Hot time in the old town with the hot corner

figginsWithout so much as a flick of an eyelash, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. set the Phillies’ offseason into full swing. He didn’t have to issue a statement, hold a press conference or even sign anything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, Figgins is the best option for the Phillies. That’s especially the case considering his fielding, statistically speaking, was just as good as Feliz.

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

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

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

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

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

Hey, you had us at Polanco.

NLCS Game 1: Setting up the roster

myersLOS ANGELES—Before I mention anything else, I have to give a big thank you to Mr. Tug Haines for the Google Wave invite. I don’t know what it is or what it does, but as a Google geek, I know I wanted it and thankfully Tug was kind of enough to send me the invite.

So yes, that was very nice of him.

On another note, Tug along with Mike Meech do a bang up job putting together the web site, The Fightins. Along with Zolecki over there at MLB.com, and Gonz at that newspaper, there aren’t too many mainstream media types that give the proper credit to so-called blog sites. When done well like The Fightins, The 700 Level, Balls, Sticks & Stuff, and many others with a Philly bent, the sites are a blast to read. And aren’t sports supposed to be fun?

Again, thanks to Mr. Tug and here’s hoping those guys keep up the good work because it’s a fun read. Check them out.

As far as the news here goes, Brett Myers is here but was not seen on the field during BP. Then again, I wasn’t looking for him. Charlie said when he broke the news to him that he would not be on the NLCS roster, Myers shrugged and then got up and walked out of the room.

People who have talked to him says he’s “ticked.”

I’m not sure what he has to be ticked about since he’s not very good right now. I’ve trotted this out plenty of times in the past so I’ll do it again here—scouts say his stuff is garbage. He has no pitches and lousy mechanics.

“I look at Brett, and it’s almost like spring training for him. He had a very serious injury, came back, and maybe it was too early, I don’t know,” Charlie said. “But then he hurt his shoulder, and his shoulder was like a second degree injury. And then I’ve noticed him, and the fact that he’s not sharp, but also what we kind of the things that we wanted to do, it’s another way of him going down in the bullpen and working and everything and doing some — working on his pitching and throwing and stuff and see where he’s at.”

Ruben Amaro chalked the decision up to simple baseball business and that Myers didn’t get a chance to throw too much upon returning from hip surgery.

“We think we’re a better team with 11 pitchers,” Amaro said. “We’re trying to win baseball games with the best 25 guys we have.”

Obviously that best 25 did not include Myers.

Meanwhile, Pedro is all set to go in Game 2. It will be interesting to see how long he can go and what kind of stuff he has since he has thrown just seven innings in real games since that 130-pitch game against the Mets in mid-September.

“There’s a risk, of course. But I’d rather take a risk on a guy like Pedro who has experience,” Amaro said.

Yeah, what the hell… it’s Pedro. The worst thing that can come out of it is good times.

Who needs a nap?

I’m tired,
Tired of playing the game
Ain’t it a crying shame
I’m so tired

– Lili Von Shtupp

MILWAUKEE — This is the time in the baseball season where the days grow longer, the nights shorter and the turnaround so much more quicker. Not only is there no rest for the weary, but also the only recourse is adrenaline.

Yes, we’re beat, but dammit we’re having fun, too. No one wants to go home because the action starts in October. Sure, 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 boxer who just got his ass waffled. But really, what better place to be?

October baseball is why the players play and why the writers write.

It’s also why the scouts scout. For those who make the rounds from city to city with the Phillies, there are a few more regular faces on the scene. Like writers, scouts travel in packs even though they work for competing organizations. Call it safety in numbers.

But only one of these packs of people has any true bearing on the outcome of games and that ain’t the scribes. In fact, advance scouting offers so much insight into the opposition that birddoggers from all of the Phillies’ potential opponents have been at the ballpark for every game for the past two months. Shoot, even a scout from the Twins has been watching the Phillies in the outside chance that they meet in the World Series.

Most notable though are the guys from the Dodgers, Cardinals, Rockies and Braves, who happens to be ex-Phillies manager Jim Fregosi. Aside from Fregosi, the scouts from the National League-playoff clubs and a handful of American League teams have been out every day.

There are a couple of things to know about scouts. One is they watch the game differently than even the most astute fan or writer. They look for tendencies, nuanced little tells and tips that might not happen but one time in 100 pitches, but that one time could be the difference. Plus, the scouts look at the game objectively. Unlike coaches or the manager, the scouts are looking for what their team can exploit. They zero in on weaknesses like a big schoolyard bully.

At the core, though, the scout is an overt spy. As such, they trade in information and every once in a while they leak like a sieve. Because writers have access and insight that the scouts do not, there is often a quid pro quo between scout and scribe.

Wanna know what a few of them think about the Phillies’ chances in the playoffs? Well, it’s not really that much of a surprise.

“They’re going to have to ride their starting pitchers for as long as they can,” a scout said, noting that the Phillies’ bullpen is a mess.

This will be an interesting week for watchers of the Phillies because reliever J.C. Romero has been activated from the disabled list on Monday, Brett Myers could return to action this week along with Chan Ho Park, and Scott Eyre has not pitched in a game since Sept. 7. Before that, the lefty specialist had pitched just once since Aug. 16.

Then there is the issue of the ninth inning where it appears as if Brad Lidge will not see any significant action aside from mop-up duty to restore his fastball command and confidence. Ryan Madson pitched spectacularly in the ninth inning to save Sunday’s win at Miller Park, but if the lanky righty takes over the ninth, who gets the eighth?

Tyler Walker? Sergio Escalona? One of the guys trying to cram in some work before the playoffs begin? Not Brett Myers, says one scout.

“His stuff was pretty unimpressive in the few games he pitched when he got back [from hip surgery],” a scout said.

The biggest issue just might be the starting rotation, particularly Cliff Lee who is 2-3 with a 6.35 ERA in his last six starts. One of those six starts was a complete game shutout, which reveals how poor those numbers were in the other five outings. Meanwhile, pedro Martinez missed his last start with a strained neck and J.A. Happ very well could be the answer in the bullpen.

Still, Lee and that rough patch with just one more start to go in the season is also something for folks to pay attention to.

“There are a lot of innings for those starters. Some of them look pretty tired,” another scout said. “But then again, there are a lot of guys out there that look tired.”

Jayson Werth, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are a few names that pop to mind when talking about tiredness. Better yet, if a scout from another team notices how tired the Phillies look, Manuel ought to, as well.

Right?

Well, yes and no. Sure, Manuel acknowledges that a couple of his guys are a little burnt, but it’s too late to do anything about it. With a four-game lead with six to go, Manuel can’t give Werth a day off even though he is 3 for his last 30 with just three singles and 14 strikeouts.

The tiredness is even more noticeable in Utley, who, like Werth, is struggling at the plate. Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Astros, Utley is 3for his last 27 and batting .222 in September.

Manuel says his all-star second baseman is in need of a day off, but he won’t get one until the NL East is sewn up.

“I think he’s dragging some, but he’s trying really hard. When we don’t play well he takes it real hard and he tries to do too much,” Manuel said. “But at the same time he can come out of it. He can handle it.”

Can he, or is that just wishful thinking by Manuel? The old adage is the regulars get to take a break after the division is won, but even then the Phillies will have home-field advantage on the line. They don’t want to go to Los Angeles for the first round, do they?

Heck, the way the Braves are playing the Phils might have to go to St. Louis.

“A day of rest would be nice. Of course, we could have been getting plenty of days of rest. But things don’t always go the way we want,” Rollins said about the Phillies’ inability to close out the division in a timely manner. “What happens is that at times you have lapses in concentration. You think you have the pitcher right where you wanted him and then, wham! You miss that one pitch.”

Wham!

Here comes Floyd

LandisOUCHThis weekend is the big, TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Classic, the classic race that skirts through the Art Museum area, Fairmont Park and, of course, Manayunk. In some sections of town the race is a pretty good excuse to hang out and drink beer…

Not that there is ever a bad excuse.

Nevertheless, ever since the race was saved by a last-minute sponsor with a fresh injection of cash (hey, now), the comings-and-goings of the big race have kind of flown beneath the radar. Makes sense, of course, since most Philadelphians are more worried about ankle surgery for Brian Westbrook a full 12 weeks before the football season rather than some unknown bike racers tearing through town.

That would be the case, of course, if they were all unknown. But they aren’t. Floyd Landis is going to be there.

We all remember Floyd, of course. His story has been told and re-told thousands of times since he won the Tour de France in 2006 only to have it stripped away after two years of arbitration hearings and appeals through the kangaroo courts conducted by USADA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Since then Floyd has racked up $2 million in legal bills, according to reports. He moved at of his home in Murrietta, Calif. to shack up and train in a cabin in Idyllwild, a small town located in the San Jacinto Mountains south of Los Angeles.

He has a mortgage, had hip-replacement surgery, served a two-year suspension and gotten divorced. Now, he has been named in an international arrest warrant for hacking into the computer at France’s Chatenay-Malabry anti-doping lab. That’s the same lab that produced more than 200 procedural and protocol errors when testing his urine sample following the now infamous Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France. Floyd’s doctor Arnie Baker is named in the warrant as well.

And yet there he is riding in races against competitors that weren’t close to his level a little more than three years ago. Back then, he said, he was “in the best shape of” his life. These days he trains and races simply because he likes to ride his bike.

As he told VeloNews in January:

“I don’t feel in any way I am coming back to race to prove anything to anyone, or to myself for that matter. I enjoy racing for the same reason the majority of people race their bikes, whether it’s on a professional level or any other level. I think the sport deserves to have the best riders in the best races. For that reason I think this year is going to be better than it has been in a long time.”

Dime-store psychology aside, riding the bike might be the only thing that makes sense in Floyd’s life these days. In fact, before the racing season began there was talk of Floyd joining a major team and racing in the 2010 Tour de France.

But as the season developed, Floyd hasn’t won any races. He’s had some crashes and strong attacks, but hasn’t been a major threat in the final standings. Hey, racing is hard and chances are he’ll be a threat soon, but in the meantime he’s coming to Philly because he likes to ride his bike…

Kind of like the folks out in Manayunk who like to drink beer.

***

Speaking of Floyd, Brett Myers had hip surgery today in New York City with hot-shot surgeon Dr. Bryan Kelly administering.

Incidentally, after he decided to have surgery Myers told me he saw pictures of his pitching before and after the injury. In one, his right leg was as high as his right shoulder in his follow through, but in the post-injury photo, his range of motion was noticeably shorter.

The surgery should be good for Myers to regain his flexibility and with it, his velocity.

***

Speaking of Floyd, J.C. Romero returned last night for the first time after serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.

Interesting: in MLB, 50 games for a positive test.

In cycling, two years for a positive test.

The Magnificient Bastardo

Phillies Padres BaseballThe other day we were told that Antonio Bastardo doesn’t speak very much English. In fact, in order for him to communicate with the scribes a translator would need to be found before the rookie lefty got on the bus for the trip to the airport.

At least that’s what we were told.

Now my grasp of Spanish is probably only as good as Bastardo’s English, I reasoned. As it related to baseball, I once caught Jose Mesa and Bobby Abreu making fun of me in Spanish in an elevator in Baltimore. When I laughed out loud at the jokey insults, Jose and Bobby clammed up quick.

Hey, McCaskey kids know all the Spanish curse words.

But imagine my surprise when I saw the kid speaking a language I knew reasonably well on my web site. You can hear it, too, when you go over to CSNPhilly.com along with one where Raul Ibanez translates for the winning pitcher.

Is there anything Raul can’t do?

Plus, the TV cameras showed the rookie talking about his first outing with Jamie Moyer in the dugout during the seventh inning after he had been lifted. Who knew Moyer’s Spanish was so good?

Nevertheless, it must have been an interesting conversation between the 46-year-old, 23-season veteran and the 23-year-old lefty after his first game.

Tangents aside, it was a very impressive debut for the 23-year-old prospect recently compared to Johan Santana – that is if Santana threw 95 and had no need for a changeup. Frankly, Bastardo didn’t need that changeup either – or any other pitch – thanks to the big lead the offense spotted him. It has to be easier facing a flu-ridden Jake Peavy in a big-league debut after a first-inning four-spot.

No sense jerking around with a big lead – just rear back and throw the gas. Even the rookie knew that.

Beaming after the victory in San Diego, manager Charlie Manuel (yep, the video is on the CSNPhilly.com) was impressed that the kid got by with just one pitch.

“He was on a rush and you couldn’t slow him down if you had to,” the skipper said. “He did one thing real good and that was to be aggressive and he wasn’t afraid to throw the ball. He has a good changeup and a breaking ball, but he was gripping the ball and trying to throw it, so there wasn’t much action. But he did a super job, but he did it with one pitch.”

He’ll need more than the gas on Sunday when he pitches at Dodger Stadium, but in the meantime it’s a pretty gutty start.

As far as recent debuts for the Phillies’ prospects go, however, Bastardo fits in pretty well. Not quite as good as Brett Myers or Carlton Loewer, but pretty good nonetheless (links to box scores):

Antonio Bastardo at Padres on June 2, 2009: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K for win

Kyle Kendrick vs. White Sox on June 13, 2007: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 4 K for a ND

Scott Mathieson vs. Devil Rays on June 17, 2006: 6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 5 K for Loss

Cole Hamels vs. Reds on May 12, 2006: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 7 K for ND

Gavin Floyd vs. Mets on Sept. 3, 2004: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 5 K for Win

Brett Myers at Cubs on July 24, 2002: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K for Win

Brandon Duckworth vs. Padres on Aug., 7, 2001: 6 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 4 K for Win

David Coggin at Expos on June 23, 2000: 6 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 4 K for Win

Randy Wolf vs. Blue Jays on June 11, 1999: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K for Win

Carlton Loewer vs. Cubs on June 14, 1998: 9 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 8 K for Win

Meanwhile, prospect Kyle Drabek pitches in Reading tonight in the former first-round picks’ first outing above Single-A. Perhaps a dubious weather forecast for Thursday pushed up the outing by a day?

Shot from the hip

ans7_labrumBrett Myers joins teammate Chase Utley, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Lowell, Alex Gordon and Carlos Delgado (amongst others) who have (or will) undergo surgery for a torn hip labrum. And that’s just in baseball. Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals and Floyd Landis are two more notable athletes who had hip surgery recently.

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

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

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

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

Well, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

**

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

Boggles the mind.

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


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

Just a little shave

myers1Perhaps the best part about Brett Myers’ effort in the victory over the Yankees in the Bronx on Friday night came on the second pitch he threw of the game. That’s when he reared back and hummed a fastball behind leadoff hitter Derek Jeter as if to call out Yanks’ pitcher A.J. Burnett and say, “OK punk, if it wasn’t for this stupid DH rule, that fastball would have been in your ribs.”

But most importantly, that pitch said, “That [crap] stops right now.”

That’s how Myers answered Burnett’s second pitch of the game after that pitch plunked Chase Utley between the shoulder blades. His first pitch, of course, ended up over the short porch in right where Jimmy Rollins knocked it to get things started.

So much for a professional courtesy…

Either way, there was no doubt to the intent on the pitch from Burnett. Sure, he’s wild and all of that jazz, but Chase Utley isn’t exactly a tough target at the plate. Plus, in the American League pitchers can get away with that kind of stuff because they don’t have to fear repercussions. But the whole premise of the bean ball is just a little chicken bleep. A guy like Burnett gets upset and throws a ball at another player?

Lame.

A long time ago – back in The Vet days – longtime scribe Kevin Roberts and I were discussing the dynamics of beanballs and beanball fights or maybe just fighting in general. You see, get a couple of writer types in the media dining room a good hour before game time and the topics run the gamut. And the insight!

Anyway, Kevin’s argument made a lot of sense (but then again that’s no surprise):

“If you do something I don’t like, I’m not going to throw an apple at you from across the room,” Kevin said. “I’m going to get up, walk over to you and punch you in the face.”

Like a man.

Manly is the only apt description for Kev, but that’s beside the point. No, the issue is Myers took care of Burnett’s jackassery immediately and there was no more incidents the rest of the way.

There weren’t any quotes about the pitches from Myers (or Burnett) on the record because baseball players rarely talk about those types of things on the record. Off the record they’ll tell you about clubhouse rifts and friendships lost if a pitcher doesn’t respond in kind.

Sometimes they even react the same way Shane Victorino did during Game 3 of last October’s NLCS. You remember…

Apropos of nothing, the two players from that video who went the most bonkers and attempted to escalate matters, (and were fined) are two of the players currently serving suspensions for testing positive for banned substances. Coincidence, right?

Anyway, I like a good bench-clearing brawl as much as the next guy, but they do kind of have that British Navy element to them, don’t they? Remember when the Brits invaded the Falkland Islands during the ‘80s and sent the Royal Navy into the southern hemisphere after them? What did they do, say, “Oh, it’s on Falklands… see you in a week!”

A hitter running those 60-feet, six inches to get after a pitcher is hardly a stealth attack. Plus, all baseball players do is grab each other and dance around a bit. They don’t have to throw bean balls at each other if all they want to do is dance.

Keeping cool


Ryan Howard went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Sunday’s season opener. (AP)

OK, everybody… deep breath. All at once – inhale and then exhale.

One more time…

Now, do we feel better?

No?  Not even when we realize that there are six months and 161 games to go?

“We played one game, man,” manager Charlie Manuel said.

“Oh my goodness,” Jimmy Rollins said in mock/sarcastic horror. “I am heartbroken that we lost a game.”

Yes, the Phillies opened their most anticipated season ever with a resounding 4-1 loss to divisional foe Atlanta in a game where starter Brett Myers gave up three home runs and four runs in the first two innings.

Meanwhile, Braves’ ace Derek Lowe pitched a two-hitter through eight innings where he got the Phillies to make 17 outs in which the ball never left the infield. As a result, panic has set in, the title defense has gone awry and the sky is falling. Didn’t they see the omens when a paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne completely missed the stadium and landed in the parking lot with the ball for the ceremonial first pitch?

Or when they removed the ladder from the field to the stands where Manuel was raising the championship banner?

Talk about your omens.

So excuse the Phillies if they are not as worried about the loss in the first game as everyone else. Excuse Manuel if he isn’t too concerned about the amount of lefties in the middle of the order or the grounders Lowe coaxed out of his team. Pardon Myers if he did not fire his glove into the stands and kick over the water cooler upon his exit from the game.

Excuse the Phillies if they don’t go 162-0.

Continue reading this story …

Opening Night: Sixth inning

myers1Brett Myers is probably finished for the night considering he is set to bat second in the sixth inning. Still, his line won’t look too good though he certainly settled in after the second inning.

Myers line: 6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 3 HR — 97 pitches

To end his night, Myers whiffed Derek Lowe with a 3-2 curve.

Yes, Lowe is fearsome.

Speaking of fearsome, rookie Jordan Schafer was given a two-out intentional walk. In getting that walk Schafer holds tight to the mantle of greatest hitter of all-time.

Meanwhile, Greg Dobbs got his first pinch-hit of the season (a fly out to the track in right) and the Phillies sent four hitters to the plate in the sixth. Call it a taught two-hitter for Lowe through six…

And call it a blogging night for me. It’s time to go do some writing about this epic, so check CSNPhilly.com after the game… or better yet, now.

Opening Night: Fifth inning

derek-loweMaybe Brett Myers has settled in? After all, he seems to be on a roll here after working out those early-inning jitters. Following Yunel Escobar’s third-inning double, Myers retired eight of nine before Chipper Jones belted a double.

He bounced back from that hit by whiffing Brian McCann for his fifth strikeout. However, Myers has not tossed a single perfect inning. The Braves have scratched out a hit in every frame so far.

Meanwhile, Derek Lowe appears to be loose as a goose. After Chipper Jones made a nice pick and throw to nail Jayson Werth in the fourth, the pitcher and third baseman were yucking it up near the mound. Call it just another game for the veteran righty.

Lowe also has been quite economical. Through five innings, he has thrown just 64 pitches (43 strikes) with three whiffs and a single.

Lowe is making it look easy.

Opening Night: third inning

derek_loweOK, maybe Brett Myers is just getting his work in? That can be the only explanation considering the Braves are tee-ing off on him. In fact, little Yunel Escobar ripped one high off the wall in deep left-center for a double. Myers was lucky, too, because it came inches away from being the fourth homer of the game.

Then again, before his late June demotion to Triple-A last season Myers was leading the Majors in homers allowed by a wide margin.

But unlike his first two frames, Myers stayed away from trouble. After the double, the pitcher whiffed Chipper Jones, got Brian McCann to pop out and Garrett Anderson to ground out to end the frame unscathed.

Nevertheless, Charlie Manuel got J.A. Happ up in the ‘pen.

Meanwhile, Derek Lowe made it once through the Phillies lineup and finally got the first hit of the season. The honor goes to Carlos Ruiz whose ground-rule double inside the third-base bag.

So far the Phillies are 1-for-10 this year.

opening night: second inning

homersJust saw a guy having a conversation with a person even though he had his cell phone plastered to his ear. Very odd.

Also on the odd front was Myers’ first pitch of the second inning to Jeff Francoeur… that one turned into a souvenir and gave the Braves a 3-0 lead. An out later, rookie Jordan Shafer smacked one near the 409 sign in left-center.

For Shafer it was a pretty big hit in his first Major League plate appearance.

Yeah, that’s right… a home run in his first Major League plate appearance. Pretty good. Jermaine Dye was the last Brave to homer in his first AB. Mark Saccomanno of the Astros was the last big leaguer to homer in his first at-bat. He did it last Sept. 8.

Meanwhile, all the homers shoot my theory about Myers being relaxed right in the rear.

Derek Lowe has been relaxed — six up and six down for the new Brave. He also has a four-run lead.

Opening Night: First inning

myersIt’s kind of hard to believe that Brett Myers is making his third straight Opening Day start. After all, Myers pitched out of the bullpen just a handful of starts after his maiden Opening Day start.

Last year, of course, he still had his head in the ‘pen during the opener. In fact, the Phillies more or less admitted that Myers got the nod over Cole Hamels as a reward for being a good soldier in 2007.

This year Myers got the start because Hamels wasn’t ready to go. Because of that Myers might be more ready to pitch since he does not have the first-time jitters nor his mind wandering about being a closer.

Hell, he might just allow himself to go out and pitch this year. Pretty novel concept, huh?

Anyway, Myers pitched cautiously to cleanup hitter Brian McCann after Chipper Jones laced a two-out, two-strike single.

Apparently it wasn’t cautious enough because after falling behind in the count to McCann, Myers left a fastball up and it ended up in the second deck. Just like that Myers was in a 2-0 hole.

So much for our theories, huh?

Against Lowe, the Phillies went in order though Chase Utley gave the fans a start when he flied to the warning track in right.

On another note, Pat Gillick threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Jayson Stark, sitting to my immediate right, offered that the ex-GM probably warmed up in the ‘pen before delivering a solid strike across the plate to catcher Chris Coste.

I countered with Gillick was probably wondering how he was unable to get rid of Coste after all this time.

Best week ever…

Apparently we are in the midst of last days of something called “Hockey Week” here in Philadelphia. According to the rumors, there was an official declaration with a proper certificate adorned with a big gold ribbon and that fancy calligraphy writing.

Yep, they went all out at City Hall. After all, public officials don’t go about making edicts and issuing ribbons all willy-nilly like. But after having had the chase to talk the mayor, the Honorable Michael Nutter, it’s evident that the man has a wicked sense of humor. Oh yeah, it doesn’t show, but Mayor Nutter gets jokes and has a tremendous laugh – you know, one of those laughs that makes the funny thing even funnier.

So, the idea that the mayor decreed that this was “Hockey Week,” and not even in an Olympic year, to boot, is knee-slapping hilarious.

Mayor Nutter… what a hoot!

What also is funny about the concept of “Hockey Week” is that how quickly the attention went elsewhere. After all, it is almost the third full week of February and there is a chance that the Eagles could sign a taxi-squad punter. Sure, Sav Rocca seems to have the punting position nailed down, but what about in a couple of years?

But more than the Eagles, the looming minicamp, Sav Rocca, punting and punters, “Hockey Week” took a back seat to the fast-approaching NBA trading deadline, which potentially could reshape the look of the 76ers for the rest of the season and beyond. It’s quite a decision GM Ed Stefanski has to make on Andre Miller. Definitely a pickle, indeed.

The biggest news hitting the ether regards the local baseball club and how the New York Mets have reacted to the WFC-ness of the WFC Phillies.

Apparently the Mets can’t keep their mouths shut. Or, better yet, to use a hockey term, “yaps.” Those Mets sure are yapping up a storm. During the past week we’ve heard from Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and newly acquired closer Francisco Rodriguez. The interesting part about the Mets’ trash-talking has been the boringness of it. Almost as boring as getting all worked up for “Hockey Week.”

Continue reading this story…

Pregame: Tonight is the night

LOS ANGELES – The consensus around here with the media types is that tonight’s Game 5 is bigger than most people believe. It’s big, sure… it is, after all, the NLCS. But aside from the obvious, Game 5 will decide which team goes to the World Series.

Yeah, that’s right … the winner of tonight’s game will go to the World Series.

Obviously, if the Phillies win it’s all over, and in that regard things look pretty good for them. Cole Hamels, the team’s best pitcher, has been close to Koufax-esque during the playoffs. Since the Dodgers countering with Chad Billingsley, a pitcher who struck out four of the first six hitters he faced during Game 2, but then retired just four more hitters for the rest of the game, it appears to be a matchup that favors the Phils. Billingsley damn-near melted down in Game 2 and then he and his teammates began chirping at each other.

But if the Phillies don’t get it done tonight at Chavez Ravine, it gets tougher back in Philadelphia beginning on Friday night. For one, Hiroki Kuroda, the lights out pitcher that has baffled the Phillies in three starts this year, will pitch against Brett Myers. The Phillies’ pitcher wasn’t so sharp despite winning Game 2, and has a gimpy ankle to go along with it.

If there is a need for Game 7 on Saturday, Derek Lowe will make his third start of the series against a Phillies pitcher to be determined. Typically, Saturday will be Jamie Moyer’s turn in the rotation, however, the veteran lefty has lasted just 5 1/3 innings in two starts in the playoffs for an ERA of 13.50.

So there it is – tonight is the night. The Phillies definitely do not want to return to Philadelphia this weekend without the Warren Giles Trophy. Otherwise, it might just slip out of their hands.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

Phillies
11 – Jimmy Rollins, ss
28 – Jayson Werth, rf
26 – Chase Utley, 2b
6 – Ryan Howard, 1b
5 – Pat Burrell, lf
8 – Shane Victorino, cf
7 – Pedro Feliz, 3b
51 – Carlos Ruiz, c
35 – Cole Hamels, p

Dodgers
15 – Rafael Furcal, ss
16 – Andre Ethier, rf
99 – Manny Ramirez, lf
55 – Russell Martin, c
7 – James Loney, 1b
30 – Casey Blake, 3b
27 – Matt Kemp, cf
33 – Blake DeWitt, 2b
58 – Chad Billingsley, p

Fifth inning: Working the count

Out of nowhere, Brett Myers posted his first goose egg on the board since the first inning. He also climbed over the 100-pitch plateau with two outs in the fifth.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Myers will not get a complete game. Heck, he might not even see the sixth inning.

Meanwhile, things appear to have settled down a bit with James McDonald on the mound for the Dodgers. Since entering the game with two outs in the third, McDonald has given up a pair of hits, walked one and took a turn at the plate.

Otherwise, we’re just reveling in the joy of a scoreless and quick inning here at the Bank. In the meantime it’s worth noting that Chase Utley got his fourth walk of the game and we’re just a little past the halfway point.

I bet he gets another chance.

End of 5: Phillies 8, Dodgers 5

Fourth inning: Revisiting the fastball

So how do you like your little ballpark now, Phillies fans?

Additionally, it should be pointed out that today is Friday…

I’m not saying anything, I’m just pointing that out.

Anyway, a strikeout that could have ended the fourth inning turned out to be a harbinger. That’s because after Rafael Furcal reached on the strikeout-wild pitch and Russell Martin laced a two-out single, Brett Myers decided to remember what it was like to throw a fastball.

The problem with that wasn’t so much as the idea that Myers had gotten so far away from his heater and was relying on cutters and curves to get through the Dodgers’ lineup. That’s why it was a curious thing when Myers threw a straight-as-an-arrow fastball straight down the pipe with Manny Ramirez standing in the batters’ box.

Needless to say, the experiment failed when Manny hit one just over the patch of mums above the left-field fence.

Just like that and this game turned into a save situation.

Meanwhile, Myers beat out an infield single for his third hit of the game. Yeah, that’s right – Myers beat out an infield single for his third hit of the game.

Want me to write that one more time?

Myers beat out an infield single for his third hit of the game.

Here’s a fun fact from the TV folks at Fox:

During the playoffs Brett Myers is 4-for-5 with three runs and three RBIs and Ryan Howard is 2-for-17 with one RBI.

Yeah.

End of 4: Phillies 8, Dodgers 5

Third inning: Brett Myers – Professional Hitter

There’s an old sports saying that goes something like this:

The series doesn’t start until the home team loses for the first time.

If that’s true, this could be one of those series where the home team wins every game. Or, the series could truly begin on Sunday night if the Phillies take care of business at Dodger Stadium with the chance to go for the sweep on Monday.

A Phillies sweep to go to the World Series? Really? What world are we living in? Does gas still cost more than $3 per gallon?

Did I just jinx it?

Anyway, Brett Myers gave back a run on a two-out single by James Loney. As is the case with just about everything in baseball, it wasn’t the hit that hurt Myers the most, it was the two-out walk to Andre Ethier and the one-out walk to Russell Martin.

Oh, those bases on balls…

Myers nearly waded into the mess up to his knees after Greg Dobbs booted a grounder with two outs to load the bases. After that, the pitcher got out of the inning with a strikeout on Blake Dewitt in which Myers seemed to throw nothing but curves.

As we all remember all too well, Myers got into the most trouble when he got away from his fastball and leaned on the deuce too much.

For one reason or another, Billingsley just seems to be finding trouble for himself. Pat Burrell laced the first pitch of the inning to left for a single before Jayson Werth lined an 0-2 pitch into the corner in left for a double. An intentional walk to Greg Dobbs to load the bases set up a force at the plate on a soft grounder hit by Carlos Ruiz.

That made it look as if Billingsley could wiggle out of it or, at the very least, that manager Joe Torre was going to bring in a reliever after the intentional walk. With Myers heading to the plate with one out and the bases loaded, it looked like an easy second out as well as the light at the end of the tunnel.

After all, why would Myers go to the plate looking to swing the bat. He has six hits going back to the 2004 season and once was told to go to the plate and leave the bat on his shoulder. Certainly in this situation – bases loaded and one out in a playoff game – Myers would be told to stand there and take pitches simply to avoid hitting into a double play.

But that would be too easy. It also would make sense.

Myers swung at the first pitch and hit one that rolled with all of the alacrity in which Burrell or Myers run the bases. The hit was slow and sloppy, which means in some weird sense it was perfect.

It also opened up this game as if it was a 10-pound trout with its tanned belly glistening in the sun. Myers’ ugly single sent two more runs scurrying home and also provided the impetus for us to watch the big pitcher go from first to home on Shane Victorino’s two-out triple.

Billingsley struck out four of the first six hitters he faced, but wasn’t around it to get four more outs.

Weird.

2 1/3 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 5 K – 59 pitches, 36 strikes.

I hope this game ends in time for me to catch my flight tomorrow morning.

End of 3: Phillies 8, Dodgers 2

Second inning: Throwing the curve

They just showed all-time Dodgers great, Sandy Koufax on the TV here hanging above my head. If he is sitting where I think he is, Tommy Lasorda is directly behind him.

Great… Sandy Koufax is going to go home with pasta stains on his shirt and peanut shells in his hair.

“Dammit Lasorda, chew with your mouth closed…”

It goes without saying that Sandy Koufax was one of the greatest pitchers ever. Actually, it might be more apt to say he put together four of the greatest seasons in a row. Sandy was like a comet – he developed late and before anyone knew what they were looking at, he was gone. That actually enhances his legend because Koufax’s career was cut short because of that curve ball he threw. It simply put too much pressure on his arm until he just couldn’t do it anymore.

So yes, Sandy Koufax suffered for his art. That makes him a genius.

If you don’t think so, just look at the stats from his last four seasons. Better yet, find the box score and play-by-play from his perfect game against the Cubs. Just awesome.

Legend has it that the pitch Koufax suffered for – the curve – was the best ever. No one before or since could chuck the deuce like Koufax. Brett Myers tried in the second, but Sandy’s old team posted the first run of the game set up by a leadoff single by Andre Ethier and a long double from James Loney.

But Myers limited the damage by getting a strikeout, a grounder and a fly ball, though his pitch count soared to 36.

Chad Billingsley brought the heat. To start the second the righty whiffed Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth with an overpowering array of pitches. Even though Greg Dobbs broke his bat fighting off a slider, he got just enough to get a two-out single.

That changed everything. Big time.

Carlos Ruiz laced a fastball into the gap in left-center for an RBI double then scored the go-ahead run when Myers, inexplicably, poked a slider into center for an RBI.

Yeah, that’s Myers’ second hit of the playoffs. And yes, he had just four hits during the entire season.

Brett Myers: Professional hitter.

Another two-out single by Jimmy Rollins set the table for Shane Victorino’s two-run single on a 2-2 pitch.

That hit set off epically loud “Beat LA!” chant that rattled the row homes in South Philly all the way up to Lombard.

These people… good fans.

Here’s the thing – it all happened with two outs. Better yet, it all happened without the long ball.

End of 2: Phillies 4, Dodgers 1

First inning: ‘Throw it at the mascot’

Another big crowd here at the Bank doing the big, “Beat LA!” chant and waving those white hankies. It looks like a great day for baseball here in Philadelphia even though there are some shadows splashed across the outfield grass.

Perhaps they could be a problem until the sun drifts more to the west?

Anyway, Jim Eisenreich, the great hitter on the ’93 Phillies threw the ceremonial first pitch. Ol’ Eisey still looks like he can play. He very definitely could hit – especially in ’93. I still can’t believe that GM Lee Thomas was able to get Eisenreich for that club.

Speaking of getting it, it certainly looks as if Brett Myers has it this afternoon. His fastball looks like an electrical wire that was knocked to the ground and is shooting sparks and hissing like the meanest snake ever. Better yet, Myers looks as if he has, what ballplayers like to call, “The Ass.”

That means exactly what one would assume it means. As such, Myers crop dusted Russell Martin with one high and tight and buzzed one behind Manny Ramirez.

I wonder if he was trying to hit the mascot?

Nevertheless, Myers whiffed both Martin and Ramirez to end the inning and to send the crowd into screeching hysterics. He threw 13 pitches.

Aside from a two-out walk for Chase Utley, the Phillies went quietly in the first against big right-hander, Chad Billingsley. Like Myers, Billingsley notched two whiffs.

End of 1: Phillies 0, Dodgers 0

Seventh inning: Into the ‘pen

Here are some fun facts:

So far, both teams have scored all their runs in one inning per game. However, the Phillies have notched at least one hit in seven/eight straight innings.

Go figure.

J.J. Hardy got the Brewers’ first hit since the first inning when he led off the seventh with a double. He moved up to third on a long fly out to right by Corey Hart and scored on a ground out to second by veteran Craig Counsell.

Just like that it turned into a save situation.

As a result, the Phillies’ bullpen was stirring as Ryan Madson loosened up. With Brett Myers set to hit third in the order in the seventh, it’s likely his night is over…

And indeed it is. Greg Dobbs came in to pinch hit for the “professional hitter” Myers, who went 1-for-2 with a walk in his playoff starting debut.

Myers line: 7 IP, 2 R, 2 H, 3 BB, 4 K, 1 HBP – 94 pitches, 56 strikes.

Madson will make his playoff debut in the eighth.

End of 7: Phillies 5, Brewers 2

Fourth inning: Loud and proud in Philly

I’m a little getting it together for this inning so we might as well double up… I had to grab a drink and a chocolate-chip cookie and chat with ESPN radio’s Mike Gill of the Mike Gill Show. If you’re ever in New Jersey, tune in and listen to Mike – he knows his stuff.

Meanwhile, Brett Myers held the Brewers in check in the fourth, but the most important thing the pitcher did was force Sabathia to throw 10 more pitches during his second at-bat. Clearly the big lefty is laboring and after Myers’ latest epic plate appearance, Jimmy Rollins laced a two-out double.

That forced Sabathia to issue an intentional walk to Victorino. It alos pushed his pitch count even higher. Through four, the big fella has thrown 98 pitches.

And the Philly fans are screaming after each and every one of them. Typically I’m not one to pay much attention to the fans in the stands, but the hometown crowd here at the Bank has been stellar and smart during the first two games of this series. They cheered really loud during Myers’ at-bats, gave Victorino a curtain call, stayed on top of every bit of nuance and cheered like hell when Sabathia exited the game after giving up a walk to Chase Utley to load the based.

As he walked off, Sabathia appeared to say something in the direction of Victorino. It didn’t look like he said, “Nice hit, dude.”

Sabathia’s line: 3 2/3 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 5 K – 98 pitches

End of 4: Phillies 5, Brewers 1

Third inning: Victorino’s grand slam

According to whiz kid Kevin Horan of Phillies.com, Shane Victorino clubbed the first-ever post-season grand slam by a Phillie.

In fact, the Phillies have only hit 45 playoff homers, a list in which Lenny Dykstra tops with six, followed by Gary Matthews and Greg Luzinski with five each.

My partner in crime at CSN.com, Andy Schwartz, pointed out that the chart should show:

Dykstra, 6*

Victorino is quickly climbing the charts with his second post-season blast. He also hit one in Game 3 at Coors Field last season for the Phils’ only run in the deciding game.

Needless to say, the affable (and boisterous) centerfielder will undoubtedly have a lot to chirp about amongst his teammates on the charter to Milwaukee after the game. Better yet, Victorino needs a triple and single for the cycle. In his first two innings he already has a double, stolen base and the slam.

Good move by Charlie for putting Victorino in the No. 2 hole and sliding Jayson Werth down to sixth.

Meanwhile, Myers sailed through the third inning with his second straight perfect frame. Perhaps he needed to shake out the jitters in the first inning in order to settle in? If so, it worked.

CC Sabathia whiffed the next two hitters after Victorino’s slam, but Werth smacked another double and then swiped third . Interestingly, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard account for four of Sabathia’s five strikeouts.

End of 3: Phillies 5, Brewers 1

Second inning: Charlie says, ‘Relax’

In the playoffs, the game is all about pitching and defense. Actually, those two things are not mutually exclusive. The stat geeks all seem to agree that half of good pitching is really defense and the best indicator of how good a pitcher is comes from the whiffs-per-nine-innings ratio.

So when the game is all about pitching and defense it makes it difficult for the guys in the throes of a hitting slump. For the Phillies, that means Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth.

Burrell’s late-season swoon has been well documented. In fact, if the left fielder is back with the Phillies in 2009, I’m just going to write a whole bunch of stuff about a massive hitting slump and save it for the inevitable moment when he goes into the tank. Why not? It happens every season.

Burrell’s woes are exclusive to the last two months of the season while Werth has slowly been falling into a slide of the last two weeks. Though he has five hits and a homer since Sept. 20, Werth has whiffed 13 times during that span, including a hat trick in Game 1.

As a result, Charlie Manuel dropped Werth from the No. 2 spot in the order to No. 6 tonight.

“It might help Werth relax a bit,” Manuel said. “He’s been trying too hard. I told him to slow down and stay on top of the ball more, relax. Also, I like Victorino hitting second off CC. Left-handers that throw hard, especially when Victorino makes the pitcher bring the ball down, he can have strong games at times.”

Guess what? Charlie might be on to something.

Werth smacked an 0-1 offering to left-center for a one-out double to start a game-tying rally highlighted by Pedro Feliz’s double just inside the chalk line in left.

That was where it ended for the Phillies. Myers has thrown 32 pitches through two, while the Phillies’ plan to get Sabathia to throw, throw, throw and then throw some more appears to be working as the big lefty fired 51 pitches to this point.

The fans really got into a nine-pitch at-bat from Myers, who worked the count full, fouled off three pitches and then walked. Jimmy Rollins followed with a four-pitch walk to load the bases.

Then it happened…

… and my question was, “Has a Phillie ever hit a grand slam in the playoffs?”

Shane Victorino has. He just did it. I saw it… CC Sabathia laid one tight and Victorino put it in the left-field seats.

Is it over already?

End of 2: Phillies 5, Brewers 1

First inning: Here comes the heat

Harry Kalas threw the ceremonial first pitch and didn’t do too badly. Upon picking up the sign from Chris Coste, Harry laid one in there just off the corner.

It looked like a fastball from here.

Just like Harry, Brett Myers came out throwing his fastball, too. Actually, that’s just about all Myers threw in the beginning of the game. The first 11pitches Myers threw were all the ol’ No. 1. Perhaps even the four pitches he tossed up there to Price Fielder during an intentional walk could have been considered fastballs, too. If that’s the case, Myers’ first 15 pitches were fastballs and it took until the fifth hitter for him to throw a breaking pitch.

The inning started and ended well for Myers, too. It was just the middle that was the difficult part.

After striking out Mike Cameron on three straight pitches, Myers walked Ray Durham on four straight. Ryan Braun followed with a double off the wall to make it second and third and forced the walk to Fielder.

That’s when Myers turned to his curve. That’s also when the trouble began. Myers walked J.J. Hardy to force in a run and looked like he was on the verge of an early knockout when Corey Hart bounced one back to the mound for an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play…

The ol’ 1-2-3.

The Phillies’ plan seemed to be to force CC Sabathia to throw a lot of pitches. To a degree that worked as the big lefty chucked 17 in the first, including one that turned into a double down the for Shane Victorino. But after Victorino swiped third base with one out, Sabathia whiffed Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to end the threat.

And the inning.

End of 1: Brewers 1, Phillies 0

Pregame: Myers needs to be in control

Batting practice just ended and the crowd is slowly filtering into the park for Game 2. It looks as if it will be a brisk, breezy early autumn night for baseball.

It definitely feels like October.

Obviously, CC Sabathia takes most of the headlines for tonight’s game, which is understandable. The guy is (probably) the best pitcher in the game right now. But be that as it is, the pitcher who likely will have the greatest impact on tonight’s game won’t be Big CC… it will be Brett Myers.

It’s a given that Sabathia will pitch well. If the lefty isn’t just short of brilliant, he’ll be a rung slightly below. Myers, on the other hand, has been the proverbial Jekyll and Hyde this season. When the Phils’ righty isn’t mowing them down with rows of goose eggs, he’s been just dreadfully awful. Just take a look at his season splits: before the All-Star Break and his exile to the minors – bad. After that – good.

But there are a few blips on the screen for Myers and whether or not they prove to be an anomaly or an indicator of something bigger will be determined tonight. After beating the Brewers with a two-hit complete game in which he threw just 95 pitches on three-days rest on Sept. 14, Myers was lit up like a pinball machine in his last two starts of the season.

Against the Marlins on Sept. 19 Myers was roughed up for 10 runs in four innings in a 14-8 loss. He followed that one up by giving up six runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Braves on Sept. 24.

“I think the first two innings are important for Brett,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “I think if he gets his rhythm down and he’s moving his fastball, if he can locate his fastball in and out, then he should be able to handle his breaking stuff.”

But Myers will need both his fastball and curve to be successful, Manuel says.

“His two big pitches have to work for him. His breaking stuff has to be on the outside part of the plate to these right-handers,” Manuel said. “If his command is good, then he has a chance to pitch a good game.”

There is some concern, of course. Whether Myers; two bad outings to end the season were simply a matter of leftover fatigue from pitching on short rest or merely a matter of improper mechanics has not yet been determined.

We’ll learn about that tonight.

Pregame: Myers in a brand-new role

Brett Myers appeared in the NLDS last season, but only went just 1 1/3 innings. After all, back then he was the Phillies’ closer instead of the top-of-the-rotation starter. As such, Myers had a different type of playoff experience last year compared to the one he’ll have on Thursday night when he faces the Brewers in Game 2.

“I was never in a key situation,” Myers said of last year’s playoff appearances. “I mean, it was a key situation because it was the playoffs, but it really wasn’t a save situation type thing.

“It was fun to be a part of. I wish we were on the other end of it. This year it’s more in my hands and the starters’ hands to get us a lead so we can get to (Brad) Lidge and give him that opportunity.”

That’s the plan, anyway. Myers is capable of throwing a good game based on the way he pitched during a majority of the second half following his return from a minor-league exile. However, after a complete-game, two-hit shutout against the Brewers on short rest two weeks ago, Myers has produced two straight clunkers.

In his first 11 starts after the All-Star Break, Myers went 7-2 with a 1.80 ERA. But in his last two starts, Myers went 0-2 with a 15.12 ERA.

Big difference.

So maybe getting a chance to face the Brewers again will be a remedy… right?

“Absolutely nothing,” Myers said. “It’s the playoffs. It’s different. It’s a totally different atmosphere. Those guys are going to step it up a little bit more.”

Game 1 is about to start. I’ll be back after the first.

Ned Yost out-foxed by Charlie

In baseball, it’s never too difficult to figure out when the manager is going to get fired. Sometimes you can feel it coming in very much the same way in which you sense a really bad rainstorm. Dark clouds usually follow around torrential rain and doomed managers.

As a result, no one really wants to hang around when they know a storm is coming. Instead, folks move somewhere indoors where it’s safe and hope the cable doesn’t get knocked out.

Anyone who saw the Milwaukee Brewers up close this weekend couldn’t ignore the signs that a storm was brewing. Nursing a four-game lead of the Phillies in the wild-card race when the weekend started, the Brewers slinked out of town with their tails between their legs after first-place had disappeared into thin air.

Worse, the players on the Brewers moved around as if they knew they were fighting a losing battle. One could hear footfalls when moving across the carpet in the visitors’ clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park because the room was so quiet. If we didn’t know better, it felt as if the walls were inching closer and closer by the minute to properly reflect the tightness emanating from the ballplayers.

Not only were they tight, but also the Brewers were tense, angry, helpless, confused and frustrated. They avoided eye contact with one another and spoke in whispers. When they walked they looked straight ahead and moved with stealth so as to not draw any attention as they attempted a silent getaway.

Indeed, it was a bad weekend for the Brewers.

“This series was a complete and total disaster,” outfielder Ryan Braun said. “It couldn’t have gone any worse. [The Phillies] couldn’t have played any better. We couldn’t have played any worse. We can only go in one direction from here. It’s not going to get worse.”

Braun is correct on that last point. It won’t get any worse for the Brewers, who have lost 11 of the 14 games they have played in September. However, with 12 games to go the Brewers still are tied with the Phillies for first place in the wild-card race. That’s the reason general manager Doug Melvin and owner Mark Attanasio decided manager Ned Yost had to go. Clearly the way the Phillies and Charlie Manuel ran circles around Yost’s Brewers led to his ouster.

Nevertheless, it was an unprecedented move by the Brewers. In moving former Phillie Dale Sveum from the third-base coaching box to the manager’s seat, the Brewers have conceded that if they are going to make it to the playoffs for the first time since 1982, they needed some big changes immediately.

“(Yost) didn’t have all the answers for what is going on the last two weeks and I’m not sure I have all the answers,” Melvin said during a news conference at a hotel in Chicago. “I’m not sure this is the right one, either.”

From this vantage point it seems like the right move. In fact, while walking through the corridor in the basement of Citizens Bank Park near the clubhouses, the sense of frustration from the Brewers as they walked silently to the bus that would take them to the airport and then to Chicago, was enough to knock a guy over. Desperation oozed from the confused faces so rich and thick that you could drizzle it over pancakes.

At the same time one could not mistake Manuel and the Phillies’ role in all of this. After all, it was Manuel who chose to use pitchers Jamie Moyer and Brett Myers on short rest during the series while Yost searched for excuses NOT to use the best pitcher in baseball in CC Sabathia on the similar amount of rest when his team was desperate for a win. It was also Manuel who signaled for a suicide squeeze bunt with catcher Carlos Ruiz at the plate because he had a hunch.

Meanwhile, Yost could not urge his hitters to be a little more patient at the plate against Myers, who tossed a complete-game shutout on just 95 pitches on just three-days rest. After the game even Myers could not understand why the Brewers’ hitters were so quick to swing the bats. Didn’t they realize he did not have his best stuff?

But the capper was when Yost chose to allow soft-tossing lefty Brian Shouse to pitch to the right-handed hitting Pat Burrell even though erratic but hard-throwing righty Eric Gagne was warmed up and ready to come into the game. Never mind the point that Burrell went to the plate hitting just .138 (4-for-29) during September and a .172 average since the end of July, and had an 0-for-3 mark with a strikeout against Gagne – Yost thought Shouse had a better chance at coaxing a ground ball from Burrell withtwo on and one out in the eighth inning of a tied game.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Shousie to get a ground ball and a double play,” Yost said. “I thought Shousie could get the job done.”

What gave him that idea? According to the aptly named web site, “Fire Ned Yost,” the Brewers almost had a better chance of turning a triple play with Shouse on the mound than a double play.

In 2008, Brian Shouse has pitched to 132 batters with 0 or 1 outs in the inning. Of those 132 plate appearances, 77 have been with a man on first base, and 5 have resulted in double plays. While that’s not as low a percentage as the triple play he likes to avoid, it’s still hard to understand where Ned’s faith in Shousie’s GDP ability come from. Well, unless it’s just faith, of course.

Shouse did get Burrell to hit a ground ball, but it rolled into the outfield to send in the go-ahead run. To add insult to injury, Shane Victorino followed Burrell’s single with a three-run homer.

So as we walked past the Brewers as they hustled to get out of town, I couldn’t help but wonder out loud, “They aren’t going to let the manager get on the charter are they?”

Apparently they did, but at that point it was just for a ride home.

Post-game: Phillies in Control

Needless to say, it was quite a bizarre scene in the Phillies’ clubhouse following the 6-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday night. One would have to imagine the scene was downright surreal at the other end of the corridor deep in the bowels of Citizens Bank Park at the visiting team’s clubhouse.

There, sprinkled in amongst the members of the local press were ballplayers eyeing the television sets hung from the ceiling in the middle of the clubhouse all tuned to the final inning of the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter against the Astros. Strangely, while Zambrano was tossing a no-no against the home team Astros, the packed house was jumping and dancing in the aisles all clad in Cubs shirts. In fact, it was a home game in name only for the Astros.

Hurricane Ike forced Major League Baseball to move the game to Milwaukee’s Miller Park – just 90 miles away from Chicago – while Houston gathers itself after the crippling storm.

Meanwhile, the Brewers watched as the Cubs celebrated on their home field. After the game the Cubs probably sprayed champagne and danced the night away in the Brewers’ clubhouse. Odder yet, the Brewers and the Cubs play each other on Tuesday night – in Chicago. When the Brewers go back to Miller Park the clubhouse will probably stink of stale champagne, a scent the home team likely won’t have to worry about come the end of the season.

The Brewers’ Ryan Braun could only shake his head as he wondered about the celebration going on in his home clubhouse. There Braun was in Philadelphia suffering after a fourth straight loss to the Phillies as their season spirals out of control while a party raged in Milwaukee.

“They’re probably drinking champagne and having a beer shower right now in our locker room while we sulk about what happened here,” Braun said. “It’s ironic, where we’re at as a team and how we feel at the end of this series and see them celebrating a no-hitter on our field.”

He’s certainly right on that point. At least he was on Sunday night after Brett Myers and Joe Blanton combined to pitch 16 innings of seven-hit ball to guide the Phillies to a day-night doubleheader sweep. As a result, the Phillies gained four games in a single weekend to forge a first-place tie in the National League’s wild-card race. With 12 games to go in the season, the Brewers and Phillies have identical 83-67 records. The only difference is that the Phillies have won seven of their last 10 after dropping two of three in Washington.

The Brewers, on the other hand, have lost 11 of their last 14 games and trail the Cubs by 7½ games in the NL Central.

The Phillies have a magic number of 13 in the wild-card race with a two-game advantage on the Astros. However, the Phillies and manager Charlie Manuel don’t have all their eggs resting in one basket. Oh no. That’s because a second straight NL East division title is still within reach.

Don’t look now, but the Mets lead the Phillies by just one game after the New Yorkers lost for two of three against the Braves.

Do the Phillies have the momentum going into the final two weeks? Charlie Manuel thinks so.

“I believe in momentum. I believe in what do you call it, attitude, charisma and when you come to the ballpark everything is OK,” Manuel said. “Everybody is in a good mood and upbeat. Everybody’s happy. People ain’t walking around sulking because they ain’t making enough money or something happened at the house. I don’t know but those things happen.”

Credit the Phillies starting pitching for the surge. Actually, in the case of Brett Myers and his complete game two-hitter pitched on just three-days rest, maybe the Phillies can give the Brewers an assist.

In an effort that will create positive aftershocks for the bullpen heading into the six-game road trip through Atlanta and Florida, Myers needed just 95 pitches to spin his gem. Then again, that’s nothing new. After all, the Brewers were quite generous with 45-year old Jamie Moyer last Friday night when he beat them despite working on three-days rest as well.

According to Myers, the pitcher figured it out early that he didn’t have to be overpowering.

“They were really aggressive,” Myers said. “Then again, I wasn’t looking for the strikeout and I usually go for it.”

Myers threw just eight pitches in the first and second innings and worked up to 30 through the first three. But after a 15-pitch fourth inning, Myers needed just 43 more pitches to complete the eighth inning.

Just to show they were in a hurry to get out of town, the Brewers saw just seven pitches in the ninth. It’s a good thing, too, because Myers said he knew his stuff was less than electric when warming up before the game.

“On three-days rest it’s difficult to give max effort,” Myers said. “I knew that when I was throwing in the bullpen [before the game] that I was going to have to be efficient.”

Who knows if Myers would have been able to come to that conclusion during the first half of the season. After limping out of the gates to a first half that lead to a July demotion to the minors, Myers has returned with a vengeance. A 3-9 first half with an ERA barely south of 6 has morphed into a post-minors stretch in which Myers is 7-2 with a 1.78 ERA.

Even his teammates can’t believe it.

“It was almost like a deadline acquisition,” said Jayson Werth, who had a pair of hits in the twinbill. “The way he’s throwing it’s deadly.”

Manuel says the biggest difference is Myers’ mental approach – a theory that the pitcher wholeheartedly agrees with. After the game the Myers said he needed to go to the minors in order to re-learn how to be a starting pitcher because the season working as the team’s closer in ’07 changed everything.

“I had the closer mentality to get strike one and then strike ‘em out,” he said.

Manuel says it’s a complete 180-degree change.

“I think it’s his focus,” the manager said. “I give him credit for his focus and staying calm. He stays in control a lot more.”

Control is a big thing with the Phillies these days because it appears as if the team has a ton of it. Clearly, the team is well aware of how they sit these days after the four-game sweep.

“We keep going back to last year, but that’s the way it’s lining up,” Werth said.

Said Myers: “It kind of feels how it did last year. Tonight we went out there and got some hits and had some fun.”

Who knows – maybe it will end with a big champagne-filled celebration in the home team clubhouse.

Ninth inning: All tied up

Let’s start with Brett Myers’ line:

9 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K – 95 pitches.

Look at that – 95 pitches in a complete game.

Now here’s what it means:

The Phillies and Brewers are tied for first place in the wild-card race with identical 83-67 records. The streaking Houston Astros rest two games off the pace after they lost to the Cubs at Wrigley Field tonight.

Meanwhile, the Phillies aren’t out of the mix in the NL East race, either. With 12 games to go in the season, the Phillies are just one game behind the Mets. Just like last season it seems as if the Phillies fate and fortunes change by the day.

And just like the past few seasons, this race is going to come down to the last day for the Phillies.

Buckle up.

Check back in a few… I’m heading down to the clubhouse.

Final: Phillies 6, Brewers 1

Eighth inning: Big relief

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Brett Myers is turning in his best outing of the season. Who knows… maybe it’s the best outing of his career. Sure, he might have had some overpowering and dominant performances during his career, but for what the Phillies need right now Myers is delivering big time.

Double headers are always taxing on pitching staffs and coaches absolutely loathe them. When the notion that the Phillies and Brewers would prefer to play a double dip on Sunday, one could see a cold shudder go up and down the spines of Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee. The havoc that would become of their pitching staff was just too much to fathom.

But up stepped Myers and down sat the bullpen. Thanks to seven innings from Joe Blanton in the opener, Manuel should have a stable of fresh arms when the Phillies go to Atlanta on Tuesday.

Through eight innings Myers has allowed two hits and has thrown just 88 pitches. Better yet, there is no one warming up in the bullpen. In fact, Myers received a well-deserved standing ovation and hanky wave when he walked up to the plate in the eighth.

How huge would a complete game be?

Meanwhile, Shane Victorino singled in the eighth to cap off a 4-for-4 game, while Jimmy Rollins drew his third walk to reach base safely in five straight plate appearances.

More from Leslie
I’m a big fan of Ned Yost, but either he’s making some bad calls or the inmates are running the asylum… and poorly. Yost’s team is exceptionally undisciplined. They’ve allowed Brett Myers to go deep in this game by routinely swinging at the first pitch. 88 pitches through 8 innings!!! This is a dream come true for the Phillies. They got 7 innings out of Blanton in game 1, tying his high as a Phillie… and now this out of Myers. With the day off tomorrow the Phils will head into Atlanta (a place they’ve dominated this year) with a lead in the wild card race and a well rested bullpen, thanks to the Brewers.

Could Yost have actually looked past this series and to their next series with the Cubs? At what’s soon to be 3-11 in their last 14 games, the Brewers are falling fast. Yost will likely finish out the season in Milwaukee, but at this rate, he won’t be there past that.

Phillies 6, Brewers 1

Fifth inning: It’s really hot

It’s really muggy here at the park tonight. Oppressively so. I’m not doing anything other than typing and thinking and I’m sweating like Dom DeLuise at a clam bake.

Yes, that’s graphic. And obscure… graphically obscure.

Nevertheless, if I’m sweating like the irrepressible Captain Chaos (who didn’t love those Cannonball Run movies? Just thinking about them makes me laugh at the spot on Norm McDonald imitation of Burt Reynolds), I’m sure Brett Myers is as lathered up as a Clydesdale hauling a wagon full of hay.

So far the heat and humidity doesn’t seem to be bothering Myers. After Ray Durham’s two-out single in the fourth, Myers retired four in a row – three straight on balls that didn’t leave the infield.

Interestingly, Myers has just one strikeout, though the economy of his outing doesn’t really manifest itself in his pitch count at 57. Still, the big fella isn’t laboring and hasn’t been stressed by anything other than throwing strikes.

Check this out: Brett Myers is pitching a very mature game. He’s in control even though he isn’t exactly overpowering.

Myers doesn’t have to sweat out this one. It’s pretty evident here in the fifth that he is going to pitch the Phillies into a tie for first in the wild-card race. Moreover, the Phillies could be just one game behind the Mets for the NL East after the New Yorkers blew a late lead in a loss to the Braves.

Man do they miss Billy Wagner.

With the bats the Phillies didn’t kick up much of a fuss against reliever Tim Dillard. However, Shane Victorino picked up his third hit of the game with a two-out single. That’s not bad for a guy who came into today’s action with just seven hits in September. Today he has four in both games.

Leslie chimes in
OK, I seriously believe that’s the first time I have EVER been called a pessimist! More often than not I’m considered too soft when it comes to this team.

So, Pat talked about feeding off his clutch, game-winning hit in game one. He’s doing just that. That hit to deep center is another home run if he pulls it like he usually does. Maybe someone reminded him he’ll be a free agent in a few weeks. A nice run in these last 13 games would go a long way for both Burrell and the Phillies.

Phillies 6, Brewers 0

Fourth inning: Burrell goes deep

Is this irony or a coincidence? Ray Durham, a player for the Giants in the game that Kevin Millwood threw the last no-hitter for the Phillies busted up Brett Myers’ bid with a two-out single in the fourth inning.

I’m going with coincidence.

Meanwhile, just to show the single was not a harbinger of things to come for the Brewers, Myers whiffed Prince Fielder to end the inning as well as to pick up his first K of the game.

Myers threw 15 more pitches in the fourth – he’s up to 45 now.

And the hits just keep on coming …

Pat Burrell just might be out of his two-month long slump. After driving in the go-ahead run in the first game, the streaky slugger smashed a looooooooong homer to left off Jeff Suppan to open the bottom of the inning. Had Burrell’s blast – his 31st – been struck a few feet to the right, the ball would have landed in the upper deck.

So what’s the deal with Burrell? Is he coming back next year or will the Phillies allow him to test free agency? If I were a betting man (which, I guess I am on occasion), I would probably guess that Burrell will be playing for a new team in 2009.

Call it a hunch, but with big power numbers Burrell might be able to command a big salary again next season. However, since his production graph looks like the boom and bust of a bear and bull market, the Phillies might choose to pocket the money and go with the less costly Jayson Werth as the everyday left fielder.

Maybe Werth’s hot streak during the second half forced the Phillies hand?

And maybe that cash they save on allowing Burrell to walk could be spent on a top-of-the-line starting pitcher like… oh, I don’t know… CC Sabathia?

Ol’ CC has a relationship with Charlie Manuel and he just might be ready to get away from the free-falling Brewers now.

Apropos of nothing, has a manger ever been fired mid game?

Anyway, after Burrell’s homer, Werth picked up an RBI with a bases-loaded walk. That also forced Ned Yost to slink out of the dugout to give Suppan the hook.

Suppan’s line: 3 2/3 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 1 K, 1 HR, 1 WP, 1 HBP…

Ouch!

Phillies 6, Brewers 0

Third inning: Shhhhh! Don’t jinx it

I often wonder what went on in big-league press boxes before there was a such a thing as the Internet. From what I’m told the press box was a lot more animated and adversarial.

As if that’s not the case now.

Perhaps without the Internet, the public relations staff would be busier looking up stats and trends and that kind of stuff, but these days it’s all a mouse click away. So with a second weekend of day-night action, the scribes are about to visit their Facebook pages while simultaneously keeping an eye on their Fantasy Football matchups.

It should be noted that my team is beating all that is holy out of the team owned by Marcus Hayes. However, Marcus has DeSean Jackson and Wes Parker remaining in order to make up the 40-point deficit. I’m fresh out of players after benefitting from a stellar outing by a guy named E. Graham of Tampa Bay.

Nope, I don’t pretend to be an expert.

Meanwhile, bulldog scribe Mike Radano of the Courier Post just handed out the cards for the no-hitter pool. What happens is whenever a pitcher carries a no-no past the third inning, Mike hands out specific cards to 10 people for $5 apiece. If a card matches with the corresponding spot in the lineup of the player who busts up the no-hitter, the card holder takes home the loot.

If a pitcher goes on to toss the no-hitter, the person holding the King is the big winner.

For the record, Ken Mandel of Phillies.com won when Kevin Millwood threw his no-hitter.

OK… here comes the jinx – Brett Myers has a no-hitter through three innings. In the third he walked Craig Counsell to start the inning, but quickly erased him by coaxing a 6-4-3 double play. Jeff Suppan grounded out to end the inning.

Myers has thrown 30 pitches without a strikeout to get his goose eggs.

Soeaking of goose eggs, the Phillies just posted their first one of the game in the third. However, Ryan Howard kept the grounded-into-double-play streak alive for a third inning in a row.

Phillies 4, Brewers 0

Second inning: Hello, Mr. Baseball!

Saw Bob Uecker – the famous Mr. Baseball – in the media dining room between games. Bob was wearing a sharp button-down shirt and a gaudy Bluetooth device before preparing to entertain the good folks in Milwaukee with some more splendid analysis.

The character he played in Major League wasn’t far off, folks.

Which reminds me of a funny story:

A few years back when the Brewers were in town, a member of the Philly media approached Uecker to tell him how much he enjoyed his work as well as his acting in the film, Major League. After thanking the press dude for the compliment and exchanging some more small talk, the pair split up.

Suddenly, though, Uecker stopped, turned around and called back to the media guy, “Hey, have you seen the second movie yet,” referring, of course, to the sequel in the Major League film series.

“No,” the press guy answered.

“Don’t, it sucks,” Uecker said.

That Bob Uecker – always looking out for you.

Meanwhile, Brett Myers sat down three more Brewers in a row in the second inning. That’s six up and six down for the big fella on 16 pitches (11 strikes) and five on balls hit into the air.

The Phillies’ offense continued to put pressure on Jeff Suppan and the Brewers in the bottom of the second when Pat Burrell and Shane Victorino reached to leadoff the frame. But for the second inning in a row, a double play – this one from Pedro Feliz – ruined a potentially huge threat…

That was until Myers singled to right with two outs to drive home another run. The white rally towels handed out to the fans flitted and flew a few pitches later when Jimmy Rollins smashed a single to left-center to drive in Chris Coste from third and a rumblin’, stumblin’, bumblin’ and slidin’ Myers from second.

If the sight of Myers circling the bases and sliding into home doesn’t make a guy want to twirl a flag, nothing will.

Onto the third.

Phillies 4, Brewers 0

Leslie chimes in: Jimmy should have never tried to stretch that single into a double to start the game… but it worked.

Brett Myers should have never been sent home in the second… but it worked.

The Phillies have had some things fall there way today… they’d better not push their luck!

Always a pessimist, Leslie… sheesh!

First inning: Picking up where they left off

Ed. Note: Comcast SportsNet’s Leslie Gudel is here at the ballpark and sitting directly to my left. As such, it appears as if she might have a few thoughts to offer to the array of posts during tonight’s game. Certainly Leslie’s keen insight will offer a different slant to things.

The scene in the Brewers’ clubhouse following the opening game of the split doubleheader certainly told the story – those guys are cooked.

Well, maybe not. Certainly a lot can happen in the two weeks remaining in the season, but it’s quite evident that the Brewers are tighter than a drum. After the late-inning blow up to lose the opening game, no one talked or even glanced in the direction of another player. One writer – a veteran of some tense and bad-vibe filled clubhouses – called the scene “surreal.”

That bodes well for the Phillies.

Conversely, there is nothing that seems to make the Phillies tense. Since Charlie Manuel came aboard as manager, the ballclub has been loose and fancy free. Players know that their manager is going to allow them to do their jobs without interference or second-guessing. For instance, when Chase Utley bunted with Jayson Werth on first base and no outs in the eighth inning of a tied game, Manuel didn’t go into his post-game meeting with the scribes and wonder aloud, “What was Chase thinking? By sacrificing in that situation he took the bat out of the hands of the hottest hitter in the game… geez!”

Instead, Charlie talked to Utley on the spot. Nothing lingered or carried over to create undue animosity. Charlie told Utley to hit away and give Ryan Howard a chance to smash a homer.

Nevertheless, the move ended up working out for the Phillies anyway. Howard was intentionally walked and Pat Burrell singled in the go-ahead run. All is well that ends well.

Perhaps all is well that starts well, too. Brett Myers got through the top of the first on just eight pitches – and two long, loud outs – while the offense picked up right where they left off this afternoon.

After Jimmy Rollins stretched a single into a double to start the frame against Jeff Suppan, and next season’s everyday left fielder (OK, speculation on my part, but educated speculation) Jayson Werth singled, the Phillies opened the scoring with a run despite a double play from Utley.

One in the books. The Phillies are 24 outs from a tie for the wild card.

Phillies 1, Brewers 0

Saturday morning: Rain o’er the Phillies

In an odd way, rainouts and doubleheaders are kind of fun. Oh sure, they create a lot more work, confusion, time away from home and standing around for baseball players, coaches, officials and scribes. Rainouts and doubleheaders turn a team’s best laid plans into the mush inside of a pumpkin. Pitching matchups are ruined, bullpens are taxed, players get tired and injuries occur.

It’s just a big mess.

But there is something intriguing about the extraordinary. Rainouts and doubleheaders are not natural, therefore they force extreme measures. OK, the rain part is natural, but the previously mentioned groups of people are used to keeping tight schedules. When the routines are knocked askew, things go haywire… fast.

That’s the fun part. A little chaos now and again is healthy. So instead of watching a ballgame on Friday night, we all got to stare at raindrops as they bounced off the tarp covering the infield at the Bank. We also got to stand around and wait for word on how the pivotal series with Milwaukee Brewers was going to shake out. When it became obvious that there was no chance for the game to be played on Friday night, it was time to wade into the maelstrom.

For starters, the starters were hardly an issue for the Phillies. After pitching on short rest last Sunday in New York, Cole Hamels will get an extra day off before taking the ball on Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, Joe Blanton will also get an extra day of rest before pitching on Sunday, though Brett Myers will not have that luxury.

Myers declared himself fit to pitch on just three days of rest after a regularly scheduled between starts bullpen session on Friday afternoon. However, since both the Brewers and Phillies both had days off, a potential Myers (on regular rest) versus CC Sabathia matchup loomed for Monday.

If the coaching staffs for both teams had a say, there would be a baseball game on Monday. But they don’t have a say – just the players union and the league can decide when made up games can be played. As such, no one wanted to give up one of the last days off remaining in the season.

“I don’t like doubleheaders,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “It’s tough to win a doubleheader. It’s also better for our pitching if we play straight through. Everything falls better that way.”

The Phillies and Brewers players were unmoved by that sentiment.

“I talked to the players, we’d rather play a doubleheader,” Phillies player representative Jimmy Rollins said. “We’ve done it before. It’s a day-night, so it’s not like you’re going out there right after one game. We’ll get it in and preserve the off day.”

That means two games and two different admission fees on Sunday. It also means long rest for Blanton and short rest for Myers.

Most importantly, it means there is a really good chance the Phillies will leave the city on Monday trailing the Brewers in the wild-card race… the Mets? Forget it – the Mets aren’t pulling a choke job two years in a row.

The point is doubleheaders are difficult to sweep. Trailing the Brewers by three games, the Phillies can pull even with a series sweep. But that’s where the chaos enters the picture – Sunday will be a wild, all-hands-on-deck day for the Phillies. Pitchers arms will be spent come Monday when what really is needed is some good, old fashioned pacing. A handful of the Phillies’ relievers are leaking the proverbial oil as it is now, but wait until they head to Atlanta early next week. Throw in the fact that Blanton has hardly been the innings-eating pitcher as advertised since joining the Phillies in July means the team might have to rely on the Brewers’ late season freefall to score the coveted sweep.

Yes, sweeps are difficult to achieve. But get one here and a brand-new monkey wrench will enter the fray for the final fortnight of the season.

Break out the gauze, ice and duct tape. It’s going get bumpy.

***
Speaking of bumpy, check out Pat Jordan’s epic on the star-crossed Barry Zito in The New York Times’ “Play” magazine.

The money quote from Zito? “… Hot chicks don’t dig ballplayers.”

No. No they don’t.

Also, Milwaukee Todd chatted up Pat Burrell about the chance he could be playing his last games with the Phillies. If Burrell departs it would break up the link with Jimmy Rollins, who have been teammates dating back to Single-A ball in 1998.

Meanwhile, Boston Sully got behind the scenes with the machinations involved in determining when Friday’s postponed game will be played.

Friday morning: Short rest and small ball

The concept of short rest is one the Phillies’ starting pitchers are going to have to wrap their heads around in… ahem… short order starting now. After Jamie Moyer picked up his 14th win of the season by turning in nearly six innings of solid ball on just three days rest, Thursday night, Brett Myers might try to pull the same stunt on Sunday.

A lot can happen between now and Sunday, but depending on the reviews of a regular, between-start bullpen session on Friday, Myers likely will declare himself ready to go with just three days rest, as well. But then again Myers would start both ends of a doubleheader if manager Charlie Manuel let him. The point is the Phillies aren’t leaving much to chance with just 15 games to go.

“I’ll pitch [Thursday], I don’t care,” Myers said after Wednesday’s start. “If it gets us to the playoffs, whatever it takes.”

Deep down, Myers probably wasn’t joking.

Technically, Manuel has a handful of options for this Sunday’s series finale against the Brewers, though only one seems to be a sure bet. So for the sake of argument, let’s just say Manuel could choose the following options:

  •          Kyle Kendrick – Sunday would be his normal turn in the rotation and the young righty has missed just one start (later made up) all year long. However, Kendrick has been downright dreadful in his last six starts. Though he has 11 wins in 29 starts, Kendrick is 1-4 with a 11.35  ERA since Aug. 11. Numbers like that make it difficult for Manuel to be confident with Kendrick on the mound.
  •          J.A. Happ – The lefty has pitched well in two starts this season, but sending Happ to the mound in the middle of the pennant race for just his fourth big league start seems like a big risk. Happ will have a solid Major League career, but he’s not going to be Marty Bystrom for the Phils this year.
  •          Adam Eaton – Yeah, never mind.
  •          Brett Myers – The opening day starter has worked on short rest just once in his career, however, last season he pitched nearly every day down the stretch out of the bullpen. Is there a difference? Yeah, most definitely. Nevertheless, the pressure is something Myers thrives on. If the Phillies take the first three games of the series, look for Myers to go after the sweep on Sunday.

Expect a hint about a decision on Friday afternoon.

***
The Phillies added an important insurance run during the eighth inning of Thursday’s win over the Brewers with a suicide squeeze from runner Shane Victorino and bunter, Carlos Ruiz. With one out in the inning, Manuel said he waited for the right chance to flash the sign, which came on a 2-1 pitch.

Ruiz laid it down perfectly to allow Victorino to score with ease.

“I guess I’m finally acting like a National League manager,” Manuel joked. “I figured it was time to show them I knew the squeeze sign.”

The inspiration to give Ruiz the sign came from the catcher himself, Manuel said.

“I heard Ruiz when he went up the steps. He turned around and asked, ‘What’s the squeeze sign?’ That kind of told me … he wants to squeeze. Seriously, that’s the truth. I figured I might as well let him squeeze.”

Good idea.

***
Elsewhere, Bob Ford chronicled the rise of Mr. September, Ryan Howard. The big fella added to his league-leading home run and RBI totals in the win over the Brewers and just might have inserted himself into the MVP discussion again.

Fonzie, Richie Cunningham, Joanie, Chachi, Laverne, Shirley, Jeffrey Dahmer, Liberace, Heather Graham and Todd Zolecki all come from Milwaukee. But only Todd wrote about the Brewers’ September swoon and Jamie Moyer’s top-shelf effort on short rest.

Coming up: Floyd Landis preparing for a comeback? Plus, regular-season awards.

Showdown at Shea

Regardless of how the weekend series in New York shakes out, it’s very likely the Phillies will take the race for the NL East all the way to the final days of the season. The Phillies may not have much of a shot at a second straight playoff berth, but make no mistake – the Phillies will be in it until the end.

Be that as it is, the series against the Mets at Shea Stadium will carry a lot of weight in regard to the Phillies’ post-season hopes. The Phillies are definitely on the edge. In fact, the Phillies most definitely HAVE to win two games this weekend. Trailing the Mets by three games with just 22 remaining in the season, it could all slip away very quickly if the Phillies aren’t careful.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know that the Phillies won the NL East after trailing the Mets by seven games with 17 to go. In fact, the Phillies know it all too well. Lately, anytime a player is asked about the race against the Mets a pad answer about how the team did it before comes trotting out.

The truth is the Phillies got lucky last year. The Mets fell flat on their faces and handed it over in an epic collapse. Come on… who loses a seven-game lead with 17 to go?

Can lightning strike the same spot twice? Maybe.

But then again, maybe not.

It might not be correct to suggest the Phillies are in better shape than the Mets at this point. Oh sure, Billy Wagner might not pitch again this season (though he did have a bullpen session today), and the Mets’ bullpen has struggled throughout the second half. Meanwhile, the team’s offense is filled with some older players prone to slumps and injuries.

However, the Phillies’ ‘pen isn’t in great shape either. Even though they still have the best bullpen ERA in the league, some guys are beginning to feel the toll of the long season. Chad Durbin, Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero likely won’t get many days off over the final three weeks of the season.

Durbin, meanwhile, is in his first season as a full-time reliever and never pitched in 36 games before hitting 60 this year. Madson, who missed most of the second half of ’07 with injuries, has already appeared in 64 games and could snap his career-high of 78 appearances from 2005.

Reliever Clay Condrey also has established a new career-high in appearances, while Romero has already pitched in 120 games for the Phillies since joining the team late last June.

Fortunately, starting pitchers Brett Myers, Jamie Moyer and Cole Hamels – the hurlers scheduled to go this weekend at Shea – have been pretty good at eating up some innings. Myers has taken the game to the seventh inning in seven straight starts and could inch toward 190 innings despite missing a month while in the minors. Moyer has pitched at least six innings in 18 of his 28 starts, and Hamels leads the league in innings with 203.

Now if they could just hit the ball there would be nothing to worry about…

Right?

Weird, wild stuff

How does a guy get into the game in the eighth inning and go 4-for-4? Really, how does that happen?

And not only did Chris Coste enter the game as a pinch hitter in one of manager Charlie Manuel’s spate of astute double-switches in the late innings of last night’s 8-7, 13-inning win over the Mets, but also he remained in the game to catch.

Coste could have stayed in the game to play third base, a position he played many times during his long, pro career, but starting catcher Carlos Ruiz – a second baseman in Panama when the Phillies signed him – had moved over to the hot corner. Besides, Ruiz was the third of four different third basemen in the game against the Mets. You know, Charlie had a plan.

Watching all those players shuffling in and out of the game and into odd-looking arrangements, one had to have the sneaking suspicion that Charlie knew his fourth third baseman and his second catcher were going to deliver for him.

Strangely enough they did. Eric Bruntlett, who went up to pinch hit with two outs in the ninth smacked the game-tying run to force extra innings and help the Phillies finish up the seven-run comeback. He remained in the game at third and added another hit and a walk to help set the table for Coste’s game-winner in the bottom of the 13th.

There was a method to the madness.

“I started to put Bruntlett in the game and I told (bench coach) Jimy (Williams) that I want to save Bruntlett to hit,” Manuel said. “Ruiz has been catching balls at third base and working out there. Actually he was an infielder before they made him a catcher in the minor leagues. At that time I thought what have we got to lose? We needed a run. I wanted to keep Bruntlett back to hit for the pitcher, who had a good chance of hitting.”

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

“I don’t ever recall getting not only four opportunities but four hits when you come in in the eighth inning,” Coste said.

Well, no. Of course not. But last night’s game was just one of those wildly absurd things. In fact, so pressed for players was Manuel that he used two different starting pitchers to pinch hit in the smooth sailing five-hours, 17-minute, 8-7 win over the Mets. One of those pinch hitters, Cole Hamels, was called on for duty for the second time in three games with a chance to send home the game-winning run. In Hamels’ case, Manuel wanted his man to be a hitter and knock ‘em in.

But with Brett Myers, Manuel gave the take sign the whole way. Actually, one has to think that if Myers would have moved the bat from his shoulder the manager would have charged out of the dugout and beat him over the head with it. With the bases loaded following Shane Victorino’s leadoff triple and two straight intentional walks, Manuel had to send someone up there to hit for one-inning pitcher Rudy Seanez. Yet there was no way Myers was going to go up there and ruin the rally by actually swinging at the ball.

Give credit to Myers not just for following orders, but also for having an entertaining at-bat. Strutting up to the plate to be nothing more than a suit with a pulse to stand there and not hit into a double play, Myers crouched, wiggled his bat and took an exaggerated front-leg lift while striding into a pitch from Scott Schoenweis that would have made Sadarahu Oh blush.

When Myers “worked” the count to three balls, no one could believe that it had come to this. Was Myers going to win the game with a walk-off walk in the 13th? Please tell us this isn’t happening.

Thankfully, order was restored and Coste singled in Victorino from third to end it.

Still, Coste says Myers’ at-bat paved the way.

“He was intimidating,” Coste said. “I know I was intimidated standing at the on-deck circle.”

“There were a lot of things happening in this one,” Manuel said. “It had everything except for a fight.”

Maybe they can work on that for tonight.

Method to the madness

During Charlie Manuel’s first spring training as manager of the Phillies, players raved about the change in atmosphere around the clubhouse. For the first time since Terry Francona managed the team, the ballplayers felt relaxed and able to do their jobs without a screaming and spittle-filled tirade from the man in charge.

Manuel was just what the Phillies needed, the players said. In an era where the average salary for a baseball player was a little more than $2 million, there was no need for extra motivation.

A screaming manager or coach not only is the personification of bush league and a throwback to ridiculous archetype, but also is just silly. When Larry Bowa was finally let go and replaced with Manuel, everyone was happy.

Yes, Manuel was a good man who fostered an environment in which ballplayers could easily go about their jobs without the annoyance of reprisal. Manuel figured a relaxed ballplayer was a good ballplayer.

But Manuel was never a push over. From Jim Thome to Randy Wolf to Jimmy Rollins and all down the line, players who knew better said that Charlie was a nice and classy as could be, but…

“Don’t cross him,” players warned.

In other words, don’t mistake Manuel’s kindness for weakness.

In the years since that first spring the Phillies have been stamped with the Seal of Charlie. Unmistakably, the Phillies are Manuel’s team. The bash-and-bop style of Phillies’ offense reflects Manuel’s nature as a minor-league and Japanese League star and is reminiscent of his teams in Cleveland. There, with Thome, Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle in the middle of the order and Roberto Alomar, Omar Vizquel and Kenny Lofton setting the table, the Indians went to the playoffs six times in seven years and to the World Series twice in three seasons.

The Phillies clearly aren’t good as those Cleveland teams, but the formula is the same.

Charlie is the same, too. Don’t cross him.

Jimmy Rollins, the diva-like reigning NL MVP, learned as much on two different occasions this season. Once when Rollins failed to hustle down the first-base line on an easy pop fly that dropped in for an error, and another time when the shortstop showed up late for a game at Shea Stadium, Manuel yanked him from the lineup and put him on the bench.

To Charlie, an MVP trophy doesn’t mean a player stops being accountable.

Accountability isn’t just about hustling and showing up on time, either. Ask starting pitcher Brett Myers about that.

Saturday night, Myers made the mistake of shouting, “This is my [bleeping] game,” toward Manuel as he ambled out to the mound to make the pitching change. Despite his teammates’ calls for him to knock it off, Myers continued shouting at Manuel until he made a hasty retreat toward the back of the dugout.

Though Myers has been good since returning from his month-long exile to the minors the get his pitching back in order and he had held the Pittsburgh Pirates to a run and five hits through 7 2/3 innings and 92 pitches to that point in the game, the pitcher didn’t think the fact that the Pirates had three straight lefties coming up nor that he had given up three hard hit balls that inning meant much.

But that all changed when the pitcher turned around after continuing his tirade in the dugout only to find Charlie bearing down on him, screaming and pawing at the insolent pitcher’s left shoulder. When the argument spilled to the runway leading back to the clubhouse, Charlie finally had to be pulled away lest the heated exchange turn physical.

That would have been something.

Some speculated in jest that Myers would have had an advantage if it come to fisticuffs since he was trained as a boxer before turning to baseball as a teenager. Perhaps. But boxer or not, Myers clearly doesn’t have Manuel’s toughness – mental or physical. For one, Manuel has had cancer, a heart attack and bypass surgery. When he returned to work for the Indians after cancer surgery, he kept a colostomy bag under his jacket.

That’s tough. The crazy came from his playing days when Manuel brawled with manager Billy Martin as a rookie with the Twins. Later, while playing in Japan, Manuel famously fought the East German hockey team (all of them), and was beaned in the face with a pitch and played despite the fact that he couldn’t eat solid food.

So a precious little boxer from Florida who once allegedly fought his wife on a crowded Boston street can’t really be a match for the much older manager, can he?

Yeah, Myers may have thought it was his game, but the Phillies are very clearly Charlie’s team.

After the game when things cooled down a bit, Myers apologized and admitted he was wrong for showing up his manager.

“I’m a competitor,” Myers said. “I like competing and I wanted to stay in and finish the game. But sometimes your emotions get the best of you and you might do something irrational out there. He thought I did. That’s part of the game. It’s all patched up now, though. We’re buddies.”

Since rejoining the Phillies after his demotion to the minors, Myers is 2-0 with a 2.10 ERA in four starts. His two wins are against Washington and Pittsburgh – combined those teams are 97-138 this season.

“I missed a month without being here with the team and I wanted to try to prove myself again that I can pitch in the big leagues – and I wanted to stay out there as long as I could,” Myers said. “He made the decision and that’s his decision.”

Manuel didn’t take blame or apologize afterwards. Actually, it seemed as if he kind of enjoyed the confrontation, noting that it was just a matter of two guys having a disagreement.

“He’s fine,” Manuel said as if Myers’ ego was injured more than anything else. “He just wanted to stay in the game and I like that. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, if he didn’t want to stay in the game, I’d probably be mad.”

He certainly wasn’t mad about taking Myers out of the game though – just as he wasn’t upset about disciplining Rollins.

“I’ll tell you something: his confidence got back. That’s why I took him out of the game. I wasn’t going to let him lose the game. He was leaving on a high note, and there’s four left-handed hitters standing there,” Manuel said. “I wasn’t going to give him a chance to get hit. He already pitched a good game and did a good job.”

Is there a method to Charlie’s madness? Probably not. After all, he was the ballplayer described in the essential book about Japanese baseball called You Gotta Have Wa as, “a big, red-haired character from West Virginia with a talent for producing anarchy out of order.”

The ironic thing is that it has been the exact opposite in Philadelphia. There might not be a method to the madness, but it certainly is effective.

Stay in the yard

The last time we saw the Phillies they couldn’t hit or score runs unless it came on a long ball. In fact, I even hatched up some harebrained idea that the Phillies’ brass should go out and shore up the offense by signing Barry Bonds to some type of bargain basement deal.

But rather than dig into the T.J. Maxx of all free-agent signings, the team was reportedly kicking the proverbial tires around the Colorado Rockies and All-Star Matt Holliday.

Holliday ain’t no T.J. Maxx or even Filene’s Basement, you know.

Anyway, the Phillies’ hitting and more to the point, it’s so-called “situational hitting” was so freaking lousy that skipper Charlie Manuel called out his hitters by telling them how much they stunk.

“You’ve got to really concentrate on moving a runner,” Charlie vented last Sunday in Miami after an extra-inning loss. “You’ve got to want to move him. Sometimes they feel like we’re giving up an at-bat. No, you’re not. There’s hits all over the field. If you hit behind the runner, you can still get hits. That’s just called execution and hitting the ball in the right direction. When we don’t do that, I was telling some of our guys around the cage, it’s going to be hard for us to win.

“I hear everyone [praise] our lineup, but people don’t realize, we’ve got a different lineup than we had last year. We’ve got three or four top-notch major-league hitters. Have they had better years? Yes. At the same time, they’re still good hitters. But if you follow our team, we’ve got different people. Sometimes, one guy makes a difference.”

Was that one guy Aaron Rowand, the gritty and playoff-tested centerfielder who took a multi-year deal from the Giants last winter? Or maybe past league MVPs Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins had grown complacent with the fundamentals? After all, the national TV media digs the long ball.

Regardless, it’s difficult to get the fawning attention the ballplayers crave without the October spotlight. After all, that’s where the real legends are made and the statistics really matter. To feed the narcissism, the Phillies need to score runs and that just isn’t going to happen if they decide to wait around and hope someone hits one over the fence.

It ain’t beer league ball, folks.

But maybe the Phillies finally got it during the ninth inning of last night’s improbable comeback at Shea Stadium to knock off the Mets, 8-6. Sure, Johan Santana leaving the game after eight stellar innings of work probably spurred the Phillies in the six-run ninth, but it wasn’t so much about the finish as it was the journey.

Sure, So Taguchi and Jimmy Rollins drove in the biggest runs with extra-base hits, and some mental errors by the Mets clearly helped the Phillies in the big ninth inning, but look at what they did to set the table for the game-breaking hits.

Look:

• Jayson Werth, Greg Dobbs and Shane Victorino singled to start the ninth and load the bases.
• Carlos Ruiz reached on a fielder’s choice when Jose Reyes inexplicably missed stepping on second base. One run scored.
• Taguchi tied the game with a two-run double. Still no outs.
• Rollins drove home the go-ahead runs with a two-run double. No outs.
• Chase Utley advanced Rollins to third on a ground out.
• Pat Burrell walked.
• Ryan Howard drove home Rollins for the sixth run of the inning on a ground out.

What’s missing? You guessed it, the home run.

See how fun that was without a homer.

Anyway, the important part was that the Phillies kept the lead in the NL East and should return to Philadelphia for the weekend series against the Braves no worse than a game out of first place. Prodigal right-hander Brett Myers makes his return to the big leagues tonight at Shea…

It should be interesting.

Myers on the way back or way out?

From the way it looked on the tee-vee, it appeared as if there was some excitement down there at Citizens Bank Park. Based on reports on the Internets it seemed as if the Mets were going to win in a laugher, but those wily Phillies made ol’ Billy Wagner sweat it out again in the ninth.

Is it me or does Wagner’s fastball look as if it has slowed to Myers-esque velocity?

Speaking of Brett Myers, a few of us got to chat him up after his second minor-league outing at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown after he earned his first win since he beat the Florida Marlins on May 30. Myers pitched 7 1/3 innings, making through three hitters in the eighth inning. He allowed three runs, two of which were earned, as well as seven hits, two walks and a hit batsmen.

The hit batter came on a fastball, which I thought was a good sign because it showed that the big righty was finally throwing his fastball inside on hitters. I guess he got it in a little too much in that case, but still, progress is progress.

I wrote all about it right here.

Even better than burying one in some dude’s ribs was that Myers’ best inning of the game came in the seventh when he responded to his teammates scoring four runs to take a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth by striking out the side. In fact, the radar gun on TV showed that Myers had his speediest heater during that inning.

Obviously, when handed a lead late in the game, Myers wasn’t interested in giving it up.

“That’s what a winner does,” pitching coach Rod Nichols said when asked about Myers’ seventh inning. “He got the lead and went out and struck out the side.”

Still, the big issue isn’t so much as if Myers will get it together in the minors. Why wouldn’t he? Say what you will about the big fella… just don’t think he doesn’t have his pride. Better yet, give him credit for stashing his ego to the side for a moment and realizing that he needed to fix some things.

Then again, perhaps he should have showed up to spring training focused on being a starting pitcher.

Regardless, Randy Miller of Bucks County and yours truly asked Myers about his future as a Phillie and whether or not recent developments affected his immediate or not-so distant tenure with the club. After all, the trading deadline is a little more than three weeks away AND Myers’ contract runs out after next season. If the guy really wants to be a reliever more than a starter as reported, it would seem that his time with the Phillies is tenuous at best.

Nevertheless, when the subject was broached whether or not he “needed a change of scenery,” Myers had a pretty clever answer.

“What, this isn’t a big enough change of scenery?” he joked.

Touché.

Indeed, pitching for the IronPigs in Allentown is quite a change of scenery compared to pitching for the Phillies in Philadelphia. So too is riding to the next game on a chartered bus as opposed to a chartered plane. One flies and the other might have bunk beds.

So next time out Myers will pitch on Saturday for the Phillies… that’s the Reading Phillies. Rather than travel with Lehigh Valley to Syracuse, Myers will pitch in Reading against Akron. After that, Myers is hoping to rejoin his old teammates back in Philadelphia.

“Hoping? I’m planning on it. There’s no hope about it – I’m just getting my work in and working hard to get back there and show them I’m ready.”

Two in the books

The first inning went pretty well for Brett Myers. Just like in his last outing, he threw a lot of fastballs to start. Plus, he got some help from the Louisville Bats. Chris Dickerson, the first hitter of the game, popped up on the first pitch. Former big leaguer Rob Mackowiak worked an eight-pitch walk after Myers got ahead 0-2.

But Myers got out of the inning when he got Aaron Herr to ground into a 1-6-3 double play on the first pitch.

Needless to say, Louisville isn’t very patient.

Interestingly, Aaron Herr is from Lancaster, Pa. where he was a star baseball player for Hempfield High just like his dad, Tom Herr. Tom, of course, played for a long time with the Cardinals, Twins and Phillies before he quickly got washed up and caught on with the Mets and Giants. Tom Herr also managed the Lancaster Barnstormers in the sandlot league Atlantic League before he spent one season managing in the Nationals chain.

Aaron Herr was a first-round pick for the Braves in the 2000 draft, but still hasn’t made it to the Majors. He’s has played in the Braves, Reds, Indians and Cardinals organizations, but for one reason or another hasn’t gotten the big call.

Even more interesting than that, Lancaster resident Gordie Jones is sitting to my left.

The Lanc is definitely in the house tonight!

Anyway, Myers allowed a run in the second after the Bats scratched out three straight singles. None of them were hit particularly hard, but it is worth noting that Myers is throwing strikes – 19 of his 24 pitches in the second were strikes – and he is using the fastball exclusively.

Still, after two Myers is trailing, 1-0.

On another note, Ricky Bottalico is the TV analyst for the Pigs’ games. He’s pretty good though I suspect the FCC ought to tune in from time to time just in case. Before the game, Ricky talked to a couple of writers and then went on the tee-vee to talk to the good folks at CSN and dropped this little nugget on Myers:

“This whole situation is partially in his head,” Ricky Bo said. “He just seems a little confused. I think he was confused at the whole situation at the beginning of the season. When you don’t put your heart into something you’re really not going to do well in your job, and I don’t think he’s put his heart into the starting rotation at all.”

So we’re waiting here in Allentown

Hey, we’re back here at lovely Coca-Cola Park here in Allentown, Pa. to watch Brett Myers make his second minor-league start. So far things are going much more smoothly since the last time we were here. For starters, I actually found the place without taking a wrong turn.

Yes, we take our victories where we can.

Nevertheless, it should be an interesting to see Myers tonight. This time Myers will face the Louisville Bats, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, and fellow first-round draft pick, Homer Bailey.

As far as big-time matchups in the minors go, Myers vs. Bailey is pretty good.

Meanwhile, Myers needs a good outing tonight because… well, because he needs a good outing. That’s pretty obvious seeing as he went from starting on Opening Day during the past two seasons and now he’s pitching for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

If there is a team Myers could do well against it’s Louisville. Last night the Bats did a whole lot of missing against IronPigs’ lefty starter Les Walrond, who notched 17 strikeouts in a 2-0 victory. Word from some scouting-type dudes is that the Bats can’t hit a curveball if it were placed on a tee.

Since Myers seemingly abandoned his fastball last time out for the Pigs, maybe tonight is his night?

Anyway, if I get to it I’ll post some updates from here in A-town. One note: last time there were 13 writer dudes covering Myers’ outing. This time we have Gordie Jones from Allentown and Randy Miller from Bucks County.

You know it’s a big game when Randy is lurking around.

Lidge signed for 3 more years

After a spate of surprising moves made by the Phillies this week, one has to wonder if there is more coming. Could a big trade be looming on the horizon? With the team in first place in the National League East and the team’s brass on the record indicating that they would like to bolster its pitching staff, it’s a fair assumption.

That assumption is greatly enhanced by the developments this week.

It started on Tuesday when the club announced that it had coaxed maligned Opening Day starting pitcher Brett Myers to accept an option to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in order to iron out his difficulties on and off the mound. A season removed from working as the team’s closer, Myers struggled with the transition back to a starting role in 2008. In 17 big-league outings, Myers was 3-9 with a 5.84 ERA and had allowed a Major League-leading 24 home runs.

Upon accepting the… ahem… mental rehab trip to the minors, Myers told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he preferred pitching out of the bullpen and saw a future as a big-league closer.

“I want to be great, and honestly, I realized last year that I’d only be a good starter,” Myers told the Inquirer. “I felt like I had rock-star status as a closer. I enjoyed the bullpen. I felt like they liked me in that role. But it was easier to get a closer than another starter. (Closer Brad) Lidge has done a hell of a job for us. I don’t think I could do better.”

Based on the developments on Sunday morning, the Phillies don’t think Myers could (or can) do better, either. As a result, general manager Pat Gillick announced that the club had agreed to a three-year contract extension with Brad Lidge worth $37.5 million. The deal lasts through the 2011 season with a club option for 2012 plus a few performance incentives and bonuses thrown in.

So if Myers is going to pitch for the Phillies in the future, it won’t be as the team’s closer. Yet then again, the Phillies did sign Myers to a three-year deal worth $25.75 million before last season to be a starter.

Clearly, the Phillies were serious about that.

“People have drawn the conclusion that he would rather close, and that may be the case, but let me put it this way: There’s a lot of things in life that a lot of people don’t want to do. But you’re getting paid, and you’ve got to show up for work and do the best job you can,” Gillick told reporters on Sunday morning. “He’s a gamer, and I think he’ll give 100 percent whether he’s in a closer situation or as a starter.”

Frankly, Gillick and the Phillies need Myers to start.

“We’re kind of stubborn. We think that Brett can start,” Gillick said. “We don’t see reason he can’t start. If he gets his mechanical issues straightened out down there, I don’t see any reason he can’t be in our starting rotation.”

Myers began his minor-league stint last Wednesday in Allentown for Triple-A Lehigh Valley where he allowed three runs and five hits with six strikeouts in five innings against the Yankees top Triple-A club, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The big right-hander will make his second start in Allentown on Monday against Louisville and Reds’ top pitching prospect, Homer Bailey. But whether Myers will be elbowed out of the Phillies’ starting rotation appears to be up in the air, too. Of course if Myers irons out his trouble, which Major League and Minor League coaches say is mechanical and mental, then, yes, the Phillies will have a spot for him.

However, all indications are that the team will had another arm to the rotation. Rumors abound, of course, with names like starters C.C. Sabathia, Erik Bedard, A.J. Burnett, Jarrod Washburn, Greg Maddux, Bronson Arroyo and Randy Wolf, as well as reliever Brian Fuentes linked to a potential trade with the Phillies. Moreover, advance scouts from the Twins (Dennys Reyes? Livan Hernandez?) and Mariners have been watching the Phillies closely during the past week.

Yes, the future will be interesting for the Phillies.

While Myers’ place in the Phillies future is the great unknown, Lidge, 31, the closer acquired from Houston for Geoff Geary, Mike Costanzo and Michael Bourn last winter, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Though he could have tested a very lucrative free-agent market this winter, Lidge figured that all things being equal, he’d rather be in Philadelphia.

“Coming into the year, I knew that this was my free-agent year, but pretty early on, I started really enjoying everything here,” Lidge said. “I understand what [free agency] could be like, but for me, this is an easy decision. I’m enjoying everything so much here. I don’t know where I could go that would have a team with a better opportunity to get to the World Series, to win a World Series. For me, that’s the most important thing, so where better than Philadelphia.”

The Phillies appear to have gotten a relative bargain with Lidge, too. During the past three winters, Billy Wagner signed a four-year, $43 million contract with the Mets; B.J. Ryan signed a five-year, $47 million deal with the Blue Jays; and Francisco Cordero signed a four-year, $46 million contract with Texas last winter.

Based on Lidge’s statistics so far (19 saves in 19 chances, an 0.77 ERA in 35 games and 47 strikeouts in 35 innings) he could have earned a fatter paycheck if he played the market.

The Phillies, obviously, went going to let it come to that.

“Right out of the chute, when we made the trade, we knew this wasn’t going to be a one-and-done type of guy,” assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said in announcing the deal on Sunday morning. “We view Brad as somebody who can help us contend for many years. We all know how important it is to close out games you should win. This is an important piece to our organization’s future.”

Interestingly, Lidge has thrived in Philadelphia after a rough ending to his time in Houston. Between a few injuries and a crushing home run allowed to Albert Pujols during the 2005 NLCS, Lidge struggled with effectiveness and his confidence in his last year with the Astros. But during the second half of the 2007 season, Lidge regained what was missing and has reestablished himself as one of the best closers in the Majors.

The fact that some hitters say his slider is the nastiest pitch in the game certainly helps, too.

Nevertheless, Lidge has found himself with the Phillies.

“I think if you’re closing and you’re going through a rough time, it’s difficult no matter where you’re at,” the newly named All-Star said. “I was really excited for this challenge. For whatever reason, coming in here, I felt like this was where I needed to be. I enjoy the fact that the fans here are so passionate about the game. That gives me a lot of energy. I love it here.”

And Philadelphia loves him back… so far.

Next, is a deal for Pat Burrell in the works?

Stay tuned.

Coming up: The team that loved Tom Gordon and even more from the Olympic Trials.

Searching for a way back home

Apparently, Brett Myers’ outing in Allentown last night was a big deal. In fact, there were more people at Coca-Cola Park to cover the exiled Phillie than were in the Coca-Cola city to chronicle the Major League Phillies. According to published reports, there were six writers and zero television people in Atlanta with the Phillies, but there were eight writers that regularly cover the Phillies in Allentown along with at least three local TV outlets.

Anyway, I wrote all about it from the cozy press box in the brand-new ballpark before finding my car and proceeding to get lost at least three different times in search of Route 222 back to The Lanc.

I guess I should have checked the directions before I left, but I figured it could be fun just to wing it.

Guess what? It wasn’t much fun, though had I remained on Route 22 it would have taken me to 100, which would have easily linked me up with 222 through Reading and points south.

Yeah, sure… I know all that now.

Nevertheless, last night’s drive home was a lot like Brett Myers’ fastball against the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. Sure, we might have been heading in the right direction in the most general sense, but we sure were taking our time getting there.

In Brett’s regard that amounted to splitters in the dirt, two-seamers well off the plate and some rather pedestrian velocity. The last part is probably the biggest concern to the Phillies because it could signify that something is wrong, be it physical or mechanical. According to all concerned parties, they all believe it to be mechanical.

How quickly those issues get ironed out are another matter all together. The Phillies seem to be banking on the mental rehab trip to Triple-A as well as some insight from Pigs’ pitching coach Rod Nichols to be just what the doctor ordered.

Interestingly, Nichols just might be the one pitching coach Myers hasn’t butted heads with. In the case with Joe Kerrigan, the head butting was almost literal. Then again, Myers isn’t the only pitcher who threatened to take a poke at the ex-pitching coach.

Anyway, while Myers tried to find the plate with his fastball his lot seemed much better off than some guy trying to find his way home but instead ended up on the side of the road halfway toward Tamaqua.

***
If you have missed the U.S. Olympic Track Trials, you ought to be kicking yourself now. In fact, Monday night’s event card was worth the price of a full-event pass by itself. Actually, just the men’s 800-meters final was worth it.

Photo Finish

In what was widely being hailed as the greatest 800-meter race on U.S. soil, viewers got to see just about every element of middle-distance running and sports drama rolled into one.

Here, take a look.

Nick Symmonds of the Oregon Track Club won the race with a blistering kick over the final 300 meters. University of Oregon sophomore Andrew Wheating finished second to earn a spot on the team bound for Beijing next month. The interesting thing about the lean and lanky Wheating is that he has been a runner for just two years. He’s only 20 and he’s already going to the Olympics.

Meanwhile, four-time world champion Khadevis Robinson finished fourth and missed a spot on the Olympic team by centimeters when he was edged on a dive for the finish line by Christian Smith.

Yeah, that’s right… the two runners dived for the line for the last spot on the Olympic team.

Lopez Lomong came in fifth place but missed the last spot for Beijing by .11. Yeah, point-11.

After the race, Smith was sprawled out on the track with blood dripping off his arm from the huge brush burn on his shoulder from the dive. All the while, Symmonds said afterwards that the noise from the crowd at Hayward Field in Eugene was so loud that he couldn’t hear himself breathe.

It was just an awesome, awesome race. Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden was trying to think of a more thrilling track race and (rightly) came up with the epic duel between Haile Gebreselasie and Paul Tergat in the 10,000-meters in the Sydney Olympics of 2000.

My most memorable (not in order):

  • Geb edging Tergat in 10,000 meters in 2000
  • Zola Budd vs. Mary Decker in 1984 Olympics
  • Michael Johnson setting the 200m World Record in 1996 Olympics
  • Ben Johnson’s dirty 100 meters in Seoul in 1988
  • Prefontaine finishing fourth in the 1972 Olympics 5,000 meters (I only saw the tape)
  • Prefontaine winning an indoor mile in the 1974 LA Times meet
  • Ryan Hall obliterating the field in the 2007 Olympic Trials Marathon
  • Bob Kempainen winning the 1996 Olympic Trials Marathon despite some pretty evident stomach distress

Meanwhile, Bernard Lagat ran away with the 5,000-meter title in the Trials to make his first ever U.S. Olympic team. He’ll bounce back on Sunday night in the 1,500-meters, too.

Locally, Villanova’s Bobby Curtis finished sixth in the 5,000 meters to cap off a brilliant senior season in which he won the NCAA Championship in the event.

Villanova undergrad  Frances Koons runs in the women’s 1,500 preliminaries tonight along with ‘Nova alum Carrie Tollefson. On the men’s side, Penn grad Sam Burley runs in the 1,500 meters after a disappointing finish in the 800.

The women’s 5,000-meter finals on Friday night will feature ‘Nova grad Jen Rhines who went to the 2004 Olympics as a marathoner. Rhines is one of the favorites to make the team in the shorter event, but will face a deep field that features Maureen McCandless from Nazareth Academy.

Interestingly, Philadelphia Will Do’s Dan McQuade boasted that he smoked McCandless in high school cross country meets and caught her on the final straightaway in a local road 5k.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say DMac has no shot these days.

Also tonight, Jeremy Wariner takes on LaShawn Merritt in the 400. Friday night is the men’s 10,000-meter finals where current U.S. half-marathon champ and Millersville University alum, James Carney, should be a contender.

So we’re sitting here in Allentown…

… and Brett Myers is a Pig.

Yeah, that’s the name of the team here in Allentown. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Oddly enough, on the drive up here from The Lanc, I found myself driving behind a delivery truck carrying a gaggle of pigs.

So it’s not just a clever nickname.

Anyway, the ballpark here in Allentown is a lot like the one in Clearwater, Fla. and the one in Lancaster. Bright House in Clearwater might be a little bigger though.

I don’t know about the one in Lancaster – Allentown seems nicer.

I ran into Brett Myers upon entering the home clubhouse this afternoon, but, observing Major League protocol I didn’t say anything to him. The rule is that media types shouldn’t speak to the starting pitcher unless the pitcher speaks first. Cory Lidle, Greg Maddux and Kevin Millwood always violated the policy by talking to anyone and everyone that came near them on the days they pitched.

Nevertheless, Myers didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t greet him with a hearty, “Hello!” this afternoon. I’m sure he’ll have more to say after his outing. Check back late night or tomorrow for more on that topic.

Meanwhile, Brett kind of looks odd wearing a blue and white Pigs uniform with the number 44 on the back. Reggie Jackson was No. 44 for the Yankees. Danny Ainge was No. 44 for the Celtics… are there any other 44s I’m missing?

Anyway, off to work. I’m going to watch ol’ No. 44 throw fastballs at the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees in his mental/mechanical rehab assignment. That’s what it is, right?

Sounds like a broken record

Needless to say, there will be a lot of attention given to Kris Benson’s outing for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs on Sunday afternoon. Though it’s unlikely that the outcome of the start will be much more than a warm up for Benson’s long rehabilitation, count on a bunch of the Phillies’ brass taking meticulous notes on every pitch.

As it turns out, it seems as if the team is looking for a starter.

At least that sounds like the case based on the quotes coming from Arlington, Texas after Opening Day starter Brett Myers tossed up another clunker on Friday night. Actually, the latest stinker might be the one that officially put the portly righty on notice. In just two innings Myers threw 66 pitches, gave up five hits, five runs, four walks and blew a four-run lead.

But wait, it gets worse…

In Myers’ last 12 starts the Phillies are 1-11, including losses in the last five straight. With a 3-9 record and 5.84 ERA, Myers has allowed fewer than four runs in just seven starts. He’s allowed less than three runs in just three starts, which isn’t bad when one considers that Myers is averaging just a little more than five innings per start.

Yet it was the two-inning clunker – one in which he walked three straight despite working with a four-run lead in the third inning – that finally made manager Charlie Manuel post an opening for Myers’ spot in the rotation.

“Can I say his job is secure?” Manuel told the scribes in Texas. “I don’t know what to say, if you want to know the truth. We’d have to find somebody to do his job first, I guess.”

In other words, if the Phillies had someone better Myers wouldn’t be going out there anymore. Really, how tough is it for a guy when he knows that the only reason the team continues to give him the ball is because they don’t have anyone else?

Myers must know what time it is based on how he reportedly busted it out of the ballpark without talking to the writers after the game. Typically a stand-up and an accountable guy when it comes to talking to the press about his job, Myers must figure that he doesn’t have anything new to say.

What else can he say?

What else can he do?

And what happens to Myers if the Phillies find someone better?

Here is the most telling quote from the manager as it appeared in The Inquirer:

“We’re trying to get him right,” Manuel said. “Myers’ best year is 14-9 as a starter [in 2003]. You stop and think about it, that’s not lighting it up. I mean, look, that’s not what you call a huge season. He’s had some bumps. He’s had moments on the mound where he’s had some struggles.

“Our expectation of Myers was always an 18-, 20-game winner. I said before the season started that in order for us to win, we needed 16 to 20 wins out of [Cole Hamels and Myers]. That’s kind of how we always evaluated him. His talent has always been there. Right now, things aren’t going too well for him. He’s having trouble.”

As a starter Myers had been very consistent in being inconsistent. In his four full seasons as a starter, Myers topped 200 innings once and never won more than 14 games.

Maybe he’s proving that he really belongs back in the bullpen.

***
If you missed the women’s 10,000 meters in the Olympic Trials last night, I bet you’re kicking yourself now. Described as a race that was at least four competitions in one, the Olympic qualifier had a virtuoso performance from Shalane Flanagan, a solid effort from Kara Goucher and drama galore when Amy Begley edged Katie McGregor for the last spot on the team.

But just barely.

Flanagan, the American record holder in the event, and Goucher ran away from the pack to finish in the first two spots, while Begley and McGregor dueled it out for the last spot for a trip to Beijing.

Only Begley and McGregor weren’t racing against each other – well, kind of, but not exactly. You see, to run in the Olympics an athlete needs to meet a qualifying standard of 31:45 for the 10K. If the top three runners don’t have the required time by the end of the trials race, the next best finisher with the standard makes the team.

So with Flanagan, Goucher and McGregor three of the four runners in the race with the qualifying standard met in a previous race, Begley spent most of the race one place ahead of McGregor watching the clock and running for her life. After the race she said she spent the last two laps doing math and running as fast as should could while holding out hope that she could squeeze in ahead of McGregor and under 31:45.

With a crazy sprint to the finish line and a last lap of 67.3, Begley made it under the standard by 1.4 seconds.

Then she collapsed on the track.

McGregor, conversely, finished in the worst spot possible for a trials race by coming in fourth. Worse, it was the second straight Olympic Trials in which she finished fourth in the 10,000 meters.