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: 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.

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.

Sizing up the rotation now and later (a.k.a. Hamels for Halladay)

pedroWhile we’re waiting for the Angels and the Yankees to decide the American League champion, and as the Phillies take that last official day off, maybe we oughta play a little hypothetical…

You know, just for fun.

So let’s dive right in with the World Series starting rotation. We know—though not officially—Cliff Lee will pitch in Game 1. Chances are Lee will pitch in Game 4 and Game 7, too. After that, it kind of depends on which team the Phillies play. If it’s the Yankees, who wouldn’t want to see Pedro Martinez take the mound at Yankee Stadium? In fact, in the celebratory clubhouse after the Phillies, Pedro was lobbying/serenading pitching coach Rich Dubee about starting a game at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees have to get there first, which is another story, but also Pedro has an ERA near 6 in his last handful of appearances in the playoffs against the Yankees. That’s where all that “Who’s your daddy” stuff came from.

Of course, Pedro pitched a two-hit, 12-strikeout gem against the Yankees in the 1999 ALCS, but that game was at Fenway Park. In Yankee Stadium during the playoffs, Pedro has 15 strikeouts and 14 hits in 13 1/3 innings of two starts. The Red Sox lost both of those starts with Pedro checking in with a 0-1 record and a 5.40 ERA.

The Yankees don’t play in that stadium anymore, though. It’s still standing there empty with overgrown grass and a crumbling interior while the Yankees and the city of New York argue over who gets to tear it down.

No, these days the Yankees have a new Yankee Stadium that cost more than a billion dollars to build, has cracks on the cement ramps that reportedly will cost millions of dollars to repair, and the best press-box food in the business.

So there’s that.

Even though it’s not the same place and Pedro pitches for the Phillies and not the Mets and Red Sox, the New York fans are still obsessed with the guy. If the TV Networks are going to ruin the organic nature of the game by forcing longer commercial breaks between innings, night games in November and Joe Buck upon us, couldn’t they mandate that Pedro pitch a game at Yankee Stadium?

Man, that would be fun, wouldn’t it?

“I don’t think you can go wrong with Pedro Martinez,” Brad Lidge said. “He’s such a big-game pitcher. And then when you see what he did against L.A., he’s pretty impressive.”

And oh yeah, Pedro wants it. He lives for the show and the drama. The Yankees in the World Series at Yankee Stadium? Oh yes, bring it on.

“That’s my home, did you know that? That’s where I live, you need to understand. The Yankees? Get your ticket, you’ll find out fast,” he said as champagne dripped off his face following the clincher over the Dodgers.

But does it make sense? With the DH and the American League-style of game in the AL park, the Phillies might be better served with Cole Hamels pitching in Game 2… or would they?

Numbers-wise, Hamels stinks in these playoffs. Six of the 20 hits he has allowed in his 14 2/3 innings have been homers, which is amazing when one considers that Hamels gave up zero homers in seven of his last regular-season starts and just seven total runs in five postseason starts in 2008.

Still, it’s interesting to wonder how different Hamels’ NLCS would have been if Chase Utley would have been able to make a good throw on a potential inning-ending double play in the fifth inning of Game 1 at Dodger Stadium. Hamels made the pitch he needed to get out of a jam.

As (bad) luck would have it, Hamels gave up a homer to Manny Ramirez a couple of pitches after the botched double play.

So what do we have other than Cliff Lee in Game 1 and Pedro and Hamels in one of the next pair of games? Well, there’s Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ who both will start the World Series in the bullpen. If needed, one of those guys could get a start in the series but that probably depends on the opponent.

In 15 career games against the Angels Blanton is 3-7 with a 3.48 ERA and two complete games. In four career starts against the Yankees, Blanton is 0-3 with an 8.18 ERA.

Happ has never faced the Angels, but in his first start of the season in 2009 at the new Yankee Stadium, he gave up a pair of runs on four hits in six innings.

cole_hamelsMeanwhile, both the Yankees and the Angels hit .286 against lefties this season, though the Yankees’ lefty hitters were significantly better against lefty pitchers.

Still, it’s worth noting that the debate seems to be using Hamels in either Game 2 of Game 3 and whether he’s ready to face the Yankees lefties in Yankee Stadium. But as long as we’re throwing things out there, how about this:

Would you trade Cole Hamels this off-season? Oh, not for just anyone because good pitchers have tough seasons all the time. Hamels is only 25 and his best days are clearly ahead of him—why else would the Phillies have signed him to a $20 million deal last winter?

But the Phillies will be a contender for the World Series again next year, too, and there were times when the starting rotation lacked consistency. Certainly Hamels was one of the biggest culprits in that regard.

So here it is: Let’s say the Blue Jays come back to the Phillies looking to move Roy Halladay, who is headed into the final year of his contract…

Would you send Hamels to the Blue Jays for Halladay? Would that be the one pitcher the Phillies could trade away Hamels for?

Hey, nothing is going on (as far as we know), but think about it—Hamels for Halladay?

Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay at the top of the rotation followed by J.A. Happ, Pedro Martinez and Joe Blanton… that could work, right?

The NLCS: Just a bad season for Hamels

cole_hamelsDuring spring training it was almost comical the way we chased around Cole Hamels for updates on his tired and achy left arm. When he went home to Philadelphia from Clearwater to visit team physician Dr. Michael Ciccotti, cameras greeted him at the airport and later caught him tooling around the city driving a minivan.

If I’m not mistaken, there was bumper sticker that read, “WOOF!” on the back.

Regardless, that’s the way the winter went for the MVP of the NLCS and World Series. If he wasn’t out gallivanting with Letterman or Ellen DeGeneres and giving her a cheesy Phillies’ jersey as a gift, he was appearing on his wife’s (second) reality show, the cover of Sports Illustrated or seen strolling around the city with a little dog in a backpack.

Typically those are things that make the Philly sporting fans wonder about the guy, but since Hamels pitched the Phillies to their first World Series victory in 28 years and captured the city’s first title in 25 years, the little dog and goofy TV commercial were ignored. No sense getting worked up over a miniature poodle when the dude pitched like a bulldog.

Don’t think that Hamels didn’t notice the treatment either. In fact, after his very first full season in Philadelphia where he solidified himself as the best pitcher on the staff, Hamels pointed out that, “The people treat me really nice here. Everyone is just so nice when they see me around.”

“Well yeah,” I told him. “It’s because you haven’t sucked yet.”

This is not to say that Hamels sucks now. Far from it. Though he’s 11-12 this season (counting the playoffs), he still has a left arm that comes around maybe once a generation. He has an incredible knack to put together incredible stretches of games that conjure up memories of the all-time greats. Better yet it’s a Hall-of-Fame arm, which, if one asks Hamels straight out what he wants to accomplish with his baseball career, he’ll flat-out tell it without so much as blinking or a trace of arrogance.

The answer comes as if he had rehearsed it in front of a mirror for years…

He wants no-hitters, piles of wins, Cy Young Awards, a career that spans decades, and, of course, the Hall of Fame. The good part for the Phillies is that Hamels’ goals aren’t all that unreasonable. The odds are relatively favorable that the lefty could pitch a no-hitter or two or win a Cy Young.

But here’s the thing about that – Cole Hamels ain’t Steve Carlton. Hell, he’s not even
Tom Glavine. Oft-injured lefty and changeup specialist John Tudor might be more like it.

Tudor made it to the World Series three times during his career and was known as a bulldog of a competitor. He famously attacked a metal ceiling fan after losing Game 7 of the 1985 World Series for the Cardinals, after a season in which he piled up a career-high in innings, complete games and shutouts. In fact, Tudor is the last Major Leaguer to notch double-digits in shutouts when he got 10 in ’85.

Tudor followed his 275 innings season with 219 more in 1986, but then was never the same again. In 1990 he topped out at 146 innings, but that was his last season.

Just like that, Tudor, a 21-game winner, All-Star, and Cy Young candidate, was washed up at age 36. His last four seasons were nothing more than a series of one injury on top of another.

Look, nobody is saying Cole Hamels is headed down the same path as John Tudor. After all, Hamels is far more talented than Tudor ever was, and just four years into his big-league career, the Phils’ lefty is nowhere near his prime.

Without a doubt, the best years of Hamels’ career – even after getting just 13 outs in a NLCS clincher – are in front of him, not behind.

However, baseball history is littered with flameouts. Tudor is hardly even the tip of the iceberg. Remember Steve Avery, the lefty who had two 18-win seasons for the Braves before he turned 23? Yes, after three years of pitching 230 innings (including the playoffs), Avery was burnt by age 29 and out of baseball for good at age 33.

But Hamels is just 25. His bad season was more the result of poor off-season preparation than anything else. He’s also a father now, which should improve his focus.

Hey, there are a lot of guys in the Hall of Fame who lost 20 games in a season. Hell, Steve Carlton is one of them. Don’t expect anything like that to happen to Hamels. Better yet, don’t expect a encore of the 2009 season, either.

Game 1: Day games, lineups and the Bay Area

Cole HamelsOK, is everybody ready? Does everyone all set up to watch the midday playoff ballgame? Apparently the start time for Wednesday’s opener of the NLDS against the Colorado Rockies was a source of contention because people have jobs and things like that.

What, it isn’t cool to watch baseball at work? If not, that’s just silly unless the worker is going to perform surgery or something. Then no, that guy should not be watching ball.

Nevertheless, I am a bit confused. After all, we always hear about how they don’t play enough day games during the playoffs and kids can’t stay up to watch. But then when they play a day game everyone complains about it because they have to go to work.

Which is it, dude?

From my point of view, the day game is great. These things tend to run a bit long as it is and we need all the time we can get to do some writing and that kind of crap. However, it seems as if Phillies’ pitcher Cole Hamels is not a big fan of the day games in the NLDS. In fact, he complained about it before the game during his formal MLB sanctioned press conference complete with microphones, hot lights and satellite feeds.

Using his “Who are you?” voice direct from that commercial that runs in a veritable loop on the TV, Hamels said: “I understand TV ratings, but I think at the end of the day, most players would rather play when they’re both comfortable and that’s kind of what we’ve trained at—either 1 o’clock or 7 o’clock, and I think it’s more fair for us than the TV ratings, because truly, I don’t think we mind as much for TV ratings.”

Wait… what?

“We can understand that people want to watch it on TV, but I don’t know too many people that are going to be watching this game at 11 on the west coast.”

Oh… in other words, Hamels is ready for his start in Game 2 on Thursday afternoon.

Here are the lineups for Game 1
Phillies
11 – Rollins, ss
8 – Victorino, cf
26 – Utley, 2b
6 – Howard, 1b
28 – Werth, rf
29 – Ibanez, rf
7 – Pedro Feliz, 3b
51 – Ruiz, c
34 – Lee, p

Rockies
24 – Fowler, cf
5 – Gonzalez, lf
17 – Helton, 1b
2 – Tulowitzki, ss
27 – Atkins, 3b
8 – Torrealba, c
11 – Hawpe, rf
12 – Barmes, 2b
38 – Jimenez, p

The key to the Rockies’ lineup is shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Jimmy Rollins, Tulowitzki’s counterpart on the Phillies, talked about the third-year star on Tuesday afternoon and marveled at the kid’s defensive prowess and throwing arm. Plus, Tulowitzki belted 32 home runs in 2009.

Though Rollins didn’t put Tulowitzki at the top of the list for young shortstops coming up in the game, he gave the most credence because like Rollins, the Rockies’ shortstop is from the Bay Area.

That’s when Rollins went on to list all the top ballplayers from his area of the country, such as Barry Bonds, Frank Robinson, Dontrelle Willis, Pat Burrell, Tom Brady, etc., etc. Of course Rollins’ favorite is Willie Stargell, the fellow Encinal High grad whose name was on the high school field Rollins and Willis played on.

“I thought one day they might name the field after me, but nope, it already has Pops’ name on it,” Rollins said.

Big Unit in big club

randy_johnsonHow about this? Randy Johnson is underrated. Yep, he has those 300 wins and 4,845 career strikeouts in a little less than 4,100 innings. Numbers like that tend to stand out. However, amongst all of the 300-game winners in the modern era, Johnson got to the milestone in the fewest games.

The odd part about that is Johnson is 45.

The so-called “Big Unit” got his first win at age 25, had just 68 wins by the time he turned 30, missed a large portion of the 1996, 2003 and 2007 seasons, won 20 games in a season just three times. Never appeared in more than 35 games in any season, and he still got to 300.

And he got there in fewer games than anyone else.

So the popular notion that Johnson could be the last 300-game winner for a long, long time just doesn’t make sense. No, there isn’t anyone on the horizon closing in unless one counts Jamie Moyer, who, generously, needs at least 10 more wins this season and 40 more in the next three years to have a shot. But 300 wins isn’t as farfetched as the baseball punditry would leave one to believe.

First of all, Johnson had 68 career wins by the time he turned 30. 68! That means he averaged nearly 16 wins over the last 15 years, which includes the parts three seasons lost to injury and the shortened 1994 and 1995 seasons because of the players strike.

But here’s where Johnson is underrated amongst his brethren in the 300-win club:

  • Second most career strikeouts behind Nolan Ryan.
  • Best strikeout rate per nine innings with 10.64.
  • Second in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (7.26).
  • Fourth-best winning percentage with .647.

Underrated? Yeah, no doubt. But the last guy to win 300 games? No, no doubt.

See, what the experts miss is that the 300-game winner is an anomaly and there is no way to gauge who can get there. First, longevity plays the biggest factor, but even that’s deceiving. From 1988 to 2007, Tom Glavine rarely missed a start. But Johnson missed plenty of starts and had several injuries. In fact, this doesn’t make Johnson all that different from many of the other 300-game winners.

Roger Clemens certainly had his share of injuries and ineffectiveness and Warren Spahn didn’t get his first win until he was 25. The same goes for Lefty Grove and Phil Niekro. Actually, Niekro – the oldest to win 300 – had just 31 wins by the time he turned 30.

Hell, Don Sutton had just one 20-win season and he got there.

If there is one common denominator in all 300-game winners it seems to be dedication, and fitness. Exercise and training techniques have come a long way in just the last five years with advances coming every year. Baseball, of course, is the slowest to embrace change when it comes to physiology, but new things are introduced every day.

In fact, Cole Hamels and Raul Ibanez of the Phillies use some of the training techniques common amongst marathon runners, which should lead to long term health and fitness.

Of course it doesn’t hurt to have good stuff either.

Still, every pitcher in that exclusive group is unique and each took a different path to 300. So to say Johnson is the last to get 300 is pretty silly.

***

Maybe even Cole Hamels can get there? With 42 wins at age 25, it’s not unreasonable to think the Phillies’ lefty could do it, especially when one considers how focused on career longevity he is. How about Johan Santana? At age 30 he has 116 wins and hasn’t had major injuries.

Hey, someone will do it… maybe Moyer will stick around long enough to get those 50 wins he needs.

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 …

Dubee on Hamels: ‘Opening Day is probably a long shot’

coleanddubeePitching coach Rich Dubee on Cole Hamels:

“I don’t know if it’s out of the question, but it looks like it’s probably a long shot.

“We have to get him up and running and we have to stretch him out. I think he’s been up to 52 or 54 pitches. We like our guys, if they’re going to pitch, hopefully they’ll be ready to throw 100 pitches by Opening Day. It could be a long shot. Again, this guy has always risen to the occasion. It’s good that we caught it when we did. It wasn’t getting cleared up. It wasn’t getting any worse, but it wasn’t getting any better.”

linkage

‘… we all have to share the same pair of pants’

jimmyThis current group of Phillies really get around. Think about it… the TV commercials, the MVP Awards, the playoff runs and parades, as well as a the WFC.

Always making speeches and always entertaining the fans.

But get this — Jimmy Rollins became the third Phillie on the current roster to appear on Late Night with David Letterman, joining Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels. It surpasses the previous record of two set by John Kruk and Lenny Dykstra of the ’93 Phils when they yucked it up with Dave.

Here’s Jimmy and his Team USA WBC buddies:

In 1981, Steve Carlton, Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt appeared in 7-Up commercials and Real People with co-host Fran Tarkenton.

OK, I made that last part up, though it illustrates a point… it’s pretty sweet to live in the digital age, huh? Imagine if there was a proliferation of cable TV, and multimedia back during the first Golden Age of Phillies baseball… sure, Pete Rose would be able to handle himself well with the press. Say what you will about Rose, but give him credit where it’s due — the guy can tell some stories. Having had the chance to spend an afternoon with him in Las Vegas (I know!), Pete is a classic storyteller, if not one of the best ever in baseball.

Schmidt, though not in Rose’s class, is always good for some stellar quotes or two. Just ask Pat Burrell about that.

But Carlton… sheesh! Thank goodness there was no Internet during his playing days. How would he handle playing in this era of baseball with guys like me trolling around. Good luck with that, Lefty.

Carlton, of course, famously did not speak to the press. If I have the story correct, the reason why he stopped talking to sportswriters about pitching a baseball had something to do with Conlin… that and taking himself waaaay too seriously.

But after having seen some of Carlton’s media work over the last few years, he definitely did us all a favor. Besides. could you have imagined Carlton on the Mike Douglas Show.

Nope, me either.

Nevertheless, maybe Letterman will have an entire panel of Phillies on his show sometime the way he did with U2 this week. It could be rating gold … in Philadelphia, at least.

Oh, and while we’re posting clips, this one from Wednesday’s Daily Show was awesome!

Pregame: Tonight is the night

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are tonight’s lineups:

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

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

Hot, hot heat

LOS ANGELES – It’s hot. Damn hot. It’s so hot here in Los Angeles that it no longer qualifies as a dry heat. It’s just freaking hot. The sun is up there beating down on our heads and cooking everything below and everyone is just kind moving around slow.

I don’t see too many clouds in the sky. That means there is no badly needed rain in the forecast to help salve the wildfires raging nearby in the San Fernando and Simi Valleys.

It seems as if the warm weather caught a few people off guard here at Dodger Stadium. Like the rest of us, the Dodgers staff is also moving slowly in attempt to conserve energy. In fact, they are moving so slowly that the press room drink machine wasn’t set up, nor were the lineups posted.

Then again, Cole Hamels and Ryan Madson just rolled in while I was typing this. However, Cole changed out of his dark suit and into his pre-game warmup gear rather quickly and talked on the phone in the seats behind home plate. The rule is no cell phone in the clubhouse… starting pitchers included.

Nevertheless, I snapped a photo of Hamels yapping on his cell phone with my cell phone. I’m sure the picture is grainy and undecipherable.

Anyway, off to the field to hear what Hiroki Kuroda, Joe Torre, Charlie Manuel and Brett Myers have to say. It’s another big game tonight…

Then again, they all get bigger from here on out.

***
It’s worth pointing out that our old pal Doug Glanville wrote about his old pal, Terry Francona in an op-ed piece for The New York Times.

One friendly dude writing about another friendly dude… that’s almost like looking at a photo taken from a camera phone of guy talking on his cell phone.

Seventh inning: To the ‘pens

I’m not a betting man (that’s not true), but if forced to make a choice, I’d say Cole Hamels just pitched his last inning. The good thing about that for the lefty was that he is in position to win his second straight playoff game after retiring the side in order with a pair of strikeouts and a ground ball.

Due to hit second in the inning, Charlie Manuel often likes to take his pitchers out feeling good about their performance. For Hamels, it would be difficult not to feel good about this one – even though his curve wasn’t there and he got into an early hole, all he has to do is sit back and watch the bullpen nail it down for him.

That’s nice work if you can get it.

Ryan Madson was warming up quickly for the eighth when Manuel sent So Taguchi to hit for Hamels with Carlos Ruiz on first (a single) and no outs.

Hamels’ line:

7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 8 K – 105 pitches, 69 strikes.

Here’s one: Greg Maddux came on in relief in the eighth. It was the second time this post-season that Maddux pitched out of the ‘pen and fourth time dating back to 1999. Meanwhile, Maddux has not pitched in relief during the regular season since 1987.

End of 7: Phillies 3, Dodgers 2

Fifth inning: Fernando!

Here’s one for you:

The great Fernando Valenzuela is here at the park doing the commentary for the Dodgers’ Spanish language radio broadcast. I know this because Mike Radano came running over a few innings ago screaming, “You know how they say there are so many celebrities at games at Dodger Stadium? Yeah well, guess what? I just took a leak next to Fernando Valenzuela!”

Sometimes it’s a who’s-who of baseball greats in the men’s press box restroom. Besides, it’s good to know that even ex-baseball greats have to answer nature’s call, too.

Anyway, Phillies fans know all about Fernando Valenzuela. In 1981 the Phillies were the first team to beat him and derail “Fernando-mania!” Fernando also pitched against the Phillies in ’83 NLCS and was the only Dodger to win a game that series.

Better yet, Fernando pitched eight games for the Phillies during the strike-shortened ’94 season. In fact, I remember going to a game at The Vet with my old pal Ben Miller where we saw Fernando’s first game with the hometown team. In his first at-bat he clubbed a double.

I also remember Darren Daulton breaking his collarbone when he got nailed by a foul ball. As soon as it occurred you knew something bad happened because the noise from Daulton’s broken bone sounded like a gun shot.

Anyway, Cole Hamels faced four hitters in the fifth and notched a pair of strikeouts. So far Hamels has thrown 84 pitches with six strikeouts.

How much longer can Hamels go?

Derek Lowe continued to deal in the fifth, recording his 10th and 11th outs on ground balls before Carlos Ruiz and Hamels knocked out back-to-back singles. As a result, the Phillies got their first runner in scoring position.

It stayed there, though, when Jimmy Rollins flied out to left to end the inning.

End of 5: Dodgers 2, Phillies 0

Fourth inning: Dealing or slumping?

Don’t look now, but it appears as if a pitching duel has broken out.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. The old cliché is that playoff baseball is all about pitching and defense is transcends mere cliché-dom. It’s rock hard fact.

Be that as it is, the Phillies are going to have to break out the bats soon. Maybe sooner than soon. That’s because the Dodgers posted another run during the top of the fourth when Cole Hamels sawed off Matt Kemp on the first pitch of the frame only to have him fight it off for a ground-rule double.

Kemp moved to third on a ground out and came around to score when Blake Dewitt popped a sacrifice fly to deep center. Interestingly, Hamels threw a pitch high in the strike zone to Dewitt, which made it much easier for him to hit a fly ball.

Hamels is not at his sharpest tonight. His change is good, but he doesn’t seem to have a handle on his curve or the best command on his fastball.

Lowe, on the other hand, is locked in. He got Chase Utley for his first strikeout, forced Ryan Howard to hit a soft grounder to second for another out, and then whiffed Pat Burrell to end the inning.

The Phillies look as if they left the offense in Milwaukee.

End of 4: Dodgers 2, Phillies 0

Third inning: Change of pace

The second time around the lineup for Cole Hamels looked much sharper. Perhaps showcasing his fastball during the first inning was part of his ploy to spring the change up on them later.

Hamels fooled Rafael Furcal into some bad swings before he grounded out for the first out, then looked to have another ground out on Andre Ethier, but Ryan Howard muffed it at first even though it was (wrongly) ruled a hit.

Certainly, Jimmy Rollins will let Howard know that he has to make those plays.

Manny Ramirez was fooled by a few off-speed pitches, too, before he popped out to short. Actually, it was kind of odd seeing Ramirez make an out because he looks so locked in at the plate.

Hamels is going to need some help from the bats, though. Derek Lowe was one of the hottest pitchers in all of baseball during September with a 3-0 record and 0.59 ERA in five starts. Perhaps the best tact for Lowe was taking him down like the way Shane Victorino did on a close play at first to end the inning.

Dodgers are out-hitting the Phils, 3-2.

End of 3: Dodgers 1, Phillies 0

Second inning: Settling in

The time between the innings is a little longer during this series as compared to the rest of the year. The reason, of course, is that Fox needs a few more ticks to sell some stuff and show those commercials.

Commerce, man. Commerce.

Longer inning or not, Cole Hamels settled in and breezed through the second inning on just X pitches. He whiffed both Casey Blake and Derek Lowe for his first clean frame and third strikeout.

Whatever jitters Hamels had in the first were worked out in the second.

On another note, I was on the Mike Gill Show this afternoon where the host, Mike Gill, made an interesting point. I said the difference in this series could very well come down to the ability of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to produce against the Dodgers’ right-handed heavy pitching staff. To that, Mike said the Dodgers likely would take a similar tact as the Brewers in the NLDS and pitch around Howard, forcing Pat Burrell to the plate in some key situations.

You know what? That Mike Gill knows his stuff. If the Dodgers aren’t going to allow Howard to beat them, Burrell’s at-bats become that much more important.

But when Burrell led off the second with a single down the line to left, he was quickly erased when Jayson Werth grounded into a double play.

That’s a pretty good indicator that Derek Lowe’s patented sinker is working well.

End of 2: Dodgers 1, Phillies 0

Manny being Manny… or something like that

Big crowd here at the ballpark. All the seats are filled and they all stood and gave a rousing ovation to Charlie Manuel and the gang during the pre-game introductions.

I’m sitting here in the press box in the third row near next to Gonzo, who I hope won’t get the urge to punch me in the face tonight.

Really though, who can blame him? Gonzo and Bowa seem to have a lot in common in that regard. Nevertheless, the press box and the ballpark are as packed as I have ever seen it. Chances are the attendance record could be set tonight.

Luckily, the fans got to see Garry Maddox and Gary Matthews, the MVP of the 1983 NLCS when the Phillies beat the Dodgers, throw the ceremonial first pitches.

Then it got really loud with the “BEAT LA!” chant.

From talking to a few of the LA and national writers, it seems as if their read on the series is similar to ours – both clubs are very even and could see it going either way.

However, they all seem to think the Manny vs. Boston World Series is destined to happen. I say don’t forget about Nomar… certainly he left Boston just as unceremoniously as Manny.

Of course Manny made his presence known early when he followed Andre Ethier’s one-out double with the longest RBI double in the history of the park. Ramirez bashed an 0-1 fastball high above the 409-foot sign in the deepest and highest part of center field off starter Cole Hamels.

Interestingly, Hamels’ first eight pitches were fastballs, including the one Manny nearly hit through the chain-link fence in deep center. It also appeared as if he threw a fastball to cross up catcher Carlos Ruiz on a passed ball with two outs.

Call it an auspicious first inning for Hamels. It could have been worse, but the lefty grinded it out.

Meanwhile, Dodgers’ hurler Derek Lowe got through the first inning on just 14 pitches, compared to 23 by Hamels. However, a significant occurrence of note for the Phillies that inning came when Chase Utley roped a single to center with two outs.

End of 1: Dodgers 1, Phillies 0

Here come the Dodgers (and Bowa)

Hey, hey folks. Took a few days off as most have noticed. Truth is, it wasn’t by design. I really wanted to gather my thoughts and write down all the stuff I saw in Milwaukee regarding this ballclub and all the things we can expect for the upcoming series against the Dodgers, but, you know, I got a little busy.

It happens.

Nevertheless, the format of the in-game updates will hold during each and every game from Philadelphia and Hollywood. In fact, I might even add a few cool features for the trip in California. After all, it is California. If I’m going to write about the biggest series going from the capital of glamour and superficial excess, I ought to go all out…

Right?

So yeah, it’s an exciting time to be a fan, writer, player and whatever else of the Philadelphia Phillies. Who knows, they might even win the whole thing? Why not? Teams have won the World Series by accident… at least teams have gotten there through no fault of its own. Take the ’07 Rockies, for instance. Or the ’06 Cardinals and the ’03 Marlins. Talk about accidents.

Speaking of accidents, Larry Bowa is back in town with his Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday afternoon. Certainly no one ever thought that Bowa would have been in a playoff game at Citizens Bank Park not in Dodger Blue instead of Phillies.

What a life that guy leads, huh? After getting the axe as manager of the Phillies, Bowa landed on a gig talking about baseball with ESPN and XM Radio, which led to a job as the third-base coach for the New York Yankees and now LA Dodgers. If you are scoring at home that’s the top sports media company on the planet followed by the two most storied baseball franchises ever.

Still, it’s not difficult to get the sinking suspicion that all things being equal, Bowa would much rather be in Philadelphia with the Phillies. You can take the Bowa away from the Phillies, but never the Phillies out of Bowa.

Here’s a bet: at some point during the FOX telecast of the NLCS there will be a few hard-hitting stories on Bowa and Phils’ first-base coach Davey Lopes and their role in “Black Friday” as well as the Phillies-Dodgers rivalry from the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Black Friday, for those who were not around for the 1977 NLCS between the Dodgers and the Phillies, or for those historically challenged on baseball lore, remember the game as the one where the Phillies missed their best chance to get to the World Series. It’s the game where Greg Luzinski famously misplayed a fly ball against the wall at the Vet and where Bowa made that terrific play at shortstop to make a throw to first in attempt to nail Lopes on a ball that caromed off third baseman Mike Schmidt. Only first-base ump Bruce Froemming called Lopes safe at first, which paved the way for more miscues as the Phillies blew a two-run lead with two outs in the ninth.

In fact, Bowa talked about it quite a bit about those old days on Wednesday afternoon.

“They were good series,” Bowa said, clad in his Dodger uniform and that traditional “LA” cap. “We grew up playing them in the Coast League – they were in Spokane and we were in Eugene, Oregon. We had a rivalry going then. They seemed to get the best of us in those games.

“We always made a mistake late. It cost us, but they’re very competitive. You remember when Burt Hooton was pitching and the crowd got into it, he couldn’t throw a strike. Then the rain game with Tommy John. The play in left field where Bull (Greg Luzinski) was still in the game and Jerry Martin had been replacing him and he wasn’t in and it eld to a run.

Davey Lopes. I know Davey says, ‘Let it go.’ But he was out. He knows he was out and he can go look at that all day. A hundred thousand times he was out. But those were good games. They were good games and they seemed to bring out the best in us. I think Garry Maddox dropped a ball which he never dropped. It was just one of those things.”

Davey, indeed, says, “Let it go,” and then some.

“It was 31 years ago. Quit crying and move on,” Lopes said.

“The rivalry was great. The intensity of playing those games was as equal to the World Series and a lot of times it’s more difficult and intense because you’re trying to get to the World Series,” Lopes said. “It’s almost like – I don’t want to say let down, but gratification that you got to the World Series.”

No matter what anyone says about his personality (or lack thereof), Larry Bowa is far and away the most knowledgeable baseball man a guy like me has ever come across. The old salt knows everything there is to know about the game. He might not ever get another managing gig again, but a guy like Joe Torre has no qualms about adding him to a coaching staff.

“He’s a younger version of Don Zimmer for me,” Torre Said. “He’s got a great deal of passion – shoots from the hip. He’s very emotional. But one thing about it, he cares very deeply about all the stuff he teaches to these young players and never relents. He’s there on a day-in-day-out basis and when things aren’t working it’s not a lot of fun to be around him. But he’s got a big heart and he’s got a great ability to teach and he’s very thorough and never gets tired.”

Here’s the thing about those old playoff games from the ‘70s… the current Phillies don’t get it. Chase Utley had no idea what “Black Friday” was until he was told about from one of the scribes. Even after he learned all about it, he still didn’t seem too impressed.

Game 1 starter Cole Hamels kind of heard about those classic games, but doesn’t think he or his teammates really care about it that much.

“I wasn’t even born,” Hamels said.

Besides, Hamels says, the current crop of players would much rather create their own legacy rather than ride the coattails of one that began over three decades ago.

“We want to be the team that everybody remembers as the team of 2008, went to the World Series and won the World Series,” Hamels said. “So it’s something that we’ve been with each other since February, and I think it’s just something where we’ve developed tremendous friendships and bonds that we want to be able to have these memories for when we’re older and we’re retired and out of the game.”

Besides, Lopes says they got the call right the first time.

“Tell Bowa I was safe,” he said.

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

Seventh inning: Sage advice

My goal after this game is to find out what Jamie Moyer was telling Cole Hamels during the bottom half of the sixth inning. While the Phillies were hitting, the elder and younger lefties were shown on TV deep in conversation in which Moyer appeared to be doing a lot of talking and Hamels was doing a lot of listening.

Certainly it’s no secret that Hamels really, really looks up to Moyer. In fact, whenever he has a question about the game or certain situations, Moyer is the first person the kid seeks out. Better yet, Hamels often tells anyone who will listen that one of his goals in baseball is to have a career as long as Moyer’s.

Based on the way Hamels adheres to a holistic regimen and gets those regular chiropractic/A.R.T. treatments, he could do it.

Neither team got a hit or a base runner in the seventh. Worse for the Phillies, Carlos Villanueva struck out the side while Jayson Werth got a hat trick.

Through seven, Hamels has thrown 90 pitches. He’ll get one more inning before the Phillies turn it over to Brad Lidge

End of 7 Phillies 3, Brewers 0

Sixth inning: Is that a rally?

OK, has it gotten ridiculous yet? I mean really… come on.

Hamels has allowed hits in back-to-back innings after Craig Counsell dropped one into center with one out. To top it off, free-swingin’ Mike Cameron drew a 3-0 count before drawing a five-pitch walk.

That’s two straight hitters on base in a row!

!!!

Hamels quickly put out the fire with his eighth strikeout of the game vs. Bill Hall before getting Ryan Braun to pop up to short. Still, the Brewers actually had a runner in scoring position.

Apropos of nothing, one of the TV dudes from Milwaukee actually cheered in the press box after Counsell’s single. C’mon… what is that?

On the other hand, it’s a good thing Hamels is dealin’ because the Phillies aren’t hittin’. Aside from that little uprising in the third, the Phillies have pounded out a lusty three hits. Had Mike Cameron been able to haul in Chase Utley’s double, the Phils would be in a precarious spot.

Instead, they might be cruising.

End of 6 Phillies 3, Brewers 0

Fifth inning: No no-no

Cole Hamels got into his first bit of trouble during the fifth inning… that is if you call a full count trouble.

Based on the way Hamels has been pitching so far, yes, a 3-2 count is a veritable rally.

But Hamels quashed it when he got Prince Fielder to chase the 3-2 pitch. Then he got J.J. Hardy to bounce a 2-2 pitch to short. Corey Hart wasn’t going to wait for 3-2 though. Instead he punched one to right for a solid single, 13 outs away from the no-no.

To this day, Kevin Millwood’s no-hitter against the Giants at The Vet is the only one I have ever seen. Ever. That counts little league, minor leagues and everything all over the map.

Except for wiffle ball, but that doesn’t count.

Either way, Hamels has six strikeouts and no walks through five.

Yovani Garrardo was not around to see the fifth inning. Instead, Dale Sveum brought in side-arming lefty Mitch Stetter to face the Phillies’ lefties Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. When righty Pat Burrell came up, Sveum went for Carlos Villanueva.

I believe that is Spanish for “New Village.”

Garrardo’s line: 4 IP, 3 R, 0 ER, 3 H, 5 BB, 3 K – 75 pitches, 37 strikes.

End of 5 Phillies 3, Brewers 0

Fourth inning: Flat out dealin’

Don Larsen is the only pitcher in Major League history to throw a no-hitter during the post-season when he beat the Brooklyn Dodgers with a perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.

I wonder if Larsen looked anything like the way Cole Hamels looks today?

Through four innings, the Brewers have gone 12 for 12 in making outs after Hamels cruised through the last frame with just eight pitches. Thirty of Hamels’ 44 pitches have been strikes.

Yovani Garrardo re-grouped after that rough third inning in which he allowed the Phillies to bat around. Jimmy Rollins laced a two-out single to right,

However, with 75 pitches under his belt, Garrardo’s remaining time is short. Manager Dale Sveum has reliever Carlos Villanueva tossing in the bullpen.

End of 4 Phillies 3, Brewers 0

Third inning: No big threat

Just like the raindrops, the strikes keep pouring out there for Cole Hamels. After three innings, the crafty lefty is still perfect with four whiffs and 36 pitches (24 strikes).

Because of the early perfection, the no-hitter cards are out. That means Mike Radano of the Courier Post walks around with 10 cards in which other scribes will select after they give him $5. If the player in the position of the batting order coincides with the a number on the card, that person wins all the $5 bills.

If Hamels tosses a no-hitter, the person with the King gets the cash.

Clever little contest, huh?

Carlos Ruiz got the first hit of the game to lead off the third. When Hamels reached base on an error a few pitches later, the Phillies had a bona fide rally going.

Trouble for the Brewers, right?

Guess again. First, Jimmy Rollins popped out to left after swinging at the first pitch from Gallardo. Then Jayson Werth whiffed on a 2-2 pitch for his second strikeout of the game.

Just when it looked as if the Phillies were going out with barely a whimper, Chase Utley laced a two-run double to center that nearly landed in the webbing of Mike Cameron’s glove.

Cameron is as good as any center fielder out there (at least he used to be), so when he put his left arm up it looked as if he was easily going to haul it in. However, on his first jump it looked like Cameron came in instead of back to get the liner.

Just like that the Phillies finally broke through for a lead in a playoff game. Better yet, with the way Hamels is pitching the two runs might be more than enough.

But just to show they weren’t kidding around, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell and Shane Victorino drew consecutive walks with two outs. Victorino’s came with the bases loaded to give the Phils three, unearned runs.

Center City has come back into view. Maybe the storm has blown over?

End of 3 Phillies 3, Brewers 0

2nd inning: Big wind and big rain

Don’t look now (OK… go ahead), but it looks like a storm is brewing.

That’s no metaphor, either. It really looks like a real, downpour with thunder and lightning and all of that jazz is creeping up on us. Judging from the view of the in-motion weather map on Rich Hofmann’s laptop, there are a bunch of greens, yellows and oranges about to cover up South Philadelphia.

That’s not good.

It’s not good because Cole Hamels is dealing right now. In the second the lefty sat ‘em down in order on just 11 pitches with one more strikeout. If the game goes into a delay, that could be the end of Hamels’ outing.

As I typed that sentence, Kevin Horan of Phillies.com said, “You know, if there’s a delay they could lose Hamels.”

See, the kid is sharp. It’s also his birthday. No. 23 for the kid… remember when you were 23?

Yeah.

Anyway, Ryan Howard beat the shift by working a walk. However, he was quickly erased when Pat Burrell grounded into a first-pitch double play. Apparently Burrell’s back is OK, but he’s not any faster.

The inning began with steady raindrop and a gusting wind blowing toward right field that could be deadly if a hitter got one up in the stream. In fact, it is so murky, blustery and cloudy that the visage of Center City off in the distance disappeared.

Goose eggs. No hits or nuthin’

End of 1 Phils 0, Brewers 0

1st inning: Nothing doing

Strangely enough, it seems as if there are more people here than last year. That’s strange because the Rockies had many more of TV and newspaper folks that traveled with the club than the Brewers. I don’t know what market size Milwaukee is, but it doesn’t seem as if they have all that many writers in town.

In fact, I wagered that there will be more Philly media in Milwaukee than Milwaukee media in Milwaukee.

That was three Milwaukees in one sentence. I bet that’s a record.

Interestingly, Cole Hamels took the mound sans sleeves for Game 1. This is interesting because last year he did wear a long-sleeved shirt on a sunny and balmy afternoon. By the second inning, Hamels was sweating through both his under and uniform shirts.

Here in the first inning, Hamels is looking free and easy with his naked arms out there in the breeze of a rather cool afternoon. Truth be told, it feels like a perfect afternoon for a nice, long run.

Without the sleeves, Hamels mowed down the Brewers in the first with a pair of strikeouts and a pop up. It took him 14 pitches (nine strikes) to handle the Brewers in the opening frame.

Yovani Gallardo took the mound for just the fifth time all season. Because of that, the 22-year-old righty seems to be an odd choice to start the Brewers’ first playoff game since 1982. However, before he tore up a knee ligament while covering first base during a game last May, Gallardo pitched pretty well in 20 starts for the Brewers in his rookie season.

The kid showed why he’s one of the Brewers’ top prospects by retiring the Phillies in order in the first on 12 pitches (nine strikes). Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley hit the ball hard, but directly at guys wearing gloves.

End of 1 Phils 0, Brewers 0

We’re going to Milwaukee… Woo-hoo!

Full plate at the ballpark today. Cole Hamels and Charlie Manuel will hold “official” press conferences this afternoon at 2 p.m. after the Brewers’ manager Dale Sveum and Game 1 pitcher Yovani Gallardo gives one in which they will talk about Milwaukee’s first appearance in the playoffs since 1982.

Man, I remember that 1982 postseason like it was yesterday. Remind me to write all about soon. Cecil Cooper, Paul Molitor, Pete Vukovich, Mike Caldwell, Don Sutton and, of course, Robin Yount and Rollie Fingers – man were those guys good.

Anyway, we’ll have a plethora of playoff punditcy (not a word, I know) all week from here in Philadelphia as well as Milwaukee this weekend. We will start with a page of predictions from some really good writers from across the nation and (of course) we will be live during the games, too.

So make sure to check back throughout the playoffs.

Apropos of nothing, I am very excited about traveling to Milwaukee. I’ve never been close to ever thinking I would go to that city, so I’m fired up about heading there to check out all the cultural sites the city has to offer.

I’m told that when one opens a faucet in Milwaukee, beer flows out.

Hey, that’s what I’m told.

Anyway, more later.

Second inning: Lidge takes top honors

Before the game the local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America – a secret society in charge of the demise of our great nation – handed out the post-season awards in the form of a handsome plaque.

The writers chose Brad Lidge for the MVP, Cole Hamels for top pitcher despite the fact that Lidge also is a pitcher. Greg Dobbs took home the prize for “Good Guy,” while Jamie Moyer got the special achievement award.

Perhaps the highlight of the brief, on-field ceremony was when the Philly Phantic mused up the flowing locks of the well coiffed scribe, Todd Zolecki. However, with his usual aplomb and a stylish flip of that mane, all returned to order for Zolecki.

Thank God.

Anyway, based on what Lidge said last night he is chomping at the bit to get out there in the ninth with a lead today.

Moyer issued a two-out walk to Aaron Boone, son of ex-Phillie great, Bob Boone. However, he threw 16 more pitches in the second and has racked up 33 through two innings… that’s too many.

The Phillies kicked up a bit of a fuss in the second against John Lannan when Pat Burrell walked and Shane Victorino singled to left with one out. However, Burrell was caught off second base when Pedro Feliz popped out to short center field.

That’s two base-running gaffes this week for Burrell if you are scoring at home.

End of 2: Phils 0, Nats 0

A rest day for Hamels?

We should be in position to take care of business ourselves. We shouldn’t have to depend on anyone. I said that from day one.
— Charlie Manuel

 
For the first time in his… well, ever, Cole Hamels made it through an entire season without an injury. Of course, that feat hasn’t been finalized yet because the Phils’ lefty very well might have one more start this season.

Or he might not. It’s still up in the air.

Obviously, there are a few variables to be worked out before a decision is reached on whether Hamels will pitch in Game 162 for the Phillies or if he is held out for Game 1 of the NLDS. For instance, if the Phillies sew up the NL East on Saturday, Hamels will close the season with a 14-10 record, 3.09 ERA and a league-best 227 1/3 innings.

For a guy who never went a full season without a trip to the disabled list, the amount of innings Hamels piled up is significant.

However, Hamels could pile on some more if the Phillies have not clinched the NL East by Sunday. Even if the team sews up a wild-card spot heading into the last day, Hamels will go to the mound to bring home the division.

Needless to say, manager Charlie Manuel would like the Phillies to take care of business as quickly as possible. That’s obvious, though it isn’t so much as to have Hamels for the first game in the playoffs – it’s to give the kid a break.

“You have to take care of your club,” Manuel said. “You have to do what you think is best for your team.”

The worry isn’t that Hamels is tired physically after his first full season – not at all. Manuel said Hamels hasn’t shown any signs of wear and tear this late into the season. No, the concern for Manuel and the Phillies is that Hamels could be a little burnt mentally.

Not that Hamels has shown signs of that, either.

Anyway, there are still a bunch of moving parts that will come into clearer focus by the end of the night. Chances are we will have a pretty good idea where and who the Phillies will play when the postseason begins on Oct. 1.

Here’s how it shakes out for the Phillies:

  • If the Phillies win the NL East and the Mets win the wild card, the Phillies will play the Dodgers in the NLDS.
  • If the Phillies win the NL East and the Brewers win the wild card, the Phillies will play the Brewers in the NLDS.
  • If the Mets win the NL East and the Phillies win the wild card, the Phillies will play the Cubs in the NLDS.
  • If the Phillies and Mets finish the season tied in the NL East and with a better record than the Brewers, the Mets win the division because of their 11-7 record against the Phillies. The Phillies win the wild card.
  • If the Phillies and Mets finish the season tied in the NL East, but have a worse record than the Brewers, the Phillies would play the Mets in a one-game playoff Monday at Citizens Bank Park.
  • If the Phillies, Mets and Brewers finish the season tied, the Phillies would host the Mets in a one-game playoff to decide the NL East title Monday at Citizens Bank Park. If the Phillies lose, they would host the Brewers in a one-game playoff for the wild card Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park. If the Mets lose to the Phillies on Monday, they would host the Brewers in a one-game playoff Tuesday at Shea Stadium.
  • Sunday morning: Hamels steps up

    PROGRAMMING NOTE: We are going LIVE during the second game of the day-night doubleheader against the Brewers. With no local television broadcast available and limited terrestrial radio outside of the Philadelphia region, I will give inning-by-inning synopses during the night cap. The format will be similar to past live offerings, though we may attempt to sneak in a little extra fun with a  chat or something like that. Anyway, be sure to dial it up or go to CSN for the latest.

    Back to your regularly scheduled post…

    Cole Hamels isn’t shy about telling people what he wants to achieve during his baseball career. Ask him and he’ll say he wants to have a career as long as Jamie Moyer. Hamels also wants to pitch a few no-hitters, take home a bunch of Cy Young Awards and be enshrined in the Hall of Fame when it’s all over.

    Certainly such claims can sound boastful when read in print, but that’s hardly the case when Hamels says it. In fact, it comes out rather matter-of-factly, as if it’s a typical cliché answer to a regular old question.

    Yeah, I’m going to take it one day at a time and hopefully I’ll be in the Hall of Fame.

    But Hamels is wise enough to understand that legacies and greatness are not contrived solely from the numbers on the stat page. After all, anyone can pile up numbers. That’s easy. The true test is delivering in the really big games when post-season glory is on the line.

    Hamels hasn’t had too many chances in so-called clutch starts, but the four he has pitched in run the gamut. Last Sunday at Shea Stadium Hamels came back on short rest with a chance to pitch the Phillies into a first-place tie with the Mets on national TV, but came up with a real clunker in a 6-3 loss. Needless to say, a win in that game could have gone a long way for the Phillies.

    Prior to last Sunday’s big thud, Hamels was both awful and brilliant in Game 1 of last season’s NLDS. After a rough and sweaty second inning in which the Rockies put the Phillies in a deep hole, Hamels rebounded to retire 13 in a row and 15 of the final 16 hitters he faced.

    Saturday afternoon’s victory over the free-falling Brewers wasn’t as great as the Sept. 28, 2007 outing in which Hamels whiffed 13 hitters and put the Phillies into first place, but definitely was clutch. Knowing that his season will be remembered for what he does these last two weeks, Hamels needed 113 pitches to grind out 6 1/3 innings to beat the Brewers for his 13th win. But in doing so he gave the Phillies a chance to move into a first-place tie in the wild-card race as early as Sunday night.

    “It’s all about the team and the win, especially now,” Hamels said.  

    “We want to play in October. We don’t want to be going home. Guys are kicking it in.”

    Most notably (and it’s about time!) two of the guys kicking it in are Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins.

    Rollins has had some nice Septembers in the last few years like when he put together that epic hitting streak and surged to the MVP Award. Luckily for the Phillies, he is at it again. In 11 games this month, Rollins is batting .362 with two homers, seven RBIs and a .417 on-base percentage.

    In 2005 Howard set the rookie record for most homers during September and might be making a case for a second MVP Award this month. So far Howard has six homers, 17 RBIs and a .366 batting average. In doing that, Howard became the first player to pile up three straight 130-plus RBI seasons since Sammy Sosa from 1998 to 2001.

    “There’s definitely more emphasis on things that are done in September,” Rollins said. “This last month, that’s all people are going to be talking about.”

    Yes. Yes they are.

    ***

    Beg, borrow, buy or steal a copy of the book Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Quite simply, the novel is a masterwork and a once-in-an-era work by a writer whose life ended way, way too short. Luckily for us, his work remains.

    Ready for some football? Really… no?

    Most people know that John Chaney was famous for his focus on disciplined approach to coaching basketball at Temple University. In fact, Chaney was such an unrelenting taskmaster that the famous 5 a.m. practice sessions were just the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes, it was told, Chaney would hold practices where he would lecture the team the entire session. His players would just sit there rapt with both fear and wonderment as the coach waxed on about topics that had nothing to do with basketball.

    Chaney didn’t have guidelines or rules for his players to follow – he laid down the law. Whatever came out of his mouth was followed to the very last detail… or else. Needless to say, Chaney’s players were not too eager to find out what would happen if they crossed him.

    One of Chaney’s laws was that his team was not allowed to talk during the bus ride to the arena before a game. They were supposed to sit quietly and focus on the game and the task at hand. Talking, laughing or other types of socialization were forbidden until the game was over.

    Once during the ride to the game a fire broke out on the back of the bus. The story goes that the small blaze burned for a while until the driver finally pulled over to put it out. Yet during the entire fire, Chaney’s sat in stony silence. No one said a word. Even as a fire raged on the team bus, Chaney’s players were so programmed to follow the rules that even the risk of life and limb kept them quiet.

    Whether or not such coaching tactics are effective are open to debate and there certainly is no shortage of coaches using such theories. Actually, back in the ninth grade my basketball team followed similar guidelines. For games on the road we were expected to wear ties, a team sweater, a blazer (which we wore to school anyway) and we were not allowed to talk at all, though I imagine the rule would have been waived if a fire broke out.

    The idea, of course, was to focus on the game, but the truth is it did nothing more than make traveling to a basketball game feel like a job. Worse, we were a bad team that might have won six games all year. Off the bus we bickered, complained, whined and undermined each other for everything from minutes on the court to shots to spots to set up the offense.

    The entire season was miserable.

    But the following season at McCaskey High, we didn’t have to be quiet on the bus ride. Instead, we talked, told jokes, laughed and had a great time. We also carried a large boom box on trips that we blasted as part of the pre-game routine. In the days before iPods or even the proliferation of CDs, the boom box was intimidating – that was especially the case when the city kids from McCaskey rolled out to the sticks to play teams around the county.

    Better yet, the loose, relaxed atmosphere was perfect for a bunch of kids looking to have fun playing basketball. That year we went 16-1. The following season we won 20 games and went to the District playoffs – we even beat a few “powerhouse” teams during the regular season. The year after that we went to the league championship game, and we never even had to be quiet.

    Needless to say, such tactics don’t work with pro athletes. That type of forced asceticism as a motivation ploy is foolhardy for the best one percent of athletes in the world. They are motivated enough already, and when the millions and millions of dollars are factored into the mix, what good is forcing grown men to have a faux intensity?

    Why no good at all.

    But that doesn’t mean coaches and managers don’t try it. In the case of Charlie Manuel it isn’t so much as a matter of motivation – his players are already intense enough. If you don’t believe that, try talking to Chase Utley for three hours following a loss. Chances are it’s not going to be especially insightful.

    Focus, though, is a buzzword that transcends all levels of sports. In the pros team have psychologists to help players keep their heads clear. In baseball, since players spend more time with teammates than their family during the season, cards, golf, video games and movies are omnipresent.

    However, sometimes those things are taken away. When Larry Bowa managed the Phillies, players were not allowed to take golf clubs on road trips. Charlie Manuel famously removed the ping pong table from the clubhouse back when he was managing the Indians when he thought his players were too intent on winning at ping pong than baseball.

    Otherwise, Manuel is fairly laidback with his players. His reasoning is that preparation is a personal task. With so much at stake for every player in the room, no one is intentionally going to be less than ready for a game.

    But sometimes they might need a little extra reminder. Take last Sunday’s doubleheader against the Mets at Shea Stadium, for instance. After taking apart the Mets in the opener to climb within a game of first place, Manuel posted a notice that no televisions in the cramped clubhouse were to be tuned to football.

    Even though the opening Sunday of the NFL season was in full swing and the players had a keen interest in the games, Charlie Manuel was not ready for some football… at least not before the nationally televised nightcap against the Mets.

    Certainly the Phillies have wiled away the afternoon watching sports on TV before games. During a trip to D.C. a couple years back, players spent the time before batting practice lounging on oversized couches to watch the World Cup matches. Suddenly, the tiny clubhouse at RFK had become the best little sports bar in The District.

    Saturday college football also piques the interest of ballplayers, though (obviously) not to the degree as other baseball games. Even the broadcast Little League World Series draws in the viewers in big league clubhouses.

    But the prohibition on the NFL last Sunday showed that Manuel meant business. Good-time Charlie was clearly taking the game against the Mets more seriously than the other ones in the series. It was as clear as the black void on the closed down TV set.

    Maybe that’s why the Phillies laid a big egg last Sunday night.

    Nothing went right for the Phillies following the football ban. Ace Cole Hamels turned in a clunker, the team was sloppy on defense where failed execution and errors led to costly runs and the bats sleepwalked through most of the game. Hell, Manuel even got himself ejected during the first inning.

    Maybe he wanted to go back to his office in the clubhouse and catch up on some football.

    Monday clips


    During the winter when there wasn’t much going on and I was fighting to come up with mainstream sports-related ideas to write about for this site, I did a little morning clips or “clicks” feature. Guess what? As a regular feature we’re going to get busy on that again, only we’re going to focus on what people are writing and saying about us from outside of the so-called Delaware Valley.

    This will be baseball-centric for now, so just deal with it. Though I’ll admit that between attempting to squeeze in everything in order to entertain the kids and catch some of the doubleheader from Shea (more on that coming up), I actually saw some of the Eagles in the opener. Yeah, on a sunny Sunday I was actually inside for a bit – how about that?

    Nevertheless, from what I saw – and the post-game numbers bear it out – the Eagles looked good in the opener. Most notably, rookie DeSean Jackson  made a nice catch for his first NFL reception and went on to pile on 106 yards.

    Not bad. Not bad at all.

    Now do it again.

    Anyway, it was an eventual weekend for the Phillies, who gained ground on the Mets in the NL East. The thing about that is it wasn’t quite good enough. Despite strong pitching performances from Brett Myers and Jamie Moyer as well as a pair of clutch homers from Greg Dobbs in the first two games of the series, mixed in with a call-to-arms e-mail from Mike Schmidt, Cole Hamels came up small.

    With a chance to pitch the Phillies into a tie for first place with 19 games to go, Hamels gave up two home runs to Carlos Delgado in the last visit to Shea Stadium that were rather Strawberry-esque in distance and flight.

    All was not lost for the Phillies, however. Still just two games behind the Mets, the Phillies chances were greatly improved when word came out that Billy Wagner likely will not return this season.

    Remember when Phillies’ GM Pat Gillick chose not to re-sign Wagner because he said the medical reports didn’t look good? And now the Phillies have Wagner’s replacement from Houston closing games for the Phillies.

    The circle of life…

    Speaking of the Mets, it didn’t seem as if they were too impressed with the e-mail Mike Schmidt sent to the Phillies. Never mind that early reports indicated that the players didn’t really take the time to move their lips as they fought through those nine sentences from the Hall of Famer.

    Regardless, back when everything was bad and falling apart and it looked as if there was going to be fights and mutiny in the Mets’ clubhouse, someone stepped up and delivered the rallying cry that restored order.

    But instead of an e-mail sent from Jupiter, a player sat down with a pen and paper to rally the team and bear his soul.

    Would you believe it was Marlon Anderson?

    Yeah, that Marlon Anderson… the guy who was the stop-gap starting second baseman for the Phillies between the Mark Lewis and Chase Utley eras.

    Since leaving the Phillies, Anderson has pinballed to the Devil Rays to the Cardinals, to the Mets, over to the Nationals and Dodgers in one season, and then back to the Mets. In every stop, which included a World Series appearance with the Cardinals in 2004, Anderson has provided clubhouse leadership, the ability to play a bunch of positions and a solid bat off the bench.

    Interestingly, Anderson led the National League with 17 pinch hits in 2004 and though he was developed as a second baseman since being drafted by the Phillies, Anderson has played just 92 games at the position since 2003 and just once in the past two years.

    Rather than his bat or glove, it has been Anderson’s writing that has made the most impact with the Mets this season. According to The New York Times:

    The Mets seem to have righted their ship just in time. Back in the hideous month of June, they came back from San Diego with a 30-32 record. They held a union meeting before the first home game June 10, when Anderson distributed a sheet of paper with some numbers on it.

    It was as if a certified public accountant were writing the Declaration of Independence – mostly about statistical curves and the like. But it forced the Mets to face their accruing mathematical mediocrity.

    Anderson, a 34-year-old utility player in his second tour of duty with the Mets, had the clubhouse status to issue a few slogans as well as the notation that the Mets needed to play .667 ball the rest of the season. According to his study of the first 12 years of the wild card, the Mets needed a record of 92-70 to qualify for the postseason, which meant they needed to win 62 of their final 100 games, actually a .620 pace.

    So how about those former Phillies and their writing? Not bad, huh?

    Speaking of ex-Phillies, Scott Rolen has been hitting eighth in the lineup for the Blue Jays over the past month. Usually, Rod Barajas hits seventh.

    Clicks:

    Ailing Wagner Might Not ReturnThe New York Times 

    Phillies Still Chasing MetsBats Blog

    Mets Rise Began After Some Simple AccountingThe New York Times

    Showdown at Shea

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

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

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

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

    Can lightning strike the same spot twice? Maybe.

    But then again, maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Right?

    Hey, it’s Barack! Yeah, that Barack

    Phew!

    Lots of craziness going on here… where do we start? Maybe with Google Chrome? I downloaded it yesterday hours after its launch and have been using it ever since. I was a Firefox devotee for years, but I am going to give Google’s new browser a try. So far it seems a little quicker and maybe even a little less buggy. We’ll see how it goes.

    Or do we begin with Donyell Marshall, the newest addition to the 76ers. Interestingly, I actually recall the very first time I ever saw Marshall – a 14-season NBA veteran – play basketball.

    It was either 1988 or 1989 and I was sitting on the home team bench our gym at McCaskey High School. Marshall, probably a freshman or sophomore in high school at the time, rolled down 222 with his teammates from Reading High. Back then Donyell was built like a Q-Tip. He was all legs, tall and skinny. Like, really skinny. Even though Reading was always a good basketball team that usually gave us fits, no one knew much about Marshall. He just looked so young and we figured he was in the game because he was taller than his other teammates.

    You can’t teach height, they say.

    Nevertheless, no one really paid too much attention to Donyell until a point early in the game when he caught the ball on the low block at the hoop on the far end of the gym, turned around with a man on him, jumped straight up into the air and dunked the ball with one hand.

    That one got our attention. Besides, the gym got really quiet after that. “Uh-oh,” is what we thought.

    Anyway, Marshall is with the Sixers now. Too bad they don’t train at Franklin & Marshall College any more…

    Maybe we can start with the Phillies and the trip to Washington, which is where I am sitting as I type. Certainly left-handed starter Cole Hamels turned in another stellar outing last night to beat the Nationals to keep the Phillies two games behind the Mets in the NL East. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that Hamels will start in the big, nationally televised Sunday night game against the New York Mets and Johan Santana.

    Coming off a 4-0 win over the Nationals on Tuesday night where he tossed 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball, Hamels pushed his league-leading innings total to 203. More importantly, Hamels threw 104 pitches on Tuesday and 108 in seven innings in the previous start in Chicago on Aug. 28. Hamels has thrown 100 pitches or more in 17 of his 29 starts, but has gone over 110 eight times and just twice since July 3.

    Moreover, Hamels has better statistics this year when he pitches on four days rest (8-2, 2.47) as opposed to five (4-5, 4.14). Sometimes, Hamels says, he feels a little “off” with that extra day of rest.

    “I understood the situation. I think this is the time that really matters,” Hamels said. “I know five days is what I just did five days ago. That’s what I’ve been able to do all year, and that’s what I’ll do this time. The main guy, when it’s the playoffs or the division championship or the big division rivalry, that’s what I want to be. It’s time to step up to the plate, and I know that I’m ready for it.”

    Manuel and Dubee feel the same way.

    “He’s coming off 108 pitches and 104 [Tuesday],” Dubee said. “You have to give the kid credit – he’s worked hard and kept himself in shape. He’s preserved his body and prepared well.”

    Besides, with just 22 games remaining in the season after Wednesday’s game against Washington, the Phillies are putting a lot of stock into the series against the Mets. Sunday’s game, in particular, is one of those two-game swing outings. Since Kendrick turned in a 6.08 ERA during August, and was tattooed for six runs, eight hits and three walks last Monday in a loss to the Nats, the decision wasn’t too difficult.

    Actually, it was just a matter of Hamels recovering well enough following Tuesday’s start to give the thumbs up.

    “I talked to Kyle – he wants to pitch,” Dubee said. “I respect that. But we want Cole.”

    However, it seems as if the weather could play a role in this weekend’s pitching matchups against the Mets. Saturday’s early forecast shows lots of rain in the New York Metropolitan area, which could force a wash out. If that occurs, Sunday would set up a day-night doubleheader in which both Kendrick and Hamels would pitch.

    No, we’re not going to discuss the weather.

    However, it should be noted that it is pretty damn hot down here. But then again (as we have written in the past) this city was built on top of a swamp.

    Speaking of Washington (weren’t we?), the town is rather empty this week. Part of the reason is because the Republican convention is in St. Paul, Minn. this week. Another reason is because Congress is not in session. Still another reason is because campaign season is in full affect so everyone is out doing all of that stuff.

    Nevertheless, Washington is an industry town (yes, we’ve broached this topic in the past, too) and the product is government. However, it seems different here these days. Most of the time the politicians eschew the so-called Georgetown cocktail circuit or even routine weekends hanging around with each other in The District in order to return to their home districts. As a result, the theory goes, fewer behind-the-scenes deals get brokered and the government is less efficient.

    If that’s possible.

    Yes, that was too easy.

    Speaking of Franklin & Marshall, Washington, the campaign season and basketball enthusiasts, get this:

    Barack Obama is going to be in my backyard tomorrow.

    Yes, that Barack Obama.

    And when I mean in my backyard, I’m not kidding. See, the Senator from Illinois will bring his presidential campaign to Lancaster’s Buchanan Park at 5 p.m. tomorrow. Chances are he will give a speech and rally his supporters into being even more supportive. Plus, such events are fun because it brings out all sorts of people – both pro- and anti-whatever the issue is. Frankly, I enjoy the spectacle.

    Since it’s early September and steaming hot out there, Barack won’t be showing up at Buchanan Park to sled down the ol’ hill. However, I imagine they could open up the wading pool on the other side of the sledding hill for him.

    Of course, he could hang near the dog run, too.

    Whatever Barack decides to do, it will be a fun event. Guys running for president don’t make it to Buchanan Park all that often, and I should know. After all, not only have I lived in the neighborhood near the park most of my life, but back during the summer of ’88, I was the Buchanan Park playground supervisor for the Lancaster Rec Commission. Yep, that was me. I coached the softball team, planned activities, lifeguarded the pool and generally kept the riff-raff of my home neighborhood in line.

    Then again, Buchanan Park is named for a president. President James Buchanan, in fact, and the guy lived two blocks away on Marietta Ave. I even suspect the land that was quartered off and developed into Buchanan Park was originally part of the President’s estate, called, “Wheatland.”

    Buchanan Park, of course, is directly adjacent to F&M College, which just so happens to be where John McCain will visit next Tuesday.

    Yes, that John McCain.

    That’s two different presidential candidates in less than a week, if you are scoring at home. That’s also two different spectacles I hope to attend.

    Regardless, those guys must really like Lancaster. Tomorrow will be Obama’s third trip to town and it will be McCain’s second in two months. If either guy wants to stop by, they are more than welcome. We’ll be in the neighborhood.

    Weird, wild stuff

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

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

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

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

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

    There was a method to the madness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Maybe they can work on that for tonight.

    Picking winners

    Cole HamelsLet’s try this theory out for size:

    The amateur draft in baseball is the most important draft in all of the major professional sports. It’s more important than all the hoopla associated with the NBA and NFL drafts and it’s certainly more important than the NHL draft. Sure, those other drafts get much more hype than the baseball draft simply because the casual fan has heard of all the top players, but as far as sheer impact on an organization goes, nothing has a greater effect than the baseball draft.

    Tomorrow the Phillies will entrust director of scouting Marti Wolever, assistant GM Mike Arbuckle and their scouts and baseball people to shape the organization for (hopefully) the next decade. Gripped with a dearth of prospects in the minor leagues, Wolever and the gang can really replenish the system during tomorrow’s draft because they have seven selections in the first 136 picks.

    “It’s the first time in 16 years we have this many picks that I can remember,” Wolever said. “It’s real significant. We have a chance to impact the system by putting some quality players in.”

    The Phillies have to wait until the 24th overall pick on Thursday afternoon to make their first pick, but after that they come quickly. The Phillies also have the 34th, 51st, 71st, 102nd, 110th and 136th picks. The 34th selection is a compensation pick from the Giants from when they signed free agent Aaron Rowand away from the Phillies.

    Nevertheless, the reason why baseball drafts are so important is because the player/prospect becomes such an integral part of the organizations’ plans. Certain prospects, like Cole Hamels was, are deemed “untouchable” in things like trades or potential Rule 5 drafts. Because of that, guys like Hamels are earmarked spots in the rotation well into the future, which causes the team to act accordingly. Why would a team like the Phillies make a deal for a pitcher if they have someone like Cole Hamels down on the farm?

    Additionally, baseball players spend a long time in an organization. Teams invest time, money and resources in developing ballplayers even if they aren’t labeled as “prospects.” After all, baseball organizations are more than just one, Major League team. Instead, they are chains of teams located all over the hemisphere that need players, coaches, trainers, scouts, etc., etc. in order to function. They are, indeed, franchises that need a lot of different moving parts.

    Therefore, the players selected in the draft matter.

    What’s more, certain prospects not labeled as “untouchable” are perfect for helping teams over the short term. In fact, it’s difficult to find significant trades in baseball that do not include prospects because every team covets them. So in order to land a player that could put a contending team over the top during the stretch run, a prospect or two might be the cost.

    Before the 2000 season the Phillies thought they were a team that would be in the mix for a wild-card spot if they could get another starting pitcher to compliment Curt Schilling. In thinking veteran right-hander Andy Ashby was the pitcher they needed, the Phillies dealt away first-round draft picks Adam Eaton and Carlton Loewer to San Diego.

    It was a controversial deal at the time, but with the aid of hindsight it appears as if the trade were a push. Injuries wrecked Loewer’s career, Eaton came full circle and back to the Phillies, while Schilling and Ashby were both traded away during June of 2000 when it was clear the Phillies weren’t contenders.

    So yeah, a good draft pick can help out a team now or later.

    On Thursday, Wolever is hoping for both. However, based on the team’s drafting strategy, the down-the-road part appears to be the best analysis – at least in terms of the pick joining the Phillies. See, Wolever likes to target “high-ceiling” players, which means the Phillies often select high school players as opposed to more polished college prospects in the draft.

    Still, Wolever has selected four college players with the team’s first pick dating back to 2000.

    “You can’t take all high-ceiling players,” Wolever said. “When you need to reach down into Triple and Double-A and he’s still in [Single-A], that doesn’t help.”

    At least not yet.

    Regardless, the Phillies will take a big step toward shaping their future on Thursday afternoon. Tune in to hear about players you’ll be talking about a lot a few years from now.

    As tough as a girl

    Gavin FloydIt wasn’t all that long ago when I wrote an essay about how a 14-year-old female swimmer was tougher than then-Phillies pitcher Gavin Floyd. Actually, the swimmer just wasn’t tougher mentally than Floyd, but I had an inkling that if it ever went down, the girl would give him a beating.

    The point was that Floyd was soft. I based that assessment from listening to his teammates, coaches and team executives talk about him, as well as from body language. Floyd just didn’t seem comfortable in his own skin. He was intimidated by the media, his teammates, himself and worse, the competition.

    Floyd had talent to spare and dominated his way through the minors even though he was rather uninspired. He yawned his way through a minor-league no-hitter and pitched, as some experts observed, as if he was bored. But when he got to the Phillies and quickly realized that everyone was talented and that he would have to become fully engaged, well, that’s when things got difficult.

    “The competition isn’t a threat,” pitching coach Rich Dubee said in a story dated June 5, 2006. “It should be a challenge. It intimidates him sometimes. Everything’s life and death, and it doesn’t need to be that way. This needs to be something that he enjoys doing. I’m sure he felt extra heat – a lot of a lot of good players have had to go backward to go forward. Hopefully, he can get straightened out and get back up here.”

    That was when I wrote about how 14-year-old Amanda Beard, the Olympic champion and a contemporary of Floyd’s, could kick his ass.

    Nevertheless, after a four-inning stint in Los Angeles on June 1 of 2006 where Floyd gave up seven earned runs on seven hits, three walks and three homers, the fourth overall pick of the 2001 draft never pitched for the Phillies again. Though he was drafted ahead of big-league regulars like Mark Teixeira, Aaron Heilman, Bobby Crosby, Jeremy Bonderman, Noah Lowry, Dan Haren, Scott Hairston, Kevin Youkilis, Dan Uggla, Ryan Howard and David Wright, the Phillies packaged him up as a complimentary piece in the deal to acquire Freddy Garcia from the Chicago White Sox.

    Who would have guessed that Garcia got just one more win for the Phillies after the trade than Floyd?

    Or who would have guessed that Floyd’s nasty sweeping curve would return to form and become one of the best pitches in the American League? Who would have guessed that Floyd would have solidified himself as a main cog in Ozzie Guillen’s rotation on the South Side?

    Better yet, who would have guessed that Floyd would have carried two no-hitters into the eighth inning – and beyond – during the first month of the season?

    Amanda BeardAnyone? Pat Gillick? Charlie Manuel? Cole Hamels? Anyone?

    As Charlie Manuel told MLB.com in today’s edition:

    “When I see Gavin pitch like that, it shows he can do it,” Manuel said. “He’s 3-1. He’s been kind of inconsistent in his career, but his stuff, everyone in baseball and everyone in our organization and the White Sox organization sees the same stuff. That’s why he was projected as someone who could be a good big league pitcher.”

    Just somewhere else.

    “I think the change of scenery helped him,” Manuel said. “I think he was ready for a change of scenery from Philadelphia, and it’s been good for him. He’s pitching to his potential.”

    Floyd came five outs away from a no-hitter against the Detroit Tigers on April 12 where he struck out four and gave up just the one hit in a 7-0 win. Earlier this week, Floyd took a no-no into the ninth against the Minnesota Twins before Joe Mauer – the No. 1 pick of the 2001 draft – laced a double to left-center with one out.

    All told, Floyd has a 3-1 record with a 2.50 ERA in six starts – all in which he has pitched at least six innings. If there has been one mar on Floyd’s slate it is that he ahs just 19 strikeouts to 18 walks this season. However, opponents, obviously, aren’t getting too many hits off him. In nearly 40 innings, Floyd has given up just 20 hits to hold the opposition to a .149 batting average.

    As fellow first-round draft pick and minor-league teammate Cole Hamels told MLB.com:

    “It’s great for him,” Hamels said. “He’s always had the stuff. It’s always been a confidence factor. I don’t think he ever got comfortable in Philadelphia. He has tremendous stuff, and now he has to go out there and show everybody what he’s really all about and the player that a lot of people saw.”

    His new manager Guillen saw it and was willing to send his close friend Garcia packing in order to get Floyd.

    As Guillen told the Chicago Sun Times:

    “So far, he makes me sound like a genius,” Guillen said. “Everything is mental. If you believe in what you have and that you can do this, it’s going to be easier. There’s no doubt this guy has great stuff.

    “I like his arm, and that’s the reason we take the chance. He believes in himself now and has confidence.”

    Can Floyd keep it up? Only time will tell. But the one thing for sure is that Guillen and the White Sox are going to give him a chance. Confidence and comfortability seem to have given the tall righty the toughness that was missing during his time in Philadelphia. Experience seems to have helped, too. The mark of a good athlete is how he (or she) handles defeats. It’s easy to cruise through games with yawns and knockouts, but it’s much more difficult to get back up after being knocked down.

    The tough ones get back up.

    Maybe Floyd is as just as tough as Amanda Beard? The difference now appears to be that one was simply a late bloomer.

    Encore!

    Cole HamelsSo the big Cole Hamels vs. Johan Santana matchup was kind of good. It wasn’t one of those transcendent matchups like we always heard about when Bob Gibson took on Robin Roberts or Sandy Koufax and all of those other great pitchers from a generation or two or go, but that’s not the fault of the pitchers.

    There just aren’t enough great pitchers to go around to have those classic matchups the way they used to.

    Nevertheless, Hamels likely will square off against Santana again this season and it has already pitched in a much-hyped showdown against Roger Clemens during his first season in the big leagues. Of that outing Hamels wasn’t so much geeked up about pitching against Clemens as he was about hitting against him. In fact, the single Hamels rapped out was the only one Clemens surrendered that day.

    Hamels didn’t get any hits against Santana last night, but for the first seven innings of the game most of his teammates didn’t either. Santana was crafty and sneakily good against the Phillies. He allowed a just one hit through the first six innings before Chase Utley led off the seventh with a solo shot into the bullpen in deep right-center. More impressively, Santana got 10 strikeouts against the first 23 hitters he faced.

    The impressive part about that was Santana threw just 14 first-pitch strikes to the 26 hitters he faced. That’s just OK… if that. It certainly wasn’t as good as the first-strike ratio Hamels posted (22 for 28), which means a couple of things. One is Santana was sharp until he reached the 100-pitch plateau and a second is that the Mets were up there hacking early at Hamels.

    Hamels noticed that. After the game he said it seemed as if the Mets’ book on him was to get after him early in the count to avoid falling into a hole and putting the young lefty in position to use his batting-average destroying changeup.

    “Because I’ve been around for two years there’s plenty of video on me,” Hamel said. “Hitters are swinging early in the count and not waiting for my ‘out’ pitch.”

    As a result, the Mets forced the Phillies error-prone defense to make plays. When they didn’t (misplays by Jayson Werth and Ryan Howard proved costly), Hamels’ frustration showed.

    “Some things caught up with me tonight,” Hamels said. “I definitely showed my emotions on the field, dropping my head a few times going, ‘How did that happen?’ But I’ll see these guys again, and I’ll make the adjustments.”

    Perhaps he’ll even see Santana, though Hamels claimed he would be more prone to get caught up in the hype of the rivalry if he weren’t pitching. When he’s on the mound, Hamels says, the focus is on the Mets’ hitters and not the opposing pitcher. The new-age Carlton-Seaver/Phillies-Mets matchup was almost lost on Hamels, who was more concerned with the four hits David Wright got than anything else.

    Still, Hamels tipped his hand that he had some idea that Santana was stringing up the goose eggs on the scoreboard. For as much as he downplayed the big-time matchup, deep down Hamels knew Friday night’s game was different.

    That can explain the uncharacteristic displays of frustration on the field after a few plays.

    “There definitely isn’t much margin for error,” Hamels said. “He’s always going to be able to have success. When you go into a game, you know it’s going to be low-scoring and you hope you’re on the right side of it. He has phenomenal stuff that he can get away with mistakes.”

    Any way you slice it following the first installment, Hamels v. Santana could turn out to be baseball’s best pitching duel in one of its better rivalries.

    Follow the money

    Cole HamelsCole Hamels is on the right path.

    Understanding that it’s going to take a lot more effort and diligence off the field to be able to take the ball every five days, the Phillies’ ace lefty did a total makeover to his training regime a few years ago. It wasn’t just the pedantic stuff like cleaning up his diet and getting plenty of rest, either. Nope, Hamels researched and consulted people close to him and determined that in order to be the best baseball pitcher, he was going to have do things that athletes do.

    That meant beer was out, which, as Hamels said a few years ago: “It’s really the worst thing for you.”

    In a sport that clings to its old mores and traditions like grim death, beer is still a clubhouse staple in a lot of cities. Even the storied St. Louis Cardinals are nearly synonymous with the Busch family and Budweiser. But according to Chris Carmichael, the fitness guru and longtime trainer for Lance Armstrong, Hamels is definitely onto something.

    Says Carmichael:

    “The dehydrating impact of alcohol trumps the benefits from the carbohydrate, and it’s also important to realize that alcohol itself is primarily metabolized to fatty acids rather than to usable carbohydrate energy. Yes, it originated as carbohydrate-grains, grapes, corn, whatever-but now it’s alcohol and your body treats it differently. There’s actually not much usable carbohydrate energy in beer or wine.”

    More notably, Hamels was the catalyst behind the Phillies relenting and hiring a cadre of chiropractors around the league so that players can visit for adjustments or active release treatments, which is a combination of deep-tissue massage, stretching and manipulation to alleviate problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and nerves. Again, chiropractic treatments are nothing new for athletes in other sports – it’s old news, in fact. But in baseball, unless it’s a cortisone shot followed by a paper cup filled with beer, it’s innovation.

    Nevertheless, Hamels is the pitcher of the new generation. Soon, guys like him will be the norm instead of just a handful of open-minded baseball players.

    So yeah, in terms of putting together a long, successful baseball career, Hamels (still just 24-years old) is doing all of the right things.

    It’s just that he really hasn’t done much yet to be considered any contract offer “a low blow.”

    That’s how Hamels described his current contract with the Phillies which was renewed yesterday when he and the team did not come to terms. Though he made $400,000 last season, Hamels characterized the $500,000 renewal as disappointing.

    “They do want to keep you happy, and that will affect down the line with certain things that come up because you can’t just all of a sudden throw everything out at (a player) at the last second and think that’s really going to make him happy, because he’s still got check marks for what they didn’t do in the years before.

    “I felt like it wasn’t necessarily equal compensation for what I do and for what I can do,” Hamels said.

    Clearly the team’s best pitcher, Hamels won a team-best 15 games last season, went to the All-Star Game and finished sixth in the Cy Young Award balloting. More importantly, Hamels is the pitcher the Phillies tabbed to start the first post-season game in 14 years for the franchise last October. Clearly, in regard to his pitching, the Phillies like Hamels very much.

    ” I’m a little surprised. It’s about respect, and when people don’t show that to you, you’re caught off guard. I thought it was a low blow.

    “I felt it wasn’t necessarily equal compensation for what I do and for what I can do. I have to follow the ladder of other guys, some who play every day, and I know I’m not in that category, but you want to feel like you’re getting equally compensated for what you do on the field compared to other people that are in the same league.”

    Oh, but that’s not how it works, young fella. Not in baseball, anyway. Or at least, not usually. Sure, there are a few players who received large contracts based on future potential as opposed to accomplishment, but teams have a way of closing up the check book after getting burned. Could it be that Hamels is being penalized for other bad deals?

    Or could it be that Hamels is a victim of the Phillies’ team-record $106 million payroll? Considering the Phillies are still paying Jim Thome for the next two seasons, perhaps there isn’t much left over for the lefty ace?

    Or could it be that Hamels is drawing a very fair salary for someone with his Major League service? At similar points of their careers, Hamels is making more than Chien-Ming Wang, Dontrelle Willis and Scott Kazmir. Plus, with another big season in ’08, Hamels could do really well next winter if he becomes eligible for arbitration as a “Super Two” player.

    But the idea that Hamels can make it through an entire season without some kind of setback doesn’t seem realistic. Oh sure, he’s as fit and strong as any pitcher on the team, but history is difficult to argue with. After all, Hamels has never made through an entire season without an injury or a stint on the disabled list. Even last year when he led the team with 15 wins, Hamels only made it to the mound for 28 starts.

    Better yet, in his first four pro seasons Hamels pitched just 201 innings in 36 starts. In 2006, with a two-week disabled-list stint mixed in, the lefty went 181 innings. Last year he pitched 183 and missed a chunk of the later portion of the season with tendonitis.

    In other words it’s show-and-prove time for Hamels. If he wants the money he thinks he deserves, he has to go out there and pitch for it. And it’s not just 25 to 28 starts or 180 innings for 15 or 16 wins. Instead, Hamels has to figure out how to go all 162. If he does that, he won’t get low-balled any more. … even though he’s signed up with the Phillies until 2012.

    So far, though, Hamels is on the right path.

    Hamels: It’s casual

    Cole HamelsGood morning from the windy, chilly and overcast Gulf Coast, folk(s). We’ll get into it in a bit as soon as we take care of some important business, and finding some coffee here at the park. How can they not have coffee – it’s just some hot water poured over some ground up beans.

    Sheesh!

    In the meantime, left-hander ace-in-the-waiting Cole Hamels talked to reporters about NOT getting the Opening Day start on March 31 against the Nats at the Bank. Guess what? He’s cool with it. Better yet, he kind of likes going second.

    “I actually don’t mind him being first,” Hamels said. “I kind of like it.”

    Clicky click here to listen to what he told the reporters.

    I even wrote about it right here.

    Here comes the new look (same as the old look)

    JimmyWhen you think about it, the current design of the uniforms the Phillies have been sporting since 1992 are getting a little old and stale. Actually, they are catching up in age to those hard maroon unis the team wore all through the 1970s that just seemed to scream, “DISCO!”

    The shirts they wear now just whine, “We don’t have any other good ideas.”

    Sometimes the best ideas are the ones that are already out there. Take for instance the one the Phillies came up with for their “new” alternate home uniform, which the team will wear for day games at the Bank. Yeah, well, it’s exactly like the shirts and pants the team wore in 1946 to 1949. Guess what? It works.

    Really, they are blue and red (with a cream-colored base). How could that miss when blue and red go together like chocolate and peanut butter?

    In fact, those uniforms look so good that perhaps the “alternate” uniforms should be the ones they have been wearing since 1992. Let’s not kid ourselves, the Phillies’ look is stale and needs to be freshened up a bit. Not only do they need a third baseman, a center fielder and a few pitchers, but a new wardrobe would surely get the local nine feeling a little better about themselves. Doesn’t a new snazzy shirt or a slick pair of pants make everyone feel better?

    Pitcher turned runway model Cole Hamels told reporters that he liked the new/old look.

    “It’s nice to have something different. All the teams have been coming up with new uniforms, and you want to be part of it,” he said. “I know it’s going to help out with the marketing campaign because it brings something new and fun to the stadium.”

    Wait… this uniform thing is a marketing campaign? Would the Phillies do such a thing just to sell shirts at their team store for $189.99 and caps for (probably) $25? With a recession looming, ticket prices as high as they are and the Christmas season in full swing, wouldn’t the Phillies just want to give away that kind stuff to help drum up support for the hometown team? They didn’t unveil the new uniforms just 25 shopping days before Christmas on purpose did they?

    ***
    Earl WeaverSpeaking of new looks for the Phillies, forget about a trade with the Orioles for Melvin Mora. According to general manager Pat Gillick, the Phillies believe Mora is a good player, but they are sure what the team would have to offer back to the O’s.

    Speaking of the Orioles, I always liked that smiling bird cap they used to wear in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It made Eddie Murray and Earl Weaver look like a really friendly dudes, you know.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I felt that my American Legion baseball team sponsored by the local Elks club should have had smiling elk caps as an homage to those juggernaut Orioles’ teams. I even tried to design one, but it came out like something Deitch suggested for a new uniform patch for the Phillies.

    ***
    Von Hayes is still the manager of sandlot independent league Lancaster Barnstormers and I promise I will write something about it as soon as figure out a way to do it tactfully. In the interest of full disclosure, ol’ Von is a good hire for Lancaster and he beat out Gary Carter, Wally Backman and the team’s ex manager Tom Herr for the gig. But then again, people I talked to (yep, I talked to real live people about it) say anyone other than Herr would have been good. That guy, one person said, has the personality of a toilet seat…

    Oh yeah, tact. I’ll work on it.

    ***
    Rumors and crap
    Just as quickly as rumors sprung up regarding a potential trade between the Orioles and the Phillies for third baseman Melvin Mora, they were squashed by general manager Pat Gillick. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Phillies’ GM says the team is focused on acquiring pitching.
    Nevertheless, Gillick indicated that the Phillies would have plenty of money to spend on the right player(s) though he noted that “This is not a good free-agent group.”

    With center fielder Aaron Rowand expected to sign elsewhere for the 2008 season, the Phillies are rumored to be amongst the teams looking at Brewers’ slugger Geoff Jenkins as a player to bolster the outfield.

    Exit, stage right

    Cole HamelsRyan Spilborghs snapped Cole Hamels’ streak of 13 straight outs with a walk. Spilborghs is another difficult name to spell. Not as bad as Tulowitzki, but Spilborghs… what is that?

    S-P-I-L-B-O-R-G-H-S

    Of course a dude named “Finger” is making fun of guys named Tulowitzki, Zolecki and Spilborghs.

    Cute.

    Anyway, Hamels recovered from the walk to retire the next two hitters on a lazy fly to right, and a bouncing ball into the hole behind first that Chase Utley neatly fielded and flipped to Ryan Howard at first.

    He might not be hitting, but he’s helping with the glove.

    But at the 115-pitch mark, Charlie Manuel headed for the mound in his familiar gait, said a few words to his lefty and then raised his right hand to signal for reliever Tom Gordon. That’s a wrap on Cole Hamels:

    6 2/3 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 7 K on 115 pitches – 72 strikes

    It didn’t seem as if Hamels was too pleased about leaving the game trailing by a run since he didn’t acknowledge the big cheers he received as he walked off.

    Gordon entered and whiffed Kaz Matsui to end the eighth, while J.C. Romero and Kyle Lohse warmed in the ‘pen.

    Here’s a new one… Jeff Francis took the mound to start the seventh, warmed up and then when Pat Burrell was announced as the hitter, Clint Hurdle walked to the mound and called for a reliever.

    Perhaps LaTroy Hawkins needed some extra time getting loose?

    Be that as it may, the best managerial move ever was pulled by Frank Robinson of the Nationals when he called in a relief pitcher, ordered him to issue an intentional walk and then pulled him out of the game. If I recall correctly the pitcher was Joey Eischen. He’s the intentional walk specialist.

    Greg Dobbs was the Phillies walk specialist in the bottom of the seventh when he drew a one-out walk and then exited for pinch-running specialist, Michael Born. But a hot-shot grounder to second baseman Kaz Matsui was deftly turned into a 4-6-3 double play.

    Remember when Kaz Matsui was with the Mets and was supposed to be the second-coming of Ichiro and Hideki Matsui? In fact, the Mets stuck with Matsui at short and moved Jose Reyes to second before learning (quickly) that they were better off the other way around.

    Then they were better off without Matsui.

    But Matsui is in the playoffs in 2007 and the Mets are not.

    Strike three

    Cole HamelsApparently, the second inning was nothing more than a apparition for the Phillies’ Cole Hamels. That’s the case because since that 40-pitch second inning, Hamels has mowed down 13 straight on 47 pitches. As a result, he has given his high-powered offense a really good chance to win this game.

    But Chase Utley whiffed to open the sixth. For Utley, it was his third straight strikeout against the lefty Jeff Francis. As a result, it appears as if Utley is in a bit of a slump since he only has four hits in his last 24 plate appearances.

    Meanwhile, the whiffs appear to be stifling the Phillies’ offense. Utley and Ryan Howard have whiffed five times in six plate appearances. That’s five of the team’s eight strikeouts.

    That’s too many.

    On the edge

    cbpCole Hamels found trouble in the second inning. Better yet, Todd Helton found Hamels… that’s right, Todd Helton is trouble. On the first pitch of the inning, Helton smacked it off the wall above the 409 sign in the deepest part of the park. After a crazy carom past Aaron Rowand and to Shane Victorino pursuing from right field, Helton beat the ball to third for a triple.

    Half-dozen pitches later, Garrett Atkins (Chase Utley’s UCLA teammate) laced a single to left to open the scoring. A one-out walk and single made it 2-0. Hamels, strangely, is clearly struggling. He’s also sweating like Dom DeLuise at a clam bake. It’s quite humid outside today, which for the folks arriving in town from sunny and temperate Colorado, feeling our heavy, thick east-coast air must be misery.

    Speaking of misery, the Rockies added another run as sweaty Cole Hamels walked Troy Tulowitzki with the bases loaded.

    Hamels is teetering on the edge. He whiffed Holliday to end the threat, but strike one to the possible MVP was a freaking bomb that sailed over the foul/fair pole, onto the concourse and very likely onto the street that borders the park to the north… is that Phillies Way?

    Either way, it was a bleeping rocket. Worse, Hamels threw 40 pitches in the second inning.

    Contrarily, Jeff Francis continued to deal. He whiffed Ryan Howard to start the frame, got Rowand to ground out on a two-strike pitch and then made Wes Helms pop out harmlessly to second.

    Nevertheless, Pat Burrell walked to become the Phillies’ first post-season base runner in 14 years.

    Big whiffs

    Cole HamelsIt’s loud. In fact, I doubt Citizens Bank Park has ever been louder. The fans are cheering for everything. Strikes, foul balls, ground outs… everything.

    Yet when MVP candidate Matt Holliday dug into the batter’s box, the fans let out a loud, “BOO!” Then they morphed into an even louder, “OVERRATED!” chant.

    I don’t think Holliday is overrated, nor do I think his offensive statistics are overly skewed toward Coors Field. But I do think he will not win the MVP Award. He’ll finish in the top two.

    Cole Hamels handled the Rockies in order during the top of the first. He threw 16 pitches – 12 strikes – and it looks like he mixed the curve with the changeup.

    Jeff Francis won 17 games and had a 4.22 ERA for the Rockies this season. Those are impressive numbers considering that the young lefty pitches his home games at Coors Field. However, against the Phillies this season he got roughed up in two out of three starts.

    The first time he saw the Phillies, the lefty whiffed eight and gave up just four hits in six innings. But the next two outings, Francis allowed 14 runs and 20 hits in a combined 8 1/3 innings.

    Nonetheless, Francis got off to a good start when he struck out the side in order in the bottom of the first on just 12 pitches. Nine of those 12 were strikes.

    Setting a course

    San DiegoA few industrious types learned that Wednesday’s opener of the NLDS would be at the Bank at 3:30 p.m. and that all of the games of the series would start during the daytime hours.

    That was wrong.

    Instead, the first two games of the series (set for Wednesday and Thursday) will begin at 3 p.m. After a travel day on Friday, the series will shift to either Petco Park in San Diego or Coors Field in Denver for a 9:30 p.m. Eastern Time start. If Game 4 is necessary, it will occur at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday night from either Coors or Petco.

    The deciding Game 5 (if needed), will be in Philadelphia next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

    All of the games will be broadcast on television on TBS with Don Orsillo, and Joe Simpson calling the action from the booth, while the Inquirer’s David Aldridge offers insight as the field reporter.

    Not exactly Howard and Dandy Don in the booth, but whatever… it’s just the NLDS.

    What’s going to happen?
    About a month-and-a-half ago I thought the Padres had a really good chance to come out of the National League and go to the World Series. The Padres’ pitching, as I noted, was simply too good.

    But even the Padres can’t win games 1-0. The team’s offense, simply, is a problem. Against a streaking club like the Rockies (winners of 12 of their last 13) the Padres, Phillies, Cubs or Diamondbacks could be given fits. Since the wild card was instituted, the streaking team has gone all the way a few times. I’m sure Phillies fans remember those 2003 Florida Marlins.

    This time of year the philosophy is easy to understand. As Aaron Rowand said the other day (and I keep using incessantly), if you win you get to keep playing.

    Nonetheless, I won’t be surprised if the Phillies get swept in the first round or go all the way to the World Series.

    Phillies vs. Yankees in the World Series? Diamondbacks vs. Red Sox? Does anyone think the Cubs have a chance?

    ***
    Coors I noticed that the fans at Coors are chanting, “M-V-P!” whenever Matt Holliday comes to the plate. Little do the fans know, but the BBWAA ballots were due in last night… it seems as if Holliday will finish in the top two in the balloting.

    Hamels in Game 1
    I’m not sure if it’s official, but after Sunday’s clincher I asked Cole Hamels what it would mean to him to get the ball in Game 1 of the NLDS. In his excitement, he just kind of said some stuff about being “excited” and that he’s “ready to go.” Plus, the ink on my notebook ran and smeared because of the champagne and beer that soaked it during the post-game events yesterday.

    However, there is one sentence that is clear and very decipherable beneath the Hamels notation in my book:

    “I can’t wait to get started.”

    Which one? Coors or Petco?
    San Diego The only Major League Baseball game my 3-year old son ever attended was at Coors Field during the 2005 season. I mixed a little pleasure with some trade-deadline action that trip and can vividly recall Charlie Manuel sitting in the visitors’ dugout before the game and telling stories about how he had to kill snakes along with some other country life vs. nature tales.

    I was riveted by Charlie’s stories because despite coming from Lancaster, Pa., I am about as urban/suburban as it gets. Rugged for me is starting the lawn mower without putting on a pair of thick, leather “work” gloves.

    As such, we get out to Colorado as much as possible. If I won the Powerball today, I would be on a plane headed for Denver and Estes Park tomorrow.

    But I’ve never been to San Diego. In fact, people tell me it’s heaven on earth. Every day the weather is a perfect 70 degrees and everyone is happy and pleasant all day long. Though the German’s called it San Diego and scholars are unsure what the word means, it is doubtful that the name will be changed to Xanadu.

    It would be neat to see if all the stories are true.

    Stay classy.

    Step right up and beat the Mets
    Glavine Piling on is just mean. That’s why I’m not going to add anymore cheap shots to the barrage the Mets and their fans are taking right now. That just ain’t cool. Besides, from the sounds of things, the Mets are taking a beating from all of the vultures in the NYC press.

    Nonetheless, Mets’ GM Omar Minaya issued an apology to the fans, today. That’s nice, but it doesn’t get the team an extra game in the standings.

    An interesting thing regarding the Mets is what is going to become of Tom Glavine now that he is a free agent. Remember when Glavine considered signing with the Phillies or the Mets a few years back? As I recall, Glavine chose the Mets because he didn’t think he would fit in with all the young players in Philadelphia… seems to me that 44-year old family man Jamie Moyer figured out how to fit in just fine.

    Nevertheless, if yesterday was Glavine’s last game for the Mets, it was a rotten way to go out.

    Phillies vs. Mets on Monday?

    Cole HamelsCole Hamels is in the bullpen warming up, the fans are filtering into the sold-out ballpark and the oppressive humid has finally broken and given way to a decidedly autumnal tinge.

    It feels like playoff baseball time[1].

    Meanwhile, the word filtered down from New York City that despite all of the bluster to the contrary, the Mets have resigned themselves to participating in a playoff game in Philadelphia on Monday. If such an event were to occur, people will need tickets for the game. So when and if a playoff game is scheduled for Monday and/or Tuesday, the Phillies announced they will sell tickets.

    Here’s the Phillies’ announcement:

    In order to prepare and plan, the Phillies are announcing that tickets will go on public sale once the tie-breaking game has been deemed necessary.

    Full season ticket holders (81 games) have been mailed their locations. Season ticket holders and E-Mail Club members will be offered the opportunity to purchase tie-breaker tickets in advance of the public sale.

    Tickets may be purchased on Sunday (once a game has been deemed necessary) via the following outlets:

    ONLINE: www.phillies.com.

    When ordering via the internet, the Phillies suggest choosing the convenient “print at home” option. Access to the internet is available 24 hours a day.

    PHONE CENTER: (215) 463-1000. Again, once the game has been deemed necessary, the Phone Center will be open Sunday until 10:00 p.m. . . . Phone lines will open again at 8:00 a.m. on Monday.

    The Phillies suggest fans choose the “print at home” option or pick up their will call tickets well in advance of the game, either Sunday night or early Monday morning.

    IN PERSON: Two Citizens Bank Park locations: (1) First Base Gate ticket windows (on Pattison Avenue) and (2) West ticket windows (on Citizens Bank Way, adjacent to the Majestic Clubhouse Store). Hours: Sunday until 10:00 p.m. The ticket windows will reopen at 8:00 a.m. on Monday.

    ***

    WillieSpeaking of the New York Mets, there was a helluva quote in the Oct. 1, 2007 edition of the New York Observer from a story written by John Koblin. In the story headlined, “Gutsy Mr. Metsie,” all about how Mets’ skipper Willie Randolph is dealing with his team’s “September Swoon,” veteran lefty pitcher Tom Glavine is on the record saying:

    “Sometimes when you’re a team as talented as we are—I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘bored,’ but I guess you can get complacent sometimes. You don’t pay attention to details every now and then because you do have a ton of talent and think you can on most days do everything you wanna do.”

    So the Mets are collapsing because they are so good? They haven’t been paying attention to details?

    I wonder if their curiosity has been piqued now?


    [1] Not that most of us in the Phillies’ writing press corps actually knows what “playoff baseball” feels like. A lot of us have floated out into unchartered waters.

    [2] a.k.a: a choke job of epic proportions

    Down the stretch they come

    Aaron RowandWASHINGTON – The Mets had the Heimlich performed last weekend in Florida, just in time to return home to Shea Stadium to host the hapless Nationals for three games. With a 2½ game lead over the Phillies heading into the final week of the season, the Mets have all but wrapped up the NL East.

    Based on the numbers from Sports Club Stats, the Mets have a 95.7 percent chance to make it to the playoffs. Only a monumental collapse against the Nats, Cards and Marlins can stop them now.

    But for the Phillies, it has come down to the last six games. At worst – minimally – the Phillies can go 4-2. But that number comes without taking the Padres’ results into consideration. By going 4-2, the Phillies would force a one-game playoff in San Diego if the Padres limp home at 4-3. And based on last weekend’s showing against Colorado, it’s possible that Padres could be hitting a bad slump at the wrong time.

    Still, there is one gnarly-looking monkey wrench that could be thrown in the middle of all of this:

    The Atlanta Braves are coming to town.

    Here’s a prediction – the Phillies will sweep the Nationals at the Bank in the final series of the season this weekend. Washington is a tired team, with a spent pitching staff and has nothing at stake when they face the Mets and Phillies this week. The team has its bags packed; lockers cleaned out of the ready-to decay RFK Stadium, and are focused on vacations and chilaxin’ while the playoffs rage. Sure, there’s professional pride and all of that stuff (manager Charlie Manuel was quite laudatory to Nats’ skipper Manny Acta for putting his best players out there last weekend), but tired is tired. The Nats look ready for a break.

    So that leaves the Braves, who are clinging to the ledge of the playoff race by their fingernails. Standing three games behind the Phillies, the Braves could climb back in the chase with a sweep and some cooperation from the Padres (and Rockies). Most of all, though, the Braves will be happy to knock out the Phillies from contention. With aces Tim Hudson and John Smoltz scheduled to pitch the first two games of the series, the Braves are not coming to town just to play out the string.

    Come on, just one more …
    Chuck In just his second start in the last 37 days and first since a three-inning, 65-pitch battle in St. Louis, lefty Cole Hamels looked pretty sharp yesterday’s outing at RFK. In five innings, Hamels allowed just two hits and a pair of walks with six strikeouts. Best of all, Hamels’ fastball looked to have a lot of zip (yeah, zip) on it, which always comes in handy for a guy whose best pitch is a changeup.

    But Manuel yanked Hamels out of the game after just five innings because he had thrown 76 pitches. The skipper did this even though Hamels retired the last eight hitters he faced and didn’t seem to be taxing himself all that much in working through his last three innings.

    Could Hamels have pitched into the sixth without overextending himself?

    Sure, he said… But then again, Hamels acknowledged that he doesn’t exactly have the best history with injuries.

    “It’s a little difficult to say when they don’t let me know what my pitch count is,” Hamels told the writers. “That would be nice. I know my body better than anybody else. I guess that’s the whole point in asking. But I think it takes that experience to have the say-so. I think it would be easier for Jamie Moyer to say, ‘No, I’m going to go back out there,’ than myself.”

    Manuel was in one of those damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t, second-guessing situations that has pretty much defined his three seasons in Philadelphia . But, Manuel explained, Hamels has to be treated very gingerly for the time being.

    “Cole is still on a rehab, of course,” Manuel said. “We would have loved to leave him in there.”

    So it just figured that as soon as Hamels exited the game, reliever Antonio Alfonseca came in during the sixth and gave the Nats the lead they would never relinquish.

    Revisiting Eddie
    Ed Wade We were even more busy than usual last Thursday when the news of ex-Phillies GM Ed Wade had taken over the same post with the Houston Astros. During an eight-year run that was marked by rebuilding and underachieving, Wade became “a lightning rod for the negativity” at the end of his time with the Phillies.

    So when I first heard the news broadcasted over the car radio, I nearly had to pull over so that I could properly decipher the announcement.

    Instead, I drove on.

    That initial start gave way to rational thought. Of course Ed Wade was going to get another job as a Major League general manager. Why wouldn’t he? Wade is a good “baseball man,” who has given his professional life to the game. He has also worked at just about every job there is in Major League ball, and is generally well-liked all across the profession.

    So why wouldn’t he land in another GM position? Guys like Ed Wade always land on their feet, except, of course, when they don’t.

    Anyway, Jim Salisbury’s column on Wade in Sunday’s Inquirer was very interesting. You should read it.

    Yet another Hamels update

    Chances are Cole Hamels next start will not be in the minor leagues, but instead for the Phillies. The big question, of course, is when.

    Hamels, the Phillies’ rookie phenom starter, completed a rehab assignment for Single-A Lakewood on Thursday night where he worked 5 2/3 innings, allowing a run on three hits and two walks, while striking out three. The lefty threw just 55 pitches.

    With general manager Pat Gillick and his assistant Ruben Amaro Jr. watching from the stands, Hamels worked pain free and could pitch for the Phillies five days from now against Arizona.

    If that happens it would be likely that Gavin Floyd will be removed from the rotation. Floyd allowed three homers and seven runs with seven hits and four walks in a rather auspicious outing against the Dodgers on Thursday night. Thanks to those numbers, Floyd’s league-worst ERA jumped to a rather eye-popping 7.29 over his 11 starts.

    Other options include shifting Ryan Madson back to the bullpen, adding Ryan Franklin to the rotation or standing pat with Eude Brito in there.

    The liklihood of any of these actually occuring are about the same as Charlie Manuel setting himself on fire and circling the bases naked. Well… maybe not that far-fetched, but you get the idea. Chances are that when Hamels returns, Floyd will go.

    Nevertheless, the question still remains when will Hamels return? The answer to that is a rather cryptic, soon.

    — John R. Finger