The Throwback World Series: Phillies in Six

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

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

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

We’re on the trains.

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

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

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

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

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

How cool would that be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least that’s what the Phillies think.

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

Don’t worry about it, Charlie.

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

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

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

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

Take the Phillies in six games.

Fifth inning: Break up the Brewers?

In a sense, the Brewers’ playoff run looks a lot like the one the Phillies had last year. They snuck in on the last day of the season thanks to a loss by the Mets, celebrated like crazy and are poised to be bounced out very quickly.

Like in Philly, Milwaukee fans waited even longer for their team to make the playoffs. The Phillies ended a 14-year drought last season, while the Brewers knocked off a 26-year absence in ’08. Better yet, the Brewers switched leagues so this is their first trip to the National League playoffs.

But unlike the Phillies last year, the Brewers don’t seem to be regrouping for another run in 2009. That’s part of the reason why the club went after CC Sabathia at the deadline and fired manager Ned Yost two weeks ago even though they were tied for first in the wild-card race.

The Brewers are a flawed club that will have to make a bunch of moves this winter if they want to challenge the Cubs in the NL Central. That’s easy to say, but hard to do. More than likely Sabathia will be pitching for big money somewhere else next season. Heck, it could even be for the Phillies, who will have some cash to spend after a few big salaries come off the payroll.

Needless to say, the Phillies will have a spot for a lefty starter who throws around 250 innings per season.

In the meantime it will be interesting to see how the Brewers respond in Game 2 if they are down 2-0. That’s especially the case considering their best pitcher was beaten like a drum as they turn to Dave Bush.

Meanwhile, Myers appears to be in cruise control. After giving up a hit and a run in a shaky first inning, Myers has not allowed a hit since and has retired 13 of the last 14 he faced.

End of 5: Phillies 5, Brewers 1

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: Here comes Big CC

Back at the ballpark again where the Phillies look to take a 2-0 series lead against the Milwaukee Brewers in the best-of-five NLDS. As anyone who would read this site knows by now, the Phillies held off the Brewers to win Game 1, 3-1, behind one of Cole Hamels’ best outings ever.

Who knows… maybe it was the best outing by a Phillies pitcher in a playoff opener ever, too. Certainly Curt Schilling against the Braves in Game 1 of the 1993 NLCS has to rate up there – that was the one where Schilling whiffed the first five hitters of the game on his way to 10 whiffs as the Phils went on to win in the 10th on Kim Batiste’s game-winning hit.

But if the Phillies are going to get that commanding two-zip lead tonight, they will have their work cut out for them. After all, Big CC is going.

Big CC, of course, is CC Sabathia, the defending American League Cy Young Award winner who joined the Brewers in a deadline deal that Phillie Geoff Jenkins mused was the greatest deadline acquisition ever.

Without a chance to dive into some research I’m going to say it’s a tough statement to argue with. Certainly the raw numbers bear that out. In 17 starts since joining the Brewers, Sabathia went 11-2 with seven complete games, 128 strikeouts in 130 innings and a 1.65 ERA.

In just that short amount of time it’s not unreasonable to peg the big lefty as a viable NL Cy Young Award candidate. In that regard the reason has less to do with the numbers than the impact. After all, when the Brewers were reeling and limping through the first part of the month, Sabathia took the ball whenever asked. In fact, he worked on short rest in three consecutive starts to close the season, seemingly willing the Brewers into the playoffs for the first time since 1982.

Sabathia will make his fourth start in a row on short rest tonight.

“We know we have our work cut out for us,” Pat Burrell said. “This guy has been phenomenal for them all year. You see [pitchers work on short rest] all the time, but you don’t see guys who come over and dominate the way he has.”

Charlie Manuel told a story the other day how he and pitching coach Dick Pole nearly got fired in Cleveland for campaign so hard to get Sabathia on the team out of spring training in 2001. All Sabathia did that season to justify Manuel’s argument was go 17-5.

Nevertheless, Manuel is curious to see how strong his former protégé pitches on short rest again.

“I think they’ve pitched him a lot. I’m kind of anxious to see when his stuff when the game starts,” Manuel said. “But he has a tremendous feel for a pitch. He has a changeup and a slider and he can bury a slider on righties and he can reach up and go 95, 96 with something on it.

“And he’s very much in control of himself.”

Yes, the Phillies will have their work cut out for them. Then again, we all will.

Phillies
11 – Rollins, ss
8 – Victorino, cf
26 – Utley, 2b
6 – Howard, 1b
5 – Burrell, lf
28 – Werth, rf
7 – Feliz, 3b
51 – Ruiz, c
39 – Myers, p

Brewers
25 – Cameron, cf
5 – Durham, 2b
8 – Braun, lf
28 – Fielder, 1b
7 – Hardy, ss
1 – Hart, rf
30 – Counsell, 3b
18 – Kendall, c
52 – Sabathia, p

Check back closer to game time…

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.

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

Going live: Phillies on the cusp

ANOTHER PROGRAMMING NOTE: Apparently I have been misinformed – tonight’s nightcap is, indeed, on television. So tune in and watch all the pageantry from here at Citizens Bank Park. In the meantime, I mentally prepared myself to go live tonight. Since it will take heavy medication in order to bring down the self-induced buzz, I’m just going to go through with it. Why not? I have a Starbucks IV drip in my right arm and I have been chugging diet coke at a steady rate all afternoon so I’m going to be up for a while. What the hell? I might as well be productive.

Now off to the demise of Ned Yost…

Play with fire and there is a really good chance that skin grafts could be in your future. Along those lines, people generally slow down to check out a car crash, a barn fire or “American Idol.”

Yes, we enjoy watching other people’s failure. Actually, we revel in it. Sometimes we even do a little touchdown dance at the end of it. This afternoon, nearly 46,000 people screamed, shimmied and shouted as the Phillies beat the Milwaukee Brewers for the third time in a row. Oh sure, most of those cheers were for the Phillies as they rallied to within a game in the wild-card chase against the Brewers, but a little bit of it was a taunt.

The Brewers are in free-fall mode and it seems as it is all going to end with manager Ned Yost’s head on a platter.

Under Yost’s watch, the Brewers are poised to ruin another season with a failed playoff march. In this case, the Brewers have lost 10 of their last 13 games and could see a four-game lead in the wild-case race vanish by the time they board the charter bound for Chicago this evening.

The intriguing part – the car-crash part, if you will – is that some of the fault rests squarely on Yost’s shoulders. For instance, Yost wasn’t too keen on bumping up workhorse ace CC Sabathia to pitch on short rest in the must-win game of tonight’s day-night finale. In fact, Yost was adamant about holding the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner to open the series against the Cubs on Tuesday night when the reality is that the Brewers need to win now.

Tomorrow might not matter.

Yost’s non-move that directly helped the Phils on Sunday afternoon could be the watershed moment of his demise in Milwaukee – perhaps more so than the scuffles that had occurred in his dugout this year.

In this instance Yost opted to allow lefty reliever Brian Shouse to remain in the game with one out and two on during the bottom of the eighth with the slumping right-handed hitter Pat Burrell digging in. Yost stuck with Shouse despite the fact that hard-throwing righty Eric Gagne was warming up in the bullpen and owned an 0-for-3 mark with a strikeout against Burrell.

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, Yost stuck with the soft-tossing Shouse. The reasoning was that his lefty was a groundball pitcher and Burrell did hit a grounder. The problem was that the ground ball did go at one of his fielders.

“When you’re struggling, things never seem to go your way,” Yost said.

Conversely it could be said that people make their own breaks. Generally, there is a reason why some teams get lucky – it’s because they put themselves in a position to be lucky. That said, there is a definite difference between a ground ball out and a ground ball single. In the case of Burrell it helped him pick up a game-winning RBI and set the table for Shane Victorino’s game-breaking three-run homer a few pitches later.

Better yet, it set the table for the Phillies to draw even with the Brewers and then stick them in the rear-view mirror.

It’s probably time to forget about the Brewers and keep an eye on the Astros, Cardinals and Mets.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

Phillies
11 – Rollins, ss
28 – Werth, rf
26 – Utley, 2b
6 – Howard, 1b
5 – Burrell, lf
8 – Victorino, cf
7 – Feliz, 3b
27 – Coste, c
39 – Myers, p

Brewers
1 – Hart, rf
7 – Hardy, ss
5 – Durham, 2b
28 – Fielder, 1b
8 – Braun, lf
25 – Cameron, cf
30 – Counsell, 3b
18 – Kendall, c
37 – Suppan, p

Stick around… I’ll be back closer to game time.

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.

Little pebbles make a big splash

Carlos ZambranoOf the piles of theories I have about things, only a handful are as solid as a bronze statue. One of those theories is that everyone has eaten a loogie at one point or another. Hey, I don’t mean to be gross, but let’s face facts – there are a lot of disgruntled people out there and most of them work in restaurants.

Another good theory is that sometimes it’s the smallest and seemingly insignificant bit of news that triggers much larger events. For instance, it took the 1914 assassination of an otherwise obscure Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria to light the powder keg that exploded into World War I.

Who would have guessed that Ferdinand would have ever become the presumptive heir to Austro-Hungarian throne, let alone his death spur the calamity that followed?

Along those lines it’s interesting to note that the reports out of Chicago are that ace pitcher Carlos Zambrano is headed for the 15-day disabled list. Certainly that’s big news for the Cubs since they currently have the best record in the National League and could be on the way to the World Series for the first time since 1936. Obviously it’s big news because the Cubs need Zambrano if they want to have any chance at all in the post-season.

Regardless, Zambrano should be able to help the Cubs relatively soon. That’s important because even though Zambrano has bum shoulder, an MRI revealed that the big right-hander has no structural damage. Unless something unforeseen occurs, Zamrano will be back pitching for the Cubs in no time.

Here’s why the MRI results, a two sentence bit of info in the fourth graf of the wire story, could be the powder keg of the National League pennant race:

Because if the Cubs have Carlos Zambrano, they probably won’t need to go out and make a big-time trade to land C.C. Sabathia or another pitcher of that ilk. Oh sure, they can still do it and it may even be cost effective noting that the Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908. But they don’t have to.

It also means the Phillies might have a better shot at making a trade for a pitcher like Sabathia (or one of that ilk) if they can cobble together a package big enough to entice the Indians. That’s the really important part as it concerns us.

Nevertheless, despite reports that the Phillies have dispatched scouts to take a gander or two at pitchers like A.J. Burnett of the Blue Jays, Bronson Arroyo of the Reds, Greg Maddux of the Padres as well as Sabathia, general manager Pat Gillick told the gang on the Daily News Live! panel that it’s much too early to contemplate such a move. For one thing, most teams are still in the playoff chase even with the non-waiver trading deadline still a little more than a month away.

That means the annual summertime dance where teams get into position to get in position is just beginning.

Can’t you hear the music?

Still, it’s interesting to note that Gillick says he would not rule out the possibility of trading away one of the players on the current 25-man roster in order to get the piece the team needs.

Would that be interesting?

In the meantime, let’s keep an eye on Archduke Zambrano. The state of his shoulder could decide a lot.