World Series: Betting on Hamels in Game 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riveting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And who doesn’t love it?

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

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

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

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

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

BANZAI!

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, it’s all about redemption for Hamels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Series: Damon’s double steal all flash

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crazy, but smart.

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

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

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

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

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

World Series: Bad beats

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest is history.

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

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

Roger Mason we hardly knew ye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Series: Charlie’s big gamble

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

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

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

Well, that all depends.

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

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

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

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

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

Again.

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

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

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

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

But why did they talk at all?

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see.

World Series: Gotta get to Mo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes the Phillies so darned special?

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

Really, what makes those 39 pitches any different?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep on writin’

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

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

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

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

That’s just what he does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes indeed, it has to be the pen.

Cliff Lee making postseason history

Cliff LeeSo now that we have this time to ourselves as we wait for the American League to finish up, maybe we can reflect a little on the 2009 postseason. That is if we can remember what happened—the first two series happened so quickly that it felt like it passed in a blur.

However, that Sunday game in Denver where Ryan Howard crushed that two-out double in the ninth after walking up and down the dugout and pleading with his teammates to, Just get me to the plate, boys,” seems like a year ago.

Have only two weeks gone by since that game? That’s it?

Nevertheless, while perusing the Internets this afternoon I stumbled across a post on the Yahoo! Big League Stew blog regarding Cliff Lee’s performance in Game 3 of the NLCS. That was the one where the Phillies scored so many runs that Charlie Manuel was forced to take Lee out of the game headed into the ninth inning because he was way too good for the Dodgers to handle.

Actually, that’s not entirely true, but it’s based in truth. Because Lee had been so dominant and the Phillies had tacked on more runs in the bottom of the eighth to make it 11-0, Lee had to come out. Call it the Phillies’ version of the mercy rule.

Still, Lee’s pitching line speaks for itself. He went eight innings and allowed three hits without a walk to go with 10 strikeouts and no runs on 114 pitches, and that was enough.

In fact, according to the Bill James invention that stat geeks like so much called “Game score,” Lee’s outing in Game 3 was the best pitched outing by a Phillies in the postseason, ever.

No joke.

Lee’s “game score” was 86, which is based on a scale of 100. According to Big League Stew, game score is described thusly:

Game Score is a metric devised by Bill James that attempts to index how good a start is, by rewarding the pitcher for innings pitched and strikeouts, and penalizing them for hits, walks, and runs allowed. It more or less operates on a 100-point scale — 0 is atrocious, 100 is tremendous, 50 is average, and scores below zero or above 100 are almost unheard of.

A score of 86 is pretty darned good. In fact, only 45 postseason starts since 1903 rated higher than the one Lee put out there in Game 3. Not on the list was the five-hit, 147-pitch shutout by Curt Schilling in Game 5 of the 1993 World Series. That game rated only an 80.

Otherwise, the Phillies are absent from the top 50 pitching performances based on the “game score.” That goes for games pitched against them, too. Joe Niekro tossed 10 shutout innings against the Phillies in the 1980 NLCS, but that was good for just an 81. In the 1915 World Series, Hall of Fame pitchers Grover Cleveland Alexander for the Phillies went up against Rube Foster, Dutch Leonard and Babe Ruth of the Red Sox and only Foster’s 85 in Game 2 came close.

Interestingly, in the 1915 World Series the Red Sox used just three pitchers in the five games and the Phillies used just four hurlers, including the only reliever in the series.

cole_hamelsThe only other Phillie to crack the top 50? Try Cole Hamels in Game 1 of the 2008 NLDS. Remember that one? Hamels got an 86 by tossing a two-hitter through eight scoreless innings with a walk and nine strikeouts. Yet even with the two-hitter going through eight innings and with 101 pitches thrown, Manuel went to Brad Lidge in the ninth with a four-run lead.

I’m still curious about that.

Anyway, here is where the “Game score” thing is flawed. It doesn’t take the magnitude of the game or the human element of the actual game into consideration. For instance, when I think of the best pitched games I’ve ever seen, the top one on the list is Jack Morris in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series against the Braves. For 10 innings Morris hung up zero after zero only to be matched by John Smoltz and two relievers.

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

Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series? That’s only a 94 and three games rated higher. Roger Clemens’ one-hitter against Seattle in the 2000 ALCS is the top-ranked game, followed by an 11-inning three-hit shutout by Dave McNally of Baltimore against the Twins in Game 2 of the 1969 ALCS.

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

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

So there’s the historical perspective on Cliff Lee’s effort in Game 3 of the NLCS. Apparently there haven’t been too many better pitched games in the history of the postseason. However, it’s more difficult to find pitchers who had better cumulative postseasons than Lee has had this year. In three starts he’s allowed two earned runs over 24 1/3 innings. In 1967 Bob Gibson gave up three runs in 27 innings, but all of his starts were in the World Series.

Let’s see where Lee ranks on the all-time list of great postseasons when this is all over. Chances are he has (at least) two more starts to go.

The NLCS: Greatest Phillies team ever?

Comparisons between teams of different eras are not only difficult to do logically, but also they are odious. Seriously, the game changes so much from generation to generation that there is no way one can compare, say, the 1977 Phillies to the 2009 Phils. The game does not exist in a vacuum (or whatever). We see it just by looking at the stat sheet.

Needless to say, baseball statistics are essentially meaningless.

Take that with a grain of salt, however. The numbers are the only proof that a lot of people have to understand if a player is performing well. But I don’t need to look up Garry Maddox’s VORP or OPS to know that he was a better center fielder than Shane Victorino. Sure, there are numbers on the page and I suppose they have meaning. But if you ever got the chance to watch Maddox go gap to gap to chase down every single fly ball hit into the air, you just know.

Nevertheless, since the Phillies are on the cusp of going to the World Series for th second season in a row, those old, odious comparisons come up. They kind of have to, right? Well, yeah… after all, there really aren’t very many good seasons in the 126 years of Phillies baseball to compare.

The good years are easily categorized. There were the one-hit wonder years of 1950 and 1993; the stretch where ol’ Grover Cleveland Alexander took the Phils to the series in 1915; and then the Golden Era from 1976 to 1983 where the Phillies went to the playoffs six times in eight seasons.

Then there is now.

Obviously two straight visits to the World Series are unprecedented in team history. Actually, the five-year stint in which Charlie Manuel has guided the team are the best five years in club history. At least that’s what the bottom line says.

In just five years as the manager of the Phillies, Manuel has won 447 games. Only Gene Mauch, Harry Wright and Danny Ozark have won more games in franchise history and those guys were around for a lot longer than five years. Interestingly, Manuel ranks fourth in franchise wins and seventh in games.

That pretty much says it all right there, doesn’t it? Based on the wins and accomplishments, this is the greatest era of Phillies baseball and the 2009 club could very well go down as the best team ever—whether they win the World Series over the Yankees (Angels are done, right?) or not.

Still, I’d take Maddox over Victorino, Steve Carlton over Cole Hamels, Bake McBride over Jayson Werth; Bob Boone over Carlos Ruiz; Greg Luzinski way over Pat Burrell (and Raul Ibanez, too); and, obviously, Mike Schmidt over Pedro Feliz.

But I’d also take Chase Utley’s bat over Manny Trillo’s glove; Jimmy Rollins over Larry Bowa; and Ryan Howard over Pete Rose or Richie Hebner.

Those are the easy choices. Those Golden Era teams had some underrated players like Dick Ruthven and Del Unser, but they would have been much better with a Matt Stairs type.

No, the truth is I’d take the 2009 Phillies over those other teams and it’s not because of the players comparisons or the win totals. It’s because they are a better team.

Yeah, that’s right, these guys are the best team.

Of course I never got to go into the clubhouse to see Larry Bowa’s divisive act, Steve Carlton’s oddness, or Mike Schmidt’s diva-like act. You know, that is if the stories from those days are true…

Nope, give me a team instead of one that had the indignity to run into a pair of dynasties in the making. First the Phillies had to contend with the Cincinnati Reds and The Big Red Machine before those great Dodgers’ clubs emerged. There is no team in the NL East or National League, for that matter, that is as good as the Phillies have been.

The Mets, Dodgers or Cardinals? Nope, no and nah.

More importantly, now that Pat Burrell is gone the Phillies don’t have a true divisive force in the clubhouse. There is no more of that creepy us-against-them battle anymore considering the relief corps did a reality show with the MLB Network.

Think Warren Brusstar and Kevin Saucier would have been asked to do something like “The Pen” if they were playing these days?

No, the these Phillies have nothing as obnoxious or weird as Bowa or Carlton. They are not the 25-guys in 25-cabs team. It’s a real baseball team.

We’ll see what happens when (and if) the Phillies get to the World Series, but in this instance we’ll go with Victorino gang over Maddox’s group.

The NLCS: Phillies in five

dodgersLOS ANGELES — Let’s just put it out there on the line—Dodger Stadium is my favorite ballpark. It isn’t so much about the actual facility as it is what it represents. Of course the reality of how Dodger Stadium was built compared to its ideals of manifest destiny and a veritable garden party don’t exactly mesh, but still… the views!

That’s the part that’s amazing—sitting in the actual ballpark one can see palm trees and flowers with the picturesque San Gabriels looming just beyond the pavilion. Yet when one goes to the very top of the park to exit and looks out at the skyline of Los Angeles with its hulking post-modernist buildings and the Hollywood sign off to the right it’s hard not to think of the opening scene from “Blade Runner.”

Dodger Stadium is the second oldest ballpark in the National League, but it represents the future. It always has.

So we’ll go to Dodger Stadium on Thursday afternoon for the first game of the 2009 NLCS. There’s a pretty good chance that we’ll be back later next week, too, in order to figure out which team will go to the World Series.

If the Phillies won the National League at Dodger Stadium last year, why can’t they do it again?

Well, they can do it again. After all, in Game 1, Cole Hamels will face 21-year old Clayton Kershaw in a battle of young lefties. The interesting caveat in this matchup is Kershaw is 0-3 with a 6.64 ERA in four starts against the Phillies. Plus, three years ago he was still in high school. Of the teams that he has faced at least twice in his short career, Kershaw is the worst against the Phillies.

Moreover, the Dodgers will send ex-Phillie Vicente Padilla to the mound in Game 2. The Phillies know him well and understand that he is full of weaknesses and can easily be intimidated. As Jimmy Rollins said during Wednesday’s workout:

“When he’s good, he’s really good. If not, he’s way off.”

Take away his win against the Cardinals in Game 3 of the NLDS and Padilla hasn’t pitched seven innings since the middle of July. Besides, that Game 3 was Padilla’s first appearance ever in the playoffs so who’s to know if he can keep his focus long enough to be known a s a big-game pitcher.

Hiroki Kuroda is known to the Phillies and not in a good way. Sure, everyone remembers that incident with Shane Victorino during last year’s NLCS, but more telling is that the Phils are 6-for-60 in three games against the Japanese righty.

Then there is Randy Wolf, the ex-Phillie who pitched the first-ever game at Citizens Bank Park. Pitching for other teams at the Bank, Wolf is much better than he was as a Phillie. However, Wolf’s playoff debut wasn’t too good and he was pushed out of a Game 1 start to go in Game 4.

So it will come down to the bullpens. If the Phillies can get a lead and hold it, they will return to the World Series. But if they let Kershaw, Padilla, Kuroda and Wolf hang around, it could prove to be a tough road for the Phillies.

I’m not sure that will happen. That’s why I’m going with the Phillies in five games. Yeah, that goes against the conventional wisdom, but these aren’t the Phillies of yore. These guys know how to win and so they won’t have to return to Southern California until the end of October when they face the Angels in the World Series.

Yeah, that’s it—Phillies vs. Angels in the Fall Classic.

Can the Phillies repeat? It’s tough, says Dodgers manager Joe Torre who was guided the last team to do it in 1998-2000 with the Yankees.

“Well, first off, you’ve got a bulls-eye on your back,” Torre said. “That’s one. Everyone seems to put on their Sunday best to play you. You always get the best pitchers matching up. And then if you have a young pitcher that nobody knows, it seems to be a challenge to that young man to show what they can do against the world champs or those teams.

“So, I think when you repeat, you basically have to go through a tougher season to get there. And the Phillies, they’ve experienced those ups and downs. They go through and have a good streak, and I think they went down to Houston and got swept. But the thing about it, when you have a ball club that has been as consistent, knowing they’re good, they rebound from things like that. I think that’s the main thing about Philadelphia is how resilient they’ve been. Early in the year this year they didn’t win any games at home. It didn’t seem to bother them. They just kept plugging away. I think that’s why they’re so good. Not to mention the talent they have. When you look down that lineup, a couple of switch hitters at the top and then a couple of left-handers and then (Jayson) Werth who’s that blue-collar guy, you may compare him a little bit to Casey Blake type of individual, they’re going to fight you every step of the way. They’re a ballclub that has a purpose—they have a purpose out there, and we certainly are aware of it.”

Let’s pause for a second and think about the notion of Charlie Manuel becoming the first manager to repeat as World Champion since Joe Torre and the first National Leaguer to do it since Sparky Anderson and the Big Red Machine of 1975 and 1976…

Yeah, Charlie Manuel.

“You like to be able to look over your shoulder and know that your manager believes in you. He’s there for you,” ex-Phillies and now Dodgers pinch hitter Jim Thome said. “Charlie does that. He keeps it relaxed so all you have to do is go out and play. You can’t explain how important that is.”

It starts on Thursday afternoon from here in California.

Is everyone ready?

First Inning: A select club

Get this… only one other manager in Phillies history has guided the team to three straight titles in the NL East (before Charlie, of course). In fact, no other manager in team history has taken the team to the playoffs three times.

There’s Charlie and there is Danny Ozark.

When I first learned about what baseball was, Danny Ozark was the manager of the Phillies. Better yet, when I was a kid, Danny Ozark took the Phillies to the playoffs every year.

It was because of Ozark, who died at age 85 last May, that I also learned the time-tested idiom of baseball that managers are hired to be fired. In August of 1979 Ozark was released from his job as manager of the Phillies, which at the time was baffling to me. My youthful naïveté just saw the three consecutive playoff appearances and the back-to-back 101-win seasons, which is a feat never duplicated before or since in team history

I can’t say I have too many memories of Ozark’s work other than the time I went to game at The Vet when I was a kid and he came onto the field to argue a call or maybe he got ejected. I can’t recall though through the magic of the web site that is Baseball-Reference, I dug up the box score.

Anyway, it seemed as if Ozark was the right man at the time to build up the Phillies to a playoff caliber team. He took them right up to the crest of the hill, but had to step aside so Dallas Green could push them over the top.

From the sound of things, Charlie Manuel nailed it when describing Ozark after his death last May.

“I knew Danny Ozark and I considered him a friend of mine,” Manuel said. “He used to talk to me a lot. I was a player when he managed in the minor leagues. He was great guy – a great baseball guy. He was a dedicated baseball guy. He was a good teacher, too. He loved the game and had a good personality about him, too.”

Calling someone a “good baseball man” is one of the highest words of praise from the baseball fraternity. When one hears another call someone a baseball man, well, you can tell a lot about that guy immediately. So it sounds like Danny Ozark was a good guy and Philadelphia was lucky to have him for a few glorious years.

Ballgame: Pedro got into a jam in the first, but then again that’s just what he does. Three one-out singles loaded the bases, which forced Pedro to bear down. After a strikeout, Hunter Pence worked the count to 3-0, before it got to 3-2 where he fouled off three in a row.

The nice little battle ended when the eighth pitch of the at-bat was outside.

It’s worth noting that those white towels they gave out as fans walked into the park tonight look pretty cool when everyone waves them around. The fans also appeared to believe that Pedro got pinched on a couple pitches to Pence and Kaz Matsui.

The Phillies got that run back, though. Jimmy Rollins led off with a double and moved up to third on a bunt by Victorino. Why bunt so early in the game when the Phillies are known for their ability to score runs?

Simple. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard wear out Astros pitcher Brian Moehler. Headed into the game, Utley was 7-for-20 with a 1.108 OPS against the veteran righty, and Howard was 10-for-20 with three homers, three doubles and seven RBIs.

Of course Victorino was 7-for-14 heading in, too, so who knows if the bunt was a little too conservative. Besides, the Phils manufactured a run on Utley’s ground out to knot it.

First inning: Phillies 1, Astros 1

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!

‘The Closer’ in name only

Brad LidgeMILWAUKEE – There’s a line from Elaine Benes in a Seinfeld episode where in chiding Jerry for speculating on woman’s assumed enhancement, she drops an all-timer on him:

“You know, just when I think you’re the shallowest man I know, you somehow manage to drain a little bit more out of the pool.”

The great thing about the line is it can be used in nearly any circumstance. So last night when watching Brad Lidge flounder through five hitters for his 11th blown save of the season, a derivation of that sentence immediately came to mind.

Just when you thought he couldn’t get any lower, he somehow managed to drain a little more out of the pool.

Nope, it’s not easy being Brad Lidge these days, especially since the playoffs are quickly approaching and his pitching and the results therein do not look any different from where we were in May. Yeah, Lidge has saved 31 games, which is pretty good considering he has blown those 11 attempts AND spent 19 days on the disabled list.

However, even with that time off Lidge has somehow managed to get into 63 games. That’s a lot considering he got into 72 games last year and barely missed any time at all.

Now here’s the thing about those 63 games… it’s a threshold number. In fact, according to the always interesting Baseball-Reference blog, of all the pitchers who have appeared in at least 60 games, Lidge has the fourth-worst ERA in Major League Baseball history.

I know what you’re thinking… you’re thinking, “How does a guy with 11 blown saves, an 0-8 record, a 7.48 ERA (10.80 in September and 8.10 in the second half), all while allowing opponents to bat .305 (nearly .400 this month) off of him, get on the playoff roster let alone an entrenched spot in the back of the bullpen.”

Easy. Who else ya got?

There is an easy way to handle the Lidge situation where egos don’t take a beating and the team can win games the way they did last year. After all, something needs to be done because there are 11 games remaining in the season, home-field advantage is on the line, and the Phillies have lost 10 games this year when leading after eight innings.

Talk about demoralizing.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Lidge told the scribes after last night’s debacle. “I’m disappointed. They hit the ball. They did a good job. I’m definitely frustrated, a little bit at a loss. I’m sure there’s stuff I can do better.”

Indeed. Nevertheless, Manuel says he isn’t ready to pull the plug… that’s what he says.

“These are our guys. We’ll stick with him,” Manuel said. “Lidge has to do it. Between him and Madson, they’ve got to get it done. We’re waiting to see how long Brett’s going to be. Right now, Brett’s not even in the picture. We’ve just got to get better.”

This isn’t original, in fact I’ve been trotting it out there for a while now. But when push comes to shove, expect Charlie not to go batter-to-batter and matchup-to-matchup in particularly tight games. He’s done it before to decent results, too. Remember that game in Atlanta during August when Lidge got a one-out save? In that game Manuel used Ryan Madson for a third of an inning, Scott Eyre for two-thirds, and Lidge for the final out.

Of course Charlie had healthy arms back then, which is something he’s missing these days. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if two or three guys end up working in the ninth inning from here on out.

Why not? There are plenty of saves to go around.

Otherwise, perhaps the managerial defined closer role has not been assigned yet. Oh sure, Charlie calls Lidge the closer, but look at the World Series over the last few years and think about how quickly things change.

In 2006, the Cardinals’ Adam Wainright saved four games throughout the postseason and did not allow a run in nine games. It was Wainright, a rookie, who was on the mound when the Cards closed out the World Series in Game 5 over the Tigers. Wainright’s save total in the playoffs was one more than he had in 61 games during the regular season, since Jason Isringhausen was serving as the closer until injuries and 10 blown saves ended his year.

In 2005, another rookie Bobby Jenks took over the ninth inning for the White Sox as they sewed up their first World Series title since 1917. Jenks saved six games during the regular season and five in the playoffs during the White Sox run when manager Ozzie Guillen decided to give the ball to the rookie instead of veteran Dustin Hermanson, who led the club with 34 saves that year.

Ugueth Urbina wasn’t even with the Marlins when the 2003 season started, but he was on the mound at the end. Traded from Texas to Florida in July of ’03, Urbina saved just six games during the regular season for the Marlins, but got two during the World Series upset over the Yankees and two others during the playoffs.

Of course, who can forget K-Rod setting up Troy Percival during the Angels’ victory over the Giants in seven games in 2002? Francisco Rodriguez appeared in just five games for the Angeles during the season, and 11 during the playoffs. Four of those games were in the World Series. Imagine that… a guy pitched in four World Series games and just five regular big league games and did nothing but hang zeroes on the board.

In 18 2/3 innings during the playoffs in ’02, K-Rod notched 28 strikeouts. He had 13 in just 5 2/3 during the regular season.

Call K-Rod the Marty Bystrom of the bullpen.

So it can be done, folks. Just because Lidge is called “the closer” now, doesn’t mean much when the playoffs start. Besides, in 2007 the Rockies made it to the World Series with 29 blown saves during the season. The Phillies aren’t anywhere near that total…

Yet.

The Big Piece

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

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

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

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

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

What are the odds of that happening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s Howard’s average.

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

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

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

Chopper has bad timing

chan hoAfter a couple of relative busy days at the ballpark, let’s call Thursday’s game, “Back up Night” at the yard to give the regulars a chance to catch their breath before jetting off to Atlanta, Florida and Milwaukee for the next 11 days. For readers of the CSNPhilly coverage of the ballclub, that means you get Dame Sarah Baicker tonight.

And certainly there won’t be a dearth of news for the relief scribes. The prognosis for that “pop” Chan Ho Park heard in his right hamstring after making his final pitch of the seventh inning last night could have a major domino effect on the rest of the roster.

The obvious loss if Park’s injury is significant is the work he takes on in the bullpen. No, his numbers don’t pop off the page, but they are good. Plus, Park is versatile enough to pitch in many roles and take on more than one inning. Of his 38 relief appearances, Chopper has pitched more than one inning 13 times and three innings five times.

Better yet, when Park was moved out of the rotation for J.A. Happ in May, he went without sulking or pouting. He just went to work and as a result remains one of the more popular players in the clubhouse with his teammates.

The numbers aren’t bad, either. In 38 relief appearances, Chopper is 2-2 with a 2.52 ERA. Since the All-Star Break he has appeared in 20 games and picked up 23 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings with a 1.85 ERA.

So if Manuel can’t turn to Park, even in the best of times, it’s going to hurt. With Scott Eyre attempting to pitch through a bone chip in his elbow, J.C. Romero’s season still uncertain, Clay Condrey returning from a series of oblique injuries, and Brad Lidge’s ineffectiveness, losing Park could be major.

That’s where we get to the trickle-down effect. Just last weekend I was prognosticating my Phillies playoff roster (as if anyone would ask), and decided it would be a good idea for the club to carry 12 pitchers. Last year they took 11 pitchers throughout the playoff run from the short-series NLDS to the World Series with two games played with the DH and it was more than enough.

After all, Happ appeared in just one game throughout the run, while Eyre saw action in four games for a total of two innings, while Condrey got into just two of the games. Meanwhile, the extra players on the bench, So Taguchi and Chris Coste, played in seven games combined for 10 plate appearances.

When looking at it that way, it’s clear that Manuel doesn’t go too deep into his bench if he doesn’t need to.

But as Manuel said last week in Houston, “[Bleep] the last two years.” If the Phillies want to repeat this season, it may have to come from an unsung player on the roster like Park. If that’s not an option, Manuel doesn’t have too many sure things right now.

Nevertheless, if anything, Park’s injury just might have secured veteran Jamie Moyer a spot on the playoff roster. Here’s what I came up with:

Starting pitchers
Cliff Lee
Cole Hamels
Pedro Martinez
Joe Blanton

Relief pitchers
Brad Lidge
Ryan Madson
Brett Myers
J.A. Happ
J.C. Romero
Chad Durbin
Tyler Walker/Clay Condrey
Scott Eyre/Jamie Moyer

Catchers
Carlos Ruiz
Paul Bako

Infielders
Ryan Howard
Chase Utley
Pedro Feliz
Jimmy Rollins
Greg Dobbs
Eric Bruntlett

Outfielders
Raul Ibanez
Shane Victorino
Jayson Werth
Ben Francisco
Matt Stairs

Needless to say, Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. are going to have some tough decisions with the pitching staff. If Park is able to pitch – and Romero, too, for that matter – some of the decisions will be easy.

But what do the Phillies do with Moyer, Eyre, Walker and Condrey?

Just Manny being Rickey

mannyWASHINGTON – I have Brad Lidge fatigue. No, I’m not tired of Brad Lidge. In fact, he’s a great dude. He’s nice, polite, personable, Thoughtful, funny and smart. Generally, those aren’t the best qualities for a closer, but it seemed to work out pretty well last year.

Hey, Lidge might be the only ballplayer in history to pursue an advanced degree in biblical archaeology. Think he and Brett Myers are sitting around discussing that?

Anyway, I have Lidge fatigue because I’m tired of writing about closers, the ninth inning and saves. Lately, it seems like that’s all we do. Charlie Manuel is tired of being asked about it, too, but frankly it’s the news. In the news business, one tends to focus on those types of things.

And apropos of that, I asked Charlie if he’d consider allowing a pitcher to go more than one inning to nail down a save because he labeled himself a “throwback guy.” The answer, of course, was no because with a bullpen thinned out by injuries and Lidge’s struggles. Remember the stretch run in September of 2007 when Manuel rode J.C. Romero, Tom Gordon and Brett Myers? If it seemed as if those guys pitched every game in the rush to take the NL East from the Mets it was because they did… practically.

Myers pitched 16 games that September, Gordon pitched 18, and Romero got into 20 games.

Fortunately for Manuel, he has a better starting staff this year so he won’t have to reprise that tact with Myers, Ryan Madson and perhaps Chan Ho Park until Lidge gets it together.

Regardless, the closer/Lidge issues are just filling the time until we start diving the fight for home-field advantage in the NLDS. As it stands now, the Phillies would go to Los Angeles for the first two games of the opening playoffs series while St. Louis would host Colorado. If the Phillies survive that scenario, they would host Colorado but travel to St. Louis for the NLCS opener.

Of course there are still 24 games to go and the Dodgers’ starting pitchers are struggling. Undoubtedly the Phillies would not want to trade their Lidge problems for ones with a starter.

Anyway, to put the Lidge (and playoff seeding) chatter on hold for a bit, I picked up a funny little blog post sent from a friend about the Dodgers, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome.

Apparently, according to the post, Manny has no idea who Jim Thome is. Never mind the fact that Thome and Manny were teammates for 10 years in Cleveland.

manny_chuckConjuring the famous and debunked story about Rickey Henderson and John Olerud in which Rickey was said to explain to Olerud when both players were on the Mariners that he once was teammates with a guy who wore a helmet in the field with the Mets.

“Yeah, that was me, Rickey,” Olerud said in the myth.

So now we have Manny, who according to the author of Diamond Hoggers, just couldn’t figure out who the hell some guy named Jim Thome was.

To wit:

This comes from a guy we know who works in the Dodgers organization. He wrote us an e-mail because he thought the story would please us. He was right.

Hey fellas,Hope all is well. Had a story for you that you might find kind of funny and that might go well on your site. Just leave my name out of it. So here goes:Alright so we all know that Jim Thome was traded to the Dodgers at the end of August, reuniting him with Ramirez after all those years in Cleveland. That’s all fine and dandy and all, but get this….. hours before the trade is made official news to the media one of the clubhouse coaches goes over to Manny and says “hey we’re bringing Jim Thome back here to play with you”. Ramirez looks at him, stares off into the distance for a few minutes. Our coach starts to realize that either Manny isn’t happy or he’s got no fucking clue what is going on. Our coach couldn’t believe it was that though, since they played together for almost 10 years in Cleveland. Finally our coach says “Manny aren’t you happy about Jim coming to LA?”Ramirez looks him dead in the eye and says “I’ve never played with anyone named Jim.” Gets up, and walks away. No [bleep]. Our coach left it at that.

Wonder if that coach is a certain ex-Phillies manager?

Nevertheless, add this to the absent-minded legend that is Manny Ramirez. Or add it to the pile of Manny stories that Manuel likes to tell from their days in the Indians’ organization. Apparently, it wasn’t uncommon for Manny to show up at the ballpark with no money to pay for a taxi, no suitcase for a road trip or equipment.

Call him Manny Gump – the baseball hitting savant.

Or just call this episode a case of Manny being Rickey.

Coloring outside of the lines

Will McEnaneyWASHINGTON – Most folks who follow the posts on this page have already grasped the concept that I am a fan of baseball from the 1970s. I think there are about 50 3,000-word essays about the subject all over this jawn.

Some are about Reggie Jackson’s swing, Mickey Rivers’ love of handicapping horses, Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, the fact that Steve Carlton did everyone a favor by not talking to the press, and of course the dervish that is Larry Bowa.

But lately, the waxing on here has been about the relief pitcher of the 1970s, particularly end-of-the game types like Bruce Sutter, Goose Gossage and (of course) Rollie Fingers. All three of those pitchers are in the Hall of Fame and all three blew saves like crazy.

But aside from the romanticism applied to the era of my childhood, I also have a bit of a crush on the way the game was played back then. For one thing the thinking wasn’t as compartmentalized as it is now. People didn’t treat baseball strategy as if it were some sort of scientific dissertation with statistics, or worse, like baseball was played as if it were football with the division of labor, constant meetings and basic boringness.

For instance, a pitcher named Will McEnaney was on the mound to close out the ninth inning of the seventh game of the 1975 World Series – that series was regarded by some to be one of the greatest World Series ever played. But have you ever heard of Will McEnaney? The chances are that you never heard that name in your life (unless you are a baseball geek of the highest order) simply because McEnaney saved exactly 32 games in his six-year career, including that one in seventh game of the ’75 World Series.

The thing about that was McEnaney didn’t even lead the ’75 Reds in saves. Rawly Eastwick led the team and the league with 22 saves that year, but manager Sparky Anderson needed his “closer” in five other games in the series and for two others in the three-game NLCS.

In other words, ol’ Sparky Anderson went with the best guy he had at the time. That simply was the norm back then. If a team needed a big out in the seventh inning, it wasn’t uncommon for “the closer” to come into the game. It also wasn’t uncommon for the so-called closer to finish up from the seventh inning on. But if that guy got into trouble there were always a few pitchers like Will McEnaney ready to mop up in the ninth.

This evening I was discussing the very subject with Gary Matthews and mentioned how many four-inning saves Gossage used to get – especially in the final months of the season. Matthews said he remembered facing The Goose in those days and used to complain that “it’s not time for him yet.”

Hell, back then the hitters didn’t want to have to face the closer any more than they had to, but these days they only get an inning.

So what does this have to do with Charlie Manuel and Brad Lidge?

Ryan MadsonWell… everything and here’s why…

Unlike football, Manuel does not have to label his “closer” before the game as if he were the quarterback or backup or whatever. Labeling a guy a set-up man or a closer and having such hard and fast defined roles is part of that compartmentalized thinking that is so maddening. Maybe the labels and defined roles help folks understand the game better? Maybe the game has been so crunched down and beaten up by statistical analysis that there has to be a signaling of roles for everyone involved. If someone isn’t a closer or a set-up man, what is he?

“We called them relief pitchers,” Sarge told me.

Manuel is a victim of this thinking, too. Clearly it drives him nuts because Charlie came from the 1970s. He played under managers like Bill Rigney, Billy Martin and Walter Alston. Those were the days when it was OK to color outside of the lines, so to speak. That was the era when the closer changed from game-to-game just like the starting pitcher.

But really, if you really want to know who Manuel’s “closer” will be from here on out, follow one of his old idioms: “Watch the game.”

If you watch the game and see Brad Lidge or Ryan Madson or Brett Myers get the last out of the game, that just might be your closer. Oh sure, he might say Lidge is guy with the label of “closer” just to make easier for everyone to understand, but actions speak louder than words.

Here’s what Charlie says:

“When I tell you he’s my closer, I don’t tell lies. I don’t like to go back on nothing. But the team and the game is bigger than my heart and it’s bigger than anything else, if you want to know the truth. Winning a game is what it’s all about. It’s baseball and why I manage and it’s what comes first.”

That means, “watch the game.” Just because a guy is called the “closer,” doesn’t mean he has to be the last pitcher of the game. It also stands to reason that the Phillies’ closer hasn’t stepped forward yet. Think back to a few World Series winners this decade and you will find championship teams whose closer did not emerge until the last month of the season. There was Francisco Rodriguez setting up in 2002 for the Angels, Bobby Jenks closing games for the White Sox in 2005 and Adam Wainwright stepping up to do the same for the Cardinals in 2006.

Maybe the Phillies are just like those teams?

This ain’t football, folks.

Sweeping in D.C.

chuckWASHINGTON – If there was ever a time for the Phillies to want to head to The District, right now would be the perfect time. After dropping four straight in Houston as well as five out of their last six while scoring just three runs in two victories over the Giants last week, the lowly Nationals are the perfect foil for the Phillies to take out some frustrations.

Certainly manager Charlie Manuel took some of his pent up frustration after the Astros swept out the Phillies on Monday afternoon. After spending more than half of his life in pro ball, Manuel knows when a team needs to be aired out.

Essentially, Charlie told the troops it’s time to put up or shut up.

“You can go around and talk to them. You can talk to them in batting practice. But what is today? September 9th? Damn, if we ain’t got it by now, we ain’t never gonna get it. We were in good position coming in, and we’re still in good position. We’ve got to play. We’ve got to win some games. It’s been kind of leading up to this. It’s got to bottom out sometime. We’ve got some wins. We beat the Giants two games, and we got real good pitching, tremendous starting pitching, when we scored three runs and got two wins. Over in Pittsburgh, we didn’t hit at all. Actually, we played real bad there. Homers are great when one or two guys are on base. When you hit three solos and the other team scores three, four, five runs, and you lose, it’s not so great.

“I don’t know. I hear some of them talk. I hear some of them say, ‘We play better when we have to or when there’s more pressure.’ I find that hard to believe when I see us play like we did today. I find that hard to believe. I played 20 years. I like my chances ofbeing relaxes when we have a nice lead. That don’t register for me.

“Bleep the last couple years. That don’t mean bleep. We’re playing today. Last year is dead and gone. Having to win? No, I don’t get that. I think when you have a lead, you’re sitting better than you are when you absolutely have to win a game that day. I think having a lead’s got to be better than that. I’ll take the lead. That’s what I’m trying to say. Last year, what happened in the past, that’s gone. We played tremendous baseball last year the last five, six weeks. Best baseball we’ve ever played. I’m not going to give our lead up and say, ‘We’ll start here.’ No, I’m not going to do that because I don’t know if we can come through or not. I like our chances better where we’re at, but at the same time, we have to win some games. That’s what I’m trying to say.”

The thing about Charlie’s tirade is they generally work. Moreover, he hit on a message that he has been dropping all season long, which is the 2008 season is over. The World Series is history. It’s September and the Phillies are in a weak division and if they don’t snap to it quickly, this season can be over as quickly as the ’07 playoff run.

nats_parkThat’s the tough part. If the season were to end today, the Phillies would be matched up against the Dodgers in the NLDS. That’s a hornets’ nest right there considering the Dodgers have had the best record in the league all season long. Plus, there’s a score to settle and you know what they say about paybacks.

Think the Dodgers are still smarting from last season? Think the Dodgers don’t want another piece of the Phillies with home field advantage?

So yeah, Nationals Park is a pretty good place for the Phillies to be right about now. That’s especially the case considering the Phils are 10-2 against the Nats, who are inching closer to a second straight 100-loss season. At 47-90 the Nats not only have the worst record in baseball with losses in seven of their last eight mixed in, but also they have been a veritable laughingstock of pro sports.

If only it could be chalked up to one of those years for the Nats. But simply having some bad luck doesn’t begin to describe it.

First, the season began with general manager Jim Bowden resigned amidst a federal investigation that the longtime GM allegedly had been skimming of signing bonuses earmarked for Latin American prospects.

The Nats also fired manager Manny Acta because he couldn’t figure out how not to lose games with John Lannan and his 17-25 record as the staff ace. Just last week they fired the director of player development, Bobby Williams, because he had ties with Bowden. On top of that, the club’s second-year ballpark is underwhelming with the view of the DC skyline blocked out by construction and parking garages, which has resulted in the fifth-worst attendance in the Majors.

Only Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Oakland and Florida have drawn fewer fans than the Nats.

Luckily, the Phillies still have six more games against Washington this season. Those are six games Manuel likely won’t be happy with unless they end with wins. After all, the Nationals are last in every notable pitching statistic.

That could make it more fun for the fans from Philly who make the trek down I-95 to sterile Nationals Park. Better yet, for those fans who get shut out when hoping to get some tickets at CBP, the drive might be worth it.

After all, the Phillies have Pedro Martinez and Cliff Lee lined up for the first two games and Joe Blanton set for Thursday’s series finale. Plenty of good seats still available.

Yes, the Phillies better sweep this one.

Missing out on Big Jim

Jim ThomeFor about a week I’ve wanted to write something about Jim Thome and how it just might be worth taking a flyer on the guy for the final month of the season. It was going to be this whole thing very much like how I suggested Barry Bonds might not be a bad pickup last year and how Pedro Martinez might be worth a look this year.

You know… trying to stay ahead of the curve.

So growing that big hand to pat myself on the back, I knew Pedro would be good a fit for the Phillies even though general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the team had no interest in the future Hall of Famer initially.

Kudos. Kudos to me, though the Bonds idea was probably a bad one.

Anyway, snagging Thome away from the White Sox before the Dodgers got him would have been a good idea. One reason is because he is still playing out the contract he signed when he joined the Phillies before the 2003 season. Another is because with Matt Stairs fighting a two-month hitless slump and Greg Dobbs on the disabled list/in the manager’s doghouse, Charlie Manuel will need another lefty bat for the bench.

And who knows, maybe he could play first base if really pressed to it.

When the news broke about Thome joining the Dodgers earlier this week, the sentiment from Manuel and ex-Phillie turned Giants’ centerfielder Aaron Rowand was that they hoped the new Dodger was happy. Moreover, both Manuel and Rowand thought Thome would be a huge asset late in games for LA.

“He brings over 500 career homers off the bench,” Rowand said when asked what Thome gives the Dodgers.

Certainly 564 career homers sitting on the bench waiting for a late-game clutch situation isn’t easy to dig up. Plus, in signing Thome it’s obvious the memory of Stairs’ series-changing home run in the eighth inning of Game 4 NLCS still haunts the Dodgers. Besides, pinch hitting isn’t an easy job for young ballplayers. That’s why wily types like Stairs thrive in the role and it’s why Thome might just be a key component for the Dodgers in October.

As the former big league pinch hitter Manuel said, seeing a guy like Stairs and Thome lurking in the dugout or on-deck circle drives opposing managers crazy. It makes them do things they normally wouldn’t do and that right there compromises the strategy of the game.

“Even if he’s 0-for-20 or 0-for-25, you never know when he’s going to hit one for you to win a game,” Manuel said.

So yeah, Thome would have been sweet for the Phillies given the current state of their bench. Sure, Amaro indicates that the team is tapped out in terms of adding to the already-record payroll for the remainder of the season, but hell, the Phillies are already paying Thome.

“Similar to the Yankees teams [Dodgers manager Joe] Torre had when [Darryl] Strawberry came off the bench. I think you’re kidding yourself if you’re a manager and he’s sitting on the bench that you don’t think twice before making a move,” Rowand said. “He’s a professional hitter – he doesn’t need four at-bats a day to stay sharp.”

Thome on the Dodgers doesn’t guarantee anything, but he is a slight difference maker. It would have been the same deal with the Phillies, too.

And on another note, who doesn’t want Jim Thome around? Sure, he’s just a hitter these days and nearing the end of his Hall of Fame career, but man… what a good dude. That should count for something.

Instant classic

pedroIf the gunslingers from the Wild, Wild West had been baseball players instead of plying their trades at the OK Corral, it might have looked a lot like the first seven innings of Thursday night’s game at the Bank.

With Cy Old, Pedro Martinez dueling against Cy Young, Tim Lincecum, the OK Corral imagery worked in the most austere sense, however. In fact, after Pedro struck out the side in the third inning to register his seventh strikeout against the first 10 hitters he faced, he strutted off the mound as if he were going up against the Yankees at Fenway 10 years ago.

So when he strutted off the mound at the end of the third with his eyes narrowed and right arm dangling at his side as if it were some sort of weapon, it was as if he were saying to Lincecum, “There you go, kid. Your turn.”

And Lincecum, a pitcher in whom Pedro saw a lot of similarities with, answered.

Both pitchers lasted seven innings and combined for 20 strikeouts and one walk. Pedro got nine whiffs and no walks while Lincecum got the other 11 and the walk. Perhaps the only real mar on the game was that because it was so close, both pitchers had to come out after seven innings for pinch hitters.

What a drag.

Nevertheless, Pedro vs. Lincecum was pure artistry. Call it the old master dialing it up to show the next big thing how it works. And yet though Pedro might go down as the right-handed version of Sandy Koufax, he looked at Lincecum as an heir of sorts. There they were, two narrow shouldered righties throwing heat and breaking off knee-buckling changeups in the middle of a tense September pennant race.

Yes, there were plenty of subtle fist pumps from the pitchers after big outs to go around.

“Kind of flashes back from the good old times,” said Pedro, flashing a smile after the game. “As you know, I don’t have the same power I used to have, but I’ve always said it’s not about power. It’s about hitting the spots and knowing what to do with it.”

Ah yes, the good old days. That was back when Pedro won three Cy Young Awards and should have had a fourth had it not been for some suspect voting. Regardless, Pedro also acknowledged that facing Lincecum fired him up a bit like those old days when he faced Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson in big-time games. That was especially the case after Eugenio Velez smashed the first pitch of the game into the right-field seats.

“That isn’t going to help you against a guy like Lincecum,” Pedro said. “That game could easily have finished 1-0 with the stuff he had.”

Instead, Lincecum made two, maybe three, mistakes. He hung one to Jayson Werth who knocked it into the second deck in left field for his 30th homer of the season. It was also the fourth different ballpark he nailed one into the second deck in left (CBP, Toronto and both New York City parks).

Then, with two outs in the sixth, Linecum plunked Chase Utley high on the right shoulder which set the table for Ryan Howard’s game-winning RBI double.

Still, Pedro was impressed with his mini-me.

“He’s amazing,” Pedro said about Lincecum. “He reminds me a lot of me, only twice as better at the same time in the big leagues. This is his second or third year, right? Yeah, he already has a Cy Young.”

The feeling was mutual for Lincecum toward his fellow 5-foot-11 right-handed Cy Young Award winner and two All-Star Game starter. Pedro had always been a model for the Giants 25-year-old stud, who is only in his second full big league season. That even goes for Thursday night’s classic where Lincecum watched just as intently as the 45,000-plus in the seats. Watching, the Giants’ ace knew that the first pitcher that blinked was going to lose.

“I used him as an example of guys who had great careers and put up pretty phenomenal numbers considering their lack of size,” Lincecum said.

Tim Lincecum“Just to get to see what kind of stuff he has and it’s just ridiculous how nasty it still is today. You can see that he knows what he’s doing and he’s not just winging it up there hoping that he’s getting outs. He’s pitching with a purpose. He knows how to get guys out and that was apparent in the first three innings.”

That’s exactly how manager Charlie Manuel saw it, too. Though they traveled in similar circles during the Indians’ glory years where Manuel was the hitting coach and manager and Pedro was putting together his seven-year epic streak for the Red Sox, the manager and pitcher didn’t really know each other.

Truth is, Manuel doesn’t much like talking about the days Pedro stuck it to him and the Indians, especially that deciding game of the 1999 ALDS where Pedro came on in relief and threw six no-hit innings. Pedro on the mound never did much to help Manuel’s Indians.

But now that they are getting to know one another, the feeling has changed… a bit.

“Pedro has a lot of determination. Actually, Pedro is a little bit different person than I thought he was. He’s a mentally tough guy, a gamer, and he’s cocky, but in a good way,” Manuel said. “He definitely knows baseball and he knows how to pitch. He has a tremendous feel for pitching.”

Meanwhile, it’s not farfetched to think that the mid-season acquisition who has pitched in just six games for a 3-0 record with a 3.52 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 23 innings, can elbow his way onto the playoff rotation. Cliff Lee is a given, so too is Cole Hamels. But the other two spots are up for grabs between Pedro, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ.

Though he hasn’t been stretched out to Manuel’s liking, Pedro has several things going for him aside from guile, reputation and experience. So far this season 71 percent of his pitches have resulted in a swinging strike. Nearly 20 percent of his pitches have resulted in a swing and miss.

The 20 percent swing-and-miss ratio is by far the best on the Phillies’ starting rotation, and only Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson have higher rates amongst all pitchers for the team this season.

So there is a little bit left of the old Pedro in the old Pedro.

“As far as me, individually, I wanted this kind of game,” he said. “I want to help this team, not only today, but in the future. This is September already. I really need to get it all together if I want to help this team, and [Thursday] was a big step forward.”

Of cities and slumps

chicagoCHICAGO – Lots of people like to say Chicago is a lot like New York only clean. That’s fair, I suppose. Chicago is a sprawling city, but not with the boroughs of NYC. It’s more like Los Angeles in that sense in that the city is self contained and doesn’t rely on other little pockets of towns and hamlets to make it whole.

In that regard Chicago is unlike Philadelphia in that there is no inferiority complex with New York to the north and Washington to the south. That kind of makes Philadelphia feel as if it’s just on the way to somewhere else.

Or something like that. Then again I really have no logical insight to offer on Chicago. It’s a good place. Lots of water and tall buildings. They even have a beach within the city confines. More importantly, they have two competitive baseball teams. One plays in the American League in a dumpy stadium on the south side of town (and even won the World Series in 2005), and the other plays in a dumpy ballpark on the north side of town.

Now here’s what I really don’t get about Chicago… why are the Cubs so beloved? It has to be the ballpark, right? People love showing up at Wrigley to do everything but pay attention to baseball. It is, as so deftly described by White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, a bar. It’s a big, outdoor bar surrounding a baseball diamond.

“But one thing about Wrigley Field, I puke every time I go there,” Guillen said earlier this season. “That’s just to be honest. And if Cub fans don’t like the way I talk about Wrigley Field, it’s just Wrigley Field. I don’t say anything about the fans or anything now. But Wrigley Field, they got to respect my opinion. That’s the way I feel.”

Imagine if the Phillies didn’t win the World Series for more than 100 seasons or didn’t at least get there since 1945… Phillies fans would burn the place down. Quaint old ballpark or not, the Phillies fans wouldn’t be satisfied without a winner.

There’s only so much folks in Philly can tolerate and that gets back to the whole destination city thing. This is the magnet of the Midwest. It’s in the realm of places like LA or NYC in that kids aspire to be successful in Chicago. Hell, think of all the actors, writers and comedians that come from Chicago. It’s doubtful that “Saturday Night Live” would have made it early on if it hadn’t been for the filter system the show seemingly had with Second City.

We’ll get into the essence of the ballpark tomorrow. But in short it’s difficult not to be charmed by Wrigley despite what Ozzie Guillen says. Shoot, maybe it is pretty much just a bar. You know, one of those neighborhood joints they seem to have on every corner in South Philly. Only instead of being a part of the neighborhood, Wrigley IS the neighborhood.

There isn’t much space here, but, you know… whatever.

*
press boxHere’s the important stuff… the Phillies are going to be OK. Sure, the lead has been whittled down to just four games after getting swept at home by the Marlins, and neither the hitting nor pitching has been all that good.

But if it was bad enough for Charlie Manuel to spend 20 minutes after Sunday’s game giving his team the business, then everything ought to be sorted out soon. See, Charlie doesn’t get worked up just for the sake of getting fired up. His messages usually have a purpose and that definitely seems to be the case in this instance.

Besides, compare the Phillies stats and records of last August with this month. Go ahead… do it. Know what you’ll find? That they are nearly identical. Last August the Phillies stunk and this August they are scuffling a bit, too.

In eight games this month the Phillies are batting .242 with eight homers, a .283 OBP and just 25 runs scored. That comes to an average of just a little over three runs per game.

Last August the Phillies batted just .235 with 30 homers in 29 games and 115 runs scored. That total comes to a little more than three runs per game (3.965).

Uncanny isn’t it?

So there it is – the Phillies don’t play well in August. It’s a bona fide trend. If they can turn it around in September and October that will be a trend, too.

Family history repeating itself?

drabeks

Selected in the 11th round of the 1983 draft, Doug Drabek was the property of four different organizations before his son Kyle was born in 1987. In fact, Doug’s rights were held by the Twins, White Sox and Yankees before he made his Major League debut.

So it’s kind of interesting that the son of the 1990 NL Cy Young Award winner and first-round draft pick of the Phillies in 2006 is in such an interesting spot. Kyle’s dad was once the proverbial player-to-be-named-later. No one ever coveted Doug Drabek as a minor leaguer until he actually got to the big leagues and proved he could pitch.

And pitch he did.

From 1988 to 1993, Doug tossed at least 219 innings and averaged 245 innings per season, counting the playoffs. He also never missed a start during that six-year span, won 71 games and finished in the top 5 in the Cy Young balloting three times.

The older Drabek was The Horse of the rotation that Charlie Manuel always talks about. He was the type of pitcher that gave the manager, pitching coach and bullpen a break every five days.

Now here’s where it gets interesting – when Doug Drabek was his son’s age (21), he was dealt from the White Sox to the Yankees organization and got a promotion from Single-A to Double-A. The following year (1985), Drabek spent the entire year in Double-A before starting ’86 in Triple-A for a handful of games.

At age 24, Doug Drabek was in the big leagues for good. For six years of his 12-season career he was one of the best pitchers in the National League, though hardly a Hall of Famer. After he signed a big free-agent deal with the Astros, Drabek won just 42 more games in the big leagues and by 1998, the career was over.

He was just 35.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Roy Halladay pitches until he is 35. That means he has three more years to go, which, if history (the Phillies, family and natural development) is an indicator, three years should be the time when Kyle Drabek is in the big leagues for good.

That is if he stays healthy long enough to make it to the big leagues.

Comparisons between father and son are inevitable. Why not … it’s easy. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, they say, and besides, Doug Drabek was a really good pitcher until the end. However, it seems as if the only thing the Drabeks have in common when it comes to pitching is that they both are right-handed and have the same last name.

Otherwise, Doug Drabek was crafty. He struck out a bit more than five hitters (5.7) per nine innings in the Majors and had roughly the same ratio (5.4) in the minors. Doug was efficient as a pitcher. He threw a sinker and made the most of his pitches. Even when he was racking up more 250 innings per season, Doug never averaged more than 109 pitches per game.

This season Kyle Drabek has 118 strikeouts in 122 innings. He’s has a big fastball which he used to rack up 74 whiffs in 61 2/3 inning in his first crack at advanced Single-A for Clearwater. More importantly, the injury issues seem to be behind the 21-year-old and he made the transition to Double-A rather seamlessly.

In other words, the kid knows how to pitch. So much so that Manuel didn’t compare him to his dad, but to another hard-throwing right-hander…

seaverTry Tom Seaver.

“It’d be tough for me to trade Drabek,” Manuel said. “I like Drabek because he’s strong in his legs and his hips and he’s a drop-and-drive kind of pitcher. I’m not a pitching coach but I like his mechanics and I like where he comes from and he’s a strong-bodied kid, like a Tom Seaver type or a Bartolo Colon, and he’s got that kind of stuff. And he’s young, and I think he has a big upside to him.”

But Roy Halladay… name three pitchers in the big leagues that are better than him. If Manuel wants The Horse, there he is. In fact, Halladay could get traded to the National League tomorrow and still likely get votes for the AL Cy Young Award. If Halladay were to join the Phillies and spend the remainder of his contract in Philly, a three-peat is not an unreasonable thought.

So here it is – what should the Phillies do?

• Bank on a can’t-miss kid with the pedigree and big right arm.
• Go for the short-term glory because titles come twice in 126 years in these parts.

Certainly they are tough questions and one that might keep general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. awake at night. But is there a wrong answer? Is this a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t situation?

Anyone have a crystal ball?

I beg to differ

Charlie_IassognaName one person who doesn’t enjoy the arguments in baseball. Go ahead, name just one person. And if you do find that one person who says they do not enjoy the little angry banter between manager and umpire, guess what? I have a little surprise for you…

They are lying.

Everyone likes the arguing in baseball.

Some of the reasons for this are obvious. Call it the oppressed challenging authority or the little guy standing up for himself. Then there is the cathartic aspect of it. Most of the time people have to bottle up their frustration and anger and shove it deep down until it manifests as an ulcer or high-blood pressure. But in baseball it’s OK to scream, yell and kick dirt like an idiot.

But here’s the thing about a manager kicking up a fuss over a bad call or some other slight by the umpires … it doesn’t help anything. The umpire never changes his mind, never reverses the call, and never says, “You know Chuck, you convinced me. I see things your way now so, yes, I will officially change the call. Kudos to you, sir, for helping me see the error of my ways.”

That never happens. It’s even rarer than the unassisted triple play. Since 1909 there have been exactly 14 unassisted triple plays in Major League Baseball history. But not once has an umpire ever reversed his call.

So that leads us back to the question – why argue? If the umpire is omnipotent and the issue is lost before the manager or coach even step foot out of the dugout. It’s almost as stupid as banging your head against a brick wall, yet it happens several times a week and the fans go crazy for it every time.

Take the row between Charlie Manuel and home plate umpire Dan Iassogna during the sixth inning of the Phils’ 10-5 loss to the Cubs, for instance. Clearly Iassogna missed the call where Paul Bako tipped one into the dirt. However, Iassogna ruled that the catcher Koyie Hill snagged it for strike three. The ump made the call even though dirt splashed around the ball, Bako barked, the Phillies’ bench exploded in protest and the Cubs slunk off the field like they stole something.

No worries, though, because Iassogna drove the getaway car.

Iassogna blowing the call wasn’t the problem, though. Instead that’s where the fun began. After all, ol’ Chuck is known for his hot temper. Oh sure, Charlie is fun, and relaxed and as nice as they come. He loves to tell jokes and stories and can laugh at himself easily.

But don’t cross him.

As Randy Wolf once said, “Don’t mistake his kindness for weakness.” And of course, Jim Thome once retold the story about how Charlie turned a clubhouse ping-pong table into kindling after a game.

Mix Chuck’s temper with Iassogna’s arrogance and, voila … it’s show time! That’s especially the case when a missed call stifles a two-out rally.

Do a quick Google photo search on Iassogna and it appears as if the guy has an anger-management issue, a demand for attention or, hell, maybe he is just an angry guy. What are you going to do … sometimes people are pissed off. Actually, he appears kind of confrontational.

Iassogna, as some remember, was the umpire who always seemed to drive Larry Bowa crazier than any other ump — and that’s saying something. It was Iassogna who got the notch on his belt for running Bowa for the first time as Phillies manager in July of 2001 and the two continued to have some run-ins during the length of Bowa’s stay as Phillies skipper.

In fact, Iassogna is so quick to flip off that mask, puff out his chest and confront any type question that he makes folks feel sympathy for guys like Bowa. Hell, Iassogna has even run Manuel from several games, too.

So what gives? Why does it seem as if Iassogna is in the middle of controversy and ready to throw everyone out of the game? Is there anything in his background that explains this?

Well, not really. According to the umpire media guide, Iassogna has a B.A. in English from the University of Connecticut, so maybe he ejects managers and players for ending sentences with prepositions. He also turned 40 on May 3, went to Catholic school, lives in Georgia and has a wife and two daughters.

The media guide profile also points out that Iassogna is, “a frequent blood platelet donor, [and] proudly works with the Chicago Fire Department in support of the ‘Bucks for the Burn Camp,’ which helps children that were burned in fires.”

Sounds like a good guy, right?

But then there was a story from Sept. of 2007 where ex-Phillie Marlon Anderson fought a suspension following an ejection because of Iassogna’s “lies.”

shane_iassognaAccording to the story:

“I went in there today and read the report that he wrote,” Anderson said. “It’s amazing that a grown man could sit there and lie and say the things that he said and not have to show up and defend what he said.”

He said Iassogna’s report indicated that Anderson cursed the umpire three times with a specific profanity.

“That’s something that doesn’t come out of my mouth. Anybody who knows me as a person has never heard me say that. There was a time in my life when I did use words like that. But that’s no longer what I do,” Anderson said. “It’s pretty sick. It makes me sick in the stomach. I don’t want that on my record. That’s not who I am.”

Look, the job of an umpire is not easy. Far from it. No one ever talks about their work unless they make a mistake, which is sure to give any human being a complex.

However, no one ever went to a baseball game to see Dan Iassogna – or any other umpire for that matter. That’s not a knock on the profession, but umpires know that when they train for the job. They know it’s difficult and they know they can diffuse a lot of problems by simply showing restraint.

But lately it appears as if some (not all) umpires are quick to yank off the mask and confront the players, coaches and managers. They seem to have a bad case of the rabbit ears and ready to jaw with a guy over the tiniest slight.

Then again, we cheer, chant and go crazy when they do, so maybe that’s all part of the show, too. In that case, Iassogna and some of his cronies are the classic heels.

Meet me in St. Louis?

Pete RoseI like to tell this story, which is about to become obsolete this week. In all of these years of covering and writing about sports, I have been to exactly two All-Star Games. One was the 2002 NBA All-Star Game at the Wachovia Center. As I recall, I watched the first quarter of the game, saw Michael Jordan miss a dunk and Ali and Joe Frazier sit together at courtside, and took off.

That was enough.

The other All-Star Game was the eighth grade CYO spectacular where our Sacred Heart squad turned out a 2009 Phillies-esque representation at the game. This one I stuck around to the end, started the game and had a game-high 12 points.

But this year I could avoid the Major League All-Star Game no more. After years of watching – dating back to the 1978 game – I’m actual going to witness this made-for-TV event. Call it a behind-the-scenes look at the bastardization and corporatization of our beloved game.

You know, all the things that everyone loves.

As such, certainly the big guns in baseball will be in St. Louis this week. We’ll have the self-important national media types as and league officials as well as a cadre of Hall of Famers and celebrities like Rollie Fingers and Alyssa Milano.

See, who would want to miss that.

Of course Ryan Howard will be in the worst of all made-for-TV travesties called the Home Run Derby where ESPN is required to show 35 commercials for every meatball of a pitch thrown and offer Chris Berman at his most nauseating.

Listening to Chris Berman is a lot like trying to put your entire fist into your mouth. Not only is it difficult and a tremendous waste of time, but if you succeed and get those knuckles past an incisor and/or molar and actually get your fist in your mouth, you know… then what?

All you are is some jackass sitting there in front of the TV with your fist in your mouth… how are you going to get it out?

My advice? Don’t listen to Berman — turn down the sound if you must. And please, for the love of all that’s holy, do not put your fist in your mouth.

Regardless, watching this show from inside of the ballpark-turned-TV studio will be a hoot. Veteran ball scribes say the Monday before the All-Star Game is the longest work day ever. It’s even longer than busy days at the winter meetings, which just so happens to be every day at the winter meetings.

But since I write sentences about baseball for a living, the work doesn’t bother me. It gets busy and the days long, but so what. Baseball writers that complain about the work and the writing should go dig ditches or get a job as a stagehand for Chris Berman.

bud-seligAnyway, as a veteran observer of the All-Star Game, here are some of the most memorable moments I have seen either with my eyes or through osmosis.

• Bo Jackson’s leadoff homer in 1989
Who didn’t love Bo Jackson?

• That pre-game Ted Williams thing at Fenway in 1999

A couple of years later they cut off Ted’s head and froze it. They even named the MVP Award after Williams which is apt. Williams was the personification of the selfish ballplayer whose greatest on-the-field glory came in the All-Star Game. It certainly wasn’t the only World Series he played in.

• The crazy 1987 All-Star Game in Oakland

Tim Raines won this won for the NL with a two-run triple in the 13th – the only runs of the game. The American League almost won the game in the ninth when Phillie Steve Bedrosian nailed Dave Winfield attempting to score from second on a botched double play.

• Brad Lidge throwing 100 pitches in the bullpen
According to Charlie Manuel the first rule of the All-Star Game is to return players back to their teams healthy. Maybe K-Rod ought to get his right arm limber for all those times he is going to warm up on Tuesday night.

• Pete Rose decking Ray Fosse
Arguably the most famous play in All-Star Game history. This is the one where Rose bowled over Fosse in order to score the winning run in the 1970 game and separated the catcher’s shoulder. The thing about the play was Fosse never had the ball. He also spent the night before the game having dinner with Rose.

• Commissioner Bud Selig flapping his arms during extra innings of the 2002 game
According to Charlie Manuel the first rule of the All-Star Game is to return players back to their teams healthy. Therefore, managers Joe Torre and Bob Brenly didn’t want to continue the game past the 11th inning when both teams ran out of pitchers. Forced with making a spontaneous decision in Milwaukee’s Miller Park, Selig freaked and flapped his arms like a pigeon attempting to leap over a mud puddle.

Aside from cancelling the 1994 season, the arm flapping was Selig’s most memorable moment.

It ain’t about the numbers

shane-victorinoI can’t help it. I know all about the objectivity of the job and all of that, but I really can’t help it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, yeah…”

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

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

Charlie is good like that.

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

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

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

“What’s up with what?”

“You know what I’m talking about.”

“Yeah.”

“Well…”

“I’m not talking about it.”

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

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

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

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

*

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

Influencing the vote

chuckUnless something spectacular occurs, like ballot-stuffing of Iranian proportions, Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez will start in the All-Star Game. And with Charlie Manuel serving as the manager for the National Leaguers, there’s a strong possibility that Ryan Howard will tag along. After all, Howard still is hitting homers and the game will be played in his hometown.

Then again, first base is a particularly strong position in the NL this season. Todd Helton, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, and, of course, Albert Pujols are as worthy as anyone.

Otherwise, the pickins are slim with the Phillies and potential All-Stars. Sure, Jimmy Rollins was the leading vote getter for shortstops for a while, but that does nothing more than lend credence to the argument that the fans probably shouldn’t have such a strong vote to select the team.

Anyway, I decided it would be a conflict of interest to actual take part in the voting for the All-Stars, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be an influence in other ways. So, if I were voting for All-Stars, here are the players the most worthy.

National League
C – Yadier Molina, Stl
1B – Albert Pujols, Stl
2B – Chase Utley, Phi
3B – Pablo Sandoval, SF
SS – Hanley Ramirez, Fla
OF – Raul Ibanez, Phi
OF – Brad Hawpe, Col
OF – Ryan Braun, Mil
P – Tim Lincecum, SF

American League
C – A.J. Pierzynski, ChiW
1B – Mark Teixeira, NYY
2B – Aaron Hill, Tor
3B – Evan Longoria, TB
SS – Derek Jeter, NYY
OF – Ichiro Suzuki, Sea
OF – Ben Zobrist, TB
OF – Torii Hunter, LAA
P – Zack Greinke, KC

Home on the road

rickeyDoesn’t it drive you crazy when you go for a hike on the Appalachian Trail and wind up in Argentina with some woman that isn’t your wife? Isn’t that the way it always happens?

Nevertheless, make no mistake about it, sometimes it’s just good to get away. It doesn’t matter if it is to meander through rocky trails beneath a canopy of trees or to sit on the beach with the trade winds cooling down a sunny day. Whatever it is, no one wants to hang around the house all day.

So we travel. We take the act on the road to see how green that grass on the other side really is.

Why not? There’s something relaxing about being out there on the road. You don’t have to worry about the mail, cutting the grass or if the neighbors are too loud. If anything happens, like the basement gets flooded, there’s nothing that can be done about it hundreds of miles from home. Worry about it later.

It’s the same thing with a baseball team, too. On the road all the problems of home go away so all the ballplayers have to do is hang around all day and then show up to the park to play ball. Pretty good gig, huh? Better yet, it’s not even like the players have to schlep their own luggage through the terminal or wait for their row to be called in order to board the plane. Instead they get dropped off on the tarmac of a chartered plane so they can fly all over the country in order to play baseball.

There are other perks, too. For instance, before the trip the players are handed $81 in cash for each day they are on the road. For the current trip through Tampa Bay, Toronto and Atlanta, each player was handed a little envelope with $891 cash. That’s for the players to spend on meals, sundry items and any other incidentals that pop up from time to time.

But here’s the thing – even though the players are given $81 in cold, hard cash in which to purchase food, the visiting clubhouses in every ballpark offer catered meals before and after the game as well as all the gum one can chew and all the sunflower seeds a guy can spit.

And guess what? It’s all gratis.

moneySo why should a guy go spending all that cash when he can eat at the park for free? Maybe he’ll want to buy a souvenir at some museum gift shop instead.

Or, maybe he’ll just save all that cash the way Rickey Henderson used to. According to the legend, the newly elected Hall of Famer and all-time stolen base king used to collect those envelopes he was handed before road trips and stash them away in a big shoe box that he kept in the closet of his bedroom at home. As the story goes, whenever Rickey’s kids came home from school with a good report card, he told them to go into the closet and bring out the shoe box stuffed with per diem envelopes for a quick game of “Pick It.”

Rickey held the shoe box open and the kid with the good report card got to dip a hand in and pull out an envelope. Needless to say, the kids were all hoping to yank out one of those 11-day road trip stashes buried in the box.

Still, there is an advantage for a ballclub to play at home and that mainly has to do with the rules of the game. The home team gets to bat last, which puts most of the pressure on the visiting team. Other than that there really isn’t much of an advantage to playing at home. Sure, the home town fans can help intimidate the visiting club, but they also can give a lot of grief to the guys in the home laundry.

But that still doesn’t explain why the Phillies went into Wednesday night’s action with a 24-9 record away from Philadelphia and a 13-22 mark in Citizens Bank Park. That’s the best road record and worst home mark in the league. Explain that

Maybe nothing does because the dichotomy of the records defies explanation. In fact, when the local media asked the manager and players about it last week, the frustration mounted. It was as if Charlie Manuel and Ryan Howard went to the movies with some annoying friend who asked questions about the plot the whole way through the picture.

Talk about annoying. No wonder they were frustrated and losing so many games at home.

Regardless, there has to be a remedy for the losses at home. Like, maybe the Phillies can pretend they are playing on the road even when they are in Philadelphia. Maybe they can wear their road grays and shack up in the Holiday Inn across the parking lot from the ballpark.

Better yet, maybe the Phillies can get their road trip envelopes at home instead. Or, barring that, maybe Charlie Manuel can get out the big shoe box and let the team play “Pick It” if they win a game at home.

There’s nothing like that shoe box to motivate a team.

Say it ain’t Sosa… no really, say it

mac_samMy friend Mike was working on some formulas and quantum physics things that could, if the math is right, add more hours to the day. The month of February might be a casualty in all of this, but the other months will be symmetrical and we very well could end up with some extra time.

It should be noted that Mike is working on this in his free time, which kind of shoots his theory in the ass a bit, but otherwise, this is groundbreaking stuff. If anything it will give the baseball writer-types the much-needed time to watch things like the Joe Buck Live so we can ponder the host’s second favorite web site.

After the five minutes passes that it takes to understand the significance of the sports announcer’s show and the unnatural disaster named Artie Lange[1], we can take a nap with the report on Sammy Sosa and his alleged positive test acting as an organic Ambien.

I almost read the report in The New York Times about Sammy Sosa’s alleged positive test from 2003. I should say that I actually dialed it up on the Internets, looked at the picture of Sammy and Big Mark McGwire smiling together during that summer of 1998, and tried to get through the lede graf.

But then I couldn’t stop yawning. Not enough oxygen to my head, I guess. But the yawns came so frequently that it seemed like a good idea to get up and walk around a bit. Maybe grab a drink with a little caffeine to shake loose the cob webs. Then I could go back and sit down and get through the story.

Only when I tried again I dozed off. The weird thing about this was that I was sitting in the press box at the Phillies-Jays game. There were more than 45,000 people hovering about and there I was drooling on the keys of my laptop. I may have even sprayed Gonzo or Crasnick who usually sit next to me at the ballgames.

What are you going to do? If a Sammy Sosa getting popped for PEDs can’t hold one’s attention, what chance do innocent bystanders have?

Yet refreshed and rested, I forged on. Only instead of reading up on Sammy, I learned that Senator Barbara Boxer from California really has “a thing” about highly decorated military men calling her, “senator” as opposed to “ma’am,” or even, “Babs.”

The distinguished senator from California claims she worked hard for her title, which means she raised a helluva lot of money. In fact, Babs raised so much money that the great state of California has tax rates that make even ballplayers complain. Oh sure, those guys complain about anything dealing with taxes and money and government. It’s like one of those minutemen brigades or something, only the fortified bunkers are loaded with therapeutic tubs and pools, a training staff and all the maple bats a guy could ever want. In the case of the Phillies, sometimes the common area of the bunker (aka, The Clubhouse) has an actual team of ballplayers in it after games, but most of the time the jocks are out-numbered by PR staff members by a rate of 5-to-1.

Anyway, take a look at ol’ Babs giving Gomer Pyle the business:

Oh, but there was one thing that had me rapt for approximately 10 whole minutes. In fact, I was actually excited to lounge on the couch and read the Sports Illustrated send-up on Charlie Manuel.

Sure, there weren’t too many new stories in the piece, and, in fact, I recall hearing one of them a few weeks ago. In the story Charlie even points out that he told the story a few days prior. Well, he told them to us in the dugout during the early afternoon meet-and-greet he does with the local writing press. The truth is, the guy loves to tell stories about Billy Martin and Japan, and frankly, we like to hear them as many times as he wants to tell them.

chuckCharlie has a few other doozies that likely won’t see print any time soon and haven’t made it into the Sports Illustrated or HBO features. Actually, that raises a pretty interesting premise and that is Charlie likes to talk to the big-time national press.

Bryant Gumble, Frank DeFord and HBO? Sure, send ‘em over. Sports Illustrated? No problem – where is the fitting for the tux? A speaking gig warming up for Colin Powell, Rudy Giuliani and Donovan McNabb? No problem, just get ready for the folksy charm.

So here’s the issue… is Charlie spreading himself too thin? Are the Phillies playing so poorly at home because of all the demands on their time from winning the World Series? Undoubtedly, Charlie and the rest of the Phillies will answer with a resounding, “No!” But think about it – how many national TV commercial ads were Phillies players starring in before they won the World Series? Before Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels became pitchmen, was there anyone else other than Mike Schmidt an Pete Rose?

It’s a wonderful thing winning the World Series, but damn if it ain’t time consuming.


[1] Just gonna say it: would anyone give a flying fig about the Joe Buck Live if Artie Lange had not been on it? If the answer is anything other than, “No,” you don’t get it.

Stick to the script

utleyNEW YORK – One gets to learn a lot about the media, drama and hype on a trip to New York City. Here in the big city they really have a knack for mythmaking whereas the writing press from Philadelphia are pretty good at seeing something for what it is and leaving it at that.

This time we’re not talking about Raul Ibanez and the inanity of the lathered up media reaction from the made up controversy. Though I will admit I kind of liked Joe Posnanski’s take on it.

No, this time we’re talking about Chase Utley and Mike Pelfrey and the apparent exchange of words the pair had during an at-bat in the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s game. As Pelfrey explained it, he was upset about Utley stepping out of the box just as he was about to deliver a pitch. As such, Pelfrey barked at Utley, who returned with ignorant surprise.

“I was about to step into the box and it seemed like he was ready to pitch,” Utley said after taking a second to figure out what the hell was being talked about. “I wasn’t trying to make him frustrated. I was trying to put a good at-bat together.”

After the game, both Pelfrey and Utley were asked about it. Utley said Pelfrey said something to him but wasn’t sure what it was about. Pelfrey explained that he was peeved at Utley stepped out, told him and that was it. Everything ended right there.

“I got upset and told him to get in the box,” Pelfrey explained. “I don’t even know the guy. It was too much adrenaline, I guess.”

When asked, manager Charlie Manuel thought Pelfrey was upset with Shane Victorino. Why not? Isn’t someone always upset with Victorino? He certainly drives Charlie nuts sometimes.

So there it is. All over, right?

Wrong.

During the Mets’ post-game show on SNY, they showed the footage of Pelfrey shouting toward Utley over and over again with in-depth analysis of some sort of fabricated rift between the two archrival teams. While this was going on, New York-based reporters combed the Phillies’ clubhouse to pose questions to the team members about their little fantasy fight. Was something going to happen next time? Why do these teams hate each other so?

Who wins in a fight between Utley and Pelfrey?

Apparently, the fact that it was all a heaping pile of bullbleep really didn’t matter. There was going to be a story, dammit, just like there was going to be a story with Ibanez and some unknown dude in the Midwest somewhere.

To paraphrase a quote from Joe Piscopo in the movie Johnny Dangerously, “I’m embarrassed to be a media member these days. The other day someone asked me what I do for a living, and I told them I was a male nurse.”

(Thanks Deitch).

Anyway, there is a pretty good rivalry between the Phillies and the Mets but it’s likely that the New Yorkers are pushing it harder than needs to be. After all the Yankees have the Red Sox and the Mets are second fiddle in town. Frankly, they might be afraid to admit that the Phillies and the Dodgers is a much better and more interesting rivalry.

But that one doesn’t fit into the manufactured scripts up here.

Big time in the big city

lidgeAs far as divisional series in June goes, the Phillies’ three-game stand in New York City against the Mets is pretty big. The Phillies, of course, have a three-game lead in the NL East while the Mets are doing what they can to hang on in the wake.

With all the injuries and typical drama that plagues the New York teams, the Mets aren’t doing all that badly. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that the Phillies overcame a six-game lead in late September of 2007 to win the division by a game.

Besides, the Mets don’t flop until the end of the season.

Nevertheless, despite the key injuries to reliever J.J. Putz and overrated shortstop Jose Reyes, things aren’t all that bad for the Mets. Sure, Chipper Jones claimed that third baseman David Wright was complaining about the pitching-friendly dimensions at Citi Field, it could be worse for the Mets. The funny thing about that is Charlie Manuel says back in his day, every stadium was the size of Citi Field.

Hey, it can always be worse.

What the Mets have going for them (of course) is Johan Santana. He’s been as good as the Mets had hoped and has already stuck it to the Phillies once already this season.

Still, if the Phillies can get Brad Lidge and Jimmy Rollins squared away, this race could be over quickly. Oh, they might not say Rollins’ and Lidge’s slumps are concerning, but that can’t be totally accurate… right?

Maybe. After all, despite his 6-for-36 (.167) in his last eight games and demotion out of the leadoff spot for Sunday’s victory in Los Angeles, the Phillies’ offense appears to be potent enough to withstand an extended jag by Jimmy Rollins. That doesn’t mean Charlie Manuel doesn’t need Rollins to start hitting, because he does. The numbers bear that out. When Rollins gets on base and scores, the Phillies win. It’s as simple as that.

Not so simple is the slide by the closer Lidge. Apparently he is making up for lost time on the blown saves front after going a perfect 48-for-48 last season. This year the stats don’t look too great after he blew back-to-back saves last weekend and is 13-for-19 in save opportunities with a 7.27 ERA.

However, Lidge spoiled the Phillies last year because blown saves are inevitable. Just look at Mets’ closer Francisco Rodriguez, who set the Major League record with 62 saves last season. To get those 62, Rodriguez needed 69 chances. In fact, the so-called K-Rod has never blown fewer than four chances a season during his career and though he’s a perfect 15-for-15 this year, his save percentage is just 87 percent. That’s slightly better than Lidge’s career mark, though it is worth noting that K-Rod saved eight games last year in which he didn’t go a full inning.

Moreover, the last time Rodriguez went more than one inning to get a save was July 1, 2007.

Goose Gossage he is not.

Regardless, it should be a pretty interesting showdown in the fancy, new Citi Field (new Yankee Stadium it is not).

Matchups:

Tonight: LHP J.A. Happ (4-0, 2.48) vs. LHP Johan Santana (7-3, 2.00)

Tomorrow: LHP Cole Hamels (4-2, 4.40) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (4-2, 4.85)

Thursday: LHP Jamie Moyer (4-5, 6.27) vs. RHP Tim Redding (0-2, 6.97)

Working on the weekend

The popular sentiment during the weekend was that the Dodgers-Phillies matchup was a preview of this year’s NLCS… sure, sounds right to me.

Nevertheless, if the season were to end today (it doesn’t) the playoff matchups would have the Dodgers hosting the Mets and the Phillies in a rematch against the Brewers in the NLDS.

In the American League the matchups would pit the Yankees against the Tigers and the Red Sox vs. Rangers.

Why mention this? Well, 28 years ago tomorrow playoff spots actually were decided on June 10.  Yep, on this date in 1981, the players went on a two-month strike that did not end until July 31. As a result, the owners decided to split the 1981 season into two halves, with the first-place teams from each half in each division (or a wild card team if the same club won both halves) meeting in a best-of-five divisional playoff series.

It was a terribly flawed system because the Cincinnati Reds finished with the best record but didn’t make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals snuck in with a 50-53 record.

The Phillies also got in thanks to being in first place when the players walked out on June 10. Eventually, they lost in an entertaining five game NLDS series to the Montreal Expos even though the St. Louis Cardinals finished the season with the best record in the NL East.

Weird, wild stuff.

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?

Stuck with ’em

Phillies Mets BaseballBaseball guys like to trot out the clichés when there are no words or reasonable ways to describe the action on the field. Lately, the one most used by the Phillies has been “That’s baseball,” which has replaced, “It is what it is,” as the cliché de guerre.

Those phrases have been reserved for those hard hit balls from Jimmy Rollins that found gloves instead of turf as well as the opposite – when the balls hit off the Phillies’ pitchers find the grass (or the stands) rather than mitts.

Crazy thing that baseball.

Nevertheless, as the first significant landmark of the long season approaches (Memorial Day), there have been some constant themes of the season that we just can’t shake. For instance, there is Rollins and his streakiness, Raul Ibanez and his hotness, Cole Hamels and his healthiness and, of course, the starting pitchers and their ineffectiveness.

Here it comes in black and white:

The Phillies enter tonight’s game in Cincinnati with a 6.35 starter’s ERA. Only Boston and Baltimore in the hitting-happy American League are even within shouting distance of the Phillies’ starters with a 5.76 ERA.

Uglier? The Phillies’ starters have an ERA almost two runs higher than the league average, while the opposition is hitting .308 against them (yes, that’s the worst in baseball) while reaching base at a .376 clip.

Again, it’s the worst in baseball.

Here’s one more thing about the starters and their awful numbers… the starter’s OPS is a robust .921, which kind of makes it seem like they face Alfonso Soriano with every hitter.

Get an OPS of .921 for a career and get ready for a ceremony in Cooperstown.

Here’s the amazing part – the Phillies are tied for first place in the NL East. In other words, sometimes a good offense is the best defense. However, the Phillies can’t expect this to keep up because it never does. At some point they will need to pitch well and pitch well consistently.

Yes, duh.

Along with the catchphrases like, “That’s baseball,” and, “It is what it is,” manager Charlie Manuel has brought out the time-tested classic, “These are the guys we have.” That might very well be code for, “Hey Ruben, get us some help.”

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr.’s line about the team needing to perform better is code for, “I’m trying, but good pitchers cost a lot.”

The worst of the bunch are Jamie Moyer, Joe Blanton and Chan Ho Park. Currently, Blanton has the sixth-worst ERA in the Majors at 6.86 and if Moyer had been able to accumulate enough innings in his seven starts, his 8.15 ERA would be the worst.

Think about this for a second – a 46-year old pitcher going just 35 innings in seven starts for a 8.15 ERA and a 1.042 OPS against… yeah, Steve Carlton wasn’t even close to being that bad when the Phillies waived him in 1986 at age 41.

In the short-term, Moyer and Blanton aren’t going anywhere. In fact, Moyer has another season left on his contract. When asked if a move to the bullpen were possible for Moyer, pitching coach Rich Dubee said, flatly, “No.”

If only Moyer could face the Marlins every time out…

The only option for now is for lefty J.A. Happ to take over a spot in the rotation for Park. Of course Park just lasted four outs in Sunday’s start against the Nationals directly on the heels of back-to-back strong outings in which he gave up just two runs and eight hits in 12 innings. But of the underperforming trio, Park is the only pitcher with versatility.

Besides, Memorial Day is approaching. Since 1968, more than half of the teams in first place at that first signpost go on to win the division.

*

  • Jason Kendall of Milwaukee got the 2,000th hit of his career last night. He only needs 48 more to tie Johnny Bench… Jason Kendall gets more hits in his career than Johnny Bench? How does that happen?
  • The Nationals’ Cristian Guzman is leading the National League with a .385 batting average, but for the first 37 games of the season his batting average and on-base percentage were the same. Yes, that’s right, Guzman had not walked once. That changed on Monday night when he got a free pass in the fifth inning of the Nats’ 12-7 loss to Pittsburgh.
  • On Sunday Brad Lidge broke his streak of six games of allowing at least one run. During his streak the Phillies’ closer had one save, and allowed 11 hits and nine runs in six innings.

On another note, Geoff Geary, one of the pitchers Lidge was traded from Houston for, has had streaks of five and four consecutive games in which he allowed at least one run.

Check it out.

Lunchtime ceremony with The President

whWe’ll be back from Washington, D.C. after the trip to The White House where President Barack Obama welcomes the World Champion Phillies for his first ceremony in his new job.

If you want to watch the ceremony live, click here to view the stream from The White House web site. I’m sure it will be on CNN and MSNBC, too.

Apropos of nothing, Charlie Manuel once told us about being introduced to President Obama by Aaron Rowand when he was a senator.

So we’ll have all the color and pageantry live from The White House (check the twitter site for off-the-cuff live updates) and more here and on CSNPhilly.com afterwards.

Moreover, we’ll be at Nationals Park to write about the 16-16 Phillies as they take on the last place Nats. Maybe the Nats’ pitching staff will be the remedy for the Phillies’ quiet bats.

In that regard, I stumbled across an interesting note about the crazy Phillies offense… get this: the Phillies have lost three games in which the opposing starting pitcher did not record a strikeout. In one of those, last Thursday’s loss to the Mets at CitiField, the Phillies did not strikeout at all.

Check it out on the Baseball-Reference blog.

Danny Ozark: Baseball man

OzarkdannyNEW YORK – Frank Lucchesi was the first Phillies manager during my lifetime, though I’m not familiar with his body of work. Oh sure, I’ve seen the numbers and they aren’t very good, and I heard the story about Lenny Randle pulling a gun on the manager when they were with the Texas Rangers, but  as far as Lucchesi goes, he’s just a name in the record books.

Lucchesi (1970-1972), 166-233.

However, when I first learned about what baseball was, Danny Ozark was the manager of the Phillies. Better yet, when I was a kid Danny Ozark took the Phillies to the playoffs every year.

It was because of Ozark, who died Thursday morning in Florida at age 85, that I also learned the time-tested idiom of baseball that managers are hired to be fired. In August of 1979 Ozark was released from his job as manager of the Phillies, which at the time was baffling to me. My youthful naïveté just saw the three consecutive playoff appearances and the back-to-back 101-win seasons, which is a feat never duplicated before or since in team history

I can’t say I have too many memories of Ozark’s work other than the time I went to game at The Vet when I was a kid and he came onto the field to argue a call or maybe he got ejected. I can’t recall though through the magic of the web site that is Baseball-Reference, I dug up the box score.

Anyway, it seemed as if Ozark was the right man at the time to build up the Phillies to a playoff caliber team. He took them right up to the crest of the hill, but had to step aside so Dallas Green could push them over the top.

From the sound of things, Charlie Manuel nailed it when describing Ozark before Thursday’s game against the Mets.

“I knew Danny Ozark and I considered him a friend of mine,” Manuel said. “He used to talk to me a lot. I was a player when he managed in the minor leagues. He was great guy – a great baseball guy. He was a dedicated baseball guy. He was a good teacher, too. He loved the game and had a good personality about him, too.”

Calling someone a “good baseball man” is one of the highest words of praise from the baseball fraternity. When one hears another call someone a baseball man, well, you can tell a lot about that guy immediately. So it sounds like Danny Ozark was a good guy and Philadelphia was lucky to have him for a few glorious years.

Just Manny being Barry?

a-rod-and-mannyNEW YORK – I had planned a whole thing on the brand-new Citi Field and the Phillies’ first visit to the new digs in Queens, but Manny Ramirez kind of ruined that. Besides, at this point when new ballparks are popping up every season, including two of them in New York City, the shine is off the penny a bit.

So think about this – would there have been more fawning over places like Citi Field or the new Yankee Stadium if they were built 5-to-10 years ago? It’s been nearly 20 years since Camden Yards kicked off the whole retro-ballpark craze and now it appears as if every city that wants one has either built it or is set to begin construction.

Heck, even the Marlins are getting a new park for their six fans.

Here are a couple more things to ponder… are we going to be back replacing all these new ballparks in another 30 years like we were with the multi-purpose parks of the late 1960s and early ‘70s?

And if we keep shelling out the cash to build all these stadiums, are city skylines only going to hold the light fixtures and facades of ballparks? It seems like the only public funding put to the vote are to build stadiums… you know, screw bridges and roads.

Anyway, the Phillies and manager Charlie Manuel – a former mentor to Ramirez – were about as excited to talk about the latest drug suspension as they were the new ballpark. The most interesting part was while expressing sadness over the situation and fear over the harm the drug issues could cause to the sport, players generally indicate that players tied to performance-enhancing drug use have not had their accomplishments diminished.

They also don’t believe the game has suffered despite saying they want it cleaned up.

Meanwhile, baseball’s revenues and attendance has never been higher (excluding New York City, of course, where sellouts only occurred at the old ballparks), which seems to say that the fans don’t really give a damn about baseball’s issues.

Anyway, we’re not going to add to the pile of reflexive commentating regarding Ramirez and his positive test/50-game suspension since the finger waging appears to be taking care of itself. However, it is worth noting that the three top hitters of this era have all been tied/admitted/suspended for performance-enhancing drug use. In fact, one of the three has been indicted for perjury for his grand jury testimony about his alleged drug use.

Barry, Manny and A-Rod is hardly this era’s Willie, Mickey, and The Duke, huh?

Since baseball is a numbers game, let’s look at a few. For instance, nine of the top 20 home run hitters of all-time have played this decade, and six of those nine have been tied to PED use. The three who have not are Jim Thome, Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey Jr.

What do you think of that trio’s careers now?

How about this set of numbers – 22 players who have been on teams managed by Joe Torre have been associated with PEDs. Joe’s 22 are:

Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Gary Sheffield, Mike Stanton, Dan Naulty, Darren Holmes, Jason Grimsley, Chuck Knoblauch, Glenallen Hill, Matt Lawton, Denny Neagle, David Bell, Kevin Brown, Jason Giambi, Randy Velarde, Ron Villone, Ricky Bones, Rondell White and David Justice.

Can’t wait to dive into Tony LaRussa’s list…

If you don’t want to see, close your eyes

metsA few years ago another scribe and I were shooting the breeze with Pat Burrell before a game. If I’m not mistaken, the conversation covered all of the ground regarding the ex-Phillies outfielder’s workouts at the prestigious Athletes’ Performance Center in Arizona and golfer Phil Mickelson’s empty locker in the joint as well as his alleged penchant for gambling.

You know, basic pre-game fodder.

But then the question was posed to Burrell if he had read something written about him in one of the local papers. This was the final year of Larry Bowa’s tenure as the manager of the Phillies so some of the stories written by some of the folks in the press weren’t the gentlest of critiques of the teams’ play. The story in question was definitely one of those.

Burrell, however, never saw the story and didn’t seem too interested, either. His general thoughts on the local press (supposedly) was that they (we) are “rats.” It’s an unfortunate description especially since I prefer to use the cunning and quick-witted fox to describe some members of the press corps. Yeah, there are a few rats, but they are more like that Templeton from Charlotte’s Web.

Anyway, Burrell then revealed that (one) of the reasons why he didn’t see the story was because the team was not allowed to have newspapers in the clubhouse. Yeah, there was freedom of the press to assemble in the clubhouse, but by edict of manager Larry Bowa, the work of those meddling reporters was verboten in the inner sanctum lest some of the words over-boil the blood of the ballplayers.

In fact, it wasn’t until Charlie Manuel was hired as manager of the Phillies that newspapers were strewn about the common areas of the room. Better yet, ballplayers were able to fold over the pages and sit comfortably to do the daily crossword puzzle, Sudoku or jumble without engaging in subterfuge or the threat of scorn and fines.

Yes, it was a great day for literacy when Charlie Manuel became manager of the Phillies.

But in New York another manager named Manuel is not so as enlightened as our Charlie. In fact, Jerry Manuel of the New York Mets has enacted a Bowa-esque media blackout only with a certain caveat:

The USA Today is allowed in the Mets’ new clubhouse at CitiField, but The New York Post and New York Daily News, well, those papers aren’t quite up to the Mets’ Major League standards.

The edict, apparently, was to avoid “bad vibes,” which is fair. Look, if I don’t like a radio station, I turn the station. If I don’t like a TV show, I turn the channel. And you sure as shoot better believe that if I don’t like a periodical, I’m not going to lug it around town or have it delivered to my home and/or office.

So why should the Mets?

When word of Bowa’s paper banned leaked out the consensus seemed to be shrugged shoulders or bemused laughter. I looked at it as Nixon-esque paranoia by a guy wrapped a little too tight because I knew the papers weren’t banned because of the political bent of the Op-Ed pages. The sports section of some of the local papers rankle some delicate sensibilities – it’s OK.

Different strokes.

But in New York, the exorcism of the papers made all of the papers – and blogs. Better yet, the game story in the Post the other day led with the “controversy.” Sure, Beltran is hitting the ball like crazy, but he can’t read the Post or Daily News after the game…

Stop the press!

Or don’t… the Mets couldn’t care one way or the other.

**

In the Times, a newspaper not listed on the Mets’ clubhouse ban (though it could be), our old pal Doug Glanville dives into the latest A-Rod controversy regarding the tipping of pitches to the opposition.

Good stuff from Doug, again.


graphic from The Sports Hernia

Hittin’ weather

Raul IbanezCrazy day at the old ballyard yesterday. So crazy that I had four different stories written during the game based on the outcome only to scrap them all when Raul Ibanez smacked his grand slam and when we learned Brad Lidge had an MRI, a cortisone shot AND was taking anti-inflammatory medication.

So yeah, crazy day at the ol’ ballpark.

“Good ol’ slugfest,” Charlie Manuel said.

Charlie calls these early hot days “hittin’ weather.” He’s certainly right about that considering the ball seems to travel a little bit longer when the winds are calm and the temperatures higher at Citizens Bank Park. Ibanez says he noticed the ball carrying well during batting practice earlier on Monday afternoon. But even Ibanez or Manuel would have had difficulty predicting the long shots belted by the Nationals and Phillies.

Not only did two shots clear the center field fence and strike the batter’s eye (Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Howard), but the Nats clubbed two upper deck shots – one to left by Zimmerman and one to right by Nick Johnson – and blasted one onto Ashburn Alley by Elijah Dukes.

Clearly the Nats gained more yards in the air than the Washington football team did all of last season.

Though the Phillies offense seems to be clicking after the two losses to the Brewers late last week and the first part of the Marlins games, Manuel is clearly concerned about the team’s pitching. The staff’s ERA is far and away the worst in the National League and only the Rangers and Yankees have a worse mark in the Majors.

“Looks to me like they are leaving pitches out over the good part of the plate,” Manuel said when asked about his staff’s troubles.

And by good he meant from a hitter’s perspective.

At this point it seems as if the manager has little flexibility in regard to his staff. J.C. Romero is still serving his suspension (he has 32 games to go), Lidge might have a DL stint coming and the starters aren’t giving the relievers too many breaks. So far the Phillies are fifth in the league for innings by relievers and 14th in innings pitched by starters.

Unlike with hitters, Manuel can’t sit pitchers when they struggle. In fact, it might be the exact opposite – if a pitcher is struggling the manager might opt to get him more work.

You know, depending on the circumstance.

Surely the pitching will be a topic to rear its head again soon…

*
Not messing around…
Speaking of J.C. Romero, the suspended reliever is not messing around with his law suit against the makers of the supplement 6-OXO Extreme as well as the retailers that sell the product. How so? Consider that he has Howard Jacobs as one of his attorneys.

Yes, that Howard Jacobs.

For anyone who follows cycling, track or doping cases, Howard Jacobs is the go-to name in law. It seems as if he has represented everyone from Tyler Hamilton to Floyd Landis to Marian Jones. If there is one lawyer who knows about the ins and outs of doping tests and drugs in sports, it’s Jacobs.

Better yet, Jacobs was a competitive triathlete so he understands all of the aspects of doping and athlete’s rights.

The presence of Jacobs on Romero’s legal team as well as thoughts from several attorneys weighing in on the case indicates that the pitcher has a strong case.

Still, one lawyer said if the supplement company advertised its product as something that complies with the MLB testing regimen, then yeah, Romero has a case. Otherwise, he might be losing even more cash.

Shine on you crazy diamonds

Here it is… this is Charlie Manuel’s World Series ring shown off by hand model extraordinaire, Leslie Gudel. The BlackBerry pictures certainly don’t do the ring justice, but trust me – the thing is as big as a belt buckle. In fact, Charlie even reported that there is some room for him to grow into the ring.

More importantly, it’s nice. It’s not tacky like the one the Marlins got in 2003. However, it’s definitely something noticeable when it’s worn. Several of the players left the ballpark with their new bling on and it stood out.

Anyway, here’s Chuck’s ring:

chucks-ring

chuck_ring

*

Speaking of the hand model, we were a bit taken aback when Chipper Jones said he was going to play out his current contract and then “sail off into the sunset.”

Unlike with Curt Schilling, there is no debating that Chipper is a first ballot Hall of Famer.

*

matthewsOh, here’s a crazy story… at Tuesday night’s game at the Bank, I asked a few members of the Phillies PR staff when the team would make the traditional White House visit that championship teams often are honored with.

Actually, not to be confusing, I asked, “Hey, when is the team going to visit the White House. You guys have that off-day, afterall?”

I figured the question was appropriate considering the team will be in The District next week and had an off-day scheduled for Tuesday. But, good question, right? It was quick, concise and to the point and can illicit just a handful of answers.

Or so I thought. Apparently it was a stumper because no one on the staff had an answer to give me or another colleague of the writing press corps.

So imagine our surprise this morning when we woke up, clicked on our mobile devices and saw that the team web site was reporting that the Phillies would visit with the President next Tuesday at the White House.

Wha happened?

I guess the query was too complex or maybe they thought I asked if the team was going to the White House right this minute. As in, “Hey, are guys going to visit the White House, right now?”

Hey, it’s not the first time this type of confusion has occurred in the past month. But the season is young… they’ll get it together and make sure I don’t have answers to basic questions at least once per series.

And of course I will always report back to you there in front of your computer… that’s right, I’m looking out for you, dear readers.

So yeah, the Phillies are going to the White House next Tuesday. In fact, Gary Matthews already has an in at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since his daughter and President Obama’s daughter were friends in Chicago.

Yeah, that’s right… Sarge rolls with the leader of the free world.

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 …

Betting on Raul

raul-ibanezHuge slumps aside, Pat Burrell was an integral part of the Phillies’ victory in the World Series last year. Actually, his only hit of the Series set up the WFC-winning run. As a result, he got to lead the parade down Broad Street atop of a Clydesdale-drawn beer truck with his wife and dog.

C’mon, you remember.

Anyway, it should be no surprise that Burrell’s replacement in left field and the batting order has received a bit of attention as the most-anticipated season in team history quickly approaches.

Both The New York Times and Sports Illustrated have pinned a portion of the Phillies’ success on whether or not Raul Ibanez can continue his string of 100-RBI seasons. Hitting fifth in the lineup behind the Phillies’ big hitters, Ibanez should get his chances to drive in a few runs.

At least that’s the reasoning behind why general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. signed Ibanez for three years and allowed Burrell to walk.

From SI:

Burrell’s other shortcoming was at the plate, where he was just as prone to kill a rally as a hanging curve. “Raul doesn’t give us as much raw power as Pat, but we felt like he was going to be a more consistent hitter,” says general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. (Manuel echoed the sentiment when he used the word consistent three times in 10 seconds while talking about Ibañez.) Burrell hit .215 in the second half of 2008 — the same average he had in the first half of ’07 — and he hit .234 with runners in scoring position for the entire season. Ibañez, on the other hand, has been largely immune from peaks and valleys; in his seven seasons as a regular, he’s never hit worse than .260 in a half. And he’s a career .305 hitter with runners in scoring position.

So there’s that. Ibanez makes more contact, has a better batting average and, thus, drives in more runs than Burrell. But Ibanez’s left-handedness also puts manager Charlie Manuel in a tough spot in the late innings.

As SI suggests, maybe a slight lineup adjustment makes sense:

Having replaced lumbering Pat Burrell in leftfield with lumbering Raul Ibañez, the Phillies find themselves with the 3-4-5 part of their lineup batting exclusively from the left side. That will be a major tactical issue late in games, when opposing managers bring in relief specialists to face Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Ibañez in high-leverage situations. All lefthanded hitters struggle against such lefties as the Braves’ Mike Gonzalez and the Mets’ Pedro Feliciano. Sliding Jayson Werth (career .374 on-base percentage, .545 slugging versus lefthanders) into the fifth spot ahead of Ibañez would force managers to choose between making a pitching change or taking a bad matchup, a decision that will come up repeatedly in the 36 games Philadelphia plays against its top two division rivals.

Meanwhile, there’s the matter of the right-handed hitter for the bench. Gary Sheffield is all the talk for now, but (for a lot of reasons) doesn’t seem realistic. Besides, Sheffield is a big name that gets people talking – certainly the Phillies have been pretty good at getting people to talk lately.

Maybe a slugger like Willy Mo Pena – recently released by the Nationals – might be the big right-handed bat the Phillies need for the bench?

All rock all the time…

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

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

Hey, crazier things have happened.

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

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

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

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

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

1.) Jamie Moyer’s age

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

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

Better yet, don’t.

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

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

He’s 46? Big deal.

2.) J.C. Romero’s suspension

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

Why? And why not?

3.) Lefty lineup

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

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

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

chuck4.) Charlie Manuel’s managerial acumen

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

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

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

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

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

It’s worked so far.

5.) Raul Ibanez vs. Pat Burrell

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

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

Right?

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

Whatever the hell that means.

Go ahead… they dare ya

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Spend some time with the Phillies during spring training and one tends to pick up on a few things. Call is osmosis or luck. Either way, proximity tends to shine a little light.

For instance, Chan Ho Park might not have the fifth starter spot nailed down despite the fact that he hasn’t walked a hitter in Grapefruit League action and has an ERA nearly two runs better than any of his competitors. Has Chan Ho been underestimated?

We’ll see.

Meanwhile, it appears as if there are a few more roster battles than anticipated and even “sure things” (my word) like Matt Stairs will have to fight to make the 25-man roster for the opener on April 5. Plus, Miguel Cairo’s right-handedness just might serve him well.

There is still plenty of time to iron out those details so we can place them on the backburner for the next couple weeks. For now we’ll just deal with the really important issues, like, are the Phillies good enough to win the whole thing again this year.

Um, sure. Why not?

Based on observances and conversations, it’s fair to say that the WFC Phillies and staff have more of a strut this spring than in past years. In fact, a few might even be a bit too big for their britches.

Continue reading this story …

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: Game 2 news and notes

Quick turnaround today and an even quicker one tomorrow bright and early before the sun even comes up. The cool thing is that tomorrow at this time I will be in California.

Nope, that is not a state of mind… this time.

Anyway, we’re going to start with the sad news that Charlie Manuel’s mother, June, died this morning. As I write this Charlie is watching batting practice next to the cage, but there have been no official announcements whether or not the skipper will leave the team for a short time.

Nevertheless, Charlie can take solace in the fact that his mom raised a pretty good son. If a parent is judged by how much other people like and respect their children, then June Manuel did alright.

As far as the baseball goes, there were a few minor lineup tweaks for Game 2, which will begin at approximately 4:30 p.m. It looks like it will be a gorgeous day for a ballgame.

Phillies
11 – Jimmy Rollins, ss
8 – Shane Victorino, cf
26 – Chase Utley, 2b
6 – Ryan Howard, 1b
5 – Pat Burrell, lf
28 – Jayson Werth, rf
19 – Greg Dobbs, 3b
51 – Carlos Ruiz, c
39 – Brett Myers, p

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

Check back soon… going to make the rounds.

Enough talk, let’s get it on

First things first… the Phillies announced their NLCS roster this morning and despite the speculation, reliever Rudy Seanez was not added. Just like the previous round against the Brewers, manager Charlie Manuel will go with 11 pitchers against the Dodgers

The Phillies:
Pitchers: Joe Blanton, Clay Condrey, Chad Durbin, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and Brett Myers Scott Eyre, Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, Jamie Moyer and J.C. Romero.

Infielders: Eric Bruntlett, Greg Dobbs, Pedro Feliz, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley.

Outfielders: Pat Burrell, Geoff Jenkins, Matt Stairs, So Taguchi, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth.

Catchers: Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz.

The Dodgers:
Pitchers: Jonathan Broxton, Cory Wade, Hong-Chih Kuo, Joe Beimel, Chan Ho Park, Greg Maddux, Clayton Kershaw, James McDonald, Derek Lowe, Chad Billinsgley and Hiroki Kuroda

Infielders: James Loney, Blake DeWitt, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, Angel Berroa and Pablo Ozuna

Outfielders: Manny Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Juan Pierre

Catchers: Russell Martin and Danny Ardoin.

OK, so is everybody tired of talking and contemplating Manny hitting cleanup for the Dodgers? The face that Ryan Howard and Chase Utley (especially Utley) have not hit with much alacrity during the playoffs?

Yep, it’s old. It’s tired. But it’s what we do. No, Davey Lopes wasn’t too keen on talking about the events of three decades ago, but what about the rest of us? Yeah, we know most of the Phillies weren’t even born – or didn’t care – about the Phillies and “Black Friday” and we know that occurrences of last week have no affect on a game today, let alone games played 31 years ago. But here in Philadelphia it’s part of the communal suffering. Why should the Red Sox and Cubs corner the market on the little cottage industry of sports lament?

Go sing “Sweet Caroline” or blame a Billy Goat for another loss or something. We’re in the playoffs over here. This is serious business.

So how will it play out? Yeah, good question. In that regard I guess I’m with everyone else in that the Dodgers and Phillies are incredibly evenly matched. It’s just uncanny. In fact, if the Dodgers looked in the mirror the reflection looking back at them would be the Phillies. Both clubs pitch well – the bullpens and starting corps are equally solid. They both use speed well and have decent hitters that roll off the bench. For the Dodgers guys like Nomar Garciaparra are the go-to, late-inning bat. For the Phillies it’s Greg Dobbs.

Tactically, Joe Torre and Charlie Manuel square off, but in the playoffs most managers will make all moves by the book anyway. If it comes to playoff acumen, though, Torre has the edge.

The Phillies have the advantage with the power hitters – that is if they get it going. During the NLDS the Phils won two games with the long ball and they have been scoring runs with homers all season long. Sure, the Dodgers piled up the runs in the NLDS against the Cubs with their new-look lineup, but come on… it’s going to come down to the pitching and defense.

It always does.

In that regard the difference could be how well the Dodgers’ right-handed heavy pitching staff performs against the Phillies’ power-hitting lefties. That means the series will come down to Utley and Howard. That’s where the Phillies are pinning their hopes.

“You look at Chase Utley, you think him getting four hits every day, but that don’t work that way,” Manuel said. “Baseball is 162, get in the playoffs how many games is it. So therefore that’s the way you look at it.

“We’re getting back to that even keel. That up and down. Like guys they don’t hit every day. Human nature plays a big part of the game. It’s hard to sit and explain to someone how you feel and like what’s going on and like with you and all that, and that’s the mental part, and also that’s the part we have to work through and that’s the part where guys on some nights they can go four for four, they have hot and cold nights and they have hot and cold weeks. Sometimes they have a cold month.

“Sometimes they have a season cold. But at the same time, I mean, that’s the way the game goes.”

Utley and Howard. There it is… Phillies in 7.

Game 4: Phillies 6, Brewers 2

MILWAUKEE – Charlie Manuel went with Brad Lidge in the ninth with a four-run lead mostly because there won’t be another game until next Thursday. Because the closer struggled a bit in Game 1 on just three days of rest, the Phillies might need to make sure they stay sharp the rest of the week.

At the same time, the Phillies will have a pitching staff rested and chomping at the bit when the Dodgers come to town next Thursday for Game 1 of the NLCS. Obviously L.A. will be sharp and rested, too, so it should be a pretty good series.

After all, pitching and defense are the keys to playoff baseball. During the regular season it’s often difficult to find rest for some pitchers, but here the Phillies and Dodgers will get some built into the schedule.

They can thank the prime-time TV schedule for that.

Anyway, down to the clubhouse for more color and flavor from a celebratory clubhouse. Do they pop the champagne for the NLDS? The Rockies did last year, but is it necessary?

Oh hell, why not? After all, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen every year with the Phillies.

Live it up!

Game 4: Phillies 6, Brewers 2

Phillies win series 3-1

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

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…

Eighth inning: Long time coming

Today’s attendance is the second-largest crowd in CBP history with an announced 45,929. The largest crowd was Game 2 of last year’s NLDS against the Rockies with 45,991.

I bet the record falls tomorrow.

Nevertheless, the Phillies are three outs away from their first post-season victory since Game 5 of the 1993 World Series. That was the game where Curt Schilling tossed a three-hit shutout against the Blue Jays at the Vet.

I was there in the press box that day. In fact, I’ve been in the press box for the last eight Phillies’ playoff games in a row and 11 of the last 16.

I’m getting old.

Still, Cole Hamels is through eight innings with 101 pitches, two hits, one walk and nine strikeouts. If he’s going to top Schilling’s effort he’s gone to have to politick the hell out of manager Charlie Manuel because Brad Lidge is getting warmed up in the bullpen.

Whether Lidge or Hamels takes the mound in the ninth, they will face the top of the Brewers’ order.

On another note, both the Dow and the Nasdaq were down today. Hey, who needs to retire…

End of 8 Phillies 3, Brewers 0

Pregame: Burrell in the lineup

Greeting from friendly Citizens Bank Park where we are back in the same spot for Game 1 of the NLDS just the way we were last year. Better yet, just so we don’t confuse anyone the live, in-progress updates will flow like water from a faucet.

Indeed.

Lots of media here today as one would expect… looks like those newspaper types are still hanging on while they still can. Hang tough, guys. It won’t be much longer…

Nevertheless, there was plenty of intrigue here at the Park this morning. For one, manager Charlie Manuel told us he made out two different lineups for the opening game. In one, Pat Burrell was in his normal spot in the order and playing left field just like always.

But in another, Jayson Werth shifted from right field to left and veteran Matt Stairs was slated to play right. That contingency was made just in case Burrell’s aching back did not hold up following a strain he suffered during batting practice yesterday.

However, after he took his hacks this afternoon, Burrell shot Manuel the thumbs up and declared himself ready to go. Besides, trainer Scott Sheridan said Burrell was feeling “significantly better” last night and showed up at the park at 8 a.m. this morning for treatment.

So far everything appears to be OK for Burrell and the Phillies.

Here’s today’s lineup:

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

The Brewers will counter with:

25 – Cameron, cf
2 – Hall, 3b
8 – Braun, lf
28 – Fielder, 1b
7 – Hardy, ss
1 – Hart, rf
23 – Weeks, 2b
18 – Kendall, c
49 – Gallardo, p

Meanwhile, the Phillies will go with 11 pitchers during the first round which means reliever Rudy Seanez will not be on the NLDS roster. Instead, the Phillies will have outfielder So Taguchi off the bench and rookie lefty J.A. Happ as the long man. This morning Manuel said the roster decisions were difficult.

“That was the toughest decision we had to make. Seanez played a big part in our season, especially early and all the way up to July,” Manuel said.

“Happ is on the roster in case we need a long guy real early or incase we get into a situation where the game goes into extra innings and we need a multiple innings guy.”

Finally, Shane Victorino’s shin is fine, too.

Check back closer to game time. I’m going to fight the crowd and find something to eat in the dining room.