Phillies and Mets trade places

A friend from New York City called the other day with an intriguing question. Now before I get into the actual question, it’s worth mentioning that the friend has spent the past two decades working in the sports media, including the past three covering the New York Mets.

Yes, those New York Mets.

So for the past three years this friend of mine watched from the inside as the Mets choked in a seven-game series to the Cardinals in the NLCS, choked during September with a 6½ game lead and less than three weeks to go in ’07, before pulling the trifecta in ’08 by choking a 3½ game lead during late September.

Needless to say, my friend has seen that the Heimlich doesn’t always work on a baseball team. No, these have not been happy times for the Mets, especially considering which team went on to win the World Series last October.

Those elements make the question so much more interesting.

“Tell me,” he said. “Are Phillies’ fans as obsessed with the Mets as the Mets’ fans are with the Phillies?”

Continue reading this story…

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

Santana dealing for the Mets

The fans are filing in to the ballpark for the 3:55 p.m. start and it looks as if the place is going to be packed to the rafters by first pitch.

It also appears as if the Phillies are going to need to win today to clinch the NL East, because Johan Santana just finished the eighth inning at Shea with a shutout intact.

It appears as if the Mets will live to fight another day.

Better for the Phillies or any other team that might have to face the Mets down the road, it appears as if Santana will need a good five days before he pitches again. Through eight innings, Santana has allowed two hits on 104 pitches. This, of course, comes three days after Santana turned in a complete game victory on a career-high 125 pitches in his last outing.

Needless to say, Johan has earned a break.

Meanwhile, we’re getting ready to get busy here in Philly. It looks as if the Phillies will need to win to sew it up.

Phillies have foes running scared

Suddenly, the Phillies have everyone worried, and for a change that’s a good thing. In fact, the Phillies have some teams running scared so much that those clubs are starting to look at plans B, C and maybe even D.

Just look what happened with the Milwaukee Brewers after the Phillies swept them out of Citizens Bank Park last weekend. Even though the Brewers remain tied for first place in the wild-card race with 12 games to go, the team axed manager Ned Yost. Oh sure, it’s not uncommon for a team to fire its manager and then go on a run to the playoffs. Actually, it happened with a member of the Phillies coaching staff when Jimy Williams was fired by the Astros more than halfway through the 2004 season.

The Astros were not in first place when Williams was let go four seasons ago, but Pat Corrales had the Phillies in first place 87 games into the 1983 season when general manager Paul Owens famously sent Corrales packing and replaced the manger with himself.

Guess what? It worked. The Phillies went all the way to the World Series before the Orioles shut them down in five games.

Whether or not the Brewers’ act of desperation works or not remains to be seen. Certainly their schedule will do them no favors. This week they play six on the road against the Cubs and Reds before they finish with six at home against the Pirates and Cubs. Combined, the Brewers are 11-14 against the Cubs and Reds, but 11-1 against the Pirates.

Nevertheless, the Phillies’ latest surge just might have forced the move on Yost.

But if it were just the wild card the Phillies had their eyes on, the Brewers might have been able to weather the storm with Yost. That’s not the case, though. Instead, the Brewers have to worry about the Mets, too, since the Phillies could overtake them for first place in the NL East as early as tonight.

Oh boy… it’s happening again.

Needless to say, the shorts are bunching up at Shea Stadium because once again the Mets just can’t seem to beat the Washington Nationals. Last season the Nats swept the Mets during the last week of the season to add to the historical collapse. Had the Mets been able to beat the Nationals just once that last week things might not have worked out for the Phillies. The Nats have lost 182 games over the past two seasons, but the Mets just couldn’t figure out how to beat them once down the stretch.

That problem reappeared last night when the Nationals beat up on the rapidly aging Pedro Martinez to send the big city folks looking at the wild-card standings. At the same time, Ben Shpigel wrote for The New York Times’ “Bats” blog a story with the headline, “How Worried Should They Be in Queens?”

In comparison to last season, Shpigel writes, the Mets’ starting pitching is much improved. With Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez, the Mets would be tough to beat in a short playoff series.

But there is the matter of that bullpen. As a result the Mets are counting on a flame out from the Brewers so they can sneak into the playoffs as the wild-card team if the Phillies take the East again.

Shpigel writes:

If the Brewers continue to fade (they have six games left against the Cubs), the Mets are in even better shape. Even if the Phillies overtake the Mets in the division, the Mets have to really mess up (stop smirking) to fall out. It can happen, I know. But the odds of them making the postseason at this point are better than they were at this time last year.

Meanwhile, the Phillies’ remaining schedule is another reason why the Mets and Brewers are running scared. With six more to go against the Braves and three each against the Marlins and Nats, the Phillies’ opponents have a combined .447 winning percentage (201-248).

That sounds pretty good.

With the fear come good feelings from the Phillies. Finally, they control their own destiny.

“I believe in attitude, charisma, whatever they want to call it,” Manuel said. “When we come to the ballpark, everything’s OK and fine, and everybody’s in a good mood, upbeat. Everybody’s happy.”

Showdown at Shea

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

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

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

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

Can lightning strike the same spot twice? Maybe.

But then again, maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right?

Hey, it’s Barack! Yeah, that Barack

Phew!

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

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

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

You can’t teach height, they say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manuel and Dubee feel the same way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If that’s possible.

Yes, that was too easy.

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

Barack Obama is going to be in my backyard tomorrow.

Yes, that Barack Obama.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, that John McCain.

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

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

Weird, wild stuff

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

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

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

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

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

There was a method to the madness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe they can work on that for tonight.

Doing him a favor

Willie RandolphThere’s an old saying that goes, “Nothing good ever happens after midnight.” For Willie Randolph, that line should be amended to “nothing good ever happens after 3 a.m.” It was at 3:15 a.m., after a victory over the Angels and a long flight from New York to Los Angeles that the Mets’ brass finally decided that Willie Randolph shouldn’t be the manager any more.

No time like the present, I suppose. Why wait until the sun comes up when the job can be taken care of at 3:15 a.m. like a weirdo fraternity prank or Saddam’s hanging. Why do it in New York when you can make the guy fly 3,000 miles across the country, make him manage a baseball game and then roust him out of bed at 3:15 a.m.

Yeah, I know the Mets are in California and it was shortly after midnight when the Mets’ brain trust capped Willie, but it was 3:15 a.m. back in New York where, one can assume, the brass hoped they could sneak the news in well after the newspaper deadlines and the television programming had played the National Anthem to end its day of programming (do they still do that?).

But apparently the little thing that we like to call The Internets never goes off the air. That meant the Mets’ big news spread through the east coast like a smoldering plastic bag filled with dog crap.

Think of all the things that get normal folks up at 3:15 a.m. like a dog barking, or a wrong number telephone call. Maybe one of the kids has a nightmare and wakes you up or maybe you get a 3:15 a.m. hankering for some organic granola and flax with a banana and soy milk… hey, it happens more than one could imagine.

But not Willie Randolph. Not with the Mets. At least he got a chartered flight to Los Angeles and was tucked beneath the down blanket in a four-star hotel when they shook him awake to tell him that the nightmare was finally over.

Willie doesn’t have to manage the Mets anymore.

***
The best part of the whole Willie circus? According to reports, some of the players learned about the news not from team sources, but instead from text messages from writers.

2008 Phillies are World Serious

Brett MyersI feel the need to amend. I’d say clarify instead, but to do something like that means to omit a wrong.

And man was I wrong.

Not too long ago – January 30, 2008, to be precise – I wrote a little essay entitled, “2008 Phillies: Playing for 2nd place” and, man, was I ever off on that one.

Sheesh!

The basic premise of the story was that Johan Santana was so good that the Mets would not be able to help themselves in winning the NL East. To be sure, Santana is good. Actually, he’s very good and probably better than any pitcher the Phillies have. In fact, Santana might very well win 20 games for the Mets this season and in his 11 starts so far, the Mets are 8-3.

In that regard the Santana deal is working out very well for the Mets.

The trouble is that while the Mets have a .727 winning percentage in games started by Santana, they are 18-24 in games started by pitchers not named Johan Santana. Those aren’t exactly Steve Carlton in ’72 numbers, but who would have guessed that the Mets would have been this bad?

The idea was that Santana would lift up the entire ballclub rather than be the guy doing all the heavy lifting.

So here we are on the last day of May on the cusp of June with July and the All-Star Break not too far away. Behind that, the dog days lurk, but by then will the Mets (or Mutts) have rolled over on their backs to reveal their soft, pink rounded bellies.

That certainly seems where we’re headed.

Really, come on… who would have guessed that there would have been such a big carry-over from the most epic collapse in baseball history? Apparently, not me.

So that’s the reason for the amendment. Because the Mets, well… stink, and because the Braves might not have all of the pitching or health needed, and because the Marlins aren’t quite ready yet, the NL East in 2008 is the Phillies’ to lose.

Actually, make that to win.

Yes, it’s all rainbows and unicorns here with the Phillies these days.  After all, they score runs like a beer league softball team and pitch well enough not to mess up anything. No, that last part isn’t the most inspiring type of pitching staff to have, but whatever.

Unless something really wacky occurs, don’t expect to see the Phillies give up first place any time this year.

2008 Phillies: Playing for 2nd place

Johan SantanaIt could go down that Johan Santana was involved in two of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. In addition to landing with the Mets from the Twins for a pile of potential prospects, the two-time Cy Young Award winner was once traded from the Marlins for a dude named Jared Camp.

That was after the Marlins plucked him away from the Astros in the Rule 5 Draft.

So yeah, there are a lot of smart baseball folks that missed the boat on Johan Santana. The Mets, however, are not one of those “smart” teams. Instead of feeling the knee-jerk blather from fans, pundits and Billy Wagner regarding the dearth of wintertime moves, the Mets now have the best pitcher in baseball at the top of the rotation.

We’d get into the analysis of how good Santana is with his statistics and all of that stuff, but what’s the point? He’s a lefty, he’s nasty and he’s better than everyone else in the game. Go look up the stats yourself, though I will give one warning before you click on the link – they should make Phillies fans a little sick in the stomach.

Out here in the hinterlands I really don’t get the full affect of the Philly sporting press’s deconstruction of the Santana deal, but then again who needs it. After all, it’s not the balance of power in the NL East that shifted with Santana’s arrival in Queens – it’s the balance of power in the entire National League that shifted.

Playoff baseball at Shea one last time, anyone?

The big question, of course, is what does it all mean for the Phillies. Well, for starters the Phillies will have to root for an even bigger and more epic collapse from the Mets down the stretch. They also have to root for an injury to Santana, though the guy hasn’t missed a start since 2004. In that regard the Phillies might be better served with a voodoo doll.

More concisely, facing Santana a handful of times in 2008 will have a profound effect on the Phillies’ lineup. That’s especially the case when one notes that Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Geoff Jenkins are all lefty swingers.

It is worth noting that switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins hit .321 against lefties in 2007 and Shane Victorino went at a .291 clip. But then again, Santana has been just as tough on righties (.220) as lefties (.223) during his career.

Here’s what else Santana-to-the-Mets means for the Phillies:

It means they should go out and make an offer to a pitcher like Kyle Lohse or Livan Hernandez and hope they sign on…

Before the Mets get both of them.

Setting a course

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

That was wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can’t wait to get started.”

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

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

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

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

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

Stay classy.

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

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

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

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

Mets in a hole before the anthem has been sung

GlavineThe Phillies were extremely loose in the clubhouse before today’s game. In fact, I talked to Geoff Geary at length about his home and neighborhood in the San Diego suburbs.

The mood in the clubhouse just got much more loose, I’m sure, when Tom Glavine and the Mets fell into a quick, 4-0 hole with just one out in the first. When they posted the score here the crowd exploded with cheers, which was odd because they were handing out awards to some Phillies’ employees in an on-field ceremony.

The poor dudes thought the cheers were for them.

Instead, everyone was fired up for the Mets’ potential demise.

SNY’s Matt Yallof is heading to Philadelphia for tomorrow’s game… if it occurs. Matt is one of the finest dudes ever to work in the media business — at least that I’ve been able to find. He’s not like most TV guys (that’s a high compliment) in that he thinks stories through like a writer. When he produces something for TV, he wants to tell a story, which is something that is lacking in a lot of TV reporting these days.

There are others like Matt, but not very many.

TIMBER!

Timber!OK, so which is it that is most impressive? Is it the Phillies surge in which they have won 12 of their last 15 games in which they overcame a 7-game deficit on Sept. 12 and now hold a 1-game advantage with two games to go?

Or is it the Mets’ stunning collapse/choke job/freefall that has conjured up remembrances of the 1964 Phillies? It should, because obliterating a 7-game lead with 17 games to play is a much bigger collapse than the one by the ’64 Phillies.

Sure, in ’64 the Phillies lead the National League by 6½ games with 12 to go to miss out on the World Series. But in those days, of course, there were no divisional playoff berths and no wild card. There was just the regular season and then straight to the World Series.

The ’64 Phillies had nothing to fall back on to give them a chance to regroup in the playoffs.

The Mets’ collapse has come in an age where if they did not win the division, they could focus their attention on the wild-card berth. But then again, who worries about the wild card when a team is leading the division by 7 games with 17 to go and has been in first place for 135 straight days?

Maybe the Mets should have.

Needless to say the big “Freak Out” has begun in New York. A story in the Times about the Mets’ team poet had this great quote:

“As a fan, my world is caving in because the Mets are collapsing.”

Maybe we should compose a few couplets about the Mets’ collapse, too. If anyone has anything good, send them in and we’ll try to cobble together a poem called, “An Ode to the Mets’ Collapse.”

What rhymes with “choke?”

***
If the season were to end today (it will end tomorrow instead), the Phillies would host the San Diego Padres in the first round of the NLDS and the Cubs and Diamondbacks are set in the other side.

It’s also set up for Cole Hamels to pitch in Game 1 against his hometown team…

How is that for a coincidence?

More from the ballpark this afternoon…

Are they trying to lose on purpose? Part deux

Mr. MetI heard David Wright, the third baseman, on the radio this morning talking about how his Mets’ teammates haven’t “made off-season plans yet.” At least I think it was the radio – at this point it’s really hard to decipher the voices in my head from the ones coming out of mechanical devices. I wish I was being funny, but I’m not… I feel like Apu Nahasapeemapetilon at the end of a 36-hour shift at the Kwik-E-Mart. Remember that? He thought he was a hummingbird.

Anyway, I don’t think Wright was trying to be funny about the plans for the off-season quote, either. However, he might feel like he and the Mets are caught in a swarm of hummingbirds as those little bleepers dive in and out with the hearts and wings racing a hundred-miles per second as they try to poke his eyes out.

In this scenario the Phillies are the hummingbirds. They are ravenous and beatific all at the same time. They are also tied for first place in the NL East with just three games to go in the season because the Mets just can’t win a game when it matters.

I just can’t get over the fact that if the Mets had been able to beat the lowly Washington Nationals at home in just one of the three games this week, this would all be over. The Mets would be making plans for where to stay on the road in the NLDS instead of hearing manager Willie Randolph tear into them like a wolverine on greenies in a post-game tirade following the team’s loss to the Cardinals last night. Heading into tonight’s action, the Mets have won just three of their last 13 games and they have lost seven games in a row at cranky old Shea Stadium.

It was also during those 13 games that the Mets’ lead over the Phillies shrank from seven games to nothing. Imagine that… seven to zero in two weeks! It’s like those ads for those crazy diet pills in which they claim a person can lose 25 pounds in four hours. But, if one day you’re hanging out with some friends and the topic of rock-solid, sure-footing in the NL East standings is broached, you can say, “Yeah, well, I once saw the Mets blow a seven-game lead with just 16 games to go.

Heimlich“It was ridiculous. It was like they were waiting around to lose[1].”

Stunning. It’s all so stunning.

Anyway, I also heard an announcer proclaim on the radio this morning[2] like and antebellum preacher that, “This isn’t a choke… This is a COLLAPSE!”

Unlike Wright, the announcer was trying to be funny. At least I think he was trying to be funny. But he seemed like one of those types of people that believed everything he said. He measured every word so that it would be significant, though you could hear it in his voice – he was worried. The hummingbirds were diving in like little, tiny P-51 Mustang fighter planes and a rolled up newspaper used to swat the pests away was hardly a defense.

So this is what it has come down to for the Phillies and Mets. The three games this weekend determine which team will play on in the post-season and which team will have to scramble to cobble together some off-season plans. Interestingly, too, is that that the Mets and Phillies are matched up against the two worst teams in their division. The Phillies host the Nationals this weekend, who are fresh off a three-game sweep over the Mets at Shea and are feeling pretty groovy because they did not lose 100 games this season. Everyone thought the Nats (72-87) would drop 110; instead they have a chance to not lose 90.

Meanwhile, the Mets entertain the Florida Marlins, which, coincidentally enough, is the only team they have managed to beat in the last two weeks. Like the Nats, the Marlins won’t lose 100 either. But unlike the Nats, this feat isn’t going to go down as any type of success. Heading into the season, the Marlins thought they had what it took to challenge the Mets, Phillies and Braves atop the division standings, but things just kinda didn’t work out.

Who will things work out for this weekend? Or, will things work out so well (or badly) for both teams that they will have to come back a day after the season ends to sort it all out?

***

M80Talked to Aaron Rowand, the center fielder, after last night’s game and offered a query whether this Phillies’ club had any similarities with the World Champion 2005 Chicago White Sox. Rowand, of course, was an integral player on that team, which was known for having fun and being colorful in the press. It also seems as if that White Sox team was a lot like a college fraternity, but not like the one that held toga parties or socials with the sororities. No, this frat was more like the one that held illegal off-campus keggers, built bonfires that weren’t easy to extinguish, and had a member who knew how to make home-made M-80s if he could ever locate the 50 milligrams of flash powder.

So when asked if this tight-knit Phillies bunch was like the 2005 champs, Rowand didn’t hesitate.

“No doubt,” he said emphatically.

“This is the second team I’ve been on where the group comes together. We all have the same goal and it’s special,” he said. “Whether we win or not it’s a special season.”

But all things being equal, he’d rather win.


[1] This is part of quote from Mets’ catcher Paul Lo Duca, who told reporters after Wednesday night’s loss that, “Seems to me like we’re all waiting to lose.” I’m using it to be clever. I think it worked, but I haven’t gone back to re-read any of this yet. Perhaps I’ll just finish writing this and go off to take a nap without the re-read? Hey, it was funny once – why ruin a moment for myself?

[2] At least I think it was this morning… does the post-1 a.m. drive back to Lancaster count as this morning? Technically, yes, it was this morning. But I always played by the rule that the day wasn’t over until I had gone to bed. Is this a common train of thought?

Are they trying to lose on purpose?

“Seems to me we’re all waiting to lose.”
– Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca

Billy WagnerYes, Paul we all noticed that, too. Actually, it doesn’t look like the Mets aren’t waiting to lose, it looks like they are trying to lose.

I could live to be 100-years old and I’ll never figure out how the first-place Mets – the team that most said had to go to the World Series or the season would be considered a failure – could not beat the Washington Nationals in one game at home this week. This is the same Washington Nationals’ club in which the manager is being considered for Manager of the Year honors because he didn’t lose100 games. You know, like that’s an accomplishment.

One win against the Nats and all of this hassle could have been over for the Mets. Just one stinkin’ game and the Phillies aren’t pounding on the door with a battering ram like a bunch of DEA agents. Two wins against the 72-87 Nationals, and the Mets could have had some champagne on ice for tonight’s game against Tony La Russa’s Cardinals.

“Seems to me like we’re all waiting to lose.”

The MetsSo watching the end of the Mets-Nats game on the TV hung over my seat in the press box, I saw the Mets roll over and expose their perfectly round, pink bellies for everyone to thrash away at. Better yet, they were like a picture of the dead bug on the old cockroach-killing ads where they were flat on their backs, with legs dangling in the air and Xs where their eyes should have been.

I also saw a few players who would have preferred to have been anywhere else but Shea Stadium. Yeah, he’s a “gamer” and all of that stuff, but did anyone really think that Billy Wagner wanted to be in for the ninth inning of a game that the Mets were losing? Worn down by a long season and maybe even a little too much use, Wagner promptly hucked that low-90s fastball up there and gave up a pair of runs with his team trailing by one.

Is this the end for the Mets? Can Willie Randolph get his reeling team together to hold off the Phillies? Can the genius that is Tony La Russa do a favor for the Phillies by coming up with something just clever enough to deal the Mets yet another loss?

Maybe he’ll have his pitcher hit eighth again… yeah, that always works. Maybe he’ll run the fumble-ruski or State of Liberty play?

Oh sure, those are football plays alright, but La Russa will figure it out.
***
Then again, the Phillies have to face a beyond-desperate Braves club tonight, who can’t lose any more games (and then hope for help) this season in order to cling to the flicker of a playoff chance. To keep hope alive the Braves will rally behind John Smoltz, one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

The Phillies will counter with 23-year old rookie Kyle Kendrick and 40,000 screaming fans.

***
Daniel Kingston Wann Our good friends Mike and Michelle Wann welcomed their second son into the world this morning at 1:47 a.m.. Daniel Kingston Wann came in easily at a slick 7-pounds, 8 ounces and 19½ inches and all reports are that Michelle and big brother Christopher are doing great.

But Mike… that’s a different story.

A little background: Mike and Michelle delivered Christopher in the comforts of their home here in the School Lane Hills neighborhood of Lancaster, Pa. Rather than go to the hospital and be subjected to all of the stuff that goes on at those places, the kids had a midwife come in while Mike did his best to stay out of trouble. And since he was at home, he could putter around in the yard while Michelle was upstairs delivering the baby.

It’s how I imagine our pioneer forefathers did things.

But this time, well, perhaps I should just turn it over to Mike:

Interesting Point: Admittedly, it was in this space I planned to be clever and funny as I told our story, but sometimes, when a tale is so outrageous and unbelievable, a well crafted build-up actually takes away from the drama. So here it goes; Michelle and I birthed this little rascal at home, by ourselves, with no assistance (this is no joke). Let me be clear, that was not our intention. It went down like this:

1. We wanted to do a home-birth, like our first one
2. We called the midwife when Michelle started labor at 10:30 PM
3. The midwife planned to come when the contractions reached 1 minute in length
4. Michelle’s water ruptured at 1:15 AM (we were still waiting for the 1 minute contractions)
5. The baby exited Michelle at 1:47 AM
6. The midwife entered the house at 1:55 AM

So what did we learn? It’s true, the second birth is quicker than the first. Oh, yeah, and you never know what you can do until the occasion presents itself.

Yeah, how about that?!?!

I received a phone call from Mike this morning and he asked me what I had done so far today. I told him that I had brushed my teeth, eaten a banana and I was about to go out for a run before I got into my car for the drive to Philadelphia to go to work. All things being equal, that’s a pretty busy day for a guy like me.

“Yeah, well I birthed a baby,” he said.

Top that.

Here come the Mets

This time it’s a Philadelphia story. No reality TV show production. No ESPN and the 900 cameras and boom operators that come with them. No throng of writers looking for any semblance of a story so they end up staring at a tired, old ballplayer as he listens to his iPod and marks his bats on his way out to batting practice hoping to find some nuance or something like that.

This one is straight ahead from the jump. Phillies vs. Mets. Billy vs. Everybody.

Better yet, the Red Sox-Yankees series at the Stadium likely diverted some of the New York media from making the trip down the Turnpike.

It might be the second-best series in New York, but it’s a pretty big one in Philadelphia where the Phillies and Mets meet for the first of 19 times in what is already shaping up to be a dogfight in the NL East.

This series definitely presents a great chance for the Phillies to show all of the doubters just how good they are… at least for now.

After Tuesday’s game there are still 130 games to go.