Game 3: Should we talk about the weather?

coorsDENVER—A few years ago a friend moved from the harsh cold of New England to San Francisco. Needless to say this was quite a change for the guy. Instead of shoveling snow and dressing up to fend off the bitterly cold winters, all he had to do was layer up for summer nights.

Easy.

That was until he felt his first earthquake. Actually, by California standards it was a pretty tame one, but unnerving for an easterner, nonetheless. Worse, the quake came at 2 a.m. when he was sitting at home and ready to call it a night. All of a sudden he heard a loud noise that sounded like a truck backfiring in the next room and some wobbling that sent a dish flying off a counter.

In all, it was no big deal. There was hardly any damage to the city other than a few cracked glasses and plates and most folks seemed to sleep right through it, he said.

But 3,000 miles away, the entire eastern seaboard was gripped by a deathly cold snap from Ol’ Man Winter. Apparently, when folks even considered going outside they moved quickly and stealthy like alligators. They did what they had to and went straight back indoors and spread Vaseline all over themselves as if they were about to swim across the English Channel.

Yes, it was that cold.

Interestingly, my friend got a few phone calls from his friends back east asking questions about San Francisco and the earthquake. Really, easterners just don’t know despite the fact that earthquakes are quite common throughout parts of New England and even Pennsylvania. In fact, a few months ago we even had a little rumbler of about 4.2 magnitude in Lancaster, Pa.

It sounded like a truck backfiring.

Anyway, the best question my friend was asked compared the earthquakes to the cold snap. Having been through both at different points, my friend was an expert.

“Which is worse,” he was asked. “The earthquake in California or the below-zero temperatures in the east?”

The answer was pretty comical.

“Well,” my friend said. “I never had to run screaming at 3 a.m. in my underwear looking for a doorway for protection because it was cold. I’m going to say the earthquake is worse.”

Here in Denver a bunch of us are acting as if we’re running around in our underwear looking for a doorway. It’s cold. It’s damn cold. And it’s certainly too cold to be out running around in your underwear.

But that’s it—it’s just cold. Sure, there is snow on the ground and the nighttime temperature for tonight’s scheduled Game 3 is forecast to be in the single digits. Remember how it was playing baseball when it was freezing cold and you hit a ball with an aluminum bat? That’s stinging sensation in your hands happens with wood bats, too. That’s especially the case when the pitcher purposely throws it in on the hitters’ hands with the intent on causing that feeling.

coldStill, it’s just cold. Cold happens sometimes. Football players layer up when it’s cold, golfers have certain clothes and precautions for when it’s chilly and distance runners, the toughest of the lot, just go run. They might put on some mittens.

Though the extra weight of the mittens might not be worth it.

Baseball is different. A summer rain sends players scurrying for the clubhouse because rain causes grass to get slick and then someone could fall down.

Really… someone could fall down.

Publically, the players on the Rockies and Phillies said all the right things about the prospect of playing Game 3 in record-low temps on Saturday night. Pedro Martinez, who is from the Dominican Republic, said he couldn’t wait to get out there and have fun. Cold? Whatever. Pedro even talked about the very first time he saw snow.

“When I saw snow, I actually stopped to grab a little bit and put it in my mouth and see if it felt like ice,” Pedro said. “But it’s something you get accustomed to.”

Yes, because it never got cold when Pedro was pitching in Boston. What would he do?

Pedro doesn’t have to worry about it now. Apparently, all it took was a cold day in Denver to get him off the mound. Instead, J.A. Happ, a kid from the Chicago suburbs, will pitch in Game 3 in the relatively mild climes of Sunday night. Better yet, Happ, Pedro and their teammates can breathe a faux sigh at the prospect of not going out there on Saturday night.

The funny part was that the only guy who went on record to say it would be silly to play baseball in single-digit weather with snow flurries at mid-level altitude was the dude from Canada.

“When it’s cold, you look for that sweet little spot so you can hit it on the nose every time,” Stairs said. “It’s uncomfortable for fans to sit there and watch a game. For me, I’m warm up here watching the game on TV till I have to pinch hit. I feel bad for the guys who have to play every day. There’s no advantage to either team in cold weather. You’re more patient as a hitter. It might knock down a run game a little bit with the tight muscles.”

Nevertheless, Stairs, from New Brunswick, isn’t impressed with the forecast though he says it makes for bad baseball.

“That’s short-sleeve weather,” he said. “I’ve played in games when it was 30 below.”

Maybe so, but not this time.

The Big Piece

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

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

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

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

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

What are the odds of that happening?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s Howard’s average.

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

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

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

End of the line?

moyerJamie Moyer pitches for the Phillies tonight, which is kind of a big deal. Sure, he’s going for career win No. 250, but more than that, he really, really, really needs to pitch well.

You know, for a change.

Moyer hasn’t been very good this season. The 8.15 ERA and opponents’ .344 batting average against him is part of it, but most telling are the last three starts the 46-year-old lefty has turned in during May. In those three starts Moyer has given up 22 hits, 19 runs, six homers and seven walks in just 12 1/3 innings.

Yet Moyer isn’t in jeopardy of being moved out of the Phillies’ rotation. That already happened yesterday when Chan Ho Park was shifted to the bullpen and lefty J.A. Happ slid into the vacant spot, and Park hasn’t been nearly as bad as Moyer.

Then again, Moyer has had rough patches before. In fact, there was a four-start jag in 2005 (April 30-to-May 18) where he gave up 23 runs and nine walks in 13 2/3 innings. The lefty rebounded from that rough patch to finish the season at 13-7 with 200 innings

But Moyer wasn’t 46 then and he hadn’t just finished pitching deep into October for the first time ever. He also hadn’t just signed a two-year deal in which he held out for more money.

Yes, Moyer is getting $13 million in base salary with incentives that could take the worth of the deal to $20 million. He also will get $250,000 each for 150, 160, 170, 180 and 190 innings pitched. In 2010 the base salary can reach $4.5 million and he will receive $250,000 each for 150 innings and 23 starts, and $500,000 each for 160, 170, 180 and 190 innings, and 25, 27, 29 and 31 starts.

Moreover, Moyer has a no-trade clause in which he can block deals to six teams, but no more than four in a specific league.

There’s no such clause for what happens if Moyer gets moved out of the rotation or pitches poorly.

Still, not a bad deal for a 46-year-old lefty with a fastball that can’t break glass and a three-game stretch in which opponents are hitting .400 off him with an on-base percentage near .500.

Moyer’s age was “a concern” as general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. admitted when announcing the signing, but he said the team wanted to show a “commitment” to the veteran pitcher.

Make that a veteran pitcher with no versatility, a two-year deal and a no-trade clause.

Of course all this goes away if Moyer pitches well again…

Or retires.

Stuck with ’em

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

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

Crazy thing that baseball.

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

Here it comes in black and white:

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

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

Again, it’s the worst in baseball.

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

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

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

Yes, duh.

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

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

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

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

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

If only Moyer could face the Marlins every time out…

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

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

*

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

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

Check it out.

Early September for the Mets?

alg_mets-paper-bagsAccording to reports, the battle for the fifth-starting position in the Phillies rotation has been pretty tight. That’s a good thing considering there really isn’t anything else going on at Camp WFC in Clearwater, Fla. this spring. Sure, John Mayberry Jr. is making a strong case to earn a spot on the 25-man roster, and the Phillies might need someone to replace Pedro Feliz and/or Chase Utley if the injuries aren’t healed come Opening Night.

But for the most part the only bit of intrigue comes from a bunch of guys hoping to get into about 32 games this season.

Veteran Chan Ho Park and lefty J.A. Happ are making strong cases to wrest the spot away from de facto leader Kyle Kendrick. In fact, no member of the trio vying for the only available opening in the starting rotation has allowed more than two runs all spring. Better yet, neither Park, Happ nor Kendrick has issued a walk all spring, while the lefty has eight strikeouts in eight innings pitched, while Park has five whiffs in seven innings pitched.

Kendrick has appeared in just one spring game so far, allowing a run and four hits in 2 2/3 innings.

Dark horse candidate Carlos Carrasco has pitched five innings in two outings,  but seems headed to Triple-A to start the season.

But while the battle for last starting spot for the Phillies’ rotation has been a veritable battle royale, it has been the same on the other side of Florida where the New York Mets train.

Like the Phillies, the Mets also have an open competition for one spot in the rotation. And like the Phillies, three pitchers – Livan Hernandez, Tim Redding and ex-Phillie Freddy Garcia – are fighting it out in Grapefruit League action.

But that’s where the comparison ends. On the Gulf Coast of Florida, the Phillies’ trio has been pitching well and will give manager Charlie Manuel a few sleepless nights trying to figure out who the man will be.

But on the Atlantic Coast, the Mets’ battle hasn’t been nearly as intense. According to a story in The New York Times, the notion that the Mets could go outside of camp and sign a free agent (Pedro Martinez?) to take that spot is fair for speculation.

Quite telling is that despite the fact that Garcia has an ERA well over 20 runs per nine innings, Redding has been the hardest hit thus far. In an exhibition against the University of Michigan, Redding allowed five hits and five runs, including back-to-back homers, before being pulled with one out in the third inning.

Just think how rough it would have been if he was facing Ohio State.

Now to make matters worse, ace lefty Johan Santana has dealt with a little arm trouble through the early part of the spring.

Man, it seems as if it’s September already for the Mets.

Fifth and sixth innings: Lots of zeroes in the offense

LOS ANGELES – Having some trouble with the wireless connection again out here, which is kind of a pain, but oh well.

My trouble getting online is nothing like the Phillies’ problems in attempting to figure out Hiroki Kuroda. In two previous outings against the Phillies, the 33-year-old rookie from Japan pitched a pair of two-hitters. So far tonight in Game 3, Kuroda is again pitching a two-hitter.

After Pedro Feliz’s two-out RBI single in the second inning, Kuroda has retired 10 in a row with three strikeouts.

I wish there were something more to add, but the Phillies just can’t figure out Kuroda. Forget the third time being the charm… unless the Phillies stage some sort of wild rally, the Dodgers look like they’re going to get back in the series.

Meanwhile, the fans here at Dodger Stadium are having a good time doing the wave and batting around beach balls. Sometimes they even watch the game. That’s where they’d see everything going the Dodgers’ way.

During the sixth, Kuroda sat the Phillies down in order again to push his string to 13 straight retired hitters.

Between the top and bottom of the sixth, they showed a montage of Fernando Valenzuela highlights. The fans went nuts. On another note, I saw Fernando in the press box before the game, but he didn’t seem to remember our conversation from the other day.

Helluva of pitcher though.

Scott Eyre came on in the sixth for Happ. Who knows… maybe Happ will start the next time Moyer’s spot in the rotation comes around.

End of 6: Dodgers 7, Phillies 1

Third and fourth innings: Pay back time

LOS ANGELES – Here we go!

After Brett Myers threw one behind Manny Ramirez in Game 2, and Russell Martin got plunked by Jamie Moyer and crop dusted by Clay Condrey, Dodgers’ pitcher Hiroki Kuroda fired one over Shane Victorino’s head.

Gee, wonder what he was trying to do there?

After the purpose pitch, Victorino rightly gestured at Kuroda to drill him on the body if he’s going to do that crap and not up near his head. The conversation continued after Victorino grounded out to first base. Again, he told the pitcher to hit him instead of playing that head hunting bit.

Fine. All over, right? Message sent and received.

Or not.

As the benches spilled out onto the foul territory, Manny Ramirez exacerbated the situation by doing that chicken hold-me-back bit. Then Larry Bowa began chirping again and gesturing, which incensed things even more.

Yes, imagine that – Bowa stirring it up.

Here comes the cheap shot(s):

Hey Larry, how come Charlie could take these guys to the playoffs and you couldn’t? Go back to coaching third, tough guy.

Why can’t Davey Lopes just do the earth a favor and punch Larry Bowa in the mouth? C’mon Davey, I’m sure there are at least a few dozen guys behind you ready to pile on.

Anyway, the Phillies went quietly in the fourth. J.A. Happ has settled things down for the pitching, too. After giving up a one-out single to Matt Kemp, Happ retired four hitters in a row until he walked Manny. Happ also walked Martin, which set the table for Nomar Garciaparra’s two-out, RBI single.

End of 3: Dodgers 7, Phillies 1

Pregame: Burrell in the lineup

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

Indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s today’s lineup:

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

The Brewers will counter with:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happ conjures memories of Bystrom’s September

Manager Charlie Manuel was not enthusiastic when asked if lefty J.A. Happ would get a chance to start during the September playoff race. Instead of coming right out with straightforward answer, Manuel hedged by telling folks that Happ was going to be a good Major League pitcher one day soon.

During a handful of stints in which Happ shuttled back and forth on the Northeast Extension between Citizens Bank Park and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Manuel lamented the chances he was not able to give the 25-year-old rookie. Sure, Happ received two starts for the Phillies when Brett Myers went back to the minors in July, but as soon as Manuel had his veterans back in the rotation Happ was back on Route 476 and heading north.

Manuel was even reluctant to use Happ out of the bullpen saying, “I’m not afraid to pitch Happ out of the bullpen, but I look at Happ as a starter.”

Talk about being in limbo – Happ was a pitcher that was ill-suited for the ‘pen and not seasoned enough for the manager to confidentially throw him into a regular starting role even when two-year veteran Kyle Kendrick struggled. In fact, twice in one week Manuel used Myers and Jamie Moyer on short rest and has reconfigured the rotation so that the No. 5 spot will come up just one more time for the rest of the season.

Needless to say, Manuel’s confidence in the end of his rotation has increased considerably after Wednesday night’s 6-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

That’s because Happ took over Kendrick’s spot and kept the Phillies in first place in the NL East by spinning six innings of shutout ball in Atlanta for his first big-league win. In his first start since pitching for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs on Aug. 26, Happ held the Braves to just three hits and a walk on 86 pitches.

“It was awesome,” Happ said. “I understood the position we’re in. I just wanted to get us back in the dugout, keep the momentum on our side and keep us on the roll we’ve been on.”

Happ’s outing drew rave reviews from a fellow starter who is 20 years his senior.

“He pitched the way you’re supposed to pitch, not like the clown who pitched [Tuesday] night,” said Tuesday night’s pitcher Moyer. “He’s obviously worked hard from last year to this year. He had great poise tonight. He threw the ball down in the zone. He pitched well up. He held his own. The more opportunities he gets, the better off he’ll be.”

If anything, baseball is all about the here and now. Sometimes a player is only as good as his last swing or pitch. Everybody is trying to get their foot in the door and keep it there.

“If you give a guy a chance, you don’t know how he’s going to react,” Manuel said. “Heck, Columbus took the chance.”

Indeed he did. It also appears the Phillies will give Happ another chance on Monday, which brings us to another issue that doesn’t really stick to the here-and-now. Instead, Manuel’s decision and Happ’s strong performance conjure up memories of past Phillies glories when another manager took a chance on an unproven rookie during the heat of a September pennant race.

“At that age you didn’t know what it means,” said former Phillies pitcher Marty Bystrom. “I didn’t know the history of Philadelphia and how much they wanted a championship. I had only been in the city for a month, so it was kind of a good thing. I was able to free up and focus.”

Bystrom, as devotees to Phillies’ lore know, joined the team as a September call up in 1980 World Championship season and was thrust into the starting rotation by manager Dallas Green when Larry Christenson went down with an injury. But instead of pitching like a 21-year-old kid, Bystrom proved to be an important cog on the staff alongside Steve Carlton, Dick Ruthven and Tug McGraw by going 5-0 in five starts with a 1.54 ERA. Factor in one relief appearance and Bystrom’s ERA dipped to 1.50 while holding opponents to a .195 batting average.

Interestingly, Bystrom’s first start was on Sept. 10, 1980 when he helped the Phillies remain a half game behind the Montreal Expos by tossing a complete-game, five-hit shutout at Shea Stadium. Yet the most lasting memory Bystrom has from that first start wasn’t the pressure of the pennant race – though that was evident. Instead, he was a bit jittery about making his first big-league start with Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Larry Bowa and Bob Boone in the field and the taskmaster Green in the dugout.

“[My head] was spinning, that’s for sure. It was really hard to grasp the situation. It was amazing,” Bystrom said.

Bystrom followed up his debut with a seven-innings of shutout ball in an 8-4 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals at the Vet before going 5 1/3 innings for a 7-3 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

In that one, Bystrom gave up his first runs as a big leaguer when Dave Kingman clubbed a two-run homer in the fourth inning. To that point the rookie right-hander had gone 20 straight innings without allowing a run.

“I tried to get a slider over and he hit it over the center field fence,” Bystrom remembered.

Perhaps Bystrom’s biggest start that September came on Sept. 25 at the Vet when he went 6 2/3 innings in a 2-1 victory over the Mets. Thanks to that victory the Phillies moved into first place by a half game over the Expos and remained either in first place, tied or mere percentage points behind the rest of the way.

His last start of the regular season was on Sept. 30 when Bystrom went seven innings in a 14-2 win over the Cubs at the Vet.

By that point, the folks in Philadelphia were wondering, “Where did this guy come from?”

“I went to spring training with the Major League club and pulled a hamstring. The talk back then was I would break camp with the Phillies, but it wasn’t until July when I finally pitched for the Triple-A club,” Bystrom said. “When Dallas called me up, he knew me. He was the minor league director before he became manager so he knew my arm was there. It was just a matter of maturity.”

Meanwhile, Happ finds himself in a similar situation as Bystrom did nearly 30 years ago. Though he stands to make just one more start, Happ is not eligible for the post-season roster because he was not on the 25-man squad before Sept. 1. Bystrom was in a similar situation during the ’80 run, too, however, an injury to Nino Espinosa opened up a post-season roster spot.

On the strength of just five Major League starts, Bystrom not only was with the club during one of the most memorable league championship series ever, but also started the fifth and deciding game against Nolan Ryan and Houston in the Astrodome. Strangely enough, Bystrom said he didn’t know he was going to start the deciding game until the Phillies won in Game 4.

“I hadn’t pitched in nine or 10 days and Dallas came up to after Game 4 and said, ‘You got the ball tomorrow, kid,’” Bystrom said. “I said, ‘I’m ready.’”

Bystrom called that NLCS finale “the toughest game I ever pitched.” More than just the pressure of a game with the World Series on the line, Bystrom recalled that the noise from the fans in the Astrodome was deafening.

“I took a suggestion from Steve Carlton and put cotton in my ears,” Bystrom said, adding that pitching with Rose, Schmidt, Bowa and Boone on his side in the field made things a lot easier.

Green later tabbed Bystrom to start the pivotal fifth game of the World Series in Kansas City – a game best remembered for the Phillies’ ninth-inning rally and McGraw’s heart-stopping pitching to win it.

“It was a moment I dreamed about since I was five or six years old,” Bystrom said of pitching in the World Series. “Then, all of sudden, it was today is the day – this is the day I was dreaming about all of those years.”

The 1980 season was kind of the beginning of the end for Bystrom, which is more proof that baseball is all about the here-and now. An arm injury suffered just after the 1981 players’ strike curtailed the tall righty’s career in which he reached a career-high of six wins in two seasons. Following the 1989 season where he pitched in the Indians’ organization (after stints with the Yankees and Giants chains), Bystrom called it quits at age 30.

These days Bystrom lives in Geigertown, Pa. and works as the vice president of broker relations for the Benecon Group in Brownstown, Lancaster County, where he has worked since 1995. He moved back to the area at the end of his playing days when he was still pitching with the Yankees, and noted that every time a young kid comes up during the last month of the season, people always seem to remember him.

“It comes up,” Bystrom laughed. “There was a story in The Wall Street Journal a few days ago about September call ups and my picture was in it. I guess it has to go down as one of the best Septembers for a call up ever.”

It’s hard to argue with the 5-0 record and 1.50 ERA in the middle of a pennant race.

Happ could leave us conjuring up Bystrom’s magical month again if he pitches well on Monday. After that, who knows… maybe a few post-season starts will help history repeat itself.

Bystrom’s advice for Happ: Just stick with what got you there.

“[He just has to] relax as much as possible and stick to the normal routines.”

It’s as simple as that.

Friday morning: Short rest and small ball

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

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

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

Deep down, Myers probably wasn’t joking.

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

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

Expect a hint about a decision on Friday afternoon.

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

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

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

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

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

Good idea.

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

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

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