Sixth inning: Crusing

jimmyLast weekend Paul Hagen if the Daily News wrote that the Phillies took 10 cases of Domaine Ste. Michelle to Milwaukee in case they needed to have a party or something. As we know, it didn’t really work out that well. They even had to tear down the plastic sheeting they placed over the lockers at Miller Park.

Nevertheless, the plastic was back up over the lockers at Citizens Bank Park before Wednesday’s game. It looks like they are going to need it, too. After all, not only are the Phillies leading by four runs, the Marlins are shutting out the Braves. This game could be rendered moot by the time the ninth inning rolls around.

Of course the Phillies need to get home field for the NLDS now. Sure, guys like Chase Utley will get some rest, but as Charlie Manuel said before the game, it’s more important for the team to get home field than it is for guys to rest.

Fair enough.

So as we head into the late innings, I’m heading over to my other tabs on this laptop to begin composing my stories for the web site. We’ll be back tonight/tomorrow to sum it all up for everyone.

Anyone want to make a bet that Brad Lidge is on the mound in the ninth inning tonight?

Sixth inning: Phillies 8, 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.

Pregame: Your town stinks

The Phillies seem pretty loose during batting practice, especially Jimmy Rollins who joked around with his former manager Larry Bowa as the Dodgers were preparing to take the field. Actually, watching Rollins and Bowa hobnob was kind of like that scene in the first Rocky movie where Sly watches Apollo Creed goof around with Joe Frazier in the ring before the big fight.

Sly’s line was: “You think they know each other?”

Mickey just laughed.

Anyway, Bowa and Rollins DO know each other. Quite well, in fact. However, I suspect Rollins likes Bowa better now that he works for the Dodgers. That’s just a guess though. One thing I do know is that Bowa is as talkative as ever with me – I think I rub him the wrong way which is quite understandable. I mean think about it… a hardscrabble guy from Sacramento who had to fight and scrap for every little thing he ever achieved like Bowa and a goofy dude like me from Washington and Lancaster who makes wise cracks and writes sentences for a living.

Hell, now that I think about it, I don’t like me anymore.

Speaking of writers who need a little love, I just had the distinct pleasure of meeting TJ Simers of the LA Times. Simers, of course, is known for his deep love and affection for our fair city. That’s cool, I guess, if you’re into that whole your-city-sucks bit. After all, no one ever has trotted that stuff out before.

Nevertheless, my belief is that the your-favorite-town-stink jag is an older generation thing. At least it seems like it’s property of the folks older than me and beyond. The younger set seems to enjoy each and every city for what it is – a new place to check out and explore. Frankly, the more off the beaten path a place is the better. That’s part of the reason why I enjoyed Milwaukee so much… come on, it was Milwaukee.

When am I ever going to make it back to Milwaukee again?

So TJ Simers doesn’t like Philadelphia… whatever. Worse, the LA Times flew him all the way across the country to come here and write about how people from Philadelphia are angry. Gee, that’s money well spent.

Here’s the funny part, though – Simers wrote a column about the angry folks in Philadelphia and guess what? He got a pile of angry e-mails from people from Philadelphia.

Who saw that coming?

Anyway, introduction time here. My guess is Bowa gets big cheers…

But not bigger than Charlie Manuel.

Game 4: The Kid and The Hammer


MILWAUKEE – If the folks in Philadelphia are torn about making the choice between the Eagles against the Redskins or the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLDS, sports fans in Wisconsin are close to a meltdown. After all, just about the same time as the first pitch is thrown here at Miller Park at noon central time, the Packers will be teeing it up at Lambeau Field against the Falcons.

They love the Packers here in Milwaukee and all over the dairy state. In fact, when talking to folks around town this morning about “The Game,” we were quick to learn that it didn’t mean playoff baseball.

Still, they have a very significant baseball history here in Milwaukee. A scan of the retired numbers hanging from the roof of Miller Park proves as much. Paul Molitor and Rollie Fingers were as good as any designated hitter and closer in the history of the game. Molitor collected more than 3,300 hits during his career, was MVP of the 1993 World Series and guided the Brewers to the playoffs twice during his Hall-of-Fame career.

Fingers was one of the first closer specialists in the game and helped redefine the role. But more than just a one-inning trick pony, Fingers worked two or three innings in order to pick up a save. In 1981 Fingers won both the Cy Young Award and the MVP for the Brewers by posting a 1.04 ERA during the strike-shortened season.

But when one talks baseball in Milwaukee, the two names are Hank Aaron and Robin Yount. Aaron, of course, was one of the greatest players in the history of the game. He also played in Milwaukee for 14 of his 23 big-league season for both the Braves and Brewers. Better yet, Aaron led Milwaukee to its one and only World Series victory by clubbing three homers and batting .393 in 1957 against the Yankees. Aaron’s Braves got there again in ’58 but lost to the Yankees in seven games even though Hammerin’ Hank hit .333.

In 1975, the season after he broke Babe Ruth’s all-time, home-run record, Aaron returned to Milwaukee to play his final two seasons for the Brewers. But by then Aaron was in his 40s, winding down and hardly the same player he was when he came up more than two decades before.

However, one of his teammates was a young 19-year-old shortstop already in his second fulltime, big-league season. Eventually, Yount went on to play 20 seasons for the Brewers, won the AL MVP twice and took Milwaukee to its last World Series in 1982. He retired with over 3,100 hits and was an easy selection for the Hall of Fame in 1999.

But in 1975 the Brewers had the youngest player in the league with the teenaged Yount and the oldest with the 40-plus Aaron. Needless to say it was a curious dichotomy, but one that Yount, even at such a young age, understood completely.

“He was significant,” Yount said about Aaron as the Brewers took batting practice before Game 4 of the NLDS on Sunday morning. “Even though I was just 19 I could see how important he was and not just in baseball, either. He had already broken the record. I knew how big he was, but he didn’t come off that way in person. I mean he didn’t let it get to him. We knew all he had accomplished in this game, but like I said before, he acted just like anyone else.”

The humanness of the all-time home run king is what stood out the most more than 33 years after the kid and the vet joined the same team.

“He was great to me and being around him was a great experience for me. What I learned was what a normal guy the greatest home-run hitter of all time at that time can be,” Yount said. “You know that made a huge impression on me. Here I was a young kid, in his second year in the Major Leagues, trying to learn this business and found out that everyone is pretty much the same. You know… he treated me just like he would anyone else. He was great to me.”

Both were even better to the game and to Milwaukee.

***
The Phillies are mixing things up a bit with their languid offense.

Phillies:
11 – Rollins, ss
8 – Victorino, cf
26 – Utley, 2b
6 – Howard, 1b
5 – Burrell, lf
28 – Werth, rf
19 – Dobbs, 3b
51 – Ruiz, c
56 – Blanton, p

The Brewers lost Rickie Weeks for the rest of the playoffs with a sprained left knee suffered in Game 3.

Brewers
25 – Cameron, cf
5 – Durham, 2b
8 – Braun, lf
28 – Fielder, 1b
7 – Hardy, ss
1 – Hart, rf
30 – Counsell, 3b
18 – Kendall, c
37 – Suppan, p

Pregame: Nice ‘stache

MILWAUKEE – The series has shifted to a new city so that means the players get re-introduced before the game. The Brewers’ fans neither booed, hissed, cheered nor tossed rolls of quarters at the Phillies when they trotted out onto the third-base line. They were stoic with their indifference.

However, when Geoff Jenkins took the field he got loud hoots and hollers from his former hometown fans.

They also clapped loudly when the Brewers exited the field after batting practice, too.

Talk about polite… these people make St. Louis fans look like a bunch of devil worshippers.

The one thing that stood out the most to me when I walked through the corridors to the press box here was the giant poster of the great relief pitcher Rollie Fingers. Quite obviously I was a huge Rollie Fingers fan when I was a kid. Part of that had to do with the fact that Rollie was pretty good – he’s in the Hall of Fame after all. Plus, he had the tremendous handlebar mustache and the unfortunate last name.

So one of my goals before we leave Milwaukee is to have my picture taken beneath the poster. I’m going to make that happen.

On another note, Robin Yount also had a very serious mustache.

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

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

Hello Wisconsin!

Programming note: We are in Milwaukee and will offer the same live updates during tonight’s game from Miller Park.


MILWAUKEE – The first thing one notices about a domed stadium is that the view from the floor is very similar to that of a basketball or hockey arena. The stands feel very close to surface and pushed forward for great sight lines. Yet at the same time the coziness is also offset by wide corridors plenty of elbow room and a ceiling that seems vaster than it actually is.

Perhaps that’s because when a person looks up into an open air arena he is looking into infinity. It’s unknown and never ending so therefore the mere human mind struggles to come to grips with that vastness. He simply ignores it.

But slap a roof up there and there is context. Everyone can figure out how high the ceiling is… why it’s all the way up there, of course. It’s a really long way away.

Yet because it’s a basketball arena with a baseball diamond laid out on it, the dimensions seem tighter than they really are. Actually, the closeness of the stands and the roof up top make the place feel like the quirky wiffle ball stadium you probably built in the backyard when you were a kid.

That’s exactly what Miller Park feels like.

Better yet, it has a feel. It’s unique in a sense because the place is completely fabricated, which is a paradox. That’s it – Miller Park is a paradox. Dropped into a wide parkland section just west of downtown Milwaukee, the stadium looks as if it was dropped down from outer space. From the outside it looks like a futuristic clam with its folding retractable roof, and on the inside it looks like a scene from a snow globe.

So that’s where the Phillies will try to win their first playoff series since beating the Atlanta Braves in the 1993 NLCS. The consensus around the ballpark is that the Phillies will sew it up on Saturday to quickly turn their attention to the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team in a similar position.

It won’t be easy for the Phillies. Oh sure, they seemingly cruised through the first two games of the series, but they did so despite themselves. In the 16 innings in which they came to bat, the Phillies have only scored in two of them. Moreover, they left the bases loaded twice in Game 2, once more in Game 1 and have stranded 17, including 11 runners in scoring position.

Worse, the heart of the order – Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell – is a combined 1-for-17 with eight strikeouts. If Brewers’ centerfielder Mike Cameron had gotten a better bead on a fly ball hit by Utley with two outs in the third inning of Game 1, it would be 0-for-17.

Meanwhile, the Brewers are hoping to repeat the same path from the last time they were in the playoffs back in 1982 when they dropped the first two games of the ALCS only to come back and sweep the last three games from the California Angels.

So here we are in Milwaukee waiting to see where we’ll go next.

Locking up Sir Charles

For awhile I thought Milwaukee was the worse city in America. I had a good reason to think this, too. No, it had nothing to do with those toughs always messing around with Richie Cunningham, Potsie and Ralph Malph that the Fonz always had to straighten out. It also didn’t have to do with those geeks Lenny and Squiggy or Milwaukee natives Latrell Sprewell, Heather Graham or Liberace.

Nope, those folks didn’t get me riled up one way or another, though it was difficult not to be a big fan of Heather Graham as Roller Girl in “Boogie Nights.”

There was one reason why I thought Milwaukee was the worst city in America…

Charles Barkey.

Yes, Sir Charles almost ruined Milwaukee for me and here’s why – he kept getting arrested there. In fact, it got to the point where it seemed as if the police were waiting for Big Chuck at the airport to pick him up for some trumped up charge.

Charles, of course, was arrested in Milwaukee in December of 1991 when he punched some dude named Joseph McCarthy in the nose. Apparently McCarthy and his pals saw Charles hanging out in a Milwaukee bar early one morning and yelled, “Hey Barkley, show me how tough you are.”

That was followed by an invitation to fight which was RSVP’d with the right to the nose.

A few hours later, Charles was arrested and held in the local lockdown for four hours before posting $500 bond. Eventually, the case went to trial before Barkley beat the rap because of self defense.

Barkley didn’t only have trouble in the local bars in Milwaukee, either. Sometimes he even had trouble on the basketball court, like that time at the Mecca during the mid-‘80s when he brawled with Paul Mokeski.

Then again, ol’ Chuck mixed it up in a lot of cities, like that time he tossed a guy through a window in Orlando in 1996. That was one incident that Barkley says he regrets.

“I regret we weren’t on the second floor,” he said.

Anyway, just because Barkley got arrested in Milwaukee doesn’t make it all bad. The thing that makes it bad is that the police in Milwaukee have no trouble rousting Sir Charles when he hits town, but they just can’t seem to figure out the caper of the guy who is killing and eating people.

Yep, in Milwaukee Charles Barkley goes to trial for bopping some lout in the nose, all while Jeffrey Dahmer was walking the streets.

So if you are looking for a reason to dislike the Brewers when they face the Phillies in the NLDS this week, there it is.

Ol’ Charlie Barkley coming through for Philadelphia again.

***
Gettin’ back…

Speaking of coming through for Philadelphia and Chicago, how about that Jim Thome?

For those that missed it, Big Jim launched a 461-foot bomb well over the center field fence in the seventh inning to give the White Sox a 1-0 victory over the Twins in the playoff game to determine the winner of the AL Central.

With Thome’s homer, the White Sox go on to play the Rays in the ALDS. Better yet, the win got Thome back to the playoffs for the first time since 2001 when he and Charlie Manuel went in with the Cleveland Indians.

On another note, it’s hard to believe it’s been more than three years since Thome last played in Philadelphia. Actually, it’s 111 homers ago.

Who knows… maybe Thome will take a trip back to Philly in late October. Hey crazier things have happened.

The playoff predictions are coming on Wednesday morning… be ready.

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