’re not headed to Dallas/Fort Worth for Game 3 of the World Series on Friday, I have been re-reading some notes and old stories searching for ideas and clues. And while I’m not sure if I found an answer, I did find a bit of prophecy from a conversation I had with Aaron Rowand in September of 2009.

Rowand, of course, is the popular ex-Phillies center fielder whose claim to fame was his penchant for recklessness in the field and his ability to hit well at Citizens Bank Park. Though he spent just two seasons playing for the Phillies after being traded from the White Sox for Jim Thome, Rowand was unforgettable. Specifically, the catch at Citizens Bank Park where he smashed his face into the exposed metal on the center field fence remains the greatest catch I’ve seen.

He also broke his ankle trying to make a tough catch at Wrigley Field and belted the ball around as an integral member of the 2007 club that broke the long playoff drought for the Phillies.

My favorite Rowand injury was the one he got while playing with his kids at his daughter’s birthday party. That little shoulder injury tells you all you need to know about Rowand—whether it was a big league game or his daughter’s birthday party, he went all out.

“The next day I got shot up a little bit and went back out there and it was fine,” Rowand remembered for us about hurting himself at the birthday party.

Nevertheless, Rowand left the Phillies for the Giants after the 2007 season as a free agent when San Francisco ponied up the years in a long-term contract he was looking for. The Giants gave him a five-year, $60 million deal that runs out in 2012, while the Phillies countered with three years. The Giants also gave him a $8 million signing bonus though he hasn’t come close to producing the types of numbers he posted in his two years with the Phillies.

Interestingly, when Rowand jumped to the Giants he took quite a bit of flack for it because it was seen as a money grab. Considering that San Francisco finished last in the NL West in 2007 and improved by one win and one spot in the standings in 2008, it’s not tough to understand why it looked like a rush for a pay day.

But all along, Rowand held fast to the theory that when the core group of young pitchers for the Giants—Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez—developed properly, things would change quickly.

He nailed that one.

Not that it was tough, of course. Anyone could see that Lincecum and Cain were the real deal, though the right-handed Cain's current scoreless innings streak through the playoffs is pretty extraordinary… make that downright Christy Mattewson-esque.

Still, the part that stood out was that Rowand didn't give off any false bravado of a guy bragging about his team. He was calm and matter-of-fact. He also knew that the Giants were better than most of us realized.

Though the Giants finished in third place and faded in September in 2009, they won 88 games and the young pitchers began to show their promise. Lincecum won his second Cy Young Award, Cain pitched exactly 217 2/3 innings for the second straight season with 14 wins, and even veteran Barry Zito showed flashes of his old form.

Teams like the Phillies saw what was going on in San Francisco and took notice. Better yet, Rowand, once again, reminded folks about the Giants’ pitching.

“When you look at teams that have success in the postseason, a lot of it has to do with how they pitch,” Rowand said before a game at the Bank in September of 2009. “And when you have a pitching staff like us that you can line up for a five-game series or a seven-game series, you know you have a chance to win every game.”

Not-so secretly, folks in my line of work wondered what would happen to the Phillies if they had to face the Giants in a wild-card series. There was a chance the Phillies would have used Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Pedro Martinez against Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez in ’09 in the same way they sent Roy Halladay, Hamels and Roy Oswalt out there in the 2010 NLCS.

Would the result have been the same a year earlier? Probably not. After all, the Giants’ offense got a serious upgrade with Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff, which speaks to how bad the Giants were with the bats in 2009. They finished toward the bottom in runs and batting average, next-to-last in homers and dead last in on-base percentage in 2009.

Clearly, pitching will take a team only so far. The Phillies learned that lesson the hard way in 2010.

Interestingly, Rowand told us in September of 2009 that he had spoken with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel about the prospect of a Philadelphia-San Francisco playoff series, which is another bit of Rowand prophecy that came true. Stranger still, Rowand said his Giants reminded him a lot of his 2005 White Sox that tore through the postseason by winning 10 of 11 games to win Chicago’s first World Series since 1917.

“[The Giants] reminds me a lot of the team we had with the White Sox in the year that we won. We had a decent offense but we weren’t a powerhouse by any means,” Rowand said back in ‘09. “We had a couple of guys who could hit home runs, but we were a pitching and defense team. In the postseason the pitching staff stepped up and it carried us.”

That’s the way it’s going in 2010 with the Giants. Rowand may have been a year early with his predictions, but he’s right on time now.

Why can’t we quit Cliff Lee?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then he got even better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty good, huh?

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

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

Just what was it about Cliff Lee?


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

Philadelphia’s First Dynasty: 100 Years after the A’s ruled

Homerun_baker Third story in a series

Before there was Babe Ruth and the Yankees, the 1910 Athletics set the standard for which all Philadelphia baseball teams are based. That was the season Connie Mack guided Philadelphia to four trips to the World Series in five years, capturing three championships. In ’10, the A’s rolled over the Cubs in five games, six games over the Giants in ’11, a five-game victory over the Giants in ’13 before it came to an end in four games to the Braves in 1914.

The first dynasty of baseball history came to a crash landing in 1915 when Mack sold off his great players or they jumped to the upstart Federal League as the A’s spent the next seven seasons in last place.

Could you imagine what we would have written and said about Mack in this day and age if he sold Home Run Baker, Eddie Collins and Chief Bender to make a little cash though it meant a decade in the second division? That would be like David Montgomery being told by the Phillies’ partners to dump Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay in order to line the team’s coffers.

Strangely, Mack chose to sell out when his core group of stars were just coming into their primes and it’s not far-fetched to think that the Philadelphia Athletics and the Philadelphia Phillies could have played in the 1915 World Series. The first two games would have been played at the Baker Bowl on Broad and Huntingdon in North Philly, packed up the gear after the games, and walked down Lehigh for five blocks to Shibe Park.

Forget a subway series; Philadelphia could have hosted the Lehigh Avenue series.

Anyway, over the next few months we will write about the 100 years since Philadelphia started baseball’s first dynasty. Look for some stylings about the 1910 Philadelphia Athletics here over the next few months. We’ll revisit the “Deadball Era” where Frank “Home Run” Baker hit just two homers in 1910, but he led the league the next four straight years with totals of 11, 10, 12 and 9.

So here’s a little slice of the Deadball Era for the Digital Age.

Frank “Home Run” Baker

To just look at the stats, it seems like a joke. A guy with 96 career home runs and a season-high of 12 and they called him, “Home Run,” is like calling a bald guy, “Curly.”

But until Babe Ruth came around, Frank “Home Run” Baker was as big a slugger as any in the game. After all, this was an era where until Ruth hit 29 homers in 1919 (as primarily a pitcher), the single-seasin record for the past 35 years had been 27.

Besides, Baker didn’t get his nickname because he led the American League in homers for four straight seasons, a feat matched only by Ruth and A’s teammate (and Philly city councilman), Harry Davis. He was called “Home Run” because of two homers he hit during the A’s reign atop the baseball world.

First at Shibe Park in Game 2 of the 1911 World Series of Hall of Famer Rube Marquard, followed by another off the great Christy Matthewson at the Polo Grounds in Game 3, Baker’s homers in back-to-back games were the decisive blows in the A’s six-game victory over the New York Giants.

And as far as clutch performers during the Deadball Era, Baker was a veritable Mr. October. In the A’s World Series victories in 1910, 1911 and 1913, Baker batted .409 with three homers and 16 RBIs. Oddly enough, Baker’s on-base percentage in the 1913 World Series was lower than his batting average, but he still had a 1.077 OPS during his first 16 appearances in the Fall Classic, not that anyone in baseball had any inkling about advanced metrics.

Nevertheless, Baker, along with Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, and Jack Barry, formed Connie Mack’s famed, $100,000 infield[1] in which Baker was the oldest of the bunch at 24 in 1910. With a well-paid quartet of ballplayers not quite in their athletic prime, it’s understandable how the A’s won the World Series three times in four seasons and made it to the World Series four times in five years.

If only Mack could have kept them together…

When the upstart Federal League formed in 1915 and attempted to sway major leaguers with high salaries, Baker didn’t jump. Instead, he honored the three-year, $20,000 deal he signed with Mack with a clause that allowed him to quit after the 1914 season. Still, because Baker made $10,000 in the final year of his contract and was due a raise since he was coming off his fourth straight year of leading the league in homers while finishing in the top 10 in runs scored, hits, doubles, total bases, extra-base hits and RBIs. But Mack and the A’s could no longer afford the high salaries of the $100,000 Infield and began selling off players. Before the 1916 season, after sitting out in 1915, Baker was sold to the Yankees.

But Baker really could never quit playing. He never battled Mack over salary because the way he saw it, he got paid more playing baseball than he could from farming. As a result, when Baker “sat out” in 1915, he ended up playing for an amateur team in Upland, Pa. in the Delaware County League. He returned to play for Upland in 1920, skipping the major league season after the death of his first wife.

Regardless, Baker just might be where the stereotype of the slugging third baseman came from. Raised on a farm in Maryland’s eastern shore in a town called Trappe (two hours southeast of Washington, D.C.), Baker was a strong, lefty pull hitter who used a 52-ounce bat. There are mixed reports on his glove work, and he made 35 errors in 146 games during the 1910 season as well as 51 over the next two seasons, but that was overlooked because he batted better than .334 from 1911 to 1914, and led the league in RBIs in two straight seasons beginning in 1912 when he had 130.

As his career wound down in the early 1920s, Baker was a bench player with the Yankees where the home runs were hit by Babe Ruth.

Mostly, Baker was a quiet man and popular with the Philadelphia sports fans. Mack liked him, too, even though he gave him up before the 1916 season. He loved baseball, too, but not more than his farm in Maryland. Though he managed in the minors for a couple of seasons, Baker preferred spending time in Trappe where he could duck hunt near the Chesapeake Bay, work for the local bank and fire company, and tend to his asparagus plants.

He also is credited for “discovering” another eastern shore Hall-of-Famer, Jimmie Foxx, and enjoyed participating in old-timers games and signing autographs. When asked about playing during the time of Ruth instead of the Deadball Era, Baker figured he would have adapted quite well to the newer game.

“I'd say fifty,” he said when asked about how many homers he would hit. “The year I hit twelve, I also hit the right-field fence at Shibe Park thirty-eight times.”

In 1955, Baker was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee, and said: “It's better to get a rosebud while you're alive than a whole rose garden after you're gone.”

He lived eight more years, dying at age 77 in 1963.


[1] The $100,000 Infield adjusted for inflation would come to approximately $2.2 million in 2010. That’s roughly the average major league salary now.

Philadelphia’s First Dynasty: 100 Years after the A’s ruled


AP97060202246 First story in a series

Believe it or not, two of the greatest baseball teams in the history of the game played in Philadelphia. What makes that unbelievable is there has been more lost games from Philadelphia baseball teams than any other. In fact, heading into action on Thursday night, Philadelphia teams in Major League Baseball have lost 14,441 regular-season games and 63 more in the playoffs.

Only a team from Philadelphia could win 99 games and go to the World Series one year and lose 109 games the next season and 117 the year after that. More notably, of the top 10 worst single-season winning percentages in league history, Philadelphia holds 40 percent of the spots. That total increases to 45 percent of the top 20 worst seasons.

Oh, but when things go well in Philly we don’t know what to do with ourselves. Surely the reasons for this are better left for sociologists and trained professionals, so we’ll just leave that type analysis alone. However, when it comes to baseball in Philadelphia there are two eras that are on the top of the list and everything else kind of just filters in behind.

From 1929 to 1931, Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics tore through the American League to win three straight pennants with an average of 104 wins per season back when they only played 154 a year. Baseball historians regard the 1929 A’s club as a bit below the ’27 Yankees when ranking the greatest teams of all-time, though the three-year run by the A’s is amongst the greatest ever and had the distinction of ending the Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig dynasty.

But before Babe Ruth, the Yankees or the A’s that knocked them off in three straight seasons, the 1910 Athletics set the standard for which all Philadelphia baseball teams are based. That was the season Connie Mack guided Philadelphia to four trips to the World Series in five years, capturing three championships. In ’10, the A’s rolled over the Cubs in five games, six games over the Giants in ’11, a five-game victory over the Giants in ’13 before it came to an end in four games to the Braves in 1914.

The first dynasty of baseball history came to a crash landing in 1915 when Mack sold off his great players or the jumped to the upstart Federal League and spent the next seven seasons in last place.

Could you imagine what we would have written and said about Mack in this day and age if he sold Home Run Baker, Eddie Collins and Chief Bender to make a little cash though it meant a decade in the second division? That would be like David Montgomery being told by the Phillies’ partners to dump Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay in order to line the team’s coffers.

Strangely, Mack chose to sell out when his core group of stars were just coming into their primes and it’s not far-fetched to think that the Philadelphia Athletics and the Philadelphia Phillies could have played in the 1915 World Series. The first two games would have been played at the Baker Bowl on Broad and Huntingdon in North Philly, packed up the gear after the games, and walked down Lehigh for five blocks to Shibe Park.

Forget a subway series; Philadelphia could have hosted the Lehigh Avenue series.

Anyway, over the next few months we will write about the 100 years since Philadelphia started baseball’s first dynasty. Look for some stylings about the 1910 Philadelphia Athletics here over the next few months. We’ll revisit the “Deadball Era” where Frank “Home Run” Baker hit just two homers in 1910, but he led the league the next four straight years with totals of 11, 10, 12 and 9.

So here’s a little slice of the Deadball Era for the Digital Age. We’ll start with a little story about my favorite player from those teams:

Charles “Chief” Bender

Charles_Albert_Bender_1910The Chief, part Chippewa, led Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics to five pennants in the early part of the 20th Century and was a predecessor of Jim Thorpe’s at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Bender was easy-going, but he was not one who didn’t like to get in his subtle digs at those who treated him poorly because of the relevant racism. His teammates were always impressed that Bender withstood the racism of the era with aplomb and patience.

That didn’t mean they didn’t tease him. However, when Bender’s teammates made racist cracks to him, the pitcher called referred to them as “foreigners.” When admiring children crowded around him in the street and sought to ingratiate themselves with war whoops and rain dances, he never lost his patience. He was not unaware of the racism around him, but the easygoing Bender weathered the worst while doing his job, kind of like how Jackie Robinson bore the brunt during his first years in the majors nearly four decades later.

“You ignorant ill-bred foreigners,” Bender used to shout at his tormentors. “If you don't like the way I'm doing things out there, why don't you just pack up and go back to your own countries.”

At that time, as it is even now, teammates, fans, and the media called most players of Native American background “Chief.” In 1910, that was an epithet roughly equivalent to calling an African-American male “boy.” Not to mention, it doesn’t take a whole lot of creativity to call an Indian, “Chief.” But known as Chief to nearly everyone in baseball, Bender didn't complain. However, he always signed autographs “Charles Bender.” Notably, Connie Mack always called him by his middle name, Albert. He also said that if he ever needed one pitcher to win him a game, he would call on “Albert Bender.”

“If I had all the men I've ever handled and they were in their prime and there was one game I wanted to win above all others,” Mack was quoted as saying, “Albert would be my man.”

That was for good reason, too. Bender pitched a four-hit shutout in his first World Series game on Oct. 10, 1905 for a win in Game 2 against John McGraw’s Giants, before dropping the clincher with a five-hitter to the great Christy Mathewson in a 2-0 defeat.

In all, Bender started 10 World Series games and completed nine of them. In the 1911 World Series he started three games, completed them all, and allowed just three runs. In his first seven World Series starts covering 61 2/3 innings, Bender posted a 1.31 ERA and 47 strikeouts to 18 walks.

His best pitch was one he was credited with inventing called the “nickel curve,” which today is known as the slider. According to Baseball Reference, Bender compares to modern pitchers like Bert Blyleven and Greg Maddux.

In 1910, Bender put together his best regular season when he went 23-5 with a 1.58 ERA in 30 games. Perhaps best explaining his dominance in 1910, Bender had a 0.916 WHIP, allowing just 182 hits in 250 innings with a no-hitter against Cleveland on May 12.

During the World Series that season, Bender won the opener with a three-hitter over the Cubs at Shibe Park, but lost in a chance to sweep the series in Game 4 when the Cubs scored with two outs in the 10th inning off him.

Bender played with the A’s until 1914 when he jumped to the Federal League after the World Series. Following a season with Baltimore, Bender returned to pitch in Philadelphia with the Phillies for two seasons. After his playing days, he managed, coached and sometimes pitched with a bunch of minor league teams. Ultimately, he settled back in Philadelphia and lived in the Olney section of town on 12th Street behind the current location of the Albert Einstein Medical Center. Back in Philly, Bender operated a couple of businesses, including a jewelry shop in Conshohocken and a sporting goods store on 13th and A
rch Streets in Center City. He also worked at Gimbels in Center City and coached with the A’s beginning in 1945until his death in 1954.

In September of 1953, the veterans committee elected Bender to the Hall of Fame, but eight months later — and three months before his induction at Cooperstown — Bender died of cancer at Graduate Hospital. He was buried at the Hillside Cemetary in Roslyn, Pa.

His legacy, aside from being the ace on the staff of the first dynasty in baseball and inventing the slider, Bender was known for his kindness off the mound and his smarts on it. Ty Cobb claimed Bender was the “braniest” pitcher he faced as well as the era’s “money” pitcher.

The warm-up act

Eisen The early reports indicate that Super Bowl 44 was the
highest rated version of the game ever. If that’s the case, it will surpass the
1982 Super Bowl, which was seen in 49 percent of U.S. households for a 73
percent share, the Saints-Colts game could rank up there with the most-watched
TV events ever.

There’s the last M.A.S.H., the “Who Shot J.R.?” Dallas
episode, Roots and probably Super Bowl 44.

Perhaps adding to the allure of watching the game was the
proliferation of social media, the Internet and all that stuff. These days a
guy can have a Super Bowl party with all his friends and followers without
traveling anywhere. And based on how the roads look after the big snowstorm
that walloped us, we weren’t getting too far anyway.

Besides, who wants to be in the same room with half of
those people anyway… I keed, I keed.

Anyway, back in my day when MTV and ESPN first came out
and we went from 12 channels with a dial to 30 channels with a space-age
remote, Super Bowl Sunday meant a day filled with tons of good sports matchups.
In fact, I recall a Sixers-Celtics and Celtics-Lakers matchup as an appetizer
for the big game. For geeks like me it was pretty fun to watch Doc, Moses,
Andrew Toney, Larry Bird, etc., etc. before the biggest sporting event of the
year. Often the NBA games were even better than the Super Bowl.

These days, though, there are 900 channels, on-demand,
in-demand, DVR, TiVo, YouTube, Hulu, and whatever else you need to watch
whatever you want whenever you want. Who can keep up? Moreover, the ratings are
never going to be accurate—if they ever were in the first place.

Nevertheless, harkening back to those halcyon days when
Super Bowl Sundays were spent with Kevin McHale and Joe Montana, I figured the
lead-ins to the big game were worth a look again. Why not? I was already snowed
in and didn’t feel like traipsing through our winter wonderland.

So after waking up at the crack of noon[1],
the first stop on the TV was the NFL Network where they were set up at a desk
on the field a good seven hours before kick-off. Even stranger than that, there
was a whole bunch of hired heads yapping about the game from a whole bunch of
different desks located around the stadium. The main desk, of course, had Rich
Eisen at the head chair with Marshall Faulk, Steve Mariucci and Michael Irvin.

Across the field from the main desk was a blonde-haired
woman with long hair that got all entangled in the wind whipping through the
stadium. I probably wouldn’t have cared if she didn’t spend at least 30 seconds
of TV time yapping about it as if the wind were literally spitting on her. In
TV, 30 seconds is an eternity, but considering the NFL Network had more than
six hours to fill the wind was as topical as anything else.

Still, the silliest part about the wind/hair/curses-to-Mother
Nature was how the blonde-haired TV woman thought the development of strong
morning breezes could have some affect on the passing attack for the Colts and
Saints in the game. You know, because weather never changes in the span of six
hours. If it’s windy when TV lady is on the scene, well by golly, it will be
windy when everyone else is there, too.

Of course the big topics were reserved for Eisen and his
crew on the other side of the field. That only makes sense considering there
was only one meaningful topic, which they proceeded to pulverize with plenty of
ancillary bantering between the panel because the game did not start for
another six hours. Then, of course, Eisen ran things because he was the only
guy there who did not play or coach in the NFL yet still was e-mailed bikini
photos of that former anchor woman in Philly[2].
That makes Rich Eisen a hero to dweeby sports geeks everywhere and sends an
important message…

Stay in school, kids. Study up on those important facts
and sports reference material. Watch plenty of games and skip class if you
must, but by all means, stay in school. You too can be just like Rich Eisen and
hang with some ex-football players where you will spend the better part of six
hours discussing Dwight Freeney’s ankle on a sun and wind-swept afternoon in
Miami.

Good times!

But way too crazy for me. I needed to pace myself if I
was going to make to kick-off so it was off to investigate what else was out
there in the wonderland known as cable television. Better yet, I settled onto
the MLB Network just in time to pick up Game 5 of the 2008 World Series exactly
where it picked up after the two-day rain suspension. You remember the first
part of the game, right? That’s the part where it rained so hard during the
action that it could only be properly summed up by a soaking wet Ryan Howard
after the stoppage in play when he told me it was a, “bleeping bleep show.”

How right he was.

Since I never saw the completion of Game 5 of the 2008
World Series except for in actual real time, I settled in to watch. Only this
time I did it without the threat of having to go straight to the airport and to
Tampa afterwards. It was much more enjoyable and relaxing this way.

But here’s what I don’t get:

Why did Joe Maddon leave the lefty J.P. Howell in to hit
and then pitch to righty Pat Burrell to start the seventh? Burrell, of course,
hit that double that just missed landing in the seats and then immediately took
him out for a righty to face a switch-hitter and two straight right-handers? I
thought Maddon was a genius?

Duke Anyway, we all remember what happened from there and
since they cut away before the clubhouse and field celebration—thus eliminating
a chance for me to see myself lurking in the background like an idiot—it was
time to move on…

… to a Duke-North Carolina match-up from 1988 when the
Tar Heels were rated No. 2 in the country and Duke was on the way to a Final
Four appearance. Oh yes, they were all there: Danny Ferry with hair, Quinn
Snyder all skinny and point-guardy. There was J.R. Reid with that flat top,
Rick Fox in short shorts, and Jeff Lebo from Carlisle, Pa. where he and Billy
Owens won the state championship.

Yes, Dean Smith was there, too, along with Coach K still
looking as rat-faced as ever. But what was the most interesting was catching a
glimpse of Billy King when he was a school boy with Duke. We all remember Billy,
right? The Sixers’ slick and stylish GM, who given the current state of the
franchise, might not have been doing too badly. Nevertheless, in 1988 King didn’t
have those chic thin glasses or the neat clean-shaven head like he did when he
was running the Sixers. Instead he had a mustache that would have made Billy D.
envious and a flat top that fit perfectly with the trendiness of 1988.

But Ferry, the current GM for the first-place Cleveland
Cavaliers, ran things for Duke back then. With Kevin Strickland and Ferry combining
for 41 points, Duke got a 70-69 victory in their first of three wins over
Carolina that season.

But Billy King’s mustache and haircut can only pique one’s
interest for so long. It was Super Bowl Sunday, after all, and kick-off was
quickly approaching. It was time to prepare, so I checked on the veggie chili I
had simmering on the stove top, poured myself a tall glass of iced tea, and
flipped the dial back to the NFL Network for any last minute insight.

Instead I got a whole bunch of yelling and a lot of
goofing off.

Seemingly holding down the fort as if in some sort of
sadistic dance marathon, Eisen was sitting there in Miami grinning like a goon
as Mariucci and Irvin were shouting overly wrought football points about topics
no one could decipher. Actually, Irvin dropped into some sort of loud,
pontification worthy of the finest antebellum preacher or Stephen A. Smith
marked with a ridiculously loud over-enunciation usually reserved for people
trying to sell you a mop on TV or folks who just have no idea what the hell
they’re talking about. Why shout and put on such an over-the-top show if you
have the facts cold? If it’s true, it doesn’t have to be sold. The truth sells
and I’m buying. Only I didn’t buy any of this[3].

Just the facts, guys.

Art_donovan Oh, but if you
wanted to hear Irvin really get loud, all you had to do was wait for Adam
Sandler, David Spade, Kevin James, Rob Schneider and Chris Rock take over the
set to talk about some movie they have coming out sometime soon. Aside from
being the typical comedians-interviewed-at-the-Super-Bowl bit, the only
trenchant part came when Spade astutely replied to Eisen’s query of a
prediction with, “No one cares what we think about football.”

That David Spade is a wise one.

Then again maybe that’s not entirely true. Maybe that
depends on what those guys actually have to say about football. Take Chris
Rock, for instance. After the group interview with the funny guys, Rock gave a
private interview with Deion Sanders in director’s chairs near the field
because… well, because he’s Chris Rock. And aside from explaining to Deion that
he was no Juan Pierre during his baseball days, Rock dropped this nugget when
asked who his favorite player was.

“Donovan,” Rock said.

In the history of the NFL there have only been nine guys
with the name, “Donovan.” Chances are Chris Rock was not talking about Art
Donovan, the Hall-of-Fame tackle for the Baltimore Colts during the 1950s.
Making it easier to deduce that this “Donovan” character was indeed, Donovan
McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles, came when Prime Time asked why Donovan was
his favorite player.

“He wins like a man and loses like a man. … He takes
responsibility,” Rock said.

Interesting, huh?

Chris Rock is a tough act to follow so just before
heading off to a pre-game nap, I flipped to CBS just in time to see host James
Brown tell analyst Dan Marino that the road leading to the stadium in Miami
was, “Dan Marino Blvd.”

Judging from Dan’s expression upon hearing that news, it
looked as if the ol’ QB took had taken a few wrong exits off that road in the past.


[1] No, not really. I just love that expression
and the humor that comes with sloth.

[2] For the life of me I can’t remember her
name. Alycia was it? Does it matter? Is there a difference?

[3] The only way Irvin could have sold me is if
he would have twisted his mustache and wore a bowler hat like an evil spy. Otherwise,
it’s just yelling.

More media days, please

Media day Word out of Miami was that Tuesday was the infamous “Media Day.” That’s where the contestants sit behind card tables with aprons wrapped around the fringe in order to make themselves properly available to the horde that shows up to cover the media day.

Yeah, that’s right… some folks cover the Super Bowl from the vantage point of media day and leave the actual football stuff to the sports writing crew. For instance, don’t expect to see Downtown Julie Brown going over Xs and Os on the day of the big game, but you can be sure as heck she (or modern equivalent of her) will be making the rounds at media day.

The best part about media day is how the media complains about media day. I love that. Usually it comes from the sports writers who, a.) aren’t the most welcoming sort to begin with, and, b.) don’t like it when their little piece of turf is invaded by non-sports types.

Wanna drive the sports complainers crazy? Tell them that the sports industry is entertainment. The MVP and the Hollywood star really aren’t all that different.

That might not be the reason why some folks get bent about media day, though. The truth is a lot of those guys are ticked off to begin with and they don’t like it when a flunky from a South American comedy show is singing karaoke with the starting tight end when they want to know about the intricacies of Dwight Freeney’s ankle injury.

Frankly, there’s room for both the geek and the flunky in media day. In fact, the goofballs are the best part about it and sometimes they are on the other side of those tables, too. Remember when the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl and Freddie Mitchell threw a tantrum because he wasn’t assigned a seat with the team’s stars? Apparently Mitchell thought he was the reason why the Eagles got to the Super Bowl.

Regardless, usually the athletes are at media day to endure the legit questions and enjoy the absurdity of it all. For some of that, check out the Huffington Post’s photo gallery of this year’s media day.

From my perspective, the only chance I’ve had to see anything remotely close to the media day of Auper Bowl was the one they held before the opening game of last October’s World Series. In the past media availability for the World Series was simply a matter of opening up the clubhouse and allowing the press to find whoever they wanted… that is if they were even there. Left to their own devices, some baseball players would prefer to hide out in the off-limits area until the coast is clear. But at media day before the World Series (only for the games at Yankee Stadium, it should be noted), every player was set out at their own spot—even the guys no one wanted to talk to.

Needless to say, the NFL and the Super Bowl carry a bit more cachet than baseball’s World Series. And since baseball players are known for being the surliest of the bunch, the only goofs that showed up were from the mainstream press and Arsenio Hall, who works for Jay Leno’s show.

Poor guy.

Either way, the message from the media day(s) is that the NFL wants to be a cross-cultural phenomenon. Sure, when it comes to the action on the field, yes, the NFL is the proverbial stuffed shirt. Any semblance of personality from a player or coach is beaten away in Soviet-like precision while the owners share the bounty of their provinces with the politburo in New York City.

And like any totalitarian regime, the NFL has a remarkable marketing initiative. The league protects its image, or “brand” as they say in the vernacular. Between the point spreads and the fantasy leagues, everyone seems to have an interest in the comings and goings on football Sundays. If people want to talk about football, buy into its programming and spend time with all of its products, by golly, the NFL is going to let them.

Even when the NFL does something stupid like sue over the phrase, “Who ‘Dat?” the NFL quickly figures out how silly it is. The league might even admit this and offer a mea culpa of sorts.

MLB, meanwhile, is too busy looking for new ways to upset the fans. First they tried to sue fantasy leagues over the use of baseball statistics as if they are intellectual property or some silliness, before they set up a deal so that only one company could use its logos on baseball cards.

Then, just in case you didn’t get the message, MLB will broadcast its biggest games too late in the night for kids to watch.

Nice.

So when you’re at your Super Bowl party this weekend with a bunch of interesting people from all over, don’t think about whether or not you would do the same thing for a big baseball game—Bud Selig is monitoring your thoughts and will issue an injunction if you do.

World Series: Injury to Insult

lidge_choochThis very well may be a case of injury adding to insult. In fact, it’s a two-fold thing… call it a rich tapestry of absurdness and irony. Like an onion, this story has many layers and the more that is peeled, the more it stinks.

OK, that might be a bit dramatic, but it truly is bizarre that both closers in the 2009 World Series were suffering through different states of injury.

For Brad Lidge, there very well could be a logical explanation for his poor season in which he posted 11 blown saves in 42 chances as well as the worst ERA in history for a pitcher with at least 25 saves. Though Lidge was decent in a handful of outings in the postseason, he took the hard-luck loss in Game 4 of the World Series and never seemed to gain the full trust of manager Charlie Manuel.

It seemed as if Manuel used Lidge only when he had no other options even though he had five scoreless appearances in the NLDS and NLCS.

The World Series, however, didn’t go so well.

So maybe we can chalk that up to the fact that Lidge will undergo surgery to have a “loose body” removed from his right elbow. Scott Eyre is having a similar procedure to his left elbow on Monday, too. The difference with Lidge is he will also have his right flexor/pronator tendon checked out. If it shows so much wear and tear that surgery is required, don’t expect Lidge to be recovered by the time spring training starts.

But if the tendon is fine, then all Lidge will need is to have that elbow scoped.

Of course Lidge also spent time on the disabled list in June for an injured knee. It was because of his knee pain that Lidge says he altered his mechanics, which may have led to his ineffectiveness. Now we know that those mechanical issues just might have led to the loose body and tendon trouble in his right elbow.

Not that Phillies fans are looking for a cause for why Lidge had such a difficult year, but there it is. However, it seems as if the price tag on a second straight trip to the World Series was pretty costly now that we see that Lidge, Eyre and Raul Ibanez are all headed for surgery.

Surgery might not be necessary for Mariano Rivera, who as it turned out was a little injured during the World Series. The New York Times reported that Rivera says he injured his ribcage by throwing 34 pitches in a two-inning save in Game 6 of the ALCS, though manager Joe Girardi says the injury came in Game 2 of the World Series where the closer threw 39 pitches in a two-inning save.

mo riveraWhenever it happened, chances are Rivera might not have been able to pitch had the World Series extended to a seven games.

Imagine that… a World Series Game 7 with the Yankees and the Phillies and Rivera can’t go?

“I don’t want to talk about it now,” Rivera told The Times with a smile.

Certainly the Game 7 question is a bit silly considering Rivera got the final five outs in the clinching Game 6. To get those last outs, Rivera needed 41 pitches—the most he’s thrown in a playoff game since throwing 48 pitches in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

“It was real important we close it out in Game 6,” Girardi told The Times, stating the obvious.

Meanwhile, it seems as if the Yankees tried to pull off a little misdirection of their own in order to hide Rivera’s injury. During the games in Philadelphia, Rivera was seen clutching a heating pad against his ribcage. When asked why he needed the heating pad by the press, Rivera said it was because he was cold.

That’s a reasonable answer, perhaps. Then again, the game-time temperature for Game 3 was 70 degrees and it was 50 for games 4 and 5.

So maybe Rivera might have been better off biting down on a bullet after a couple of belts of rye whiskey instead of the heating pad? After all, he must have been dealing with a lot of pain to pile up those four outings in the World Series.

“I had to go through it,” Rivera said, gritting his teeth on an imaginary bullet. “There’s nothing you can do about it.”

Now get this… Rivera says he wants to play for five more seasons. For a throwback closer who has no qualms about piling up the innings, five more years sounds like a long time—especially when one considers that Rivera will be 40 at the end of the month.

World Series: Howard’s End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schmidt had no chance.

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

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

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

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

That’s pretty darned cool.

celebrate1983But will anyone remember the RBI streak, the production in the NLCS and that clutch at-bat in the ninth inning of the NLDS after the World Series Howard had?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For now, that’s it.

World Series: Howard’s End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schmidt had no chance.

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

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

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

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

That’s pretty darned cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For now, that’s it.

Word Series: Dynasty delayed

Utley_ChoochNEW YORK—The scene always looks so solemn on television. After the final out of the World Series the winners dance, whoop it up and dump gallons of champagne and beer all over each other in some sort of bizarre and borderline illegal ritual.

It’s always a weird place to be no matter the circumstance and reminds me of that scene in “Raising Arizona” when Gale and Evelle show up unannounced at the trailer and hoot it up with H.I. as Edwina looks on disapprovingly.

The only thing missing from the hooting and alcohol bath is a bonfire in a corner and a few random dudes with lampshades on the ol’ noggin.

But when they cut away from all the reckless fun, they always send the least fun of the broadcast team over to the losing side to talk in a hushed and serious tone about just what went wrong. Usually it was Jim Gray or li’l Rosenthal who had the task of talking to the losing manager with the vibe that as soon as the camera cuts away, the forlorn skipper is going to be offered one last cigarette before they apply the blindfold and take him out back to shoot him.

After spending some time in the clubhouse of the World Series-losing Phillies last night, it was nothing like what you see on TV at all. In fact, there was nothing funereal about it at all. No, there was no high jinks or ass-slapping going on, and yes, the Phillies were disappointed that they lost to the Yankees in six games. That was a bummer.

However, no one acted defeated. Heads were held high and the Yankees’ superiority in the series was acknowledged. To a man, every player that spoke said some derivation of, “They beat us. They were better than we were in this series.

Notice the key words there. Yes, the Yankees were better than the Phillies for the past week. The Phillies will admit that much. But are the Yankees a better team?

Hell no. There’s never been a better team in Philadelphia. These 2009 Phillies are like a band of brothers complete with the knuckleheads that everyone wants to slap in that little brother-type way. There are no cliques, which was something that came through on the MLB Networks show, “The Pen.”

Granted, there was no boisterousness in the clubhouse, and Pedro Martinez (oddly) high-tailed it out of the ballpark as soon as the last out was recorded. However, the players and coaches all gathered in the back of the clubhouse to clink together cans of Miller Lite pounders as a final toast to another successful season.

You know, kind of like the last scene of “The Bad News Bears,” where spunky Tanner Boyle tell the Yankees what everyone was thinking:

“Hey Yankees… you can take your apology and your trophy and shove ’em straight up your ass!

“And oh yeah, wait until next year.”

Jimmy & EyreAfter a prideful pep talk, the players nursed that last beer, smiled and talked about how great it was to get back to the World Series for the second year in a row. They also had every intention of doing it again in 2010.

“It will still be fun if we win it every other year,” Jimmy Rollins said.

“It will hurt for a couple of days and then we will get back to work,” Chase Utley said.

Charlie went the MacArthur route:

“Believe me, what I was telling them was I’m very proud of them and I’m proud to be their manager and I’m proud to have the guys on our team with the makeup and the fight that they have, and the determination. And that we’d be back,” Charlie said. “I told them go home and have a great winter and enjoy their holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I’ll see them in Spring Training with the idea…

“Our goal is to come back and play again, and hopefully we play the Yankees again.”

Sad? No way. The Phillies had a great season and they want you to know they plan on having another great season in 2010.

As Jayson Werth told his teammates: “97 days until spring training.”

World Series: When Reggie met Chase

110409-reggie_chaseNEW YORK—When people think of Reggie Jackson’s baseball career, inevitably the three-homer performance in Game 6 of the 1977 is the first moment that comes to mind. Three pitches have not just defined a man’s professional career, but also his life.

Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth are the only players to hit three home runs in a World Series game, and Jackson was the only player to hit five homers in a single World Series.

Until now.

Chase Utley, playing for the team Jackson followed as a kid while growing up in Wyncote, Montgomery County, tied the all-time record for homers in a series when he belted a pair in Game 5 at Citizens Bank Park. For Utley, it was the second multi-homer game of the series, which also ties a record set by Willie Mays Aikens who had a pair of two-homer games in the 1980 series against the Phillies.

But aside from the home runs and the clutch performances in the World Series, there really isn’t much that Jackson and Utley have in common. Oh sure, both players are known for their streakiness and strikeouts. After all, not only has Utley homered in five straight regular-season games during his career, but he also struck out five straight times in the 2007 NLDS, including four times in one game on 13 pitches.

Jackson, of course, struck out more times than any player in the history of the game. The thing about that is Jackson’s strikeouts were just as epic as his home runs. Nope, Jackson did not get cheated.

“I was known for postseason, not what I did in the regular season and I had great years,” Jackson said. “But you play to win. Our club, our organization is just hell-bent, from our ownership to our general manager. They’ve built it to win here. The conversations that we have are about winning a championship.”

Utley hasn’t been cheated either. Though Jackson pointed out that the ballparks in Philadelphia and New York are “small,” Utley hasn’t hit any squeakers. The homers Utley hit in Game 5 were gone by the time he made contact. In fact, Utley uncharacteristically pulled a bit a Reggie on his first-inning homer on Monday night when he flipped his bat aside and watched it sail toward the right-field fence ever-so briefly.

Jackson, of course, was famous for posturing on his homers. His style was the antithesis of Utley’s but as far as that goes, Jackson is a huge fan of the Phillies’ second baseman. In fact, Jackson greeted Utley when the Phillies came out on the field for batting practice before Game 6 on Wednesday to congratulate him on tying the record.

As far as the comparison between the two World Series home run kings go, that’s about all they have in common. Jackson demanded attention on and off the field. Utley gets the attention because of what he does on the field. He’s not interesting in having it any other way.

“We’re different type of players,” Jackson said. “But he hit 30 home runs, [and] that’s a lot of home runs. I don’t want to compare he and I. He’s a great hitter. But it’s not about style—it’s about winning. That’s what is important.”

Said manager Charlie Manuel about Utley: “Actually he don’t like for you to say a whole lot of things about him. But he’s one of the most prepared, one of the most dedicated, he has the most desire and passion to play the game that I’ve ever been around.”

After the brief conversation with Utley, Jackson walked away even more impressed, especially when Mr. October was told that the record only matters if the Phillies win the World Series.

Otherwise, who cares?

reggie_1977“He’s old school,” Jackson said about Utley. “When you talk to Chase Utley and hear what he focuses on, he really doesn’t care to talk about it much. They’re down 3-2 and that’s where he’s at, and I admire that. I admire that professionalism.”

The notion that Utley could become the first World Series MVP to come from a losing team since Bobby Richardson got the award when the Yankees lost to the Pirates in seven games, has been quite popular. Certainly Utley has to be a candidate on the strength of belting five homers in the first five games, but Jackson got the sense that the All-Star second baseman wouldn’t want the award if the Phillies did not win the World Series.

“You have to win the World Series,” Jackson said. “I don’t want the MVP award if I don’t win. I don’t care—I’d want to win [the award], but you play to win. What was it that Herman Edwards said, ‘You play to win the game.’

“It’s all really about winning. You’d rather hit three home runs and win the World Series then hit seven and not. You have to win, the rest of it doesn’t matter much.”

Utley is trying to make it all matter. Plus, he could have two more games to break Reggie’s record… if he does it, will Utley get a candy bar named after him, too?

World Series: When Reggie met Chase

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com NEW YORK—When people think of Reggie Jackson’s baseball career, inevitably the three-homer performance in Game 6 of the 1977 is the first moment that comes to mind. Three pitches have not just defined a man’s professional career, but also his life.

Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth are the only players to hit three home runs in a World Series game, and Jackson was the only player to hit five homers in a single World Series.

Until now.

Chase Utley, playing for the team Jackson followed as a kid while growing up in Wyncote, Montgomery County, tied the all-time record for homers in a series when he belted a pair in Game 5 at Citizens Bank Park. For Utley, it was the second multi-homer game of the series, which also ties a record set by Willie Mays Aikens who had a pair of two-homer games in the 1980 series against the Phillies.

But aside from the home runs and the clutch performances in the World Series, there really isn’t much that Jackson and Utley have in common. Oh sure, both players are known for their streakiness and strikeouts. After all, not only has Utley homered in five straight regular-season games during his career, but he also struck out five straight times in the 2007 NLDS, including four times in one game on 13 pitches.

Jackson, of course, struck out more times than any player in the history of the game. The thing about that is Jackson’s strikeouts were just as epic as his home runs. Nope, Jackson did not get cheated.

“I was known for postseason, not what I did in the regular season and I had great years,” Jackson said. “But you play to win. Our club, our organization is just hell-bent, from our ownership to our general manager. They’ve built it to win here. The conversations that we have are about winning a championship.”

Utley hasn’t been cheated either. Though Jackson pointed out that the ballparks in Philadelphia and New York are “small,” Utley hasn’t hit any squeakers. The homers Utley hit in Game 5 were gone by the time he made contact. In fact, Utley uncharacteristically pulled a bit a Reggie on his first-inning homer on Monday night when he flipped his bat aside and watched it sail toward the right-field fence ever-so briefly.

Jackson, of course, was famous for posturing on his homers. His style was the antithesis of Utley’s but as far as that goes, Jackson is a huge fan of the Phillies’ second baseman. In fact, Jackson greeted Utley when the Phillies came out on the field for batting practice before Game 6 on Wednesday to congratulate him on tying the record.

As far as the comparison between the two World Series home run kings go, that’s about all they have in common. Jackson demanded attention on and off the field. Utley gets the attention because of what he does on the field. He’s not interesting in having it any other way.

“We’re different type of players,” Jackson said. “But he hit 30 home runs, [and] that’s a lot of home runs. I don’t want to compare he and I. He’s a great hitter. But it’s not about style—it’s about winning. That’s what is important.”

Said manager Charlie Manuel about Utley: “Actually he don’t like for you to say a whole lot of things about him. But he’s one of the most prepared, one of the most dedicated, he has the most desire and passion to play the game that I’ve ever been around.”

After the brief conversation with Utley, Jackson walked away even more impressed, especially when Mr. October was told that the record only matters if the Phillies win the World Series.

Otherwise, who cares?

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com “He’s old school,” Jackson said about Utley. “When you talk to Chase Utley and hear what he focuses on, he really doesn’t care to talk about it much. They’re down 3-2 and that’s where he’s at, and I admire that. I admire that professionalism.”

The notion that Utley could become the first World Series MVP to come from a losing team since Bobby Richardson got the award when the Yankees lost to the Pirates in seven games, has been quite popular. Certainly Utley has to be a candidate on the strength of belting five homers in the first five games, but Jackson got the sense that the All-Star second baseman wouldn’t want the award if the Phillies did not win the World Series.

“You have to win the World Series,” Jackson said. “I don’t want the MVP award if I don’t win. I don’t care—I’d want to win [the award], but you play to win. What was it that Herman Edwards said, ‘You play to win the game.’

“It’s all really about winning. You’d rather hit three home runs and win the World Series then hit seven and not. You have to win, the rest of it doesn’t matter much.”

Utley is trying to make it all matter. Plus, he could have two more games to break Reggie’s record… if he does it, will Utley get a candy bar named after him, too?

Word Series: Dynasty delayed

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com NEW YORK—The scene always looks so solemn on television. After the final out of the World Series the winners dance, whoop it up and dump gallons of champagne and beer all over each other in some sort of bizarre and borderline illegal ritual.

It’s always a weird place to be no matter the circumstance and reminds me of that scene in “Raising Arizona” when Gale and Evelle show up unannounced at the trailer and hoot it up with H.I. as Edwina looks on disapprovingly.

The only thing missing from the hooting and alcohol bath is a bonfire in a corner and a few random dudes with lampshades on the ol’ noggin.

But when they cut away from all the reckless fun, they always send the least fun of the broadcast team over to the losing side to talk in a hushed and serious tone about just what went wrong. Usually it was Jim Gray or li’l Rosenthal who had the task of talking to the losing manager with the vibe that as soon as the camera cuts away, the forlorn skipper is going to be offered one last cigarette before they apply the blindfold and take him out back to shoot him.

After spending some time in the clubhouse of the World Series-losing Phillies last night, it was nothing like what you see on TV at all. In fact, there was nothing funereal about it at all. No, there was no high jinks or ass-slapping going on, and yes, the Phillies were disappointed that they lost to the Yankees in six games. That was a bummer.

However, no one acted defeated. Heads were held high and the Yankees’ superiority in the series was acknowledged. To a man, every player that spoke said some derivation of, “They beat us. They were better than we were in this series.

Notice the key words there. Yes, the Yankees were better than the Phillies for the past week. The Phillies will admit that much. But are the Yankees a better team?

Hell no. There’s never been a better team in Philadelphia. These 2009 Phillies are like a band of brothers complete with the knuckleheads that everyone wants to slap in that little brother-type way. There are no cliques, which was something that came through on the MLB Networks show, “The Pen.”

Granted, there was no boisterousness in the clubhouse, and Pedro Martinez (oddly) high-tailed it out of the ballpark as soon as the last out was recorded. However, the players and coaches all gathered in the back of the clubhouse to clink together cans of Miller Lite pounders as a final toast to another successful season.

You know, kind of like the last scene of “The Bad News Bears,” where spunky Tanner Boyle tell the Yankees what everyone was thinking:

“Hey Yankees… you can take your apology and your trophy and shove ’em straight up your ass!

“And oh yeah, wait until next year.”

jimmy_eyre.jpg After a prideful pep talk, the players nursed that last beer, smiled and talked about how great it was to get back to the World Series for the second year in a row. They also had every intention of doing it again in 2010.

“It will still be fun if we win it every other year,” Jimmy Rollins said.

“It will hurt for a couple of days and then we will get back to work,” Chase Utley said.

Charlie went the MacArthur route:

“Believe me, what I was telling them was I’m very proud of them and I’m proud to be their manager and I’m proud to have the guys on our team with the makeup and the fight that they have, and the determination. And that we’d be back,” Charlie said. “I told them go home and have a great winter and enjoy their holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I’ll see them in Spring Training with the idea…

“Our goal is to come back and play again, and hopefully we play the Yankees again.”

Sad? No way. The Phillies had a great season and they want you to know they plan on having another great season in 2010.

As Jayson Werth told his teammates: “97 days until spring training.”

World Series: Betting on Hamels in Game 7

mitchNEW YORK—The sun was due to hit the horizon at any minute. At least that’s what I’d heard. The month of October is a blur when you’re chasing around a baseball team. In fact, another writer pointed out that yesterday was Monday and I stared at him for a long moment. It didn’t feel like a Monday, but then again nothing feels the same anymore.

The numbness set in that day it snowed in Denver during the NLDS and hasn’t relented.

So sitting there feeling numb, tired while waiting for the sun that I had heard so much about, the remote control instinctively went to the MLB. If there was no Larry David out there in the ether what else would one want to watch?

But there on the screen appeared a bunch of guys sitting on bar stools on the field. The setting was the same exact place that I had left only it looked so much different on television. It was bigger and greener on the TV, which I chalked up to those crafty guys in the MLB Network CGI department.

There was no need for any kind of special effects when panelist Mitch Williams popped on the screen. After all, Mitch is a damned force of nature with his rapid-fire delivery of each thought that tickles the locus of his brain. It’s fabulous because generally on TV they don’t do nuance well. With Mitch the nuance is the hammer he uses to obliterate all notion of conventional wisdom…

You know, as it relates to wisdom on basic cable.

But Mitch’s grand point of the night was speculative in nature, because that’s what they do on those types of shows. Someone makes a point, another guy takes the opposing view, they argue and then it’s time to go to the commercial.

Riveting.

However, Mitch dropped a point that wasn’t too unpopular in these parts lately, and the idea was that if the World Series gets to a seventh game, there is no way manager Charlie Manuel should run Cole Hamels out there. Who cares that Hamels will be the freshest pitcher on the staff and it will be his day to pitch? Mitch said if the Phillies can force Game 7 at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night, the reigning World Series MVP should not pitch.

“There’s huge doubt,” Williams said on ESPN Radio. “If I’m Charlie Manuel there’s no way in the world he’s pitching. A player comes out in the middle of the World Series when the entire team is busting their butts to get this thing accomplished again to repeat and one of the mainstays in the rotation says he just wants the season over? Well, he wouldn’t have to ask me twice for it to be over, he wouldn’t pitch again. I’d take my chances with J.A. Happ. … I cannot send Cole Hamels out there after he said he wants the season to end and then have to look at the rest of the team in the face and say, ‘He was just kidding.’”

Sure, the quote might have been taken out of context, but Williams did not care.

“You don’t let that quote come out of your mouth, period,” Williams said. “That’s been the problem with Cole this year. I thought last year in the postseason he was the best pitcher on the planet. This year when the playoffs started he was complaining that the Phillies had to play games that start at 2:30 p.m. There are certain things as a player that you just don’t let be known. You definitely don’t let your opponent know that you’re upset at what time the game is starting, because they know going in that your mind is not where it’s supposed to be and it will take nothing to get you rattled on the mound.”

Mitch is old school. He was the heart-and-soul of the ’93 Phillies’ infamous “Macho Row.” He’s no sooner as hit a guy with a pitch in the back than give up an intentional walk and mess with his pitch count. Why waste the energy?

Cole Hamels is the anti-Mitch. Where Cole has precious ads with his wife and sweet little dogs that get carted around town in designer sweaters in a backpack, and has his hair gently highlighted, Mitch wore a mullet. He spit and cursed and owned horses and pigs on his farm called, “The 3-and-2 Ranch.”

If Hamels is Tokyo, Williams is Paris. They are as opposite as a pair of left-handers could be.

Still, give Williams credit for not holding back or allowing his biases to be swayed by thinking something through. Williams’ analysis is just like his pitching was—hurried, fast, wild and a little sloppy.

And who doesn’t love it?

Still, Mitch Williams telling a manager not to use a pitcher? Really? Certainly his idea to bypass Hamels in a Game 7 is one that I would have completely ignored if it was offered by anyone else. But because it was Mitch Williams, it was put right out there on the batting tee for anyone to knock out of the park.

Mitch Williams, as everyone knows, pitched the fateful Game 6 of the 1993 World Series for the Phillies. Manager Jim Fregosi brought his closer into the game in the ninth inning with a one-run lead and the meat of the fearsome Blue Jays’ offense coming to the plate. If Mitch could have gotten three outs, the Phillies would have played in Game 7 the next night. With a one-run cushion he had very little margin for error. That was especially the case considering it was Mitch who was on the mound in Game 4 when the Phillies blew a five-run lead with six outs to go. When Larry Andersen struggled in the eighth, Fregosi turned to Williams who gave up six runs.

Then again, it could hardly be Williams’ fault. His fastball and command of his slider were shot from overuse and too much tight-rope walking during the regular season and the playoffs. By the time he got in there to face Joe Carter with one out and two on, it was already too late.

So why did Fregosi put Williams in at all? Clearly an astute baseball man like Fregosi was wise enough to see what everyone else saw, which was all his closer had left was guile dressed up as good luck.

In other words, Fregosi was sending Williams out on a Kamikaze mission. Dutifully, Williams put on his crash helmet and went out there.

BANZAI!

So why did Fregosi send Williams out there in Game 6 with the season on the line? Simple, he felt loyalty to his guy and didn’t feel like he had anyone better. Was Roger Mason going to pitch the ninth inning? Sure, it sounds logical to us, but we were there with Curt Schilling with our heads buried in a towel.

Cole HamelsBut given the chance, if it comes to a Game 7, Cole Hamels would be my man. I’d give him the ball and would expect that he not only would pitch seven innings, but also that he would win the game. In fact, I don’t know if there is any other logical choice.

Yeah, yeah, I know all about the numbers. I’ve seen the frustration, the body language and heard the comments. And yes I remember watching J.A. Happ pitch against the Yankees in May where he pitched really well before Brad Lidge blew it in the ninth.

I know all of this and I don’t care. I’m being exactly like Mitch in this sense.

The reason I give the ball to Hamels in Game 7 (if the Phillies even get there) is because I think he has pride. I think he’s been hurt by all of the slings and arrows and is dying for one more chance to save his season.

Yes, it’s all about redemption for Hamels.

“I know Hamels. I’ve been a Hamels guy ever since I seen him pitch in Lakewood and when I first came to work here, I never, ever—I want you to listen to this—I never, ever questioned his mental toughness because he’s just as tough as anybody on our team. And I mean that. That part I’ve never, ever doubted,” Manuel said. “There’s definitely no quit in him, and I know he shows emotions at times, and he’s had like a freakish year and he’s going through a bad time, but at the same time he’ll get through it, and he’ll be the pitcher that you saw last year. That pitcher that you’ve been seeing for the last couple years, that’s who Hamels is. He is a gamer and he’s a fighter. I can’t say enough about him, really. That’s kind of how I see him.”

Needless to say Manuel just tipped his hand on who will pitch in Game 7 for the Phillies if Pedro Martinez wins on Wednesday night. Actually, there was no tipping at all because Charlie just put all his cards out there on the table.

Better yet, Hamels has been challenged by just about everyone. He’s even gone to the manager’s office and campaigned to get the ball in the season finale should it come to it. Now it’s all on him.

A wounded and cornered animal can do one of two things—he can roll over and die or he can fight back.

“He definitely wants to win and he wants us to win the World Series, and he definitely wants to play a big part in it,” Manuel said. “As a matter of fact, he might be wanting to play too big a part in it. But that’s kind of how I see it.”

Here’s betting Hamels gets the chance to fight back.

World Series: Betting on Hamels in Game 7

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com NEW YORK—The sun was due to hit the horizon at any minute. At least that’s what I’d heard. The month of October is a blur when you’re chasing around a baseball team. In fact, another writer pointed out that yesterday was Monday and I stared at him for a long moment. It didn’t feel like a Monday, but then again nothing feels the same anymore.

The numbness set in that day it snowed in Denver during the NLDS and hasn’t relented.

So sitting there feeling numb, tired while waiting for the sun that I had heard so much about, the remote control instinctively went to the MLB. If there was no Larry David out there in the ether what else would one want to watch?

But there on the screen appeared a bunch of guys sitting on bar stools on the field. The setting was the same exact place that I had left only it looked so much different on television. It was bigger and greener on the TV, which I chalked up to those crafty guys in the MLB Network CGI department.

There was no need for any kind of special effects when panelist Mitch Williams popped on the screen. After all, Mitch is a damned force of nature with his rapid-fire delivery of each thought that tickles the locus of his brain. It’s fabulous because generally on TV they don’t do nuance well. With Mitch the nuance is the hammer he uses to obliterate all notion of conventional wisdom…

You know, as it relates to wisdom on basic cable.

But Mitch’s grand point of the night was speculative in nature, because that’s what they do on those types of shows. Someone makes a point, another guy takes the opposing view, they argue and then it’s time to go to the commercial.

Riveting.

However, Mitch dropped a point that wasn’t too unpopular in these parts lately, and the idea was that if the World Series gets to a seventh game, there is no way manager Charlie Manuel should run Cole Hamels out there. Who cares that Hamels will be the freshest pitcher on the staff and it will be his day to pitch? Mitch said if the Phillies can force Game 7 at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night, the reigning World Series MVP should not pitch.

“There’s huge doubt,” Williams said on ESPN Radio. “If I’m Charlie Manuel there’s no way in the world he’s pitching. A player comes out in the middle of the World Series when the entire team is busting their butts to get this thing accomplished again to repeat and one of the mainstays in the rotation says he just wants the season over? Well, he wouldn’t have to ask me twice for it to be over, he wouldn’t pitch again. I’d take my chances with J.A. Happ. … I cannot send Cole Hamels out there after he said he wants the season to end and then have to look at the rest of the team in the face and say, ‘He was just kidding.’”

Sure, the quote might have been taken out of context, but Williams did not care.

“You don’t let that quote come out of your mouth, period,” Williams said. “That’s been the problem with Cole this year. I thought last year in the postseason he was the best pitcher on the planet. This year when the playoffs started he was complaining that the Phillies had to play games that start at 2:30 p.m. There are certain things as a player that you just don’t let be known. You definitely don’t let your opponent know that you’re upset at what time the game is starting, because they know going in that your mind is not where it’s supposed to be and it will take nothing to get you rattled on the mound.”

Mitch is old school. He was the heart-and-soul of the ’93 Phillies’ infamous “Macho Row.” He’s no sooner as hit a guy with a pitch in the back than give up an intentional walk and mess with his pitch count. Why waste the energy?

Cole Hamels is the anti-Mitch. Where Cole has precious ads with his wife and sweet little dogs that get carted around town in designer sweaters in a backpack, and has his hair gently highlighted, Mitch wore a mullet. He spit and cursed and owned horses and pigs on his farm called, “The 3-and-2 Ranch.”

If Hamels is Tokyo, Williams is Paris. They are as opposite as a pair of left-handers could be.

Still, give Williams credit for not holding back or allowing his biases to be swayed by thinking something through. Williams’ analysis is just like his pitching was—hurried, fast, wild and a little sloppy.

And who doesn’t love it?

Still, Mitch Williams telling a manager not to use a pitcher? Really? Certainly his idea to bypass Hamels in a Game 7 is one that I would have completely ignored if it was offered by anyone else. But because it was Mitch Williams, it was put right out there on the batting tee for anyone to knock out of the park.

Mitch Williams, as everyone knows, pitched the fateful Game 6 of the 1993 World Series for the Phillies. Manager Jim Fregosi brought his closer into the game in the ninth inning with a one-run lead and the meat of the fearsome Blue Jays’ offense coming to the plate. If Mitch could have gotten three outs, the Phillies would have played in Game 7 the next night. With a one-run cushion he had very little margin for error. That was especially the case considering it was Mitch who was on the mound in Game 4 when the Phillies blew a five-run lead with six outs to go. When Larry Andersen struggled in the eighth, Fregosi turned to Williams who gave up six runs.

Then again, it could hardly be Williams’ fault. His fastball and command of his slider were shot from overuse and too much tight-rope walking during the regular season and the playoffs. By the time he got in there to face Joe Carter with one out and two on, it was already too late.

So why did Fregosi put Williams in at all? Clearly an astute baseball man like Fregosi was wise enough to see what everyone else saw, which was all his closer had left was guile dressed up as good luck.

In other words, Fregosi was sending Williams out on a Kamikaze mission. Dutifully, Williams put on his crash helmet and went out there.

BANZAI!

So why did Fregosi send Williams out there in Game 6 with the season on the line? Simple, he felt loyalty to his guy and didn’t feel like he had anyone better. Was Roger Mason going to pitch the ninth inning? Sure, it sounds logical to us, but we were there with Curt Schilling with our heads buried in a towel.

hamels.jpg But given the chance, if it comes to a Game 7, Cole Hamels would be my man. I’d give him the ball and would expect that he not only would pitch seven innings, but also that he would win the game. In fact, I don’t know if there is any other logical choice.

Yeah, yeah, I know all about the numbers. I’ve seen the frustration, the body language and heard the comments. And yes I remember watching J.A. Happ pitch against the Yankees in May where he pitched really well before Brad Lidge blew it in the ninth.

I know all of this and I don’t care. I’m being exactly like Mitch in this sense.

The reason I give the ball to Hamels in Game 7 (if the Phillies even get there) is because I think he has pride. I think he’s been hurt by all of the slings and arrows and is dying for one more chance to save his season.

Yes, it’s all about redemption for Hamels.

“I know Hamels. I’ve been a Hamels guy ever since I seen him pitch in Lakewood and when I first came to work here, I never, ever—I want you to listen to this—I never, ever questioned his mental toughness because he’s just as tough as anybody on our team. And I mean that. That part I’ve never, ever doubted,” Manuel said. “There’s definitely no quit in him, and I know he shows emotions at times, and he’s had like a freakish year and he’s going through a bad time, but at the same time he’ll get through it, and he’ll be the pitcher that you saw last year. That pitcher that you’ve been seeing for the last couple years, that’s who Hamels is. He is a gamer and he’s a fighter. I can’t say enough about him, really. That’s kind of how I see him.”

Needless to say Manuel just tipped his hand on who will pitch in Game 7 for the Phillies if Pedro Martinez wins on Wednesday night. Actually, there was no tipping at all because Charlie just put all his cards out there on the table.

Better yet, Hamels has been challenged by just about everyone. He’s even gone to the manager’s office and campaigned to get the ball in the season finale should it come to it. Now it’s all on him.

A wounded and cornered animal can do one of two things—he can roll over and die or he can fight back.

“He definitely wants to win and he wants us to win the World Series, and he definitely wants to play a big part in it,” Manuel said. “As a matter of fact, he might be wanting to play too big a part in it. But that’s kind of how I see it.”

Here’s betting Hamels gets the chance to fight back.

World Series: Damon’s double steal all flash

3PHILADELPHIA—Already they are saying it might be the most clutch play in recent World Series history. Strangely, that’s not just from the hyperbolic New York press who has the innate ability to turn even the most mediocre ballplayers into Hall of Famers.

No, the lauding of Johnny Damon’s one-man, one-pitch double steal has been pretty universal. All across the board the praise as appropriately reflected the proper bias. But make no mistake about it… it was a great play.

Actually, it was one of those plays where everything had to go perfectly. If Damon was going to steal second and pop up out of his slide and take off for third where no one was within 45 feet because of the defensive over-shift for Mark Teixeira, any deviation would have thwarted the play.

First, pitcher Brad Lidge and catcher Carlos Ruiz have to fail to cover third base. Secondly, the throw to second by Ruiz not only has to be fielded by Feliz, but if it is caught at the bag Damon can’t go anywhere. If Feliz thought to catch the ball at the base, there was no way Damon could have gone anywhere.

More importantly, if Ruiz had been able to hang on to a foul tip with two strikes on Damon during his nine-pitch, five-foul plate appearance, the inning would have ended. Instead, Damon lived to see another pitch and laced a single to left.

On pitch later he went from first to third on a steal(s).

Crazy, but smart.

But was it really necessary? Sure, Damon taking off for third was an aggressive, heads’ up play. If Lidge throws a wild pitch he could easily score the go ahead run from third base, but with Teixeira or Alex Rodriguez due up it wasn’t really necessary to take third other than as an insult.

In other words, it was flashy (and smart) but much ado about nothing. After all, Teixeira was plunked on the arm before A-Rod doubled home the go-ahead run. Without the hit, it doesn’t matter where Damon was standing.

At least that’s the way Charlie Manuel sees it.

“A-Rod got a big hit,” Charlie said. “Damon going to third base, only thing Damon did by going to third base, he put his team in a better position to maybe score a run by a fastball or a high chopper or something like that. But the big hit was A-Rod. A-Rod’s hit was the big hit because it was two outs. They got the big hit, Rivera came in, shut us down, and they got the win. They’ve been doing that to us.”

So while us media types hyperventilate over Damon’s smart move, ask yourself if it would have been as big a deal if he was playing in the World Series for Tampa Bay.

World Series: Damon’s double steal all flash

damon3.jpg PHILADELPHIA—Already they are saying it might be the most clutch play in recent World Series history. Strangely, that’s not just from the hyperbolic New York press who has the innate ability to turn even the most mediocre ballplayers into Hall of Famers.

No, the lauding of Johnny Damon’s one-man, one-pitch double steal has been pretty universal. All across the board the praise as appropriately reflected the proper bias. But make no mistake about it… it was a great play.

Actually, it was one of those plays where everything had to go perfectly. If Damon was going to steal second and pop up out of his slide and take off for third where no one was within 45 feet because of the defensive over-shift for Mark Teixeira, any deviation would have thwarted the play.

First, pitcher Brad Lidge and catcher Carlos Ruiz have to fail to cover third base. Secondly, the throw to second by Ruiz not only has to be fielded by Feliz, but if it is caught at the bag Damon can’t go anywhere. If Feliz thought to catch the ball at the base, there was no way Damon could have gone anywhere.

More importantly, if Ruiz had been able to hang on to a foul tip with two strikes on Damon during his nine-pitch, five-foul plate appearance, the inning would have ended. Instead, Damon lived to see another pitch and laced a single to left.

On pitch later he went from first to third on a steal(s).

Crazy, but smart.

But was it really necessary? Sure, Damon taking off for third was an aggressive, heads’ up play. If Lidge throws a wild pitch he could easily score the go ahead run from third base, but with Teixeira or Alex Rodriguez due up it wasn’t really necessary to take third other than as an insult.

In other words, it was flashy (and smart) but much ado about nothing. After all, Teixeira was plunked on the arm before A-Rod doubled home the go-ahead run. Without the hit, it doesn’t matter where Damon was standing.

At least that’s the way Charlie Manuel sees it.

“A-Rod got a big hit,” Charlie said. “Damon going to third base, only thing Damon did by going to third base, he put his team in a better position to maybe score a run by a fastball or a high chopper or something like that. But the big hit was A-Rod. A-Rod’s hit was the big hit because it was two outs. They got the big hit, Rivera came in, shut us down, and they got the win. They’ve been doing that to us.”

So while us media types hyperventilate over Damon’s smart move, ask yourself if it would have been as big a deal if he was playing in the World Series for Tampa Bay.

World Series: Bad beats

lidge_choochPHILADELPHIA—For a franchise that has lost more games than any other team in pro sports history, the Phillies have suffered through more than their fair share of humiliating defeats. In fact, if Philadelphia were the hoity-toity center of arts and letters like Boston and New York, there would be books, poems, curses and movies produced about some of the more devastating of these losses.

Of course the World Series victories in 1980 and 2008 have tempered some of the emotion of the losses, but if that were not the case chances are last night’s defeat in Game 4 of the World Series would take on a greater magnitude.

Instead, we’ll just label it a tough loss and wait to see how the rest of the series plays out.

Still, it’s worth investigating just where the Game 4 loss ranks. Upon reflection, the 2009 Game 4 defeat mirrors the one in Game 4 of the 1993 World Series. That’s the one where the Phillies took a 14-9 lead into the eighth inning only to have the Blue Jays rally for six runs in the inning against Larry Andersen and Mitch Williams. Just when it looked as if the Phillies were going to tie up the series at 2-2, one inning put the club in a 3-1 series deficit and paved the way for Joe Carter’s series-ending homer in Game 6.

Before that point, though, Curt Schilling pitched a shutout in Game 5. That’s a role the Phillies are hoping is reprised by Cliff Lee in tonight’s Game 5. In fact, the similarities are downright uncanny. I remember walking in the bowels of the Vet before Schilling’s first, true World Series gem and seeing the victory champagne, the championship t-shirts and a whole lot of Molson beer in boxes outside the Blue Jays clubhouse.

Schilling made them cart it all the way to Toronto and the Phillies were two outs away from forcing a Game 7 until Jim Fregosi called in Mitchy-poo.

The rest is history.

As for the ’93 Game 4, Andersen said he doesn’t think the mood in the clubhouse after that loss was too different than it was with the Phillies last night. Both clubs had been through so much during the long season that one difficult defeat didn’t affect morale.

Of course we all know how Game 6 shook up the ’93 Phils and the city. Williams was traded to Houston, John Kruk beat cancer, Lenny Dykstra and Darren Daulton began their descent marked by injuries and that team quickly broke up.

Roger Mason we hardly knew ye.

As for last night’s loss it seemed as if a few of the guys got fired up by the notion of doom and gloom. Cliff Lee walked into the clubhouse and a wry smile took over his face when he took in the scene of a media horde picking at Brad Lidge as if they were vultures picking at a dead animal by the side of the road.

mitchOf course Lidge’s teammates didn’t help matters by leaving the closer out there all by himself to answer question after question, but eventually a few trickled out. Heck, even Chase Utley misread the extended media deadlines for the World Series and had to entertain questions from the press.

Nope, Utley only has time for the media when he needs to promote his charity.

“We play like every game’s our last anyway,” Utley said. “So this should be no different.”

Regardless, Jimmy Rollins probably said it best about the Phillies’ attitude heading into their first elimination game since the 2007 NLDS. Don’t expect any rah-rah speeches or extra histrionics from the home team, he says.

“I guess that works real well in Hollywood movies,” Rollins said. “You make this grand speech and everybody turns around and becomes superheroes. But we all know what we have to do. We talked about it in the lunch room, what’s the task at hand. And Charlie, if he wants to say something, he’ll say something. Other than that, the focus and the job doesn’t change.”

Yes that’s true. However, the stakes have changed greatly.

*
While we’re on the subject of ugly losses in team history, where does Cole Hamels’ failure in Game 3 rank. Sure, we’re waxing on about Game 4, but Hamels and the Phillies were in an excellent spot in Game 3 before the fifth-inning meltdown.

As a result, it would be difficult for Manuel to send Hamels to the mound for Game 7 at Yankee Stadium should it come to that. Moreover, there just might be a swirl of trade talk regarding Hamels this winter… perhaps involving a certain right-hander for Toronto.

“This year has been tough on him,” Manuel said. “He’s kind of had a weird year. You’ve heard me say that over and over. What he’s going through right now, it’s going to be an experience, because he’s going through the part where he’s failed.”

Manuel pointed out that bad years on the heels of overwhelming success aren’t extraordinary. In fact, they happen all the time to really good pitchers. Hall of Famers, even.

“I think that’s just the way it goes. And I can name you pitchers that have had the same problem he has. Saberhagen, Palmer, Jim Palmer, Beckett. I mean, if I stood here and think, I can think of more,” Manuel said. “You go back and look, after they have the big year, it’s not something — Pat Burrell as a player, hit 37 home runs, and the following year I remember when I first came over here, one of my things was I worked with his hitting. And the reason is because he was having a bad year. That’s baseball, and sometimes that’s what happens. That doesn’t mean that a guy is not going to meet your expectations of him. I think it’s just a matter of him getting things going again and feeling real good about himself, and he’ll go out there and produce for you.”

Whether or not this affects Hamels’ role with the club for the rest of the 2009 season has yet to be determined. But make no mistake about it—the Phillies’ faith in Hamels just isn’t there any more.

World Series: Charlie’s big gamble

CC & LeePHILADELPHIA—No matter what else happens, Charlie Manuel will be remembered as the second man to win a World Series for the Phillies. Since 1883 and after 50 previous managers, only Charlie and Dallas Green have hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the season.

So whatever happens after the 2008 World Series, Charlie’s legacy is safe in Philadelphia. Winning baseball teams are like Haley’s Comet around here.

But will Charlie’s legacy take a hit if the Phillies lose the 2009 World Series to the Yankees? And if so, will it be because of his decision NOT to send Cliff Lee to the mound for a rematch against CC Sabathia on short rest in Game 4?

Well, that all depends.

First of all, Charlie has painted himself into a corner a few times during the postseason. One time came when he used both J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton in Game 2 of the NLDS. Another time was when he went with five pitchers to get three outs in Game 2 of the NLCS. After each of those instances the question that was asked was, “Did Charlie just [mess] this up?”

Each time the answer was, “We’ll see.”

And that’s where we are once again. Charlie is backed into a corner with Joe Blanton scheduled to start against the Yankees in Game 4. If it works and Blanton comes through with and the Phillies steal one from Sabathia again, the manager looks like a genius. After all, he will go into the pivotal Game 5 with his best pitcher properly rested and ready to go against another pitcher working on short rest.

Better yet, the pitcher (A.J. Burnett) is one pitching coach Rich Dubee is quite familiar with going back to his days with the Florida Marlins. Though he won’t say it one way or another, one gets the sense that Dubee thinks Burnett is a bit of a whack job, to use a popular term.

So in that respect, if the Phillies go into Game 5 with the series tied up at 2 games apiece, Manuel looks pretty darned smart.

Again.

Still, it seems as if the manager has his cards all laid out on the table and is waiting to get lucky with one on the river (to use another term). Clearly it seems as if the Phillies don’t believe they match up well against the Yankees are attempting to use any favorable twist they can to their advantage. The biggest of those appears to be Cliff Lee on regular rest in Game 5 against A.J. Burnett on short rest.

Nevertheless, there is an interesting caveat to all of this and it has to do with Charlie and Lee…

If Charlie was so adamant about not pitching Cliff Lee on three days rest, and says that even if the pitcher had campaigned to pitch in Game 4 it would have no affect on his decision to stick with Blanton. According to the way Manuel phrased it, even if Lee had burst into the office, flipped over a table, knocked some pictures off the wall and screamed at the manager to, “GIVE ME THE BALL!” Manuel says it would not have mattered.

“We didn’t talk very long on Cliff Lee,” Manuel said.

But why did they talk at all?

Let’s think about that for a second… if Charlie’s mind was already made up, why did he ask Lee anything? Could it be that Lee emitted some bad body language or hedged when Manuel asked if he’d pitch in Game 4?

Or could it be that the Phillies placed too much trust in Cole Hamels?

For now everyone is saying all the right things. That’s especially the case with Lee, who says he’s ready for whatever the Phillies give him.

“It was a pretty quick conversation, him asking me if I had ever done it and me telling him no and saying that I think I could,” Lee said. “Basically that was about the extent of it. Pretty quick, brief deal. I just let him know I’d pitch whenever he wants me to pitch. I think I could do it, but he makes the calls.”

So the season comes down to this. If the Phillies fall into a 3-1 series hole and end up losing the series, will it tarnish what Manuel has already done for the Phillies?

We’ll see.

World Series: Bad beats

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com PHILADELPHIA—For a franchise that has lost more games than any other team in pro sports history, the Phillies have suffered through more than their fair share of humiliating defeats. In fact, if Philadelphia were the hoity-toity center of arts and letters like Boston and New York, there would be books, poems, curses and movies produced about some of the more devastating of these losses.

Of course the World Series victories in 1980 and 2008 have tempered some of the emotion of the losses, but if that were not the case chances are last night’s defeat in Game 4 of the World Series would take on a greater magnitude.

Instead, we’ll just label it a tough loss and wait to see how the rest of the series plays out.

Still, it’s worth investigating just where the Game 4 loss ranks. Upon reflection, the 2009 Game 4 defeat mirrors the one in Game 4 of the 1993 World Series. That’s the one where the Phillies took a 14-9 lead into the eighth inning only to have the Blue Jays rally for six runs in the inning against Larry Andersen and Mitch Williams. Just when it looked as if the Phillies were going to tie up the series at 2-2, one inning put the club in a 3-1 series deficit and paved the way for Joe Carter’s series-ending homer in Game 6.

Before that point, though, Curt Schilling pitched a shutout in Game 5. That’s a role the Phillies are hoping is reprised by Cliff Lee in tonight’s Game 5. In fact, the similarities are downright uncanny. I remember walking in the bowels of the Vet before Schilling’s first, true World Series gem and seeing the victory champagne, the championship t-shirts and a whole lot of Molson beer in boxes outside the Blue Jays clubhouse.

Schilling made them cart it all the way to Toronto and the Phillies were two outs away from forcing a Game 7 until Jim Fregosi called in Mitchy-poo.

The rest is history.

As for the ’93 Game 4, Andersen said he doesn’t think the mood in the clubhouse after that loss was too different than it was with the Phillies last night. Both clubs had been through so much during the long season that one difficult defeat didn’t affect morale.

Of course we all know how Game 6 shook up the ’93 Phils and the city. Williams was traded to Houston, John Kruk beat cancer, Lenny Dykstra and Darren Daulton began their descent marked by injuries and that team quickly broke up.

Roger Mason we hardly knew ye.

As for last night’s loss it seemed as if a few of the guys got fired up by the notion of doom and gloom. Cliff Lee walked into the clubhouse and a wry smile took over his face when he took in the scene of a media horde picking at Brad Lidge as if they were vultures picking at a dead animal by the side of the road.

mitch.jpg Of course Lidge’s teammates didn’t help matters by leaving the closer out there all by himself to answer question after question, but eventually a few trickled out. Heck, even Chase Utley misread the extended media deadlines for the World Series and had to entertain questions from the press.

Nope, Utley only has time for the media when he needs to promote his charity.

“We play like every game’s our last anyway,” Utley said. “So this should be no different.”

Regardless, Jimmy Rollins probably said it best about the Phillies’ attitude heading into their first elimination game since the 2007 NLDS. Don’t expect any rah-rah speeches or extra histrionics from the home team, he says.

“I guess that works real well in Hollywood movies,” Rollins said. “You make this grand speech and everybody turns around and becomes superheroes. But we all know what we have to do. We talked about it in the lunch room, what’s the task at hand. And Charlie, if he wants to say something, he’ll say something. Other than that, the focus and the job doesn’t change.”

Yes that’s true. However, the stakes have changed greatly.

*
While we’re on the subject of ugly losses in team history, where does Cole Hamels’ failure in Game 3 rank. Sure, we’re waxing on about Game 4, but Hamels and the Phillies were in an excellent spot in Game 3 before the fifth-inning meltdown.

As a result, it would be difficult for Manuel to send Hamels to the mound for Game 7 at Yankee Stadium should it come to that. Moreover, there just might be a swirl of trade talk regarding Hamels this winter… perhaps involving a certain right-hander for Toronto.

“This year has been tough on him,” Manuel said. “He’s kind of had a weird year. You’ve heard me say that over and over. What he’s going through right now, it’s going to be an experience, because he’s going through the part where he’s failed.”

Manuel pointed out that bad years on the heels of overwhelming success aren’t extraordinary. In fact, they happen all the time to really good pitchers. Hall of Famers, even.

“I think that’s just the way it goes. And I can name you pitchers that have had the same problem he has. Saberhagen, Palmer, Jim Palmer, Beckett. I mean, if I stood here and think, I can think of more,” Manuel said. “You go back and look, after they have the big year, it’s not something — Pat Burrell as a player, hit 37 home runs, and the following year I remember when I first came over here, one of my things was I worked with his hitting. And the reason is because he was having a bad year. That’s baseball, and sometimes that’s what happens. That doesn’t mean that a guy is not going to meet your expectations of him. I think it’s just a matter of him getting things going again and feeling real good about himself, and he’ll go out there and produce for you.”

Whether or not this affects Hamels’ role with the club for the rest of the 2009 season has yet to be determined. But make no mistake about it—the Phillies’ faith in Hamels just isn’t there any more.

World Series: Charlie’s big gamble

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com PHILADELPHIA—No matter what else happens, Charlie Manuel will be remembered as the second man to win a World Series for the Phillies. Since 1883 and after 50 previous managers, only Charlie and Dallas Green have hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the season.

So whatever happens after the 2008 World Series, Charlie’s legacy is safe in Philadelphia. Winning baseball teams are like Haley’s Comet around here.

But will Charlie’s legacy take a hit if the Phillies lose the 2009 World Series to the Yankees? And if so, will it be because of his decision NOT to send Cliff Lee to the mound for a rematch against CC Sabathia on short rest in Game 4?

Well, that all depends.

First of all, Charlie has painted himself into a corner a few times during the postseason. One time came when he used both J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton in Game 2 of the NLDS. Another time was when he went with five pitchers to get three outs in Game 2 of the NLCS. After each of those instances the question that was asked was, “Did Charlie just [mess] this up?”

Each time the answer was, “We’ll see.”

And that’s where we are once again. Charlie is backed into a corner with Joe Blanton scheduled to start against the Yankees in Game 4. If it works and Blanton comes through with and the Phillies steal one from Sabathia again, the manager looks like a genius. After all, he will go into the pivotal Game 5 with his best pitcher properly rested and ready to go against another pitcher working on short rest.

Better yet, the pitcher (A.J. Burnett) is one pitching coach Rich Dubee is quite familiar with going back to his days with the Florida Marlins. Though he won’t say it one way or another, one gets the sense that Dubee thinks Burnett is a bit of a whack job, to use a popular term.

So in that respect, if the Phillies go into Game 5 with the series tied up at 2 games apiece, Manuel looks pretty darned smart.

Again.

Still, it seems as if the manager has his cards all laid out on the table and is waiting to get lucky with one on the river (to use another term). Clearly it seems as if the Phillies don’t believe they match up well against the Yankees are attempting to use any favorable twist they can to their advantage. The biggest of those appears to be Cliff Lee on regular rest in Game 5 against A.J. Burnett on short rest.

Nevertheless, there is an interesting caveat to all of this and it has to do with Charlie and Lee…

If Charlie was so adamant about not pitching Cliff Lee on three days rest, and says that even if the pitcher had campaigned to pitch in Game 4 it would have no affect on his decision to stick with Blanton. According to the way Manuel phrased it, even if Lee had burst into the office, flipped over a table, knocked some pictures off the wall and screamed at the manager to, “GIVE ME THE BALL!” Manuel says it would not have mattered.

“We didn’t talk very long on Cliff Lee,” Manuel said.

But why did they talk at all?

Let’s think about that for a second… if Charlie’s mind was already made up, why did he ask Lee anything? Could it be that Lee emitted some bad body language or hedged when Manuel asked if he’d pitch in Game 4?

Or could it be that the Phillies placed too much trust in Cole Hamels?

For now everyone is saying all the right things. That’s especially the case with Lee, who says he’s ready for whatever the Phillies give him.

“It was a pretty quick conversation, him asking me if I had ever done it and me telling him no and saying that I think I could,” Lee said. “Basically that was about the extent of it. Pretty quick, brief deal. I just let him know I’d pitch whenever he wants me to pitch. I think I could do it, but he makes the calls.”

So the season comes down to this. If the Phillies fall into a 3-1 series hole and end up losing the series, will it tarnish what Manuel has already done for the Phillies?

We’ll see.

World Series: Gotta get to Mo

mo riveraPHILADELPHIA—It was back in Washington, probably in late August or early September when all we did was write about the proper way to use a relief pitcher and closers. Needless to say it was during one of Brad Lidge’s many rough patches of 2009 and there was a whole bunch of name dropping and philosophizing by the likes of me.

It wasn’t just willy-nilly name dropping, either. Oh sure, there was Eckersley, Sutter, Goose, Sparky Lyle, Mike Marshall and, of course, Fingers. But we also waxed on about Rawly Eastwick, Will McEnaney and the socialism of baseball with its division of labor and labels.

Labels, we decided, were bad. However, since the Phillies seem to have their label/labor issues figured out, there is no need to go overboard when discussing the best use of the so-called “closer.”

Besides, Mariano Rivera makes that Rawly Eastwick look like Will McEnaney.

Oh yes, Mariano Rivera. His two-inning save against the Phillies in Game 2 of the World Series on Thursday night might have been a record-breaker, but it wasn’t exactly a study in the efficiency of pitching. The Phillies made Rivera throw 39 pitches in order to get his 10th career save in the World Series. They also brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the eighth inning, and the tying run in the ninth.

These weren’t mere flash-flood rallies either. In the eighth with one out Rivera had to face Chase Utley with Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino on base. Utley had ripped two homers the night before to pace the Phillies to the win, but this time Rivera got the inning-ending double play.

Sure, the TV replays showed that Utley was safe, but it was significant enough that Rivera got Utley to hit into a double play considering the lefty hit into just five of them all year and has grounded into just 49 double plays in his entire career.

Indeed, the lefty hitting Utley got one of those cutters Rivera throws.

In the ninth Matt Stairs faced Rivera with two outs and a runner on with a chance to tie it. Stairs, as we know, has had some success against big-time closers, but this one ended just as it has so many times with Rivera.

As soon as Stairs made the final out of the game, the talk started. For instance, there are a few that suggested that even though the Phillies didn’t score against Rivera, they got to him a bit. They saw those 39 pitches, of course, and sent eight hitters to the plate in those two innings. The idea, as it’s been written and spoken, was that the Phillies got a good, long look at Rivera and will be ready for the next time.

“Now you have a game plan,” Rollins said. “We didn’t really see Mariano during the season. Spring training, he comes in, I’m out of the game. So, it’s a mystery. Like, we know what he’s going to do. It’s no surprise. It’s not a secret. You’re getting a cutter. All right. You’re getting another cutter. All right. Now here comes another one. That’s what makes him such a good pitcher, because he’s not trying to trick you. But when you see him, you figure out how much his ball is moving. Once you find your approach, you’ve got to be stubborn with it because he’s going to be stubborn with what he’s going to do to you.”

Manager Charlie Manuel was one of those who believed the Phillies’ long look at Rivera was beneficial.

“We can hit Rivera. We can hit any closer. We’ve proved that,” Manuel said. “He’s one of the best closers in baseball, if not the best. He’s very good. But I’ve seen our team handle good pitching and we’re definitely capable of scoring runs late in the game.”

Here’s the big question from all of this… what makes this time so different? What is it the Phillies get that no other team, for the last 15 years, couldn’t figure out?

What makes the Phillies so darned special?

Certainly the Phillies didn’t need to see 39 pitches to know all about Rivera. He throws the cutter and like Pedro Martinez, Rivera is a force of nature. Hitters know what he’s going to throw and when he’s going to throw it, but he still turns bats into kindling. The Phillies, like every other team in the world, send scouts to watch Rivera pitch, they’ve seen him on TV, during spring training and on a continuous loop on the monitors in the clubhouse.

Really, what makes those 39 pitches any different?

“I don’t think you can be scared of anyone in baseball,” Victorino said. “You have to have the resiliency to say, ‘This guy is good. but we can beat him.’ His numbers show how good he is, but you can’t go with that mindset because then you’re beating yourself.”

OK, fine. But in the carefully choreographed world of relief pitching, Rivera is just like all those names we dropped earlier. Actually, check that… he’s better than them. That’s because in 21 World Series appearances—one fewer than Whitey Ford’s all-time record—Rivera has pitched 33 innings, finished 16 games and notched 10 saves.

Needless to say the 10 saves are the best in World Series history, with Fingers second with six. More notable, Rivera has saved four World Series games with multi-innings outings. Again, that’s another record.

So why is it that the Phillies think they can do what only one other team has done in 21 tries?

Maybe it was the 11-pitch at-bat from Rollins in the eighth where he earned a walk (like he really earned it) after falling behind in the count 1-and-2 and then fouling off five pitches. That’s the harbinger.

After all, the last time Rivera threw as many as 39 pitches when going for a two-inning save, the Red Sox rallied for a victory in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS and began the greatest comeback in baseball history.

World Series: Gotta get to Mo

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com PHILADELPHIA—It was back in Washington, probably in late August or early September when all we did was write about the proper way to use a relief pitcher and closers. Needless to say it was during one of Brad Lidge’s many rough patches of 2009 and there was a whole bunch of name dropping and philosophizing by the likes of me.

It wasn’t just willy-nilly name dropping, either. Oh sure, there was Eckersley, Sutter, Goose, Sparky Lyle, Mike Marshall and, of course, Fingers. But we also waxed on about Rawly Eastwick, Will McEnaney and the socialism of baseball with its division of labor and labels.

Labels, we decided, were bad. However, since the Phillies seem to have their label/labor issues figured out, there is no need to go overboard when discussing the best use of the so-called “closer.”

Besides, Mariano Rivera makes that Rawly Eastwick look like Will McEnaney.

Oh yes, Mariano Rivera. His two-inning save against the Phillies in Game 2 of the World Series on Thursday night might have been a record-breaker, but it wasn’t exactly a study in the efficiency of pitching. The Phillies made Rivera throw 39 pitches in order to get his 10th career save in the World Series. They also brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the eighth inning, and the tying run in the ninth.

These weren’t mere flash-flood rallies either. In the eighth with one out Rivera had to face Chase Utley with Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino on base. Utley had ripped two homers the night before to pace the Phillies to the win, but this time Rivera got the inning-ending double play.

Sure, the TV replays showed that Utley was safe, but it was significant enough that Rivera got Utley to hit into a double play considering the lefty hit into just five of them all year and has grounded into just 49 double plays in his entire career.

Indeed, the lefty hitting Utley got one of those cutters Rivera throws.

In the ninth Matt Stairs faced Rivera with two outs and a runner on with a chance to tie it. Stairs, as we know, has had some success against big-time closers, but this one ended just as it has so many times with Rivera.

As soon as Stairs made the final out of the game, the talk started. For instance, there are a few that suggested that even though the Phillies didn’t score against Rivera, they got to him a bit. They saw those 39 pitches, of course, and sent eight hitters to the plate in those two innings. The idea, as it’s been written and spoken, was that the Phillies got a good, long look at Rivera and will be ready for the next time.

“Now you have a game plan,” Rollins said. “We didn’t really see Mariano during the season. Spring training, he comes in, I’m out of the game. So, it’s a mystery. Like, we know what he’s going to do. It’s no surprise. It’s not a secret. You’re getting a cutter. All right. You’re getting another cutter. All right. Now here comes another one. That’s what makes him such a good pitcher, because he’s not trying to trick you. But when you see him, you figure out how much his ball is moving. Once you find your approach, you’ve got to be stubborn with it because he’s going to be stubborn with what he’s going to do to you.”

Manager Charlie Manuel was one of those who believed the Phillies’ long look at Rivera was beneficial.

“We can hit Rivera. We can hit any closer. We’ve proved that,” Manuel said. “He’s one of the best closers in baseball, if not the best. He’s very good. But I’ve seen our team handle good pitching and we’re definitely capable of scoring runs late in the game.”

Here’s the big question from all of this… what makes this time so different? What is it the Phillies get that no other team, for the last 15 years, couldn’t figure out?

What makes the Phillies so darned special?

Certainly the Phillies didn’t need to see 39 pitches to know all about Rivera. He throws the cutter and like Pedro Martinez, Rivera is a force of nature. Hitters know what he’s going to throw and when he’s going to throw it, but he still turns bats into kindling. The Phillies, like every other team in the world, send scouts to watch Rivera pitch, they’ve seen him on TV, during spring training and on a continuous loop on the monitors in the clubhouse.

Really, what makes those 39 pitches any different?

“I don’t think you can be scared of anyone in baseball,” Victorino said. “You have to have the resiliency to say, ‘This guy is good. but we can beat him.’ His numbers show how good he is, but you can’t go with that mindset because then you’re beating yourself.”

OK, fine. But in the carefully choreographed world of relief pitching, Rivera is just like all those names we dropped earlier. Actually, check that… he’s better than them. That’s because in 21 World Series appearances—one fewer than Whitey Ford’s all-time record—Rivera has pitched 33 innings, finished 16 games and notched 10 saves.

Needless to say the 10 saves are the best in World Series history, with Fingers second with six. More notable, Rivera has saved four World Series games with multi-innings outings. Again, that’s another record.

So why is it that the Phillies think they can do what only one other team has done in 21 tries?

Maybe it was the 11-pitch at-bat from Rollins in the eighth where he earned a walk (like he really earned it) after falling behind in the count 1-and-2 and then fouling off five pitches. That’s the harbinger.

After all, the last time Rivera threw as many as 39 pitches when going for a two-inning save, the Red Sox rallied for a victory in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS and began the greatest comeback in baseball history.

World Series: Yankee Stadium? Yawn!

jimmyNEW YORK—Jimmy has been out in full force since the playoffs began. JRoll? Haven’t seen him in a long time. Oh no, there’s nothing wrong with JRoll and he can be entertaining in a certain way from time to time. But Jimmy?

Who doesn’t love Jimmy?

I’m not sure who came up with it, but it fits perfectly—when dealing with Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, there is Jimmy and then there is JRoll. They aren’t Jekyll and Hyde-styled split personalities or even alter egos where one guy is sweet and thoughtful and the other is downright evil. Nope, it’s nothing like that. It’s more like a mood.

Surliness and a condescending attitude is all JRoll. That’s usually reserved for the dog days of the regular season where there might be a hitting slump, losing streak or an error involved. It also might be an attempt to get attention, too, because there aren’t too many things that gets the media to take notice than a surly athlete who doesn’t want to talk about a ballgame.

Jimmy, of course, is entertaining as all get out. He’s quick witted, happy and insightful. He’ll engage anyone, recognizes the local guys who have been with him every day since that September call up in 2000 and is downright gracious. Jimmy usually makes an appearance when the stage gets bigger. He might take an oh-fer or make an error, but unlike the dog days, there is an image to uphold.

With all the notebooks and microphones lurking around during the playoffs, Jimmy gets around.

Yes, we love Jimmy.

And Jimmy loved us right back with a day of perfect, quotable nuggets before and after Game 2 from Yankee Stadium. The pre-game stuff was dropped into a story I wrote about Jimmy’s (sort of) head’s up play on a double play in Game 1 where he “accidentally” caught a little line drive instead of allowing it to bounce to turn a double play, as well as his penchant for making waves whenever he hits New York City.

However, there were a few items that got lost in the shuffle when Rollins was talking about playing shortstop in front of left fielder Raul Ibanez. Though Raul has been hampered with a torn ab muscle as well as a relative dearth of foot speed, Jimmy says the Phils’ new left fielder is a big upgrade over ex-Phillie Pat Burrell. No, he didn’t come out and say Burrell’s name or even put it out there like Burrell is/was a lousy outfielder, but then again he didn’t have to.

“There were less balls falling in the outfield, so that meant teams were getting extra outs on balls that should have been outs,” Rollins said. “They were turned into outs this year. Although we were looking for a right-handed bat in the off-season, just picking up a great hitter can’t be overlooked. And the season [Ibanez] had, the production, especially prior to him getting injured, the man was a superstar.”

However, the quotes that really took off despite being delivered in the wee hours of the morning (who doesn’t love the Internets? Readers and fans would have missed these before the proliferation of digital media) are the ones Rollins dropped regarding the fans at Yankee Stadium.

Apparently Rollins looked out into the two largest crowds in the short history of the latest incarnation of Yankee Stadium and yawned.

Didn’t they realize the Yankees were in the World Series?

Based on what Jimmy saw, apparently not. In fact, when asked if this year’s World Series felt anything like it did last year when the Phillies played the first two games in sterile, lifeless Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., Rollins said: “When we get back to Philly it will [feel like the World Series].”

Zing.

Apparently Rollins can’t tell the difference between Rays’ fans and Yankees fans. From my perspective, I guess that’s a dig at Rays’ fans because they were much. Much louder in the first two games of last year’s World Series than it was in corporate, tony Yankee Stadium.

There weren’t so many empty seats at Tropicana Field, either.

Occasionally it got loud during Game 2 on Thursday night, especially when the organist prodded the fans into the “Who’s your daddy?” chant directed at Pedro Martinez. But it was hardly an ear-splitting moment and the fans settled back into their soft, comfortable chairs quickly. Who knows, maybe they even went up to the high-end butcher shop for a roast beef sandwich or the farmer’s market on the concourse while awaiting the next pre-programmed fan reaction.

You know, like when some guy put on a straw hat and performed a silly dance to disco music in the eighth inning.

“What I thought it would be like compared to what this is like, I would have to say it’s completely different,” Rollins said before Game 2. “They had a legacy over there from the hallways, the monuments, everything. Here, it’s brand new. It’s a different ballpark.”

empty seatsRollins is right to say the new Yankee Stadium is nice, because it’s very nice. The food is delicious, there are lots of choices, the concourses are wide and it’s easy to get around. In the press box during the regular season, the food is by far the best in the Majors.

But so what. It’s not Yankee Stadium anymore. It’s the Disney version of Yankee Stadium. It’s like the high-rollers lounge at the airport. Sure it’s nice, but it has the personality of a really nice toilet seat. In fact, even when the fans were yelling at Pedro or any of the other Phillies players it sounded as if it were canned in from the P.A.

Indeed, Yankee Stadium is dead. Long live the new Yankee Stadium.

“I’ve watched a game at Yankee Stadium, a playoff game, just all the mystique that came with it. What I thought it would be like compared to what this is like, I would have to say it’s completely different,” Rollins said. “They had a legacy over there from the hallways, the monuments, everything. Here it’s brand new. It’s a different ballpark. It’s prettier, big ol’ jumbo screens everywhere. I would have to say it’s a lot different from what I would have expected it to have been.”

All things being equal, Rollins would rather be in Philadelphia.

“It’s really more of a different atmosphere at our ballpark, which is so loud and rowdy. I expected that when I came here, but I heard one big cheer, and that was on a home run. Other than that…”

Rollins just let the last sentence hang there with a little shrug of the shoulders.

Maybe the reason why the atmosphere is so much different at Citizens Bank Park compared to the traditional baseball cities like New York and Boston is because in Philly, the real, true baseball fans haven’t been priced out yet. There also is a solid college-aged crowd and enough standing-room tickets to keep the diehards coming out even in a tough economy.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the Phillies are back in the World Series for a second straight season.

“It makes it a lot more fun because you know they’re your fans and how the sound can echo when they’re not your fans,” Rollins said. “We saw it in the NLCS.”

They’re waiting to see it in the World Series.

World Series: Yankee Stadium? Yawn!

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com NEW YORK—Jimmy has been out in full force since the playoffs began. JRoll? Haven’t seen him in a long time. Oh no, there’s nothing wrong with JRoll and he can be entertaining in a certain way from time to time. But Jimmy?

Who doesn’t love Jimmy?

I’m not sure who came up with it, but it fits perfectly—when dealing with Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, there is Jimmy and then there is JRoll. They aren’t Jekyll and Hyde-styled split personalities or even alter egos where one guy is sweet and thoughtful and the other is downright evil. Nope, it’s nothing like that. It’s more like a mood.

Surliness and a condescending attitude is all JRoll. That’s usually reserved for the dog days of the regular season where there might be a hitting slump, losing streak or an error involved. It also might be an attempt to get attention, too, because there aren’t too many things that gets the media to take notice than a surly athlete who doesn’t want to talk about a ballgame.

Jimmy, of course, is entertaining as all get out. He’s quick witted, happy and insightful. He’ll engage anyone, recognizes the local guys who have been with him every day since that September call up in 2000 and is downright gracious. Jimmy usually makes an appearance when the stage gets bigger. He might take an oh-fer or make an error, but unlike the dog days, there is an image to uphold.

With all the notebooks and microphones lurking around during the playoffs, Jimmy gets around.

Yes, we love Jimmy.

And Jimmy loved us right back with a day of perfect, quotable nuggets before and after Game 2 from Yankee Stadium. The pre-game stuff was dropped into a story I wrote about Jimmy’s (sort of) head’s up play on a double play in Game 1 where he “accidentally” caught a little line drive instead of allowing it to bounce to turn a double play, as well as his penchant for making waves whenever he hits New York City.

However, there were a few items that got lost in the shuffle when Rollins was talking about playing shortstop in front of left fielder Raul Ibanez. Though Raul has been hampered with a torn ab muscle as well as a relative dearth of foot speed, Jimmy says the Phils’ new left fielder is a big upgrade over ex-Phillie Pat Burrell. No, he didn’t come out and say Burrell’s name or even put it out there like Burrell is/was a lousy outfielder, but then again he didn’t have to.

“There were less balls falling in the outfield, so that meant teams were getting extra outs on balls that should have been outs,” Rollins said. “They were turned into outs this year. Although we were looking for a right-handed bat in the off-season, just picking up a great hitter can’t be overlooked. And the season [Ibanez] had, the production, especially prior to him getting injured, the man was a superstar.”

However, the quotes that really took off despite being delivered in the wee hours of the morning (who doesn’t love the Internets? Readers and fans would have missed these before the proliferation of digital media) are the ones Rollins dropped regarding the fans at Yankee Stadium.

Apparently Rollins looked out into the two largest crowds in the short history of the latest incarnation of Yankee Stadium and yawned.

Didn’t they realize the Yankees were in the World Series?

Based on what Jimmy saw, apparently not. In fact, when asked if this year’s World Series felt anything like it did last year when the Phillies played the first two games in sterile, lifeless Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., Rollins said: “When we get back to Philly it will [feel like the World Series].”

Zing.

Apparently Rollins can’t tell the difference between Rays’ fans and Yankees fans. From my perspective, I guess that’s a dig at Rays’ fans because they were much. Much louder in the first two games of last year’s World Series than it was in corporate, tony Yankee Stadium.

There weren’t so many empty seats at Tropicana Field, either.

Occasionally it got loud during Game 2 on Thursday night, especially when the organist prodded the fans into the “Who’s your daddy?” chant directed at Pedro Martinez. But it was hardly an ear-splitting moment and the fans settled back into their soft, comfortable chairs quickly. Who knows, maybe they even went up to the high-end butcher shop for a roast beef sandwich or the farmer’s market on the concourse while awaiting the next pre-programmed fan reaction.

You know, like when some guy put on a straw hat and performed a silly dance to disco music in the eighth inning.

“What I thought it would be like compared to what this is like, I would have to say it’s completely different,” Rollins said before Game 2. “They had a legacy over there from the hallways, the monuments, everything. Here, it’s brand new. It’s a different ballpark.”

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com Rollins is right to say the new Yankee Stadium is nice, because it’s very nice. The food is delicious, there are lots of choices, the concourses are wide and it’s easy to get around. In the press box during the regular season, the food is by far the best in the Majors.

But so what. It’s not Yankee Stadium anymore. It’s the Disney version of Yankee Stadium. It’s like the high-rollers lounge at the airport. Sure it’s nice, but it has the personality of a really nice toilet seat. In fact, even when the fans were yelling at Pedro or any of the other Phillies players it sounded as if it were canned in from the P.A.

Indeed, Yankee Stadium is dead. Long live the new Yankee Stadium.

“I’ve watched a game at Yankee Stadium, a playoff game, just all the mystique that came with it. What I thought it would be like compared to what this is like, I would have to say it’s completely different,” Rollins said. “They had a legacy over there from the hallways, the monuments, everything. Here it’s brand new. It’s a different ballpark. It’s prettier, big ol’ jumbo screens everywhere. I would have to say it’s a lot different from what I would have expected it to have been.”

All things being equal, Rollins would rather be in Philadelphia.

“It’s really more of a different atmosphere at our ballpark, which is so loud and rowdy. I expected that when I came here, but I heard one big cheer, and that was on a home run. Other than that…”

Rollins just let the last sentence hang there with a little shrug of the shoulders.

Maybe the reason why the atmosphere is so much different at Citizens Bank Park compared to the traditional baseball cities like New York and Boston is because in Philly, the real, true baseball fans haven’t been priced out yet. There also is a solid college-aged crowd and enough standing-room tickets to keep the diehards coming out even in a tough economy.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the Phillies are back in the World Series for a second straight season.

“It makes it a lot more fun because you know they’re your fans and how the sound can echo when they’re not your fans,” Rollins said. “We saw it in the NLCS.”

They’re waiting to see it in the World Series.

World Series: Lee great not ‘stunning’

NEW YORK— It’s been interesting watching some segments of the New York City and national media express astonishment over the Phillies resounding, Game 1 victory over the Yankees on Wednesday night. One word that had been bandied about to describe the Phils’ win was “stunning.”

That was the word used by Washington Post media critic and CNN talk show host Howard Kurtz, who tweeted while watching the game that he was sitting in “stunned silence.”

Really?

Seriously, certain segments of the New York media must really be arrogant if “stunned” is the preferred expression to describe the Yankees’ loss to the defending world champions pitched by the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.

Stunned? No way.

Apropos of nothing I was hoping instead of making his basket catch on Johnny Damon’s little pop up in the sixth, that he would have pulled off his cap and caught the ball that way.

But that is not to take anything away from Cliff Lee’s performance, which should go down not only as an all-timer in Phillies lore, but also as one of the great Game 1 iutings in World Series history. Truly, the list of superlatives from the game is pretty impressive. Actually, my favorite of the bunch was that Cliff Lee was the first pitcher to strike out 10 hitters without a walk in Game 1 of the World Series since Deacon Phillippe of the Pirates beat Cy Young (the man himself) in the very first World Series game ever played.

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

Simply amazing.

There’s more, too:

• After his six-hit complete game in which he allowed one unearned run with 10 Ks and no walks, Lee’s postseason ledger stands at 3-0 with a 0.54 ERA (two earned runs in 33 1/3 innings) in four starts this postseason. He has the seventh-best ERA of any pitcher in a single postseason in baseball history with more than 20 innings pitched. Waite Hoyt (1921), Carl Hubbell (1933), Christy Mathewson (1905) and Kenny Rogers (2006) had 0.00 ERAs. Sandy Koufax had a 0.38 ERA in 1965 and Harry Brecheen had a 0.45 ERA in 1946.

• Of all the pitchers in baseball history in the postseason, Lee has the best ERA ever for pitchers with more than 30 innings.

• Lee also pitched the first complete game in the World Series since Josh Beckett threw one against the Yankees in the clinching Game 6 of the 2003 World Series.

Now here’s the thing that doesn’t make sense about Lee’s outing… it wasn’t as good as his effort against the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLCS. At least that’s what it says on the Bill James “game score.”

If you page down a bit you’ll find a whole thing I wrote about the “game score” and how Lee’s performance in Game 3 was one of the greatest game’s pitched in the postseason in the last few seasons and the best ever in the playoffs by a Phillies pitcher. Of course the flaw in “game score” is that it is not weighted for the postseason and there isn’t special credence given to Game 1 of the World Series vs. Game 7 or even an elimination game.

For instance, when I think of the best pitched games I’ve ever seen, the top one on the list is Jack Morris in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series against the Braves. For 10 innings Morris hung up zero after zero only to be matched by John Smoltz and two relievers.
Apparently 10 shutout innings in a 1-0 seventh game of the World Series the day after the winning team won Game 6 in the 12th inning on Kirby Puckett’s homer is only good enough for an 84.

Lee’s outing in Game 1 scored an 83, while his eight innings against the Dodgers last week in Game 3 was an 86. Not to downplay what Lee did in Game 3, but the performance in Game 1 was better.

Much, much better.

The animated gif swiped from DMac

World Series: Lee great not ‘stunning’

Lee-is-gangsta1.gif NEW YORK— It’s been interesting watching some segments of the New York City and national media express astonishment over the Phillies resounding, Game 1 victory over the Yankees on Wednesday night. One word that had been bandied about to describe the Phils’ win was “stunning.”

That was the word used by Washington Post media critic and CNN talk show host Howard Kurtz, who tweeted while watching the game that he was sitting in “stunned silence.”

Really?

Seriously, certain segments of the New York media must really be arrogant if “stunned” is the preferred expression to describe the Yankees’ loss to the defending world champions pitched by the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.

Stunned? No way.

Apropos of nothing I was hoping instead of making his basket catch on Johnny Damon’s little pop up in the sixth, that he would have pulled off his cap and caught the ball that way.

But that is not to take anything away from Cliff Lee’s performance, which should go down not only as an all-timer in Phillies lore, but also as one of the great Game 1 iutings in World Series history. Truly, the list of superlatives from the game is pretty impressive. Actually, my favorite of the bunch was that Cliff Lee was the first pitcher to strike out 10 hitters without a walk in Game 1 of the World Series since Deacon Phillippe of the Pirates beat Cy Young (the man himself) in the very first World Series game ever played.

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

Simply amazing.

There’s more, too:

• After his six-hit complete game in which he allowed one unearned run with 10 Ks and no walks, Lee’s postseason ledger stands at 3-0 with a 0.54 ERA (two earned runs in 33 1/3 innings) in four starts this postseason. He has the seventh-best ERA of any pitcher in a single postseason in baseball history with more than 20 innings pitched. Waite Hoyt (1921), Carl Hubbell (1933), Christy Mathewson (1905) and Kenny Rogers (2006) had 0.00 ERAs. Sandy Koufax had a 0.38 ERA in 1965 and Harry Brecheen had a 0.45 ERA in 1946.

• Of all the pitchers in baseball history in the postseason, Lee has the best ERA ever for pitchers with more than 30 innings.

• Lee also pitched the first complete game in the World Series since Josh Beckett threw one against the Yankees in the clinching Game 6 of the 2003 World Series.

Now here’s the thing that doesn’t make sense about Lee’s outing… it wasn’t as good as his effort against the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NLCS. At least that’s what it says on the Bill James “game score.”

If you page down a bit you’ll find a whole thing I wrote about the “game score” and how Lee’s performance in Game 3 was one of the greatest game’s pitched in the postseason in the last few seasons and the best ever in the playoffs by a Phillies pitcher. Of course the flaw in “game score” is that it is not weighted for the postseason and there isn’t special credence given to Game 1 of the World Series vs. Game 7 or even an elimination game.

For instance, when I think of the best pitched games I’ve ever seen, the top one on the list is Jack Morris in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series against the Braves. For 10 innings Morris hung up zero after zero only to be matched by John Smoltz and two relievers.

Apparently 10 shutout innings in a 1-0 seventh game of the World Series the day after the winning team won Game 6 in the 12th inning on Kirby Puckett’s homer is only good enough for an 84.

Lee’s outing in Game 1 scored an 83, while his eight innings against the Dodgers last week in Game 3 was an 86. Not to downplay what Lee did in Game 3, but the performance in Game 1 was better.

Much, much better.

The animated gif swiped from DMac

Keep on writin’

le parker meridienNEW YORK— We’re just about filled to the brim with pre-series analysis, posturing and showing off and now—finally—it’s time to get down to business.

Yes, we can just worry about baseball from here on out.

Before that though, it’s worth noting that Charlie Manuel has his superstitions working overtime. Oh sure, Charlie will tell you that superstitions are bad luck, but sometimes you just gotta do what you do.

So Charlie always takes the Walt Whitman Bridge from his home in South Jersey to the ballpark when the Phillies are in town. It doesn’t matter about the traffic or what kind of trouble is lurking out there on the roads from time to time. Charlie rides on the Walt Whitman no matter what.

That’s just what he does.

But his most consistent ritual, the one that if he doesn’t perform to the letter (literally), bad things will occur, has its roots set here in New York City. You see, Charlie likes to use the pens they put out in his hotel room at the Le Parker Meridien. One day last year Chuck was writing away with one of those smooth, gliding pens that they laid out on his desk and his night stand and it was like his hand were driving a Cadillac.

You know, kind of like one of those astronaut pens Jack Klompus grudgingly gave to Jerry Seinfeld.

Since the Phillies were in town to play the Mets early last year, Manuel took the pen to the clubhouse with him and wrote out his lineup card with it. Needless to say, good things happened. In fact, it went so well that Charlie stocks up on the pens whenever the team goes to New York City.

Fortunately for the manager and his lineups, the Phillies are making their fifth trip to the big city and the Le Parker Meridien this season. If the World Series stretches past five games, Charlie can poach even more of those pens.

“I’m been doing that since last year. I started using those last year because we started winning games,” Charlie said. “It’s just a hotel pen. I use that same kind of pen.”

my penOh, sure, there are a lot of nice writing utensils out there. Personally, I’m partial to the Pilot brand Precise Rolling ball V5. Preferrably in black, though blue ink is acceptable, too. Unlike a lot of my colleagues I don’t load up on pens from the Marriott hotels we favor and spend the extra dollar on those smooth, crisp pens. In fact, there is one fellow scribe that “borrows” these fantastic pens a couple times a month. My plan heading into next season is to get a sponsorship from Pilot or a special waiver on my expenses so that I can make sure the Philadelphia writing press gets to use a quality pen.

So yeah, I know what it’s like to be tied to certain things. If I can help it, I’d rather not use any other pen.

Charlie is a different story, though. If there is a tight shot of the dugout where Charlie stands near his railing, look closely — you’ll see his pen tied to the mesh protective netting. That’s where he keeps it during the game when he isn’t using it.

He’s been carting around these pens for nearly two seasons now and it’s probably a safe bet that he’ll be using them for many more. After all, since he began using those special pens that the put out there like sample-size bottles of shampoo and soap and extra towels, the season has ended with two straight trips to the World Series.

Yes indeed, it has to be the pen.

Keep on writin’

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com NEW YORK— We’re just about filled to the brim with pre-series analysis, posturing and showing off and now—finally—it’s time to get down to business.

Yes, we can just worry about baseball from here on out.

Before that though, it’s worth noting that Charlie Manuel has his superstitions working overtime. Oh sure, Charlie will tell you that superstitions are bad luck, but sometimes you just gotta do what you do.

So Charlie always takes the Walt Whitman Bridge from his home in South Jersey to the ballpark when the Phillies are in town. It doesn’t matter about the traffic or what kind of trouble is lurking out there on the roads from time to time. Charlie rides on the Walt Whitman no matter what.

That’s just what he does.

But his most consistent ritual, the one that if he doesn’t perform to the letter (literally), bad things will occur, has its roots set here in New York City. You see, Charlie likes to use the pens they put out in his hotel room at the Le Parker Meridien. One day last year Chuck was writing away with one of those smooth, gliding pens that they laid out on his desk and his night stand and it was like his hand were driving a Cadillac.

You know, kind of like one of those astronaut pens Jack Klompus grudgingly gave to Jerry Seinfeld.

Since the Phillies were in town to play the Mets early last year, Manuel took the pen to the clubhouse with him and wrote out his lineup card with it. Needless to say, good things happened. In fact, it went so well that Charlie stocks up on the pens whenever the team goes to New York City.

Fortunately for the manager and his lineups, the Phillies are making their fifth trip to the big city and the Le Parker Meridien this season. If the World Series stretches past five games, Charlie can poach even more of those pens.

“I’m been doing that since last year. I started using those last year because we started winning games,” Charlie said. “It’s just a hotel pen. I use that same kind of pen.”

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com Oh, sure, there are a lot of nice writing utensils out there. Personally, I’m partial to the Pilot brand Precise Rolling ball V5. Preferrably in black, though blue ink is acceptable, too. Unlike a lot of my colleagues I don’t load up on pens from the Marriott hotels we favor and spend the extra dollar on those smooth, crisp pens. In fact, there is one fellow scribe that “borrows” these fantastic pens a couple times a month. My plan heading into next season is to get a sponsorship from Pilot or a special waiver on my expenses so that I can make sure the Philadelphia writing press gets to use a quality pen.

So yeah, I know what it’s like to be tied to certain things. If I can help it, I’d rather not use any other pen.

Charlie is a different story, though. If there is a tight shot of the dugout where Charlie stands near his railing, look closely — you’ll see his pen tied to the mesh protective netting. That’s where he keeps it during the game when he isn’t using it.

He’s been carting around these pens for nearly two seasons now and it’s probably a safe bet that he’ll be using them for many more. After all, since he began using those special pens that the put out there like sample-size bottles of shampoo and soap and extra towels, the season has ended with two straight trips to the World Series.

Yes indeed, it has to be the pen.

The six degrees of Matt Stairs

Stairs & GirardiNEW YORK— It’s hard not to like the guys who can take it as well as they can dish it out. Better yet, a guy like Matt Stairs is into self-depreciating humor in the same way he’s into launching epic homers in clutch moments of a game.

He’s a good guy pretty much all the time.

So when I saw Stairs just shooting the bull with Yankees manager Joe Girardi during Tuesday’s workout at Yankee Stadium on the eve of the start of the World Series, it dawned on me…

Those guys were teammates. It had to be so.

A quick spin on Baseball-Reference proved it to be true. In 2001, Stairs and Girardi both played for the Chicago Cubs along with Phillies’ utility man, Miguel Cairo. Back then Stairs was 33 and the Cubs’ starting first baseman. He played in 128 games that year, hitting just 17 homers and splitting time with Fred McGriff.

Girardi, on the other hand, was 36 and winding down his playing career as the backup catcher to Todd Hundley in his second go-around with the Cubs. Five years later Stairs was working on his ninth team prefacing a stint in Toronto and Philadelphia yet to come, while Girardi took his first managing gig with the Marlins.

Cairo, meanwhile, bounced around quite a bit in 2001. Before hooking up with Girardi and Stairs with the Cubs, he was traded by Oakland for current Yankees’ pinch hitter Eric Hinske.

Hinske, of course, was the final out of the 2008 World Series with the Rays, a role he doesn’t want to reprise against the Phillies in 2009.

OK, where does Kevin bacon fit into all of this? Wait, he grew up in Rittenhouse Square. See, it all fits.

Anyway, not even a decade after they were teammates in Chicago, Stairs and Girardi are battling it out for the World Series. Needless to say, this leads to an important question:

Hey Matt, what’s it like playing in the World Series against an opposing manager that used to be your teammate?

“It means I’m really old or he’s extremely young and doing really good,” Stairs said with a hearty chuckle. “No, it’s nice and I’m really happy for Joe. We were teammates in Chicago and he’s done a great job managing here and when he was with the Marlins and now he has the Yankees in the World Series.”

But knowing what he does about Girardi, did Stairs ever imagine a scenario where his old teammate could ever be his boss?

“He’s older than me, right?” asked Stairs, who at 41 is three years younger than Girardi. “I might have a hard time playing for a guy younger than me.”

The way it’s going Stairs very well could play for a manager younger than him one day. Sure, the lefty slugger struggled a bit in 2009, but big bats off the bench are a big commodity in baseball. Just ask Hinske, whose big bat for the bench has him in the World Series for the third straight year with his third different team.

Have bat, will travel.

Regardless, Stairs is pleased to see his old teammate doing so well, though he hopes he’s not doing as well when the World Series ends next week.

“I wanted to be a manager when I was young. How we learn is from watching the game and if you stick around long enough you might pick up some things,” Stairs said. “Joe is smart and he’s been around and he’s a good manager. He does extremely well with all that stuff like the bullpen moves. Sometimes you’re in a no-win situation and he does a great job in blowing it off.”

The Throwback World Series: Phillies in Six

cliff leeWe’re riding the rails to New York City for the World Series the way Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn probably did on their lone trip to the big city for the big series nearly six decades ago. Only this time around, we media types don’t travel in the club car with the ballplayers and team execs. Those days ended a long time ago.

Frankly, everyone is pleased about that. Oh no, taking the train is fantastic. In fact, why the railway infrastructure in the U.S. is as paltry as it is (compared to other industrialized nations) is a sin. It’s a crime, too. A crime and a sin.

Nope, ballplayers and media guys don’t mix anymore in the same way that people don’t dress up in smart, tweed suits or fedoras to travel anymore. There are a lot of reasons for this, and it’s probably a smart idea not to get into it here, but make no mistake about it…

We’re on the trains.

Fact is, when the Yankees finally figured out a way not to mess up the series against the Angels, the first thing I thought about was the fact that I wouldn’t have to get on a plane and jet off clear across the country to Orange County. Nope, a short ride to the train station for the trip up to Penn Station was all it took.

Just like they used to do it back when the baseball, not the hype, was the star. Back then, the story was Jim Konstanty coming out of the bullpen to make his first ever start in Game 1. This time Jay-Z and Alicia Keys are going to “sing” a song before Game 1 or something like that.

The big story should be the huge matchup between ex-teammates Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia in Game 1. This, to use an old-timey term, is a dream matchup up. Think about it—Lee and Sabathia won the Cy Young Award the past two seasons when they both played for the Indians. But as it works in the days without the reserve clause, Lee and Sabathia had to be dealt away from Cleveland because they were too good.

Success equals a higher paycheck in Major League Baseball. Talk about a slice of Americana.

Oh, but Game 1 might not be the only time this dream matchup occurs and riding the train to and from New York from 30th Street Station might not be the only relic of a bygone era. In fact, Lee and Sabathia could challenge convention wisdom and post-modern baseball smarts by pitching twice on three days’ rest if the series goes seven games.

How cool would that be?

Instead of Yankees manager Joe Girardi digging through sabermetric-riddled binders for his next baseball move while Charlie Manuel leans against the rail in the dugout and chews gum (he already has all those books memorized), it will be like Casey Stengel and Eddie Sawyer are going at it all over again.

Let the pitchers pitch? Oh yes, this might happen.

The fact is, starting pitchers rarely get three starts in a World Series anymore. But then again the World Series doesn’t go seven games all that much these days, either. Curt Schilling made three starts in the 2001 series against the Yankees and Jack Morris famously started three games in the 1991 World Series.

Before Morris, the three-time starters in the World Series are few and far between. Bruce Hurt in 1986 and Luis Tiant in 1975 made three starts in the World Series. Otherwise, the last time two pitchers squared off three times in a single series was 41 years ago when Bob Gibson of the Cardinals and Mickey Lolich of the Tigers went at it in 1968. Better yet, both guys pitched three complete games.

Gibson, of course, was a freak. He made three starts in the 1964, 1967 and 1968 World Series and pitched 27 innings in each one.

Nevertheless, aside from New York-Philly, Amtrak and Lee and Sabathia, there are other reasons why the national media is hyping the 2009 World Series as a chance to be epic. After all, these very modern ball clubs also are contradictions within themselves in that they are throwbacks, too. This applies more to the Phillies than the Yankees, because of that whole un-Yankee like behavior with the pies, post-game celebrations, A-Rod and whatnot.

Nevertheless, this might not be the last time the Phillies and the Yankees are squared off in the World Series.

At least that’s what the Phillies think.

cc“If you look at our core players, we can contend for quite a while,” Charlie Manuel said. “Every time I talk to our team, I just say if we just keep what we got, we’ll be OK. I mean that. I don’t want them changing. I want them to keep the same kind of attitude, the same desire and passion, and I want them to make all the money in the world that there is to make, and keep them happy. If they do that, we’re going to be OK.”

Don’t worry about it, Charlie.

“We have a club that can get to this level every year,” Jayson Werth said. “Not looking too far ahead, we’ve got a good young club, and we don’t really have any guys coming up for free agency that we’re going to lose. Potentially, we have a chance to do this every year for a long time.”

Wouldn’t that be something? That’s the way it used to be with the Dodgers and Reds in the 1970s and the Yankees during, like, forever.

So how does it play out? Who wins? Why is this so short on analysis?

Forget about the analysis. That stuff doesn’t matter. And forget what the national pundits are predicting—they don’t know what they’re talking about. The bottom line is we’re talking about history, dynasties and all of those other media buzzwords. You want analysis? OK, the Phillies have better recent experience. There.

Take the Phillies in six games.

The six degrees of Matt Stairs

stairs_girardi.jpg NEW YORK— It’s hard not to like the guys who can take it as well as they can dish it out. Better yet, a guy like Matt Stairs is into self-depreciating humor in the same way he’s into launching epic homers in clutch moments of a game.

He’s a good guy pretty much all the time.

So when I saw Stairs just shooting the bull with Yankees manager Joe Girardi during Tuesday’s workout at Yankee Stadium on the eve of the start of the World Series, it dawned on me…

Those guys were teammates. It had to be so.

A quick spin on Baseball-Reference proved it to be true. In 2001, Stairs and Girardi both played for the Chicago Cubs along with Phillies’ utility man, Miguel Cairo. Back then Stairs was 33 and the Cubs’ starting first baseman. He played in 128 games that year, hitting just 17 homers and splitting time with Fred McGriff.

Girardi, on the other hand, was 36 and winding down his playing career as the backup catcher to Todd Hundley in his second go-around with the Cubs. Five years later Stairs was working on his ninth team prefacing a stint in Toronto and Philadelphia yet to come, while Girardi took his first managing gig with the Marlins.

Cairo, meanwhile, bounced around quite a bit in 2001. Before hooking up with Girardi and Stairs with the Cubs, he was traded by Oakland for current Yankees’ pinch hitter Eric Hinske.

Hinske, of course, was the final out of the 2008 World Series with the Rays, a role he doesn’t want to reprise against the Phillies in 2009.

OK, where does Kevin bacon fit into all of this? Wait, he grew up in Rittenhouse Square. See, it all fits.

Anyway, not even a decade after they were teammates in Chicago, Stairs and Girardi are battling it out for the World Series. Needless to say, this leads to an important question:

Hey Matt, what’s it like playing in the World Series against an opposing manager that used to be your teammate?

“It means I’m really old or he’s extremely young and doing really good,” Stairs said with a hearty chuckle. “No, it’s nice and I’m really happy for Joe. We were teammates in Chicago and he’s done a great job managing here and when he was with the Marlins and now he has the Yankees in the World Series.”

But knowing what he does about Girardi, did Stairs ever imagine a scenario where his old teammate could ever be his boss?

“He’s older than me, right?” asked Stairs, who at 41 is three years younger than Girardi. “I might have a hard time playing for a guy younger than me.”

The way it’s going Stairs very well could play for a manager younger than him one day. Sure, the lefty slugger struggled a bit in 2009, but big bats off the bench are a big commodity in baseball. Just ask Hinske, whose big bat for the bench has him in the World Series for the third straight year with his third different team.

Have bat, will travel.

Regardless, Stairs is pleased to see his old teammate doing so well, though he hopes he’s not doing as well when the World Series ends next week.

“I wanted to be a manager when I was young. How we learn is from watching the game and if you stick around long enough you might pick up some things,” Stairs said. “Joe is smart and he’s been around and he’s a good manager. He does extremely well with all that stuff like the bullpen moves. Sometimes you’re in a no-win situation and he does a great job in blowing it off.”

The Throwback World Series: Phillies in Six

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com We’re riding the rails to New York City for the World Series the way Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn probably did on their lone trip to the big city for the big series nearly six decades ago. Only this time around, we media types don’t travel in the club car with the ballplayers and team execs. Those days ended a long time ago.

Frankly, everyone is pleased about that. Oh no, taking the train is fantastic. In fact, why the railway infrastructure in the U.S. is as paltry as it is (compared to other industrialized nations) is a sin. It’s a crime, too. A crime and a sin.

Nope, ballplayers and media guys don’t mix anymore in the same way that people don’t dress up in smart, tweed suits or fedoras to travel anymore. There are a lot of reasons for this, and it’s probably a smart idea not to get into it here, but make no mistake about it…

We’re on the trains.

Fact is, when the Yankees finally figured out a way not to mess up the series against the Angels, the first thing I thought about was the fact that I wouldn’t have to get on a plane and jet off clear across the country to Orange County. Nope, a short ride to the train station for the trip up to Penn Station was all it took.

Just like they used to do it back when the baseball, not the hype, was the star. Back then, the story was Jim Konstanty coming out of the bullpen to make his first ever start in Game 1. This time Jay-Z and Alicia Keys are going to “sing” a song before Game 1 or something like that.

The big story should be the huge matchup between ex-teammates Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia in Game 1. This, to use an old-timey term, is a dream matchup up. Think about it—Lee and Sabathia won the Cy Young Award the past two seasons when they both played for the Indians. But as it works in the days without the reserve clause, Lee and Sabathia had to be dealt away from Cleveland because they were too good.

Success equals a higher paycheck in Major League Baseball. Talk about a slice of Americana.

Oh, but Game 1 might not be the only time this dream matchup occurs and riding the train to and from New York from 30th Street Station might not be the only relic of a bygone era. In fact, Lee and Sabathia could challenge convention wisdom and post-modern baseball smarts by pitching twice on three days’ rest if the series goes seven games.

How cool would that be?

Instead of Yankees manager Joe Girardi digging through sabermetric-riddled binders for his next baseball move while Charlie Manuel leans against the rail in the dugout and chews gum (he already has all those books memorized), it will be like Casey Stengel and Eddie Sawyer are going at it all over again.

Let the pitchers pitch? Oh yes, this might happen.

The fact is, starting pitchers rarely get three starts in a World Series anymore. But then again the World Series doesn’t go seven games all that much these days, either. Curt Schilling made three starts in the 2001 series against the Yankees and Jack Morris famously started three games in the 1991 World Series.

Before Morris, the three-time starters in the World Series are few and far between. Bruce Hurt in 1986 and Luis Tiant in 1975 made three starts in the World Series. Otherwise, the last time two pitchers squared off three times in a single series was 41 years ago when Bob Gibson of the Cardinals and Mickey Lolich of the Tigers went at it in 1968. Better yet, both guys pitched three complete games.

Gibson, of course, was a freak. He made three starts in the 1964, 1967 and 1968 World Series and pitched 27 innings in each one.

Nevertheless, aside from New York-Philly, Amtrak and Lee and Sabathia, there are other reasons why the national media is hyping the 2009 World Series as a chance to be epic. After all, these very modern ball clubs also are contradictions within themselves in that they are throwbacks, too. This applies more to the Phillies than the Yankees, because of that whole un-Yankee like behavior with the pies, post-game celebrations, A-Rod and whatnot.

Nevertheless, this might not be the last time the Phillies and the Yankees are squared off in the World Series.

At least that’s what the Phillies think.

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com “If you look at our core players, we can contend for quite a while,” Charlie Manuel said. “Every time I talk to our team, I just say if we just keep what we got, we’ll be OK. I mean that. I don’t want them changing. I want them to keep the same kind of attitude, the same desire and passion, and I want them to make all the money in the world that there is to make, and keep them happy. If they do that, we’re going to be OK.”

Don’t worry about it, Charlie.

“We have a club that can get to this level every year,” Jayson Werth said. “Not looking too far ahead, we’ve got a good young club, and we don’t really have any guys coming up for free agency that we’re going to lose. Potentially, we have a chance to do this every year for a long time.”

Wouldn’t that be something? That’s the way it used to be with the Dodgers and Reds in the 1970s and the Yankees during, like, forever.

So how does it play out? Who wins? Why is this so short on analysis?

Forget about the analysis. That stuff doesn’t matter. And forget what the national pundits are predicting—they don’t know what they’re talking about. The bottom line is we’re talking about history, dynasties and all of those other media buzzwords. You want analysis? OK, the Phillies have better recent experience. There.

Take the Phillies in six games.

Revenge for 1950? Really?

Robin_RobertsThe Phillies brought out Robin Roberts, the Hall-of-Fame pitcher and one of the all-time great guys in the history of the game, so he could talk about his one and only World Series appearance on Monday afternoon. The significance, of course, was that Roberts and the Phillies were swept by Joe DiMaggio’s Yankees in the series that took place 59 years ago.

Some folks around these parts haven’t forgotten about the 1950 World Series mostly because it used to be that the Phillies didn’t play for the championship all that much. After all, before 1950 the Phillies had been to the World Series just once—in 1915—and never again until 1980.

With that kind of track record, it’s obvious to see why the Phillies in the World Series is such a big deal to the old-timers. It’s easier to see why it’s a big deal when they are faced up against the Yankees. They beat them in four straight in 1950, for gosh sakes!

But the world changes, time marches on and all that kind of stuff. The A’s don’t play in Philadelphia or Kansas City anymore. Yankee Stadium has been replaced by a newer Yankee Stadium and Connie Mack Stadium (or Shibe Park depending on your preference or demographic) was like two stadiums ago.

Check this out: my five-year old was born into a world where the Red Sox have won it twice, the White Sox once and where the Phillies are going to the World Series in back-to-back years. It’s crazy. Crazier still, the Yankees haven’t won it since 2000. Think of it… he has never been alive long enough to see the Yankees win the World Series.

Yet 1950 is a big enough deal that they have to push Robin Roberts in front of the microphone so he could talk about Bubba Church, Curt Simmons and, of course, Jim Konstanty.

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

Yeah, it’s funny how that works.

Then ol’ Robin had to talk about pitch counts and things like that.

“If you ever saw Stanky play…”

Sorry, let’s just cut him off there. If you ever saw Stanky play? Robin, good sir, we never saw you play. No one from the regular group of scribes and definitely not the players knew anything about Roberts or the 1950 Whiz Kids. In fact, on the Phillies coaching staff only two guys were old enough to have vague memories of Roberts’ Phillies. Charlie Manuel was six and Davey Lopes was five when the Phillies last played the Yankees.

They are much older now.

No, the 1950 World Series is about as meaningful as those three games the Phillies and Yankees played back in May. I watched ESPN trot out stats from the series played in May when the Phillies won two of three even though Brad Lidge got two blown saves.

Really? May?

“We’ve played about 200 games since then,” Jayson Werth said, exaggerating slightly. “It doesn’t matter.”

Live in the now, that’s what Robin Roberts does. He says he has the MLB Extra Innings package so he can watch all the games and follows the Phillies just like any die hard baseball fan.

So yeah, Roberts wants the Phillies to get “revenge” for the 1950 World Series. You know, not that he thinks of it that way.

“I really enjoy watching the games,” Roberts said. “It would be awful nice to see them win it again, not just because it’s the Yankees but because they are bordering on something really extraordinary.”

***
Since we’re on the subject of Philadelphia vs. New York in the World Series, how come no one is talking about those A’s and Giants matchups? In three different World Series, Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s beat John McGraw’s New York Giants in two out of three.

The Giants took the 1905 World Series in five games, but Philadelphia bounced back in 1911 in six games and then again in 1913 in five games.

So there’s that, too.

Revenge for 1950? Really?

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com The Phillies brought out Robin Roberts, the Hall-of-Fame pitcher and one of the all-time great guys in the history of the game, so he could talk about his one and only World Series appearance on Monday afternoon. The significance, of course, was that Roberts and the Phillies were swept by Joe DiMaggio’s Yankees in the series that took place 59 years ago.

Some folks around these parts haven’t forgotten about the 1950 World Series mostly because it used to be that the Phillies didn’t play for the championship all that much. After all, before 1950 the Phillies had been to the World Series just once—in 1915—and never again until 1980.

With that kind of track record, it’s obvious to see why the Phillies in the World Series is such a big deal to the old-timers. It’s easier to see why it’s a big deal when they are faced up against the Yankees. They beat them in four straight in 1950, for gosh sakes!

But the world changes, time marches on and all that kind of stuff. The A’s don’t play in Philadelphia or Kansas City anymore. Yankee Stadium has been replaced by a newer Yankee Stadium and Connie Mack Stadium (or Shibe Park depending on your preference or demographic) was like two stadiums ago.

Check this out: my five-year old was born into a world where the Red Sox have won it twice, the White Sox once and where the Phillies are going to the World Series in back-to-back years. It’s crazy. Crazier still, the Yankees haven’t won it since 2000. Think of it… he has never been alive long enough to see the Yankees win the World Series.

Yet 1950 is a big enough deal that they have to push Robin Roberts in front of the microphone so he could talk about Bubba Church, Curt Simmons and, of course, Jim Konstanty.

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

Yeah, it’s funny how that works.

Then ol’ Robin had to talk about pitch counts and things like that.

“If you ever saw Stanky play…”

Sorry, let’s just cut him off there. If you ever saw Stanky play? Robin, good sir, we never saw you play. No one from the regular group of scribes and definitely not the players knew anything about Roberts or the 1950 Whiz Kids. In fact, on the Phillies coaching staff only two guys were old enough to have vague memories of Roberts’ Phillies. Charlie Manuel was six and Davey Lopes was five when the Phillies last played the Yankees.

They are much older now.

No, the 1950 World Series is about as meaningful as those three games the Phillies and Yankees played back in May. I watched ESPN trot out stats from the series played in May when the Phillies won two of three even though Brad Lidge got two blown saves.

Really? May?

“We’ve played about 200 games since then,” Jayson Werth said, exaggerating slightly. “It doesn’t matter.”

Live in the now, that’s what Robin Roberts does. He says he has the MLB Extra Innings package so he can watch all the games and follows the Phillies just like any die hard baseball fan.

So yeah, Roberts wants the Phillies to get “revenge” for the 1950 World Series. You know, not that he thinks of it that way.

“I really enjoy watching the games,” Roberts said. “It would be awful nice to see them win it again, not just because it’s the Yankees but because they are bordering on something really extraordinary.”

***
Since we’re on the subject of Philadelphia vs. New York in the World Series, how come no one is talking about those A’s and Giants matchups? In three different World Series, Connie Mack’s Philadelphia A’s beat John McGraw’s New York Giants in two out of three.

The Giants took the 1905 World Series in five games, but Philadelphia bounced back in 1911 in six games and then again in 1913 in five games.

So there’s that, too.

Pittsburgh, baseball and Clemente

image from fingerfood.typepad.com PITTSBURGH – Once, Pittsburgh was a great baseball town. In fact, Pittsburgh is a lot like its cross-Commonwealth sister city, Philadelphia, in that sense. Baseball with its rhythms, consistency and old traditions was a perfect fit for cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh because those traits meant something.

But times change and things that were once popular sometimes fall aside. Sure, baseball is still popular in Philadelphia. A team just coming off a victory in the World Series can’t help but be popular. That’s been obvious all summer when fans from the east have traveled all over the country just to say they saw the hometown team in a different place.

Nowhere was that more evident than in Pittsburgh this week where the team’s hotel was overrun with fans, autograph seekers and gawkers hoping to catch an eyeful of the baseball champs. More amazed than perturbed, the Phillies’ traveling party could only curse Pittsburgh’s coziness, proximity to Philadelphia, and magnificent ballpark for folks desire to camp out everywhere the team went.

The difference between the two cities is that in Pittsburgh its football and hockey teams win championships. Aside from serving as reigning champs in both sports, the football team has won six Super Bowls in seven attempts, while the hockey club won its third title last spring.

Oh, don’t think Philly fans aren’t a touch envious. That’s especially the case considering the football Eagles are going on 50 years without a title, while the Flyers are inching toward their 35th straight Cup-less season.

Meanwhile, the baseball team just can’t seem to put together winning seasons or fill its beautiful ballpark. Unless the Pirates go on a historical run, they will finish the 2009 season with a losing record for the 17th year in a row. Nope, the Pirates haven’t ended a season above .500 since Barry Bonds left town for San Francisco.

Remember when Bonds played for the Pirates? You know, back when there were just two divisions in each league and Pittsburgh and Philly played each other 18 times a year. The Pirates were in the NL East back then and featured some really great teams. Bonds’ teams came so close to going to the World Series in three straight seasons with Jim Leyland in the managers’ seat.

Those were hardly the best Pittsburgh teams, though. The 1903 Pirates lost to the Red Sox in the very first World Series ever played, while the 1909 club is regarded by some baseball historians to be the greatest team ever. They won 110 games that season during the tail end of Honus Wagner’s career. Wagner, of course, is regarded as the greatest to ever play shortstop in baseball history. Ol’ Honus retired playing after the 1917 season and died in 1955, but he still olds the Pirates records in games, runs, triples and times on base.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Ask any Pittsburgher about their team and there will be stories about Dave Parker, Dick Groat, Elroy Face, the Waner Bros., Pie Traynor, and, of course, Willie Stargell and the fantastic run in 1979. Of course in the late 1970s there were always those brutally tough games against the Phillies that always seemed to determine which team would make it out of the NL East and into the playoffs.

There’s (rightfully) a larger than life statue of Willie Stargell outside of the ballpark where he seems ready to take a big swing and knock one into the far reaches of a ballpark somewhere. Until the new ballparks were built in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Stargell hit the longest homers in the Commonwealth. That old Stargell Star at the Vet was always a beacon as well as something of a tourist destination.

Of course what the Stargell statue in Pittsburgh does not depict is that whirly bat twirl he performed in the box before every pitch. How many kids from the ‘70s grew up imitating Stargell’s routines?

Moreover, there is a historical marker in a grassy area on the waterfront next to PNC Park pinpointing the approximate spot where the Pirates hosted the first World Series game in a National League city. In fact, Pittsburgh’s baseball history is a year older than in Philadelphia with the Alleghenys/Pirates starting in 1882.

Nevertheless, it’s been a rough decade-plus for the Pirates and baseball in Pittsburgh. Perhaps the thought was the beautiful new ballpark would spur a rebirth of sorts, but when every team has a new stadium or a bona fide historical site in which to play, the cachet and novelty of such a thing wears off pretty quickly.

In other words, there’s only so much a new ballpark can do for a club.

The argument that Pittsburgh is just the 20th biggest media market in baseball doesn’t explain things, either. After all, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Oakland have all made the playoffs in recent years. That means there is no reason why a cash-strapped or smaller market ballclub can’t get it done.

Yet for some reason Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to win and that’s perplexing. The football team in Pittsburgh has won the most ever Super Bowls, while the hockey team is always competitive playing in a building that looks as if it popped out of some sort of futuristic Disney concoction from the late ‘60s.

In the future, man will play sports on ice indoors during the summertime.

With so much going for them such as a picturesque city that enticed the French traders with its lush hills carved out of the terrain by the confluence of three major rivers in one location, it’s a wonder the baseball ops folks can’t get it done. Really, they have it all:

Nice ballpark – check.
Beautiful city – check.
Earnest and diehard fans – check.
Historical franchise – check.

What’s the deal then?

Until the Pirates figure it out, there will be one name that represents all that is good about baseball anywhere.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Roberto Clemente played for Pittsburgh and he was the man.

Certainly everyone knows all the important details of Clemente’s life and career by now, but if not, pick up Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss biography. In the meantime, it’s tough for students of baseball history to walk the streets of the city and not think of Clemente. Simply put, he was more than a baseball player – they don’t name schools, parks and awards after mere ballplayers.

And that’s not just in Pittsburgh. All over the country homage is paid to Puerto Rico’s prince. Some have suggested that Clemente’s No. 21 be retired all over baseball just like Jackie Robinson’s No. 42. It’s not a bad idea since some folks view Clemente’s emergence as a star as a touchstone moment not just in baseball or sports, but in the larger culture.

They say Clemente is as significant a figure as Jackie Robinson. Considering the influx of Latino players in professional ball, they just might be onto something, too.

In baseball the Roberto Clemente Award is given to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual's contribution to his team,” as voted on by baseball fans and members of the media. The Phillies’ most recent nominee for the award is Shane Victorino who was born long after Clemente died in a plane crash on a humanitarian mission to earthquake ravaged Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve of 1972.

But Victorino understands Clemente’s legacy and his place in culture. No, he doesn’t sense Clemente’s spirit when in Pittsburgh, but he’s impressed with what he has been able to glean from highlight footage. After all, in some ways Victorino is the same sort of player.

“He played the game hard and had an unbelievable arm,” Victorino said. “He was someone who changed the game. The way he played the game, he could do it all. He wasn’t just good at one part of the game.”

What impressed Victorino the most was the footage from the 1971 World Series where Clemente did everything. His throws from right field and helmet flying off his head as he dug for a triple left undeniable marks on the game and became something more than a MVP-type ballplayer plying the intricacies of his craft. It was fodder for art and culture. In a city that was once defined as the manufacturing center for steel and industry, Clemente was the graceful hero. He was elegant as opposed to the brutish nature of football that now keeps the city rapt.

It’s a shame that baseball is not popular in Clemente’s town, but maybe that’s a good thing, too. Clemente set the bar so high that maybe it will be impossible to match those glory days.

Then again, maybe the best way the modern Pirates can do proper honor to the legacy of Clemente and his brethren is to get it together.

Riding it to the end

FRENCHY’S, CLEARWATER BEACH — We’re tired. All of us. The players, the coaches, the front-office types and, of course, the scribes. We’re beaten down to a bloody pulp like an aimless old pug who has taken one too many shots to the dome.

We zig when we should zag. We’re awake when we should be asleep. We’re in the air when we should be on the ground.

It’s a big pile of something.

And the people who aren’t tired at this point just aren’t trying hard enough. It should ache the bones and one’s eyes should be damn near swollen shut…

Cut me Mick… cut me.

But that’s what it’s really about, isn’t it? Perseverance or some type of happy horsebleep like that. Adrenaline and the attempt to grind out the last couple of miles of the marathon. We’re almost there, folks. It looks like it’s going to end in a blaze of spilled drinks and lots of tears.

Take your pick on the tears: joy or sorrow.

Bloodied and unbowed we keep coming back. Though some of us haven’t slept in weeks and only remember the way family members look based on a digital photographs packed into an iPod, there really isn’t any other place to be.

Send us to Milwaukee? Yeah, we’ll be there.

Los Angeles? What time do we go?

Florida’s Gulf Coast? Tell the shuttle to meet me at the B Gate at Tampa International.

And yet as late Wednesday night melted into early Thursday morning in a small, sweaty room filthy with cameras, recorders and note pads and the ol’ sage held court on one corner, the pitching coach nursed a Corona on an overstuffed couch and the first-base coach finished a late dinner hunched over on a folding chair in his locker, the thought crept in:

This is what we do. We talk, meander, write sentences, and put off going to bed so we can do it all over another day. Oh yes, we’ll get home soon. It’s just that we have to ride this out to the end.

And no one wants to be the first one to leave.

***
I should have mentioned this earlier, but there will no more live updates on this site until further notice. When everything gets ironed out, there will be notice… maybe even a press release.

***
Big ups to Kevin Roberts, the stately columnist for the Courier Post, for opening up “Lounge 405” at the Fairfield Bayside in Clearwater. Part after-hours joint and part Algonquin Round Table, the place provided all the comforts of home as well as a complimentary buffet.

The truth is Kev truly is a wonderful host…

And so fastidious! Kevin really keeps a neat room… I, on the other hand, could rival Keith Moon. I don’t know how the cleaning lady is going to get that swamp mud off the drapes.

Back to where we started

BALTIMORE-WASHINGTON INTERNATIONAL – The Department of Homeland Security says the threat level is “orange.” Actually, the voice with no regional dialect that booms over the P.A. system speaking for the Department of Homeland Security, says the threat level is, indeed, “orange.”

I know this because I hear it every 10 minutes here at BWI, where I will soon be jetting off to sunny Florida for the 2008 World Series. It should be fun – and busy. The World Series is probably one of those events that attracts weirdoes, people seeking alcoholic beverages, people seeking a glimpse of “history,” more weirdoes, media folks*, women, some kids, a handful of celebrities, and teems of overblown egos.

In other words, it’s a party. Actually, it’s a party I get to write about.

But back to the “orange” threat level… is this good or bad? I suspect it’s good because it has remained at “orange” throughout the seven different airplanes I’ve boarded over the past two weeks. That total could climb to double digits by the time this baseball season ends, which makes it good to know that the threat level has remained a warm, fluffy and consistent “orange.”

I assume that the darker the color of the threat, the less secure we are. “Orange,” I guess is bit toward the bad side as opposed to green or taupe. When it gets to mauve or cool, ocean blue, we get to keep our shoes and belts on and our computers in the bag when we go through the security post. Red means there might be snipers casing the long-term parking lot. Be sure to keep the Kevlar with the carry on.

I’m not sure what the level of preparedness they are at in the Tampa Bay area where the Rays, nee Devil, play their games. For one thing, the denizens of Tampa Bay sure do know baseball. In fact, it’s probably a huge component of the local economy, what with the Pirate festivals and spring breakers and all that. Just think of all the teams that train in the area: the Blue Jays are in Dunedin; Yankees in Tampa; Pirates in Bradenton; Reds a little farther south in Sarasota; and of course the Rays in St. Petersburg. The weird thing about the Rays is that they train and play in the same spot…

That never ceases to amaze me.

In the middle of it all, of course, are the Phillies. Since the early 1950s the team has called Clearwater its spring home, and as a result, tons and tons of people from our little area of the country flock down there in February and March to watch the local nine prepare for the upcoming season. Actually, because of those visits, some folks from the Philly area grow to like Clearwater and the surrounding towns so much that they pack up and move there.

Snow birds they call them. Check them out at Frenchy’s or Luigi’s where they wait in line and beat on the doors in order to be the first one in for the early-bird special. Actually, the good folks in Clearwater love them some old people. According to the latest census results, just 35 percent of the residents of Clearwater proper are between the ages of 18 and 44 and 45 percent of the population was older than 45. That last number breaks down to approximately 22 percent over the age of 65.

Nevertheless, Clearwater is a good place to visit in February and March when the air in the northeast still has that nasty bite and one’s skin hasn’t been kissed by the sun since Labor Day.

Anyway, Clearwater is also a good place to go if you like chain stores and strip malls. Based on the visit last February/March, it appeared as if the palmettos, reeds and tall marsh grass final surrendered in the turf war they never had a chance to win. Now, instead of swamps, it’s Target, Borders, Costco, Wal-Mart, Taco Bell, etc., etc.

If you thought the Philadelphia suburbs (and now exurbs) were over-developed, you ought to check out the Gulf-to-Bay Blvd. in Clearwater. Either the folks really want to be homogenized by chain stores or they get really, really peeved if they have to drive the SUV more than three minutes to get a venti mochachino or an industrial sized vat ‘o mayonnaise from the Costco or whatever else folks go to.

Remember, you need a membership to go to those places. It’s that exclusive… and the parking lots? Massive! Some have their own zip code.

The parallel, of course, is that the baseball season truly has come full circle for the Phillies. Better yet, it really has come full circle for me. When it began I jetted in to Tampa International, got a car and checked in to a Marriott-owned (yes, it’s a chain, but I get points!) inn just off the main drag. I spent my days and nights at the ballpark, just off Route 19, learning about what type of season the Phillies might have.

Here we are nearly eight months later as the season is about to end. Again we’re flying in to Tampa International, getting our rides and checking into the very same hotel. After that, it’s baseball all day and night until there is only one team remaining.

Then we get to start all over again in February.

More later when we get all squared away.

 


* Which is a sub-category of weirdo, but for this purpose we’ll give the media its own classification.

Your town is pretty cool, too

ANGRYVILLE – They handle defeat very well in Los Angeles. They don’t mope, freak out, or litter the field with D-sized batteries or the ubiquitous beach balls that bounce around through the seating areas during the action. They really don’t even complain, to be perfectly frank.

They just go home. They leave early and fight traffic. They put the crippling defeats out of their minds by skipping work to play in the sun. They just forget about it as they frolic in the grass with cool drinks and lots of pretty friends.

Loss? Nah, they don’t deal with it at all in Los Angeles. Who has the time?

In Philadelphia we know loss all too well. It’s in our DNA. It’s intense… no wait, that’s wrong. It’s intensity.

Each morning we all wake up before the dawn just as the rage has regrouped so we can wipe the bitter-tasting bile that has encrusted the corners of our mouths with the outer black sleeve of our spittle-coated MotorHead t-shirts. Then we drag our sorry asses off the couch where we collapsed just 45 minutes earlier and instinctively thrust a middle finger at the rest of the world.

The day begins in Philadelphia. The fury must be unleashed. We lose again.

But there is always a fleeting moment – one that usually occurs in the time it takes to get from one knee to a standing position after unfolding oneself from the couch – when stock is taken. A moment, as fast as a flap of a hummingbird’s wing, enters our twisted and angry heads:

World weary. Saddened by my years on the road. Seen a lot. Done a lot. Loss? Yeah, I know loss. I know loss with its friends sorrow, fury and death. Yes, loss and me are like this… we’re partners as we walk on the dusty trail of life.

But something happened in Los Angeles. Beneath that tiney, porcupine-like exterior, glimpses into our souls were exposed. There was warmth, fear, insecurity…

Victory?

Yes, victory. The Phillies are going to the World Series. They will play these games in the prime of the night beginning on Wednesday in a city like Tampa or Boston – places that it’s easy to look down at our sad, wretched lives of angry and failed dreams. In Boston and/or Tampa, with their white, sandy beaches, gourmet restaurants, unimpeded gentrification, high-brow universities and sunshiny skies not all that different than in Los Angeles where for 364 days God gives them the gift of perfect weather and climate. That 365th day it might get cloudy.

So when we show up to these cities en masse to watch the local nine fight for our civic pride, they see us coming. We stick out with that crippled walk of defeat, clenched jaws of stress and disgust, fists balled up and middle fingers erect. When we take the exit ramp off the boulevard of broken dreams to enter these happy, little towns, the local authorities are ready. They’ve been tipped off ahead of time and are prepared to set up a dragnet at a moment’s notice.

But what hurts worse isn’t the condescending attitudes or the arrogance in which those people flit through life so carefree and cheery. That we can handle just fine with our jealousy and resentment, thank you very much. No, instead we’re put off by words and hackery. Our dander rises with mockery and stereotypes.

Hey, we know who we are and we accept what others might think and believe, too. We’re cool with it – it doesn’t define us, but sure, if folks want to take the easy way out who are we to blame them? But the insulting part is that they just don’t even try any more.

Boo Santa. Cheer injuries. Snowballs at the Cowboys. Batteries for J.D. Drew. Cheesesteaks. Cracked bells. Anger and passion. Rocky Balboa.

C’mon man, doesn’t anybody want to work anymore? Doesn’t anyone want to learn the truth? Isn’t anyone tired of the hypocrisy and the complacency?

Worse, with some folks from our town now coming to grips with the prospect of winning, they just might attempt to hack it up and fire back at the places that scorn us with their cheap, tired newspaper stories. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, the city rip is OK, just like that inanity of politicians betting cheesesteaks against lobsters based on the outcome of a game.

Can we stop this before it starts? Do we owe the citizens of the Tampa Bay area a rip job just because of the notion that the sports team that represents them might beat the one that represents us? Do we have to generate some faux anger with the folks of New England who follow a baseball team that plays in an outdated stadium with high-priced talent?

I have a better idea…

Let’s stop it before it starts. Let’s be better for a change. Let’s act like true winners now that it just might fit us for a change. Let’s not be like Tampa or Boston or Los Angeles.

Let’s just be a town with a winning baseball team trying to win the World Series.

“Winning is hard. Nothing about winning comes easy,” Charlie Manuel said. “… believe me, there’s a price you pay for winning, too.”

That price can sometimes mean dignity, self-respect and the ability to think clearly.

Just because we’re good for once doesn’t mean we get to hack it up, too. Let’s stay good.

***
While we’re talking the World Series, here are some facts and figures about the Phillies courtesy of CSN producer, Neal Slotkin:

Making sixth World Series appearance in franchise history – first since 1993

Phillies now 4-0 in NLCS closeout games

0-4 vs teams currently in AL East :
IF TB wins, Phillies will have played all 5 current teams from the AL East in a World Series:
1915 – lost to Red Sox 4-1
1950 – lost to Yankees 4-0
1983 – lost to Orioles 4-1
1993 – lost to Blue Jays 4-2

If TB wins: Phillies 5-10 all-time vs Tampa (2-4 at Tropicana Field)

World Series Experience: (5 players – 3 hitters, 2 pitchers)

So Taguchi: 3-15 (.200 BA, 1 RBI) – Only Phillie with a World Series hit
Eric Bruntlett: appeared in 2005 WS w/HOU, never batted
Pedro Feliz: 0-5 in 3 games with Giants in 2002

Brad Lidge: 0-2, 4.91 ERA in 3 games (3.2 IP) with HOU in 2005
Allowed 4 hits, 2 R, 3 ER, 1 HR, 6 K
Scott Eyre: 0-0, 0.00 ERA in 3 games for Giants in 2002
Allowed 5 hits, 1 R, 0 ER in 3 IP, 1 BB, 2 K

Other Player Notes
Cole Hamels: 6th Youngest starter to win LCS Clinching game
Becomes fourth Phillies player named NLCS MVP:
Cole Hamels – 2008
Curt Schilling – 1993
Gary Matthews – 1983
Manny Trillo
– 1980

3-0 this postseason, 3 playoff wins is 2nd in franchise history (Carlton 6)

Jimmy Rollins: 3 career leadoff homers in postseason, most all-time
Only player in MLB history with 2 leadoff home runs in same postseason
NLCS: .143 BA (3-21), 1 HR, 1 RBI, 8 K

Jayson Werth: 13 K – most among any player in 2008 playoffs (Rollins tied for 2nd with 4 other players with 10)

Shane Victorino: Leads all players with 13 postseason RBIs

The price of success

RockiesHere’s a question:

Did it matter that the Rockies had eight days off before facing the Red Sox in the World Series? Did it matter a little, a lot or not at all? Oh sure, the Rockies players will say that the vacation in between the NLCS and the World Series didn’t matter because they got beat by a better team, but that doesn’t really answer the question, does it?

Did it make a bit of difference?

Rockies’ manager Clint Hurdle told the Fox sideline boy after his team was broomed out of the World Series that there was no way to quantify how an eight-day layoff affected his team and kind of threw aside the question in order to give the Red Sox credit for winning the series.

But Hurdle did not say that the layoff didn’t have an effect on his team. Why not? Because it did.

Since Cactus League games began during the end of February, the Rockies played nearly every day. In fact, the Rockies, like every other Major League team played 162 regular-season games in 180 days, plus a wild-card playoff the day after the season, plus three games of the NLDS against the Phillies with just two days off, plus four games of the NLCS with just one day off.

That’s 170 games and the longest break some of the players on the team got was the three days for the All-Star Break. Though three days doesn’t seem like much to some, that break is like an oasis in the middle of a desert to guys who are used to going to work every single day of the week. And it’s not just baseball either. Research shows that runners and endurance athletes start to lose some fitness in as little as 48 hours of inactivity.

Some rest is good to help the body recover, but imagine taking eight days off after playing every game for a month as if it were do-or-die only to be given eight days off before being told to go out there to play in the biggest set of games in your life.

Good luck.

Worse it’s kind of rude… the Rockies got all worked up and became the biggest story in baseball by winning 21 of 22 games. But then, because the Indians nor Red Sox could figure things out, Hurdle and the guys were left to wait. It was like… vasocongestion. Yeah, that’s what it was. After a heroic and historic run, the Rockies could never shake the lingering sensation of heaviness, aching, or discomfort when the Series finally came around like an old man trying to figure out what to order in a deli.

It just wasn’t fair.

With the aid of hindsight, there’s no question that the Rockies this season and the Tigers in 2006 were penalized for doing their jobs too efficiently. I’m not saying the Tigers or the Rockies would have beaten the Cardinals or the Red Sox to win the World Series, but the fact that both clubs breezed through their respective league playoffs so easily proved to be a determent while the winners of the last two World Series were aided by playing seven-game series in the league championships.

The Tigers in ’06 and the Rockies in ’07 were penalized for being too successful.

How can this be fixed? Is there anything Bud Selig and his gang can do to make it so teams that win with ease can have a fair shot in the World Series? I don’t know. It seems as if the baseball playoffs are full of imperfections and everyone seems to appreciate the quirkiness for it. In other words, the Rockies and Tigers just have to take their beatings and enjoy them.

But how about this:

In the instance where a team like the Rockies and Tigers rip through the league championship only to wait a week or more for their future opponent to take care of business, allow the team that’s waiting for it all to be sorted out to get home-field advantage in the World Series. I don’t know if it will solve anything, but it’s better than giving the home-field advantage to the league that wins a meaningless, midseason exhibition that features players that will be at a Sandals resort when the playoffs roll around.

No, having the last at-bat in the first two games of the Series won’t be significant – after all, it didn’t help the Tigers too much last year – but at least it’s a gesture or a reward. It might not be much, but if a team has to sit around like the rest of us and listen to those dudes from Fox, they ought to get something out of it.

***
The latest issue of The New Yorker features a very riveting story on Scott Boras and Alex Rodriguez. It’s written by Ben McGrath and is another sprawling, erudite pieces that the magazine always seems to run, but it’s definitely worth the time and effort.

The Extortionist: Scott Boras, the Yankees’ bête noire, has changed baseball forever.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Peter Gammons calls out Boras and A-Rod for the timing of the announcement that they had chosen to opt out of the deal with the Yankees:

World Series predictions

Jeff Francis & MonsterI’m on record in many different mediums proclaiming that the Colorado Rockies will never, ever lose again, and I’m going to stand by that. But if the Red Sox win the World Series in six games I won’t be too surprised by that, either.

Be that as it is, I figured I’d send out an annoying mass e-mail to solicit predictions from some of the top baseball writers in the business.

Here’s the e-mail:

Dear Sirs:
I’m soliciting predictions for the World Series. If you want to send me which team will win and in how many games for publication on my little dog-and-pony show, I would be most appreciative. For your trouble you will get a link on a web site that was rated by Word Press as the sixth up-and-coming site on its platform.

Yeah, pretty cool, huh.

If you want to add some trenchant and interesting analysis, I’ll accept that, too. But just remember the audience I have cultivated — we like our BS full of bluster.

Thank you in advance.

truly,
jrf

So what did these “experts” predict? Take a look:

John FingerComcast SportsNet/Raconteur
Rockies in 4
pithy analysis:
Using logic and baseball acumen, it’s tough not to believe the Red Sox will win the World Series. After all, the Red Sox are Goliath having smote (smited?) that mantle from the Yankees. So yes, logic dictates that the Red Sox should win. But someone explain the logic behind the Rockies’ streak in which they have lost just one game since Sept. 15? Or the logic in making a team wait eight days in the middle of a playoff run? Go ahead, someone find the logic there… you can’t can you? Yeah, well, while you work with your logic and conventional thought, I’m going out on the ledge…

Mike Radano – Camden Courier Post
Red Sox in 6
pithy analysis:
Colorado can’t beat Beckett and he could start three times in the series.

Ken Mandel – Phillies.com
Red Sox in 6
pithy analysis:
What?

Jayson Stark – ESPN.com
Rockies in 6
pithy analysis:
I explain it all in my column tomorrow.

Scott Lauber – Wilmington News Journal
Rockies in 6
pithy analysis:
Will the layoff affect the Rockies? Sure. They may actually lose a game. But Destiny’s Children won’t be slowed by a layoff, Josh Beckett, Manny or Papi. The Sox can roll out the Dropkick Murphys, Kevin Millar and any other good-luck charms. It’s just the Rockies’ year.

Marcus Hayes – Philadelphia Daily News
Rockies in 6
pithy analysis:
Surely the Red Sox, with Inquirer-dubbed genius Terry Francona at their helm and Bloody Curt on the mound, will have no problem with a young, energized, under-the-radar team coming off 9 days of rest and playing an aging Red Sox club that faced elimination three times in its last three games.

Rich Hofmann – Philadelphia Daily News
Rockies in 5
pithy analysis:
McNabb throws for two touchdowns and, oh, wait…

Todd ZoleckiPhiladelphia Inquirer
Red Sox in 5
pithy analysis:
Why? Because I think the layoff for the Rockies will cool them down, much like last season with the Tigers. And I just think the Red Sox are a better team.

Jim SalisburyPhiladelphia Inquirer
Red Sox in 6
pithy analysis:
Eight-day wait cools off Rox…

Ellen Finger – wife/teacher
Rockies in 7
pithy analysis:
Why do I always have to explain everything to you?

Mike Wann – neighborhood gadfly/sports illiterate
Al Qaeda
pithy analysis:
Apparently no one can stop those bitches.

Matt Yallof – SportsNet New York
Rockies in 6
pithy analysis:
Colorado’s lineup is deep and balanced and Josh Beckett can’t pitch every night. After losing one game in the last month, I cant imagine they’ll lose 4 in week and a half.

Marcus Grimm – future Boston qualifier
Red Sox in 5
pithy analysis:
What the Rockies did was impressive, but 8 days will have cooled them off, and Boston’s just a better team.

Stephen Miller – Allentown Morning Call
Rockies in 7
pithy analysis:
Logic tells me to pick the Red Sox. Of course, logic also helped me pick the entire NL playoff field incorrectly before the season. I’m done with logic.

Andy SchwartzComcast SportsNet football maven
Rockies in 7
pithy analysis:
Boulder is so much cooler than Boston.

Dennis Deitch – Delaware County Daily Times
Rockies in 5

Game 5: Live updates

Are the Cardinals the worst team ever to win a World Series? Are they the worst team to ever be holding the cards in a World Series elimination game? Some think so, but I don’t. At the beginning of the season if one were to say the Cardinals would win the World Series, it wouldn’t be crazy. That was especially the case after watching them rip apart the Phillies in a season-opening sweep at Citizens Bank Park in April.

The Cardinals were really good back then. They were also pretty good through the first half of the season. But then the injuries came and the Cards limped into the playoffs with many believing they wouldn’t get past the first round of the playoffs.

They’re lucky they didn’t have to play the Phillies.

Then again, maybe it didn’t matter. The Cardinals appear to have gotten healthy while tightening up the play at just the right time. And as someone much smarter than me once said, “Once you get into the playoffs anything can happen.”

Maybe that was Charlie Manuel who said that? Sounds like something a lot of baseball people say.

Nevertheless, the top of the first opened with California kid Jeff Weaver striking out the first two hitters with a curve ball that bent like a wiffle ball. Weaver might have it tonight. The perfect inning ended with a weak fly to left.

As for the worst team to win the World Series – How about the 1969 New York Mets? They ended up winning the supposed superior Baltimore Orioles in five games.

It’s a rain out!

Was it me or did it seem that Joe Buck was laughing at us when he said, “So we’ll send you back to ‘The War at Home’ while we wait out the rain delay in St. Louis.”

It seemed that way to me. Smug and pompous, Joe was taunting us as the camera melted away from the raindrops falling heavily on the tarp at Busch Stadium. Instead of watching Michael Rappaport in some schlocky sit-com, Buck was able to watch it rain. Had he just painted a wall he could have watched it dry instead of watching episode after episode of that show.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

But while waiting for a game that was never to be played on Wednesday night, I did a little thinking and here’s what I came up with: “comedy” isn’t as funny as it used to be.

Yeah, I know. I’m some old guy saying, “things sure were better in my day.” Well… wasn’t it? Does any one think that half of the sit-coms on TV now would have had a chance in the 1980s? Now, it seems as if watching network television is like having a lobotomy without the surgery.

The same goes for comedy movies. Just for comparisons sake, I watched Animal House to see how it held up nearly 30 years after its release. If you want to know the truth, it’s better than anything being produced now.

The reason, I think, is there was actual character and plot development in the old-time comedies. There was a motivation and a familiarity with the characters, while in the Ricky Bobby picture, for instance, it was just a highlight film of one-liners and slick editing.

Don’t get me wrong, Will Ferrell was brilliant in Old School, which I believe is a “throwback” to the glory days of motion-picture comedy, but I’m not sure if he can carry a picture. Take Ron Burgundy — it was funny and I enjoyed the character, but the movie stunk.

So that’s what we get with the rain out of Game 4 – bad comedy and a bad blog post.

On another note, my 2½-year-old boy has been having trouble sleeping at night lately. It seems as if we have a problem with monsters here on Landis Ave. that I’ll have to take care of soon. Nevertheless, the boy and I spent part of Monday night flipping through the dial, watching old movies hoping it would relax him and get him to fall asleep. However, when his mom got home I knew I was in trouble when he walked over to the TV and pointed at the robust and portly man on the screen.

“Belushi!” he told her. “Belushi!”

The kid is learning… maybe too much.