Iverson not ready to age gracefully

allen iversonGetting old isn’t easy. Things that didn’t hurt now hurt for no logical reason. Moving around in the morning is difficult, again, for no logical reason. Worse, the ol’ recovery and bounce back time is impossible to pinpoint.

Basically, your body gets a mind of its own. The worst part about this is your body has bleep for brains.

Oh, there are a few folks out there who have aged gracefully. Just look at Dara Torres, or Jamie Moyer. Torres is 42 and set an American record in the 50-meter freestyle at the Beijing Olympics when she was 41. Moyer, as we know, has kept one step ahead of the clock for at least a decade. Over the last three seasons, the soon-to-be 47-year-old lefty has won more games than any other Phillies pitcher.

Better yet, Moyer still has the fire to compete. He didn’t have the best season in ’09, but he fought like hell even when he was bumped from the rotation. Out of the bullpen, Moyer gave up four runs in five appearances and helped solidify an inconsistent corps of pitchers.

A couple of years ago Moyer told me that he can still do the same things he always did, only slower and with more breaks.

Perhaps the secret to Moyer’s ability to avoid the pitfalls of age is the page stolen from Satchel Paige. You know, “Don’t look back because someone might be gaining on you.”

“I always felt that I had a burning desire to play,” Moyer said last summer. “In those years I always thought that you’re going to have to strip the uniform off my back. I’ve been released a couple of times, but all that did was fuel the fire for me a little more.”

Then there is Bernard Hopkins, who will fight Enrique Ornelas next month just a few weeks shy of his 45th birthday. And, of course, there’s always the ageless wonder himself, Don Wildman.

Wildman and his Malibu Mafia make everyone look old.

The truth is there is no correlation between age and athletic performance. The difference in why the older athletes struggle so much is desire, changing priorities, wear-and-tear and lack of fitness.

Maybe that’s where Allen Iverson fits in.

Iverson is not old by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, he’s just 34, which is younger than Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Anthony Parker, Ben Wallace, Derek Fisher, Grant Hill, Jason Kidd and Shaquille O’Neal. The difference between Iverson and those players is that they all made adjustments in their game and training regimens, while coming to terms with their age, while Iverson has not.

Iverson, apparently, hasn’t learned that he is 34. He hasn’t figured out that 14 years into the league he needs to hone different skills and can’t just go running into a brick wall every time down the court.

Oh yes indeed, we’re still talkin’ ‘bout practice.

To say Iverson is at a crossroads doesn’t begin to explain it. In fact, Iverson is about to be wiped off the map so completely that he’ll need a GPS to find his way. In his first season playing for the Memphis Grizzlies—his third team since being traded from the Sixers in 2006—Iverson has left the team after playing in just three games.

The reason? He doesn’t want to come off the bench. Worse, he doesn’t want to be a wise, mentoring veteran on a team with seven players in their first or second years in the NBA, and 10 players with no more than three years of experience. It’s kind of ironic that the oldest guy on the team is also the biggest baby.

When one of his younger teammates apparently didn’t see that Iverson was wide open during an overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings, Iverson lashed out at the inability to get him the ball and his reduced role on the team.

“I’m not a reserve basketball player,” Iverson said. “I’ve never been a reserve all my life and I’m not going to start looking at myself as a reserve.”

Nope, Iverson wants to get his. Otherwise he’ll just go home.

That quote from Moyer in which adversity and professional slights only served to make him work harder, make smarter moves and change his tactics is completely lost on Iverson. The only thing fueling the fire within Iverson is his massive ego.

And so he’s gone home.

Worse, he sounds like a cranky old man. In an interview with Yahoo! Sports, Iverson complained that no team aside from Memphis wanted him during his summer of free agency. In fact, he’s so disillusioned that no one wanted him and the only team that made a bid last summer sees him as a reserve, that retirement seems like a real possibility.

That’s too bad. It’s too bad because Iverson is a tremendous talent and was one of the few players in the NBA that was worth the high-price of a ticket. But in the NBA, there just aren’t too many players who can do at 34 what they did at 29 or 30. Oh sure, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar continued to be an effective ballplayer through his mid-30s, but Michael Jordan retired for the second time when he was 34. Even Wilt Chamberlain was primarily a role player when he turned 34.

Then again maybe Iverson gets it. Maybe we can save the psycho-babble and simply chalk up Iverson to being a grouchy old man who sees a bunch of kids running past him? But rather than thinking up new ways to keep up, he’d prefer to snatch the ball when it gets kicked into his yard with the loud, sad bellow:

“Get off my lawn!”

As for aging gracefully, well, that doesn’t seem too likely with Iverson. Plus, if he returns to the Grizzlies, coach Lionel Hollins (an ex-Sixers guard like Iverson) says there are some lines that must be toed.

The Answer must abide.

“Allen has his own interpretation of things. I know the truth. He knows the truth,” Hollins told the AP. “What I would like to do is let Allen handle his (personal) issues, make a decision on whether he’s coming back or not and concentrate on what we have to do as a team, both if he’s not here and if he is here.”

Yes, it’s a hard thing getting old. Especially when it takes much more practice.

Fourth inning: Moyer finished for the year

moyerThe news on Jamie Moyer was much worse than expected when he landed awkwardly on the mound during his final pitch in the seventh inning last night. Though he limped off the field quite gingerly, it was expected to be a strained muscle or something.

Who would have guessed that it very well could be the final pitch of his career?

According to team physician, Dr. Michael Ciccotti, Moyer tore three muscles. Two of those are in his groin and one torn muscle is in his stomach. He’s going to have surgery in the next week and could be back in time for spring training.

I don’t think it’s the swan song for Moyer because I think he likes to play and always thinks he has something to prove. He loves that very much like Michael Jordan always liked proving people wrong.

The thing about Jamie is that he is quite arrogant, too. Clearly that’s part of the reason why he has been so successful during a baseball career that bucked the odds.

I have had the chance to talk to Moyer a lot over the past few years and most of the time it was always illuminating. Even this season when he wasn’t as friendly as in the past or feeling somewhat slighted because the team got Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez and spouted off about being “misled” that day at Wrigley Field, something was easily gleaned.

Moyer than anything else, Jamie Moyer is a competitor.

I wrote this after a game in Washington last year:

Moyer has no timetable for retirement and may even seek another contract when the current one ends.

“Look, I feel great and I’m pitching well and I love playing so I have no plans to stop,” he told me in a late-season interview. “But I could come in here tomorrow and the desire could be completely gone.”

Clearly that’s not the case. Moyer prepares and competes at 46 no differently than he did when he was a green rookie coming up with the Cubs in 1986. However, if there is something behind Moyer’s motivation to continue to pitch (and to pitch well) it seems to be the slights he took from baseball people back when he was struggling in the early 1990s. No, Moyer didn’t cite it as a motivating cause, but then again he didn’t have to.

“Fourteen years ago I was told to retire,” Moyer said with a smirk in a recent interview.

If Moyer hangs ’em up, his legacy will be those two clinchers he pitched at the Bank in 2007 and 2008 as well as his great effort in Game 3 of the World Series in ’08.

While we were contemplating Moyer, the Phillies rallied for four runs in the fourth and Pedro Martinez was yanked for a pinch hitter.

Pedro’s line: 4 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 HR, 1 HBP, 84 pitches (54 K)

Fourth inning: Phillies 5, Astros 3

Party like it’s 1976

charlieBaring a collapse of New York Mets proportions, the Phillies will clinch the NL East for the third season in a row. The Three-peat in the East has occurred just one other time in team history and continues a string of a dearth of champs in the East. Following the Phillies’ victory in 1993, only the Braves and Mets have won the division aside from the current batch of Phillies.

In other words, the NL East resembles the NBA Finals during the 1980s when only the Celtics, Sixers, Rockets and Lakers ever got there. Eventually the Pistons and Bulls broke through, but for a long time it seemed as if only a handful of teams ever made it to the big dance.

Nevertheless, the clincher for the Phillies will likely come this weekend in Milwaukee. And as a result of sewing things up with a week to go in the season (at least), it will go down as the earliest clincher in terms of games played. To capture their first playoff berth in 26 years in 1976, the Phillies wrapped up the East in Game 155.

If the Phillies clinch before Sunday, it will be the earliest the team ensured a playoff berth ever. Even in 1950, before the advent of divisional play, the Phillies needed the full slate of games to get to the postseason.

Anyway, here’s a look at the playoff-clinching games since Major League Baseball started divisional play.

2008
Game 161 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 27)

Box score

Remember this one? Remember how you felt when Brad Lidge loaded the bases with one out and the go-ahead runs in scoring position and how the shot by Ryan Zimmerman looked like it was going to ruin the closer’s perfect slate?

Kind of feels a lot like this year, doesn’t it?

Aside from Jimmy Rollins’ heroic diving stop to spin the game-ending double play, this one is remembered for Jamie Moyer’s second straight win in a clinching game. Aside from his effort in Game 3 of the World Series, the finales in 2007 and 2008 will be the old lefty’s legacy with the Phillies.

jimmy2007
Game 162 vs. Washington at Citizens Bank Park (Sept. 30)

Box score

The fact that the Phillies were even in a position to win the East took an unprecedented collapse by the Mets. Couple the huge comeback (down 6½ games with 17 to go) with a 14-year playoff drought, and the clubhouse scene was one of the all-time great parties in the history of Philadelphia clinchers.

The truth is a lot of us never saw such a thing. Champagne corks popping and flying all over the room. Beer spray dousing everyone and anything that moves. Pharmaceuticals and English bulldogs show up and drag low-end celebrities and political chaff around, too.

In other words, it’s no different than the parties you threw in college only without the bonfire. Where this party had it over those from back in the college days is that Jade McCarthy and J.D. Durbin made it to this one, and, well… when Jade and J.D. show up then it’s a party.

Of course by the time the fog cleared and the playoffs began, the Phillies were gone in four days.

19931993
Game 157 vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 28)

Box score

Get a load of this… I watched this one from the balcony at the Troc at a Fugazi show. Some guy sitting in front of me had a Sony watchman TV and we got to see Mariano Duncan crush the game-winning grand slam before the band took the stage.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Commonwealth, Harry Kalas was singing High Hopes after the Phils finally wrapped it up. But since this was the Macho Row era of club, the party didn’t end with the sing-a-long. Oh no. Check out the box score for the day after the clincher and check who IS NOT in the lineup.

That oughta tell you how long into the night this one went.

1983
Game 160 vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 28)

Box score

Who would have guessed that there would have been just one more clincher for the Phillies in the next 24 years after this one? Sheesh.

Regardless, this one was in the days before there were lights at Wrigley Field so it’s likely that Larry Andersen took the guys over to The Lodge after the clubhouse celebration ended.

Here’s what I remember from this one – Mike Schmidt hit his 40th homer of the season and Bo Diaz clubbed two of them all off ex-Phillie Dick Ruthven. The last out was caught by Greg Gross in left field with Al “Mr. T” Holland on the mound. I guess Holland looked like Mr. T to get a nickname like that. Seemed like a fun guy.

1981
Won first half

This was the strike year so by virtue of being in first place by the time the work stoppage occurred, the Phillies went to the first-ever NLDS. They lost in five games to the Expos, though St. Louis had the best overall record in the NL East.

schmidt1980
Game 161 vs. Montreal at Olympic Stadium (Oct. 4)

Box score

If we were ranking the best regular-season games in Phillies history, this one would have to be in the top three. Maybe even the top two. Frankly, it had everything. Comebacks, drama, suspense, crazy manager moves and then Mike Schmidt’s home run in the 11th to give the Phillies the lead they never gave up.

Oh, but if Schmidt’s homer were the only highlight.

  • Bob Boone laced a two-out single in the top of the 9th to tie the game and force extra innings.
  • Tug McGraw pitched the last three innings allowing just one hit to go with four strikeouts to get the win.
  • September call up Don McCormack came in to catch in just his second big league inning in the ninth when Dallas Green yanked Boone for a pinch runner. McCormack got the first of his two Major League hits after Schmidt’s homer in the 11th. From there, McCormack went on to play in just 14 big league innings the rest of his career over three game.

How did Don McCormack get into that game?!

  • The top four hitters in the Phillies lineup (Rose, McBride, Schmidt, Luzinski) went 11-for-19.

lerch1978
Game 161 vs. Pittsburgh at Three Rivers Stadium (Sept. 30)

Box score

Here was the scenario for this one – if the Pirates won, then Game 162 would decide the NL East. Instead, the Phillies wrapped up division title No. 3 thanks to a clutch three-run homer from Greg Luzinski in the sixth inning.

The game started rather inauspiciously, too. Willie Stargell hit a grand slam in the first inning to give the Pirates the quick lead, but pitcher Randy Lerch made up for his pitching with a homer in the second and another in the fourth to cut the deficit to a run and set the table for Luzinski’s homer.

The game was not without drama at the end, either. Tug McGraw game on in the seventh and was within two outs of closing it out until the Pirates rallied for four runs and had the tying run at the plate when manager Danny Ozark went to Ron Reed to close it out.

1977
Game 157 vs. Chicago at Wrigley Field (Sept. 27)

Box score

I don’t remember this one, but from a look at the box score it looks like one of those old fashioned Wrigley Field games that used to be unique. Now those Wrigley Field games can break out anywhere in any ballpark. And since they play mostly night games at Wrigley these days, those wild games are a thing of the past.

Still, the second clincher for the Phillies featured five RBIs and a homer (and seven solid innings for the win) from Larry Christenson and one from Mike Schmidt in a 15-9 final.

jvukovich1976
Game 155 vs. Montreal at Parc Jarry (Sept. 26)

Box score

The was the first and maybe the best of the Phillies clubs that won all those division titles. The Phils won a franchise-record 101 games, but they didn’t quite match up well enough against The Big Red Machine, who were on their were to becoming the last National League team to win back-to-back World Series titles.

I suppose there is some irony in there somewhere that the Phillies are in the mix to match the 1975-76 Reds… just don’t feel like looking.

Anyway, this clincher was the first game of a doubleheader, highlighted by a complete game from Jim Lonborg. So needless to say the nightcap had a slightly different lineup after the Phillies wrapped up their first playoff berth since 1950. In fact, John Vukovich started in the second game for his season debut. Vuke went on to start in 13 more games over five years for the Phillies – all but three came in 1980.

So there it is… looking forward to adding the new one at the top of this list over the weekend. The good part is the clubhouse in Milwaukee is plenty big enough to find a dry spot from all party shrapnel flying around.

Chopper has bad timing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting pitchers
Cliff Lee
Cole Hamels
Pedro Martinez
Joe Blanton

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

Catchers
Carlos Ruiz
Paul Bako

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

Outfielders
Raul Ibanez
Shane Victorino
Jayson Werth
Ben Francisco
Matt Stairs

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

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

Taking one for the team

pedroAt some point this evening, Pedro Martinez is going to come out of the game in Reading, Pa. and declare himself ready to rejoin the Phillies. Count on that.

However, it’s not certain how much say Pedro has in deciding how many more rehab outings he thinks he needs. For instance, chances are Pedro wanted to join the big league club after his five-inning outing last Friday night in Allentown though it was clear he needed some more work.

Not much more, but definitely some more.

Of course as Pedro says, he is simply a humble worker. Whatever Ruben Amaro and the decision-makers want him to do, Pedro will do it. And yes, that includes working out of the bullpen.

“I don’t know how the bullpen stuff is working over there, but I definitely need more work to get to the point where I really want to be. That time, you need to spend it on the mound and the only way I’m going to get time on the mound is by starting,” Pedro said. “I’m not going to put any pressure on Ruben or (manager) Charlie (Manuel) – I’m an employee here and when you are an employee you just do what your boss tells you. That’s what I’m going to do. But as far as I know they brought me here to be a starter.”

Amaro echoed that sentiment yesterday on Daily News Live.

“Right now we view him as a starter,” Amaro said.

So if we were thinking about this logically, the Phillies rotation would be pretty easy to put together. Right? Cliff Lee and Joe Blanton would be at the top since those two are clearly the hottest pitchers the team has. Then comes J.A. Happ because he has been the most consistent throughout the season. Next comes Cole Hamels not only because he was the MVP of the NLCS and World Series, but also because it’s simply a matter of time before he gets his pitching issues worked out.

Then comes Pedro since off days here and there can afford him an extra day of rest occasionally. At 37 with 17 big league seasons piled onto that narrow-shouldered frame, it’s OK to give Pedro an extra day. Besides, after three Cy Young Awards and a handful of the greatest seasons ever pitched, let the guy ride on his rep a bit…

Right?

Well, only if he can pitch. If he can’t get hitters out don’t be surprised when the Phillies send Pedro out near Ashburn Alley to wait for the right moment to go in to pitch. Toward the end of a pitcher’s career, that’s kind of the way it goes. After all, last year the great Greg Maddux spent the post-season pitching relief for the Dodgers. Warren Spahn ended up pitching out of the ‘pen, too.

The same goes for Steve Carlton, Jim Palmer, Early Winn and Satchel Paige. Hey, it happens.

moyerSo why won’t it happen for Jamie Moyer?

Despite the 10-8 record, both digits representing team highs, Moyer hasn’t been very good this year. Oh sure, in his 10 wins he has allowed just 22 runs, but even Manuel says the 46-year-old lefty pitches better when the offense spots him some runs. Considering the Phillies have scored at least nine runs in five of those 10 wins, Moyer is the ultimate frontrunner.

Plus, two of his 10 wins are against Florida, a team he owns a lifetime 13-2 mark against. Take three starts against Florida out of the mix and Moyer is 8-8 with a 6.16 ERA. Counting Florida Moyer has the second worst ERA amongst starters that qualify for the ERA title. Excluding Florida and he’s the worst starter in the league in terms of ERA.

Nevertheless, when Pedro makes his pronouncement this evening, Moyer won’t be looking over his shoulder. Why should he when the most consistent pitcher on the staff is the one who will be bumped?

Ballplayers always talk about how they are always willing to do what’s best for the team and how they just want to win ballgames to get that ring. Certainly the Phillies have won games with Moyer on the mound, but really, how much longer can that last if the trends don’t change?

Maybe it’s time for Moyer to volunteer his services in the bullpen. Why not… he wants to win and it’s obvious the team has a better chance to get a second World Series title with five other guys in the starting rotation.

Right?

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.

The Magnificient Bastardo

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

At least that’s what we were told.

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

Hey, McCaskey kids know all the Spanish curse words.

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

Is there anything Raul can’t do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pedro Martinez anyone?

pedroJamie Moyer turned in a quality start on Wednesday night, which is no small feat.  After all, heading into that game nearly every other batter reached base against the 46-year old lefty this month. Moreover, that one ugly inning reared its head again for Joe Blanton on Thursday afternoon.

Just when it looked as if the big right-hander had turned the proverbial corner, up came a couple of bloop hits and a three-run homer to bite Joe in the rear. Just like that and a five-spot was stuck on the board.

Cole Hamels? Yeah, he looks like he’s back to form. And Brett Myers? Sometimes what you see is what you get.

So it goes that if the Phillies are going to parade down Broad Street for a second straight year, they are going to have to get the pitching together. After all, that’s how they did it last year. Sometimes, though, that’s easier said than done. Every team wants pitching and because the quality stuff is spread so thin, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might have to get creative if he wants to bolster up the worst rotation in the Majors.

How creative? We’re not sure. But how is this for an idea…

Pedro Martinez.

Yeah, that’s right… why not take a flyer on Pedro Martinez?

Look, we know all about it. Pedro is 37, he gets hurt a lot and his best days are clearly in the past. Last season for the Mets, Pedro went 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA in 20 starts – clearly the worst season of his big league career and the third season in a row where he missed a significant portion of the season because of injuries.

After going 15-8 with a 2.82 ERA in 2005, Martinez went 17-15 with a 4.74 ERA in 48 starts in three combined seasons. When his contract ended after the Mets choked away another September, they just let him walk away – and so did everyone else for that matter.

But really, Pedro’s worst season ever is still significantly better than what Moyer, Blanton and Chan Ho Park have done this year and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. gave the 46-year-old lefty a two-year deal. It would take significantly less – like a prorated deal for the rest of the season – to bring Martinez on board.

Better yet, if he doesn’t pitch well the Phillies can always say, “Adios.” No harm, no foul.

eatonThat might not be the Phillies style though. Apparently going after someone like Martinez might be thinking waaaaaaaay out of the box. Or was it? Last spring the Phillies took a chance on veteran Kris Benson and when it was clear he couldn’t pitch, they cut him loose. Since then Benson signed on with Texas where he has appeared in four games and has a 7.80 ERA…

That’s the same ballpark as Moyer and Blanton.

Plus, when ex-GM Pat Gillick knew he wouldn’t be able to sign Randy Wolf, he panicked and gave a three-year deal to Adam Eaton.

Remember how well that turned out? Yeah, well it still wasn’t as bad as Moyer, Blanton and Park have been this season.

Yes, the plan is for the Phillies’ staff to pitch better and based on past performance that’s not out of the realm of possibility. Still, what if those guys don’t turn it around? What then? It just seems silly not to take a shot on someone like Pedro Martinez when bigger projects like Eaton, Park and Benson were signed up with seemingly not a second thought.

Vote for Pedro? Shoot, how bad could it be?

*

Note: We’re going to be away from the ballpark for a couple of days while my wife recovers from an appendectomy and pneumonia. As soon as the ol’ girl gets her mojo back, we’ll be back at the ballpark.

Until then… hospital food!

Adam Eaton graphic from The Baltimore Sun

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.

All rock all the time…

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

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

Hey, crazier things have happened.

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

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

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

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

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

1.) Jamie Moyer’s age

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

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

Better yet, don’t.

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

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

He’s 46? Big deal.

2.) J.C. Romero’s suspension

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

Why? And why not?

3.) Lefty lineup

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

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

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

chuck4.) Charlie Manuel’s managerial acumen

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

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

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

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

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

It’s worked so far.

5.) Raul Ibanez vs. Pat Burrell

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

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

Right?

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

Whatever the hell that means.

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

Second inning: Quick night for Moyer

LOS ANGELES – there are people watching the game up on the hill next to the “Think Blue” sign beyond left field. I believe it’s called Radio Hill and we climbed up and over (in a car) on the way here this afternoon.

On another note, the wireless connection is a little spotty up here in high center. Great view though. From my perch I saw that Pat Burrell did not get enough of the pitch from Hiroki Kuroda to knock it into the seats. However, Marcus Hayes (sitting directly to my left) pointed out that Burrell long out would have been a few rows deep into the seats at the Bank.

Nevertheless, the Phillies got a run back when Ryan Howard started the inning with a double, tagged for third on a fly out by Jayson Werth and then scored on Pedro Feliz’s two-out single.

But Jamie Moyer quickly gave that run back when Rafael Furcal blasted one over the left-field fence. Clearly, this is not Moyer’s night. Of the first 10 hitters Moyer faced, six got hits and seven reached base.

One pitch after the homer to Furcal, Moyer got Andre Ethier to fly out to center and that was it. Charlie Manuel bounced out of the dugout, waved his right hand and called in Clay Condrey.

I haven’t looked it up, but I’m pretty sure it was Moyer’s worst playoff outing.

The line:

1 1/3 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 0 BB, 2 K, 1 HR, 1 HBP – 32 pitches, 22 strikes

J.A. Happ should be on to start the third.

End of 2: Dodgers 6, Phillies 1

First inning: Early TKO?

LOS ANGELES – The conventional wisdom around these parts is that the fans here at Dodger Stadium are loyal, friendly and laidback. Moreover, they are really into their team – they stick with the Dodgers no matter what.

However, that same conventional wisdom indicates that Dodger fans are nowhere close to being as loud as they are at the Bank. The one thing the fans in Philadelphia do well is loud.

Since I’m sitting outside high above home plate, I have to admit that it’s pretty loud. There is a Shea Stadium feel to this place (or is it that Shea had a Dodger Stadium feel since this park is/was older?), only not as loud.

The fans are prettier, too.

The Phillies’ first at-bats weren’t what anyone would call pretty. In fact, Hiroki Kuroda’s first six pitches were strikes which got him two outs. Chase Utley drew another walk (his fifth in the last two games), but made the third out of the inning when he was nailed trying to steal.

The replay appeared to show Utley sneaking in safely under the tag, but Rafael Furcal blocked the bag with his foot before slapping down the tag.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers wasted no time getting after Jamie Moyer. Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez singled on three straight pitches, with Manny driving in the first run. Moyer loaded the bases when he drilled Russell Martin on the knee with one that got a little too down and in.

Certainly Moyer was in a great spot to come undone. Instead, the old lefty battled Nomar Garciaparra for a strikeout and got ahead in the count to Casey Blake until his lined one into right for the second run.

Clearly the Dodgers have a pretty good plan for facing Moyer. Either they are looking for specific pitches or certain locations. Sometimes they jump on the first pitch or they wait. Who knows, maybe the Dodgers watched the tape from Game 3 of the NLDS where the Brewers handled Moyer and decided just to copy that.

Either way, it looked like the early knockout punch was delivered when Blake Dewitt knocked in three runs with a double (triple?).

No movement in the Phillies’ ‘pen though J.A. Happ probably should get limber.

End of 1: Dodgers 5, Phillies 0

Pregame: Star struck

I have to admit that I don’t get star struck very often. In fact, these days I never do. The truth is Larry Bowa and Mike Schmidt helped me get over youthful affection for some of my baseball heroes when they proved that ballplayers really aren’t much different than regular folks.

Worse, in many cases they are far less interesting than your friends, neighbors and family members.

But that Fernando Valenzuela… I’ll tell you what. My Uncle Jim has nothing on Fernando. Really – a guy who taught science for 30 years or a lefty screwball pitcher who could breathe through his eyes like the lava lizards of the Galapagos Islands.

Yep, that was Fernando. And as I ate a light lunch in the media dining room and sat across from the ex-Dodger great and Cy Young Award winner, I was regaled with tales about the proper technique and arm angle of how to throw the scroogie. I also was star struck for the first time since Eddie Vedder showed up for batting practice about five years ago for a game at the Vet.

Wouldn’t you know it that Eddie was so short and wiry that you can pick him up and put him in your pocket.

Fernando, not so much. However, the old lefty looks just like he did when he was pitching during the 1980s and ‘90s. The shoulder-length hair brought back by Javier Bardem in “No Country For Old Men, has been neatly shorn. Though he has put on a few more pounds I doubt Fernando has lost the zip on his fastball.

Anyway, here are a few things I learned about Fernando this afternoon:

  • No, he cannot breathe through his eyelids. This was a disappointing fact to learn.
  • Fernando was once a teammate with Jamie Moyer in Baltimore in 1993.
  • Nope, Fernando had no idea what a guy like me can do for fun in LA. Another disappointing fact to learn.
  • Gary Matthews chatted with Fernando earlier. I learned this when I walked up to Sarge and said, “Did you see that! That was Fernando Valenzuela!”
  • Fernando brought the heat at 90 mph and threw the screwball in the 70s. He had two pitches – a fastball which he changed speeds with and the screwball. If he threw the screwball to lefties, he’s plunk them, he said. Once, he drilled Roberto Alomar with one simply because he couldn’t control it.
  • Fernando has no idea why pitchers don’t throw the scroogie any more.

    So yeah, how about that? Fernando Valenzuela. Not bad.

    Anthem time. Check back after the first.

  • Second inning: Piling up the pitches

    MILWAUKEE – Ryan Howard beat the shift with a double to left-center on the first pitch of the second to continue his hot hitting against Brewers’ pitcher Dave Bush. Heading into the game Howard was 5-for-14 with two homers against Bush.

    But Howard isn’t the only Phillie with good lifetime numbers against Bush. Pat Burrell was 5-for-13 with three homers; Chase Utley was 4-for-9 with a homer; Pedro Feliz had two homers and Greg Dobbs had a pair of homers and a .462 average (6-for-13).

    However, following the double to Howard, Bush retired the next three in order. As a result, the Phillies have stranded 18 runners during their 18 times at bat during the series and 12 of those in scoring position.

    That kind of makes it tough.

    It also gets tough when pitcher Jamie Moyer continued to work deep counts. So far, only two Brewers have gotten first-pitch strikes as the lefty’s pitch count soared to 56 after just two innings. The pitcher is clearly frustrated with the strike zone and appeared to be yapping at home-plate ump Brian Runge. After Mike Cameron walked with two outs, Moyer yelled for catcher Carlos Ruiz to get out to the mound.

    Moyer got out of the inning by striking out Bill Hall, but it wasn’t until the hitter was halfway down the base line to first thinking he had walked that Runge rung him up.

    End of 2: Brewers 2, Phillies 0

    First inning: Tight strike zone

    MILWAUKEE – Game-time temperature was 65 degrees under the dome here at Miller Park and it was a rather brisk 54 degrees outdoors. Apparently, the closed lid makes this ballpark extra loud, which was part of the reason why Charlie Manuel tabbed Jamie Moyer to start.

    Another reason why Manuel wanted Moyer to start was because Moyer had a 2.92 ERA in 17 starts on the road. Still another reason is because the wily old lefty wins clinchers.

    Since joining the Phillies, veteran starting pitcher Jamie Moyer has be the team’s default clinching game pitcher. Last season he was the winning pitcher in the final game in which the team locked up the NL East title and a week later he started the decisive Game 3 of the NLDS in Colorado.

    Last week Moyer took the win in the NL East-clinching game again and will have a chance to nail down another win in an elimination game when he goes up against Bush on Saturday night.

    But if one believes Moyer gets excited or particularly wound up for pitching in those types of big games, guess again.

    Every game is important, according to Moyer.

    “I honestly try not to think of any situation I’m in – whether it’s spring training, regular season or post-season – as any different type of game,” Moyer said on Friday afternoon at Miller Park. “… so when you do get into the postseason, you don’t try to turn it into something that it’s really not. It’s still a baseball game. The game tomorrow is no different than the game two months ago or three months ago.”

    The Phillies went down in order in the first when Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth whiffed and Chase Utley bounced harmlessly back to the pitcher. Against righty Dave Bush, the Phils saw 10 pitches and eight of them were strikes.

    Moyer, meanwhile, threw five straight balls to start the game, including two or three that probably would have been strikes with a different umpire than Brian Runge. After the fifth one, catcher Carlos Ruiz trotted out to the mound while Moyer composed himself and went back to work. However, eight pitches later Bill Hall drew a second straight walk.

    A wild pitch and a full-count pop out against Ryan Braun got Moyer his first out and a sac fly vs. Prince Fielder got him out No. 2 and run No. 1 for the Brewers.

    Clearly it seems as if Moyer is getting pinched on some calls by home-plate ump Runge. At the same time, he got a few low and outside pitches to righties. But a two-out, RBI single by J.J. Hardy made the pitcher pay for those back-to-back walks.

    End of 1: Brewers 2, Phillies 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: Brew Town, U.S.A.

    It pains me to report that I have never been to Milwaukee. Home to Richie Cunningham, the Fonz, as well as Laverne & Shirley, it always seemed as if there was a lot happening in Milwaukee.

    Those thoughts got stronger when I learned about Milwaukeean Jeffrey Dahmer, Lieberace and saw Wayne and Garth visit the city to catch an Alice Cooper gig.

    So nothing against the Mets, but it would be neat to see the Brewers get the wild card so the Phillies can have that second trip to Milwaukee. If we go, I hope to visit Schott’s Brewery.

    Jamie Moyer escaped the sixth with his two-run lead thanks to some of his wily and crafty work after Ryan Zimmerman and Lastings Milledge singled to open the frame. From there, Moyer went to work and stranded the runners by getting two flies to center and his first whiff of the game.

    After six, Moyer has allowed six hits and a walk on 86 pitches. Call it a night, Jamie.

    Steven Shell relieved John Lannan and sat down the Phillies in order.

    We’re into the bullpens now, folks. The Phillies need nine outs.

    End of 6: Phillies 3, Nats 1

    Fifth inning: Finding the groove

    One of the worst-kept secrets around the Phillies during the second half of the season was that Chase Utley had been playing through some type of injury. Close observers of the game – like scouts for instance – knew something was up based on how the All-Star took his swing or ran to receive a ball.

    Clearly something was bothering Utley because he went from 25 home runs during the first half of the season, to just eight after the All-Star Break. In fact, all of Utley’s power numbers waned, though his batting average remained steady.

    Utley ripped a few loud fouls off the lefty John Lannan, but went down on strikes when the pitcher fooled him with a slider. Regardless, Utley’s stroke seems solid.

    The Nats got on the board in the fifth when Jayson Werth could not hang onto a long drive hit by Anderson Hernandez when he crashed into the right-field fence. Werth appeared to be shaken up a bit on the play, taking an extra minute to loosen up his shoulder and/or catch his breath after relaying the ball back to the infield.

    Moyer, meanwhile, is up to 72 pitches. He should be able to get through seven innings.

    Nevertheless, fears that Werth was a little banged up were allayed in the bottom half of the frame when he led off with home run just over the out-of-town scoreboard in right.

    Call it a “Citizens Bank Park Special.”

    Lannan survived big trouble when Shane Victorino’s long drive was caught at the fence.

    The Phillies are 12 outs away from wrapping things up.

    End of 5: Phillies 3, Nats 1

    Fourth inning: Phillies on the board

    Just walked into the dining room to get a diet coke when I caught one of the attendants singing “Strangers In the Night…”

    Do be do be do…

    Meanwhile, the old-timer Jamie Moyer had a relatively quick inning for a change. In sitting down the heart of the Nationals’ order, Moyer used just 10 pitches.

    Perhaps he’s settling in?

    In addition to a packed house in the seating area, the press box is stuffed, too. In fact, a writer two with no paper on Sunday turned out to properly describe the action of the local nine. And from what I have heard, Scott Lauber is also offering live updates on his site.

    It’s Scott’s birthday so go check it out.

    If you decide just to stay here, I’ll tell you that Scott is probably writing about how Chase Utley appears to be finding his swing again. Utley picked up a leadoff single and dashed to third when Ryan Howard followed with another single.

    Utley scored the first run of the game when Pat Burrell lifted a sacrifice fly to right and then Howard came in to make it 2-0 when Carlos Ruiz also hit a sacrifice fly to right field.

    Call those productive outs… do it.

    Moyer walked with two outs to re-load the bases, but Jimmy Rollins could not break it open off John Lannan.

    Nevertheless, the scoreboard has been dented. Is it enough for Moyer?

    End of 4: Phillies 2, Nats 0

    Third inning: Howard or Pujols?

    While we’re on the topic of the MVP (weren’t we), it seems as if it is Albert Pujols’ award to lose this season. Interestingly, it was Pujols who said during the build up for the honor in 2006 that he didn’t understand how a guy who didn’t make the playoffs could win the MVP.

    Now that the show is on the other foot, don’t count on Ryan Howard making the same kind of statement. After all, Howard and the Phillies are on the path to the playoffs and Pujols’ Cardinals are not.

    Still, if Howard helps carry the Phillies to another playoff berth with his 48 homers and 146 RBIs, the slugger makes a strong case despite the strikeouts, low batting average and unsung slugging percentage. Pujols’ all-around numbers are better, but how will the voters judge it.

    Jayson Stark, complete with some name-dropping tells everyone how he will vote when he posts his ballot in a couple of days. No link – it’s ESPN… find it yourself. Or ask me to ask Jayson for it – he’s sitting directly in front of me.

    Moyer’s pitch count continued to mount in the third thanks in part to a pair of two-out singles the Nats picked up. Still, after three innings, Moyer is up to 49 pitches though the zeroes hang on the board.

    Jimmy Rollins got a two-out double to right off John Lannan in the bottom half of the inning, but the Nats’ lefty bounced back to whiff Jayson Werth for the second time.

    End of 3: Phils 0, Nats 0

    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

    First inning: Moyer in familiar territory

    In a neat bit of coincidence, Jamie Moyer is back on the mound for the Phillies in a potential clinching game. Last season in Game 162, Moyer turned in six solid innings to pick up the win over the Nationals as the Phils got their first playoff berth in 14 seasons.

    Today, Moyer attempts to give the Phillies their first back-to-back playoff bids since 1980-81.

    It’s rather apt that Moyer is the pitcher who get the ball since the story is that he cut school in order to attend the Phillies’ victory parade in 1980.

    Clearly, Moyer is the only player on the Phils who remembers the ’80 title team.

    Word around the campfire is that Moyer will be the oldest pitcher in baseball history to pitch a clinching game during the regular season… that is if he does it. So far, though, he’s off to a good start. He sat down the Nats in order in the first on 17 pitches (11 strikes) and two groundball outs.

    Don’t expect Moyer to go the distance today, but count on him being consistent.

    Meanwhile, just before Jimmy Rollins dug into the batters’ box the Mets game went final. Chalk up a complete-game, three-hitter for Johan Santana.

    Chalk up a first-inning goose egg for the Phillies in the first as Nats’ lefty John Lannan sat them down in order with two whiffs. The last one was a 11-pitch epic to catch Chase Utley looking.

    End of 1: Phillies 0, Nats 0

    Ned Yost out-foxed by Charlie

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

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

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

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

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

    Indeed, it was a bad weekend for the Brewers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Friday morning: Short rest and small ball

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

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

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

    Deep down, Myers probably wasn’t joking.

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

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

    Expect a hint about a decision on Friday afternoon.

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

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

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

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

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

    Good idea.

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

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

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

    Showdown at Shea

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

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

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

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

    Can lightning strike the same spot twice? Maybe.

    But then again, maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Right?

    Better with age

    WASHINGTON – The opening ceremonies of the Olympics in Beijing are less than a week to away. That means for one more week we will read the standard patter of the potential of doping scandals as well as the political situation and pollution in China, and, of course, the crackdown on foreign journalists’ usage of the Internet.

    But once the torch is lit and athletes (at least those that actually choose to go to China for the ceremonies) stroll into the stadium for the parade of nations, the focus will shift from the realities of modern-day China and its problems to the feel-good athlete profiles that have defined NBC’s coverage of the Olympics.

    In the years since Jim McKay and ABC’s stately and iconic presiding over the games, NBC, with Bob Costas at the helm, has turned fierce athletic competition into a Hallmark card come to life. Sometimes they will even show a sporting event in real time without interruption, but only in the wee hours when the viewing audience is its smallest or when they can squeeze it in between that day’s saccharine sweet profile in which a pampered jock overcomes something to champion the human spirit.

    Or something like that

    Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how NBC piles on to the Dara Torres story, which has already been told deftly by the national writing press, especially The New York Times. In fact, Torres was clearly the media darling during last month’s swimming Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, where she set an American record and qualified for two different U.S. teams in Beijing.

    The finer points of Torres’ story have already been told, such as the 41-year-old swimmer first competed in the Olympics at the 1984 games in Los Angeles. She won nine medals in the ’84, 1988, 1992 and 2000 Olympics before deciding to retire after a haul of five medals in Sydney.

    But at an age well advanced in comparison to her teammates and competitors, Torres heads into next week’s Olympics in the best shape of her career. Yes, her elaborate and detailed training regimen was documented in The Times story as was her outspokenness and innovative stance against performance-enhancing drugs. Despite the fact that Torres was one of the first athletes to volunteer (yes volunteer!) for the toughest urine and blood doping tests, it didn’t stop skepticism from the idiot fringe of the mainstream sporting press.

    “I went to USADA and talked to the CEO there and said, ‘Hey, people are talking about me. They can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m an open book. DNA test me, blood test me, urine test me, do whatever you want. I want to show people I’m clean,'” Torres said on a recent episode of the “Today” show.

    Yes, what sportswriters actually know about training, doping and athletics could fill a thimble…

    “I just take it as a compliment,” Torres said of the baseless and reckless doping charges.

    So with her life already an open book, Torres and fellow swimmer Michael Phelps could be the Wheaties box jocks of 2008 – that is if the Wheaties box still meant something. Bruce Jenner is long gone, folks.

    Phelps, of course, could eclipse the Olympic greatness of Mark Spitz during the Beijing games. At 23, the Baltimore native won eight medals in Athens at the 2004 Olympics and will go for nine in China. But Phelps’ talent and achievement is so far out there that it might be impossible for him to capture the imagination of typical American sports’ fans addicted to the mundane routines of stick and ball games.

    Torres, on the other hand, is interesting because of her age. Better yet she is a relic from the good-old days of the Olympics back when the U.S.A. was fighting to fight the Cold War in sports with the aim to beat the medal totals of the U.S.S.R. At the same time, Torres has been the catalyst behind a battery of tests, research and analysis regarding age and elite-level athletics.

    Based on the returns noted in The Times (amongst others), age really is not a factor in determining ability in sports. Torres, of course, is a prime example. At just a smidge under six-feet tall, Torres competed in the Sydney Olympics at 160 pounds. But at 41 she’s headed for Beijing at a lean and mean 149 pounds of chiseled muscle thanks to workouts that stress flexibility, strength and recovery.

    A high level of fitness and an insatiable competitiveness appears to be the key to athletic longevity.

    “In some ways, I’m like all the other swimmers (going to the Olympics) because I still feel the passion for what I do,” Torres said. “In some ways I’m like none of them, because I’ve lived their lives twice.”

    Torres is just one example. In Beijing French cyclist Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli will compete in her seventh straight Olympics – just two months shy of her 50th birthday.  Kenyan distance runner Paul Tergat recently turned 39 and has a resume that rivals the greatest runners of all time. In 2003 he set the world record in the marathon when he was 35 and ran his fastest 10k on the roads when he was 37.

    Hockey player Chris Chelios, at 46, has shown no signs of slowing down (or retiring) after 25 years and three Stanley Cups in the NHL to go with four appearances in the Olympics for the U.S.

    Chelios’ secret? He’s part of Don Wildman’s “Malibu Mob,” a consortium of athletes and celebrities/fitness freaks who workout together with the aim of pushing each other well beyond their limits.

    Closer to home there is Jamie Moyer, the 45-year-old lefty starting pitcher for the Phillies who won his 10th game of the season last Wednesday night in Washington. In doing so, Moyer joined Phil Niekro, Jack Quinn and the immortal Satchel Paige as the only pitchers in baseball history to win at least 10 games at the age of 45.

    “I didn’t play against any of them,” Moyer deadpanned after the game before changing the subject and explaining that he is just “here to do my job.”

    “You start getting caught up in things like that and you might start losing some focus on things you need to do,” Moyer said about contemplating his place in baseball history. “I think there’s plenty of time for me to look back at the end of the season or at the end of my career and say, ‘You know what? That was cool,’ or ‘I remember that,’ or ‘I remember that game.’ But for me, having the opportunity to have the longevity that I have is the most special thing for me. To continue my career and to play and to contribute with a team, I think that is first and foremost. If you are around long enough, those things are going to start to happen.”

    Better yet, Moyer leads the Phillies’ pitchers with his 10 wins and heads into another free-agent winter with the desire to keep playing. Generally, Moyer gives the pat, “as long as I’m still having fun and I’m contributing, I’ll keep playing,” when asked about his retirement plans, but based on a conversation last Tuesday regarding Torres, age and competitiveness, the fire still burns hot for the Phillies’ lefty.

    “Look, I feel great and I’m pitching well and I love playing so I have no plans to stop,” he said. “But I could come in here tomorrow and the desire could be completely gone.”

    Clearly that’s not the case. Moyer prepares and competes at 45 no differently than he did when he was a green rookie coming up with the Cubs in 1986. However, if there is something behind Moyer’s motivation to continue to pitch (and to pitch well) it seems to be the slights he took from baseball people back when he was struggling in the early 1990s. No, Moyer didn’t cite it as a motivating cause, but then again he didn’t have to.

    “Fourteen years ago I was told to retire,” Moyer said with a smirk.

    Moyer was unfamiliar with Torres’s story when asked, but quickly became interested in the finer details. Particularly, Moyer agreed with Torres’ idea that consistent workouts, a solid fitness foundation and smart recovery were the key to athletic longevity. Then he pondered the reasons why some players give up the game long before they could.

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

    Moyer, to paraphrase a famous quote, asks “why not?” He expects to turn in his customary 200-innings and double-digits win total somewhere during the 2009 season. Certainly his age will play a factor in whether the Phillies move to re-sign him this winter, but equally important – if not more important – is the fact that Moyer has not missed a start for injury since 2000, has been on the disabled list just once dating back to 1997 and just three times during his professional career, which began in 1984.

    Better yet, young pitchers Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick go to Moyer as a Jedi would seek out Yoda.

    Besides, Yoda had a pretty good record, too.

    It’s still about the pitching… right?

    Kyle KendrickRuns are easy to understand. Actually, scoring runs are the most important thing in baseball. Get more than the other team and you win. Yes, it’s so simple.

    The thing about runs though is that they have a way of clouding up the memory banks. It actually might be one of those cases where one cannot see the forest save for the trees.

    Or something like that.

    The point is that beneath an avalanche of runs and, the nice little ancillary benefit called wins, has been some pretty decent pitching outings. In last night’s 7-4 victory over the Rockies, Kyle Kendrick turned in a career-high 7 1/3 innings, which ended up being the most important performance of the game. For one thing, Kendrick kept the Rockies from inching back into the game when the Phillies’ bats finished scoring for the evening.

    For another, Kendrick gave the bullpen a break. After all, the relievers had to turn in five, solid innings to keep the Astros in check last Sunday when ace Cole Hamels turned in an atypical poor outing. As a result, the bats rewarded Chad Durbin and the gang with 15 runs and some not-so strenuous situations on Monday and Tuesday nights.

    After the game Kendrick explained how pitching with such a big lead actually helped him last night. While the Phillies scored seven runs before they had even registered five outs, Kendrick said he could relax, settle in and go to work.

    “That’s big,” Kendrick said about the early support. “When you take the mound, it’s your job to give your team a chance to win.”

    More importantly to the guys behind him, Kendrick pitched quickly, threw strikes and got them back into the dugout reasonably quick. According to Jimmy Rollins, those traits are a sign of Kendrick’s maturity, which is saying something considering the young right-hander had all of 12 starts above Single-A before joining the Phillies last season.

    “He got up there and he pounded the zone, and got ahead of hitters,” Rollins said about Kendrick. “He’s keeping us in the game. That’s all you ever ask of any starting pitcher. He’s starting to rediscover his confidence.”

    Perhaps some of that comes from the tutelage of the sage-like, 45-year-old starter Jamie Moyer. Kendrick regularly chats with Moyer for advice and guidance on pitching and baseball, which makes a lot of sense. After all, Moyer was finishing up his first professional baseball season when Kendrick was born. Plus, there are very few situations that Moyer has not seen – or been directly involved in – during his 22-season Major League career.

    So watching Moyer work through his seven-inning stint during the 20-5 victory over the Rockies on Monday might have been the perfect primer for Kendrick.

    Though pitching with such a large lead is difficult for some pitchers because they claim they have difficulty directing their focus, Moyer kept the Rockies to just six hits and four runs with just one walk and seven whiffs while the offense piled on the runs.

    But falling back to his old mantra of “Keep it simple, stupid,” Moyer says his focus was on keeping the Rockies from scoring as many runs as he was given. As long as the Rockies never matched his teammates, Moyer was satisfied.

    “I was just trying to stay away from the crooked numbers,” Moyer said. “To me it’s just about winning, not the numbers.”

    A good offense is certainly is a nice luxury to have. But then again, what good are scoring runs if there is no one to stop the other team?

    Fully engaged?

    Barack & HillaryToday is another Super Tuesday of sorts in the Presidential primary races. It gets the all-encompassing “super” moniker simply because of the implications the races in Vermont, Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island. For the Republicans it means that shoo-in nominee John McCain will collect the necessary delegates to put him over the top.

    On the Democrats side, a four-state sweep by Barack Obama could push Hillary Clinton’s Presidential bid to the brink. However, if Clinton wins the two delegate-rich states in Texas and Ohio, be ready for a full-court press by both candidates before the Pennsylvania primary on April 22.

    Here comes the understatement of the week: There is a lot at stake today.

    But that fact has been known for a very long time. In fact, media reports indicate that the 2008 bid for the White House has galvanized voters of all ages in ways that have not been seen in a very long time. People are engaged in the process, they are listening to the speeches out on the campaign trail, dial up the relevant news on the Internet, and have turned out to the polls in record numbers.

    Everyone is engaged, especially 20-something year-old voters, who, according to reports, have turned off the ridiculous YouTube videos and dived into the national discourse. Better yet, those folks are asking questions and confronting conventional wisdom… these are all very good things. Frankly, it should make all citizens, regardless of political philosophy, to see so many people engaged.

    It is an exciting time in our history.

    But according to an ESPN.com story by Jeff Pearlman, there is one subset of folks whose precarious bubble has not been pierced to allow reality inside. That group?

    Major League Baseball players.

    According to Pearlman’s story, there are little fraternity houses in every ballpark around the country where Maxim magazine, the lack of fuel efficiency of one’s Hummer, and the run-of-the-mill superficiality of the bling-bling culture have not been offset by a true historical moment. Yes, according to Pearlman, baseball players are as dumb as ever.

    Chronicling his visit with the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals and the lack of political discourse therein, Pearlman charted the top 10 topics of discussion. They were:

    Indeed, a top 10 list of spring training topics discussed by ballplayers would look something like this:

    1.Baseball
    2. Free sunglasses
    3. Breasts
    4-5. Jesus/golf (tie)
    6. Dinner options
    7. The Kyle Kendrick YouTube video
    8. Britney Spears
    9. Strip clubs
    10. More Jesus/golf (tie)

    C.J. WilsonNot every player is so switched off, though. One who was not shy about discussing his disdain for his teammates’ apathy was reliever C.J. Wilson, a left-hander who has been described as a Taoist and adheres to the Ian MacKaye-inspired “Straight Edge” philosophy of personal politics. When asked who amongst his teammates is as interested in the Presidential races as he, Wilson glumly answered, “No one.”

    “It’s frustrating,” Wilson told Pearlman. “I’d say there are two reasons. One, there’s a general lack of education among us. But two – and most important – you’re talking about a population that makes a ton of money, so the ups and downs of the economy don’t impact whether we’re getting paid. Therefore, we often don’t care.”

    “It’s not that complex,” Wilson says. “Baseball players think about baseball.”

    That’s true. Baseball players get paid a lot of money to play a game and there are always dozens of players just waiting to get a chance to bump off another from the lineup. Understandably, there is a lot of pressure involved in keeping such a high-profile and high-paying job.

    Yet at the same time there is a ridiculous amount of downtime for professional athletes. Games don’t last all that long and there is only so much time that a player can devote to workouts and treatments and whatever other job-related tasks. As a result, Pearlman’s list is pretty apt, though he seems to have missed on the ballplayers’ devotion to gambling, card playing and crossword puzzles as favorite pastimes.

    At the same time, maybe Pearlman picked the wrong clubhouse? The Phillies have a few players switched on to issues, if not elective politics. Chase Utley is a budding conservationist and has lent his name to environmental and animal-rights initiatives. Meanwhile, Jimmy Rollins, the team’s player representative, is quietly aware of history regarding civil rights and baseball.

    Jamie Moyer runs his Moyer Foundation, which created and funds Camp Erin, the largest national network of bereavement camps for children and teens; Camp Mariposa, for children affected by addiction in their families; The Gregory Fund, for early cancer-detection research; and The Moyer Foundation Endowment for Excellence in Pediatric Palliative Care for Seattle’s Children’s Hospital.

    Additionally, Moyer’s father-in-law, Digger Phelps, worked for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and also served as an observer in the 1993 elections in Cambodia.

    Those things are little more involved than simply following along with the process. Still, baseball players have – and various athletes in general – have picked up the label as being nothing more than “dumb jocks.” Some have chided golfer Tiger Woods for refusing to take a stand on various racial and political issues. Meanwhile, Michael Jordan famously failed to endorse African-American democratic senatorial candidate Harvey Gantt in his early 1990s race against arch-conservative Jesse Helms in North Carolina, because, as Jordan stated at the time, “Republicans buy sneakers, too[1].”

    That’s hardly as inspiring as Ali’s, “I ain’t got no quarrel with no Viet Cong,” but perhaps Jordan and Woods have to protect their corporate interests first? If that’s the case, how does one define ex-cyclist, turned marathoner, Lance Armstrong, who has been nothing if outspoken in endorsing political candidates and calling out others for their failure to work for improved cancer research and better health care?

    Greg Odenwhat about Greg Oden, the top pick in last summer’s NBA draft? Out with an injury for the entirety of the season, Oden has spent his time following the campaigns and musing about them on his blog. In a recent interview with The Washington Post’s, Michael Wilbon, Oden admitted some of his naiveté about politics, but said he is committed to being fully engaged in the process.

    “I can’t even imagine that now, knowing enough to govern a city or a state,” Oden told Wilbon. “I’m just at the point where I’m watching CNN more than I ever have, listening to the candidates. I’m not the most educated guy in the world on the issues, but I’m getting there.”

    During various campaign stops, Oden has had a telephone conversation with Obama and introduced First Lady Laura Bush at a campaign event. He admitted that both events were quite nerve-wracking.

    Nevertheless, Oden has come out with an endorsement for Obama on his blog and says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

    “I can’t say I know every single one of his policies by heart,” Oden told Wilbon, “but I’ve done enough homework to know what I like about him. I really feel more strongly about young people voting, about making an educated decision. I’m not trying to tell people what to do or who to vote for, just to educate themselves and participate. What could be the harm in that?”

    None. None at all. Perhaps all this engagement could have some sort of influence on our democracy and maybe even get a few more folks involved.

    ***
    Also by Pearlman: Nomar is a creep.


    [1] To be fair, Jordan contributed money to Gantt’s campaign and has also been a contributor to Bill Bradley’s and Obama’s run for the White House. Plus, people have the right to shut-up, too.

    Fish story

    grouperThe sun is shining brightly here in Clearwater, Fla., a city where one can purchase illegal fireworks and a big bottle of Boone’s Farms Chablis with a twist-off cap at the Target on the Gulf-to-Bay Blvd. It should be noted that folks tell me that the Chablis goes nicely with the grouper they like to eat with damn-near everything around these parts.

    You got your grouper sandwich…

    You got your grouper kabob…

    Grouper fritters…

    Sautéed grouper…

    Buffalo-style grouper…

    Blackened grouper…

    Grouper Mediterranean…

    Also around these parts, the Phillies opened the Grapefruit League season with a resounding 8-1 victory over the new-look Cincinnati Reds yesterday at Bright House Field. The big story of the game, of course, was the Phils’ pitching, mostly because scoring eight runs ain’t no thang for the club’s offense. The truth is, the Phillies are going to bash the hell out of the ball this summer, but we’ll dive into that in a bit.

    Back to the pitching…

    As noted extensively and exclusively (for the first time since the last time), cagey vet Jamie Moyer was stellar in his three-inning stint. His lack of velocity on his fastball was in mid-season form and, as the lefty noted, his curve and change are a step or so ahead of the hitters at this point in the spring.

    “I got away with a lot of pitches. The first strikeout to (Ryan) Freel was a real bad pitch, but those guys are just getting started as hitters. I would never get away with that during the regular season,” Moyer opined. “I don’t like to make pitches like that, but when you do it forces you to figure out what’s going on. I think, if anything, that’s what I take out of it. It took me two innings to figure out the minor things and now I’ll have something to work on for my next bullpen moving ahead.”

    Mentioned, though not delved into too deeply, was the fact that Rule 5 pick-up Travis Blackley also tossed three shutout innings in relief of Moyer. Certainly the outing bodes well for the left-handed Australian in his quest (yes, a quest!) to make the ballclub. If Blackley doesn’t make the club he has to be offered back to the Giants, and only if the Giants don’t want him back can the Phillies slip him down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

    It’s the same type of deal the Phillies had with Shane Victorino two years ago when the Dodgers didn’t take him back.

    Anyway, Blackley says he likes what he’s seen from his Phillies’ teammates so far and really hopes he can fill a role on the pitching staff.

    “I’d prefer to start. I’ve always started, but I just want to pitch at that level,” Blackley said. “I’m just down to throw. If it happens to be a bullpen spot, sweet, I’ll take it. If it doesn’t work out here, I’m throwing for other teams as well.”

    Bubba, Forrest, Lt. DanGrouper parmesan…

    Grouper chowder…

    Grouper casserole…

    Grouper au gratin…

    Pan-seared grouper with curry cous cous…

    As for the offense, all the big off-season acquisitions smacked doubles. Infielders Eric Bruntlett and Pedro Feliz went 2-for-2, while Geoff Jenkins went 1-for-3.

    The theory floating around is that the Phillies should count on big years from Jenkins and Feliz because they can comfortably slide into the team’s lineup without any pressure to carry the load. For the Brewers, Jenkins was counted on to slug 30-plus homers and to be the team’s main run producer for years, but with the Phillies he will likely bat sixth in the lineup comfortably behind Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell.

    Out of San Francisco, Feliz no longer has to protect Barry Bonds in the batting order. Instead, he’ll fit into the battom-third of the order and could be a 30-homer threat at cozy, Citizens Bank Park.

    Anyway, here’s the lineup for this afternoon’s epic tilt against the Pirates here at Bright House Field:

    11 – Rollins, ss
    99 – Taguchi, cf
    26 – Utley, 2b
    6 – Howard, 1b
    7 – Feliz, 3b
    10 – Jenkins, rf
    28 – Werth, lf
    19 – Dobbs, dh
    51 – Ruiz, c

    Pitchers: Kyle Kendrick; Joe Savery; Josh Outman; Francisco Rosario; Lincoln Holdzkom.

    Moyer in midseason form

    Jamie MoyerFrom the looks of things from the press box here at Bright House Networks Field, it appears as if Jamie Moyer is in 2001/2003, mid-season form. His command was of his patented “gnats’ butt from 100 yards” variety and his velocity… well, it was right where it always is.

    Better yet, Moyer dropped in a stellar hook on a 1-2 pitch to catch the Reds’ Edwin Encarnacion looking to leadoff the second.

    All told, Moyer allowed just one looping single with three whiffs in three innings in Wednesday afternoon’s Grapefruit League opener against the Reds. Additionally, he threw 31 pitches — 22 for strikes — as well as six first-pitch strikes to the 10 hitters he faced.

    After watching his 22nd season debut the first thought is this:

    Slow down old-timer… save some of that for September.

    But then again, there’s an adage amongst old marathoners that states, “if you have it, there’s no sense in saving it.”
    ***

    Anyway, here’s a story from today on Moyer and the Grapefruit League opener against the Reds in Clearwater. Here’s another on the team’s top prospect, Carlos Carrasco, who was robbed with his entire family in their home in Venezuela by two armed, unmasked men.

    If you don’t have anything nice to say…

    Ryan Howard… get a blog. Or better yet, just invite the writing media over to the locker to chat instead of those pesky TV folks with their makeup and those white, hot lights and cameras. Besides, talking to actual humans instead of inanimate objects like cameras and TV reporters is much more revealing anyway. Sure, the fans might like tuning in from so far away to watch a guy talk with those lights and the microphones bearing down, but come on… no one really enjoys it.

    At least that’s the way it was for Ryan Howard in Clearwater today. Rather than do the whole big ballyhoo and faux production of a made-for-TV inquiry about his contract and whether or not animosity has festered like a bad blister because the Phillies only want to pay him $7 million for 2008 instead of $10 million just chatted up a few scribes and some inanimate objects in the clubhouse.

    It made for a more contemplative, more intimate, more revealing and perhaps even a more trenchant conversation. That’s the key word there – conversation. Look, when dealing with athletes, pro writers are dealing with a short deck mostly because they don’t know a damn thing about exercise or fitness or training or anything. But that’s beside the point. When the glare and scrutiny beats on a guy, it gets hard to explain things, so everyone loses.

    Or something like that. Who knows. I’m just making this all up as I go along and I’m sure that five minutes from now I’ll have no idea what I wrote. But don’t let that stop anyone from acknowledging that sooner or later Ryan Howard will have to answer questions about his contract. What, do you think the writing press is a bunch of shrinking violets? Hey, they might not know the ins and outs of exercise or physiology, but that’s not going to stop them from using clichés oh so cavalierly.

    You know, whatever.

    ***
    Here’s a question: is it worse that someone made a typographical error in typing up a document filed yesterday in the Barry Bonds perjury case that erroneously stated the player tested positive for steroids in November of 2001, or is it worse that so many media outlets blindly jumped on the story without checking it out first.

    Look, people trust the wire services and the big names in the media business without giving it much thought. But even the tiniest bit of research over the false Bonds report should have had folks scratching their heads a bit with wonderment over why the star-crossed slugger would have taken a drugs test in 2001.

    Plus, knowing that there are no more secrets anywhere and that the truth always rears its troll-like face, the notion of a failed drugs test by Bonds in November of 2001 should have had the fact-checkers scrambling.

    Alas…

    Nevertheless, the underlying problem was evident: Media types are too worried about being first instead of being right.

    ***
    Pedro Finally, my favorite story of the day comes out of the Mets’ camp in Port Saint Lucie where Pedro Martinez rightfully claimed that he stared down the so-called Steroid Era and plunked it on its ass.

    According to Pedro, “I dominated that era and I did it clean.

    “I have a small frame and when I hurt all I could do was take a couple of Aleve or Advil, a cup of coffee and a little mango and an egg – and let it go!”

    It sounds like Pedro (and Cole Hamels) are wannabe marathon runners who wake up every morning with everything hurting, shuffle stiff-legged downstairs for some coffee, a vitamin, maybe a Clif Bar or even an ibuprofen with the thought of visiting the chiro for some Active Release Technique therapy before heading out the door for the first of two brutal workouts.

    Drugs tests? Where the cup…

    “I wish that they would check every day,” Pedro said. “That’s how bad I want the game to be clean. I would rather go home (than) taint the game.”

    Here’s a theory: the pitching during the so-called “Steroid Era” wasn’t so bad. Oh sure, certain media types — blabbermouths on certain radio stations in particular — are quick to point out how today’s pitchers can’t throw strikes, won’t work deep into games and how some of them shouldn’t be in the big leagues. Expansion, they say, has watered down the game.

    Maybe so. But try this out: in facing hitters with baseballs that are wound tighter and who are using harder bats made of harder wood against a tinier strike zone in ball parks that are smaller still, pitchers have to add guile to the repertoire. And we didn’t even get into the performance-enhancing drugs part yet. Nonetheless, pitchers just can’t lean back and huck it up there as fast as they can — pitchers have had to pitch in the post-modern era of baseball.

    ***
    Jamie MoyerSpeaking of doing it the right way for a long time, Sully Salisbury turned in a great story on the meritorious Jamie Moyer, who is heading into his 22nd big league season.

    A few minutes in the presence of Moyer makes it easy to believe that you never, ever have to get old. You never have to burn out, get tired, act old, compromise, get mediocre or slow down. Moyer turned 45 last November and be sure that there are players on the Phillies who are “older” than he is – they’ve stopped being engaged, they know what they know and they don’t want to be exposed to anything new. They are already completely formed and they might only be 23 years old.

    Not Moyer, though. In a conversation last October, the pitcher says one of the best parts about playing for so long has been the exposure to new people and ideas.

    “A lot of times, I just focus on the simplicity of things, and not be the focus of what should be going on here, and just keep things simple. I call it the K.I.S.S. factor — keep it simple, stupid,” he said last October. “I look back on instances in my career like that — good and bad – but things that I’ve learned from, and try to re-educate myself and rethink things, and reinforce what I already know. A lot of times, we can overlook things and forget, and after the fact, after the mistake is made, you’re like, ‘Oh, I knew that. Why did I do that?’ You can’t catch everything. But if you can catch some of it, hopefully, it’ll work out. What’s been fun is being around this group of guys and the energy they bring.”

    As Moyer told Sailisbury yesterday:

    “I’m not as proud of the age thing as I am of the ups and downs I’ve overcome to create some longevity,” Moyer said after yesterday’s workout. “I’ve enjoyed that part. I can smile and say I’m doing what I want to do.”

    And then there was offense… kind of

    ScribesIt should be noted that there is a full Philadelphia media throng here in Denver tonight. All of the newspapers are represented in sizable numbers, including six writers from the Inquirer and a bunch from the Daily News.

    And get this: The Daily News doesn’t even print an edition tomorrow and the rest of the papers are already past deadline.

    Ah, but they all have web site… that’s right guys – embrace the technology.

    All of a sudden the offense shows up!

    With one out in the seventh Shane Victorino knifed one through the wind and into the seats atop the high, out-of-town scoreboard in right field. Just like that and the Phillies have some offense.

    They might even have a little spark.

    Victorino knew it was gone as soon as he hit it. He reacted with a few short fist pumps as he dashed down the first-base line and was prodding on his teammates throughout the inning. Perhaps Victorino and his home run got the Phillies going? After all, Carlos Ruiz followed it up with a single to chase rookie pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez in favor of veteran Matt Herges.

    After Greg Dobbs pinch hit for Abe Nunez and grounded out, Charlie Manuel pulled back Jamie Moyer for pinch hitter Tadahito Iguchi with two outs and a runner on second. We all know that things tend to happen whenever Iguchi steps onto the field.

    This time, though, all that happened was an inning-ending pop out.

    Moyer’s line: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 2 K – 88 pitches/56 strikes

    Here comes the Phillies’ bullpen. Buckle up.

    Old man Moyer

    Jamie MoyerThis afternoon when I got to the park (something like 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time), I noticed Jamie Moyer sitting by himself next to the backstop, quietly taking in the pre-game scene. The Rockies had just started to take the field to stretch and loosen up before batting practice, and some of the folks from the TBS and ESPN were milling about and setting up their camera angles or whatever it is they do.

    Ever since Game 2 ended in defeat for the Phillies, I have been paying close attention to Jamie Moyer. In fact, I have been trying to parse his comments about how he wants to “have fun” and explaining how much “fun” it is to be in the playoffs. Anyone who asks gets told that Moyer is having fun and that the others on his team should understand that these games are fun.

    It’s why you play the season, Moyer says.

    Yet through it all I can’t find any deeper meaning. I even asked a few of the scribes who know the team better than me and they agreed that there isn’t more beyond what the 44-year old lefty is saying. Take his words at face value, I was told.

    Or, look at them as a means to get some of the guys on his team – namely some of the pitchers and Chase Utley – to loosen up.

    Perhaps Moyer’s tactic will work.

    As it stands now, the last seven Phillies’ hitters have gone down in order. Moyer, meanwhile, is taking his time and being very methodical in his tactics. If a runner is on base he has been making throws to first even though there isn’t a threat of a steal, or he looks in at catcher Carlos Ruiz for a long time before coming to a set motion.

    Yesterday, Clint Hurdle warned his team that Moyer would challenge their discipline at the plate. So far there haven’t been any surprises.

    Greetings from Blake Street

    Coors FieldDENVER – Yay! I made it. Actually, I think I am the only person to be on the premises of both the Phillies and Rockies stadiums today. In order to pull off such a stunt, one has to get up early…

    I’m sleepy.

    Nonetheless, we have a big ballgame tonight. Apparently the weather is going to take a wild turn as a front comes in, but I will report that the wind has been fairly fierce. There have been some gusts that could knock a big, strapping fella on his duff.

    I can’t believe I used those terms in that sentence.

    Anyway, well be coming at you live just like in the first two games, so get ready. In the meantime, here are the lineups:

    Rockies
    7 – Kaz Matsui, 2b
    2 – Troy Tulowitzki, ss
    5 – Matt Holliday, lf
    17 – Todd Helton, 1b
    27 – Garrett Atkins, 3b
    11 – Brad Hawpe, rf
    19 – Ryan Spilborghs, cf
    8 – Yorvit Torrealba, c
    38 – Ubaldo, Jimenez, p

    As you can see, Clint Hurdle is sticking with the same lineup that he used in the first two games. Hey, if it ain’t broke…

    Phillies
    11 – Jimmy Rollins, ss
    26 – Chase Utley, 2b
    5 – Pat Burrell, lf
    6 – Ryan Howard, 1b
    33 – Aaron Rowand, cf
    8 – Shane Victorino, cf
    51 – Carlos Ruiz, c
    3 – Abraham Nunez, 3b
    50 – Jamie Moyer, p

    With Moyer on the mound, Charlie Manuel is going with a more defensive lineup. Those nine guys remind me of something Moyer and I chatted about the other day – I told him that 50 percent of good pitching is good defense.

    He said: “Ha! In my case it’s 99.9 percent.”

    What a card!

    Old man and the scribes

    Jamie MoyerA little late starting today because I had to take care of some Phillies’ related business, etc. … I’m sure you’re all really interested in how busy I am. You know, because no one else is ever busy at all…

    Sheesh!

    Anyway, I (and a bunch of others) had a nice little chat with Game 3 starter Jamie Moyer before today’s game where the ol’, wily lefty waxed on about everything under the sun as it related to baseball. At one point Moyer mentioned that after yesterday’s game he asked Cole Hamels if he had learned anything from his first post-season start. Hamels told Moyer that he had.

    Moyer said he told Hamels that learning and having fun was the best part about baseball, and as long as a player does just that, everything will be OK.

    So I asked Moyer what he’s learned this year, 22-years into his Major League career, and what kind of “new fun” he’s having.

    “Sometimes you just got to shut up and not say anything,” Moyer laughed.

    That’s funny because if you know Jamie Moyer and had a conversation with him, it will last all day. The guy loves to talk, which is great because he has interesting things to say.

    Just think if he was Brett Myers… wait, was that my out loud voice again?

    Anyway, I will be writing about Moyer today. Look for the story after the game.

    Adding on and whiting out

    BobI just wrote the results of the last inning in the wrong page of my scorebook. I hate when that happens. Now my Bob Carpenter Scorebook is going to look messy like a chicken wrote all in it and I can’t have that.

    Bob Carpenter, by the way, is the play-by-play announcer for the Nationals’ TV broadcasts. His scorebook is excellent, but now my copy has Presto! whiteout all over it.

    I’m not sure if Carpenter’s book is as good as how Jamie Moyer has been pitching so far. He took down the Nats in order again in the third, this time on 13 pitches. He also got another strikeout on one of those off-speed pitches on the outer edge of the plate.

    It didn’t go as well for Jason Bergmann against the Phillies in the bottom of the third. Carlos Ruiz doubled to open the inning, then, with one out, Bergmann walked Jimmy Rollins and plunked Shane Victorino. However, he nearly wiggled out of some bases-loaded trouble when Chase Ultey harmlessly popped up to short and had two strikes on Ryan Howard with two outs.

    But Howard’s two-run single made it 3-0, which made that six-run deficit at Shea look like it was double-digits.

    Moyer humming along

    Jamie MoyerJamie Moyer remained sharp in the second inning to retire the Nats in order. The last two outs of the inning were strikeouts on pitches where Moyer got Wily Mo Pena and Jesus Flores to chase some off-speed stuff (does Moyer throw anything else?) way off the outside edge of the plate.

    Moyer needed 16 more pitches to get through the second. So far he’s thrown 29 pitches –19 of them strikes.

    At the plate, the Phillies went down just as harmlessly as the Nats. Jason Bergmann was even more efficient than Moyer, throwing just eight pitches in the frame.

    Back at Shea it’s still 7-1 with one out and Jose Reyes at the plate. They just showed a shot of the Mets’ new ballpark on TV… if the Mets go down today, they might need a new one in time for next year. Shea might not make it through the day.

    Rollins steals a run

    JimmyVeteran lefty Jamie Moyer was sharp in the first, throwing just 13 pitches to retire the side despite a double by Ronnie Belliard the barely landed inside the right-field foul line.

    Meanwhile, the “M-V-P!” chants for Jimmy Rollins started as soon as the third out was recorded in the first. It seems to me that the fans don’t have to chant that to convince anyone anymore. The BBWAA has to have their ballots in by the end of the day and my informal polling shows that Rollins will likely win the MVP Award.

    Charlie Manuel should be first or second in the manager of the year balloting with Arizona’s Bob Melvin, while Jake Peavy has the Cy Young Award sewn up.

    The rookie of the year award seems to be a tossup between Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun and Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki. Kyle Kendrick should garner some votes, too.

    Back to the action… Rollins singled to open the frame and then swiped second before Shane Victorino grounded back to the pitcher. On a 1-2 pitch to Chase Utley, Rollins stole third base for his 41st steal of the season.

    I wonder if Rollins called up his buddy Dontrelle Willis last night? I was going to ask him, but he seemed like he didn’t want his pre-game focus broken.

    Anyway, the stolen base worked out pretty well because Rollins scored on Utley’s lined sacrifice fly to right to make it 1-0. Back at Shea, Carlos Delgado grimaced in pain after getting hit by a pitch from Willis. It appears as if the Mets’ slugger is out of the game.

    The Mets are in big, big trouble.