Stick to the script

utleyNEW YORK – One gets to learn a lot about the media, drama and hype on a trip to New York City. Here in the big city they really have a knack for mythmaking whereas the writing press from Philadelphia are pretty good at seeing something for what it is and leaving it at that.

This time we’re not talking about Raul Ibanez and the inanity of the lathered up media reaction from the made up controversy. Though I will admit I kind of liked Joe Posnanski’s take on it.

No, this time we’re talking about Chase Utley and Mike Pelfrey and the apparent exchange of words the pair had during an at-bat in the sixth inning of Wednesday night’s game. As Pelfrey explained it, he was upset about Utley stepping out of the box just as he was about to deliver a pitch. As such, Pelfrey barked at Utley, who returned with ignorant surprise.

“I was about to step into the box and it seemed like he was ready to pitch,” Utley said after taking a second to figure out what the hell was being talked about. “I wasn’t trying to make him frustrated. I was trying to put a good at-bat together.”

After the game, both Pelfrey and Utley were asked about it. Utley said Pelfrey said something to him but wasn’t sure what it was about. Pelfrey explained that he was peeved at Utley stepped out, told him and that was it. Everything ended right there.

“I got upset and told him to get in the box,” Pelfrey explained. “I don’t even know the guy. It was too much adrenaline, I guess.”

When asked, manager Charlie Manuel thought Pelfrey was upset with Shane Victorino. Why not? Isn’t someone always upset with Victorino? He certainly drives Charlie nuts sometimes.

So there it is. All over, right?

Wrong.

During the Mets’ post-game show on SNY, they showed the footage of Pelfrey shouting toward Utley over and over again with in-depth analysis of some sort of fabricated rift between the two archrival teams. While this was going on, New York-based reporters combed the Phillies’ clubhouse to pose questions to the team members about their little fantasy fight. Was something going to happen next time? Why do these teams hate each other so?

Who wins in a fight between Utley and Pelfrey?

Apparently, the fact that it was all a heaping pile of bullbleep really didn’t matter. There was going to be a story, dammit, just like there was going to be a story with Ibanez and some unknown dude in the Midwest somewhere.

To paraphrase a quote from Joe Piscopo in the movie Johnny Dangerously, “I’m embarrassed to be a media member these days. The other day someone asked me what I do for a living, and I told them I was a male nurse.”

(Thanks Deitch).

Anyway, there is a pretty good rivalry between the Phillies and the Mets but it’s likely that the New Yorkers are pushing it harder than needs to be. After all the Yankees have the Red Sox and the Mets are second fiddle in town. Frankly, they might be afraid to admit that the Phillies and the Dodgers is a much better and more interesting rivalry.

But that one doesn’t fit into the manufactured scripts up here.

Big time in the big city

lidgeAs far as divisional series in June goes, the Phillies’ three-game stand in New York City against the Mets is pretty big. The Phillies, of course, have a three-game lead in the NL East while the Mets are doing what they can to hang on in the wake.

With all the injuries and typical drama that plagues the New York teams, the Mets aren’t doing all that badly. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that the Phillies overcame a six-game lead in late September of 2007 to win the division by a game.

Besides, the Mets don’t flop until the end of the season.

Nevertheless, despite the key injuries to reliever J.J. Putz and overrated shortstop Jose Reyes, things aren’t all that bad for the Mets. Sure, Chipper Jones claimed that third baseman David Wright was complaining about the pitching-friendly dimensions at Citi Field, it could be worse for the Mets. The funny thing about that is Charlie Manuel says back in his day, every stadium was the size of Citi Field.

Hey, it can always be worse.

What the Mets have going for them (of course) is Johan Santana. He’s been as good as the Mets had hoped and has already stuck it to the Phillies once already this season.

Still, if the Phillies can get Brad Lidge and Jimmy Rollins squared away, this race could be over quickly. Oh, they might not say Rollins’ and Lidge’s slumps are concerning, but that can’t be totally accurate… right?

Maybe. After all, despite his 6-for-36 (.167) in his last eight games and demotion out of the leadoff spot for Sunday’s victory in Los Angeles, the Phillies’ offense appears to be potent enough to withstand an extended jag by Jimmy Rollins. That doesn’t mean Charlie Manuel doesn’t need Rollins to start hitting, because he does. The numbers bear that out. When Rollins gets on base and scores, the Phillies win. It’s as simple as that.

Not so simple is the slide by the closer Lidge. Apparently he is making up for lost time on the blown saves front after going a perfect 48-for-48 last season. This year the stats don’t look too great after he blew back-to-back saves last weekend and is 13-for-19 in save opportunities with a 7.27 ERA.

However, Lidge spoiled the Phillies last year because blown saves are inevitable. Just look at Mets’ closer Francisco Rodriguez, who set the Major League record with 62 saves last season. To get those 62, Rodriguez needed 69 chances. In fact, the so-called K-Rod has never blown fewer than four chances a season during his career and though he’s a perfect 15-for-15 this year, his save percentage is just 87 percent. That’s slightly better than Lidge’s career mark, though it is worth noting that K-Rod saved eight games last year in which he didn’t go a full inning.

Moreover, the last time Rodriguez went more than one inning to get a save was July 1, 2007.

Goose Gossage he is not.

Regardless, it should be a pretty interesting showdown in the fancy, new Citi Field (new Yankee Stadium it is not).

Matchups:

Tonight: LHP J.A. Happ (4-0, 2.48) vs. LHP Johan Santana (7-3, 2.00)

Tomorrow: LHP Cole Hamels (4-2, 4.40) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (4-2, 4.85)

Thursday: LHP Jamie Moyer (4-5, 6.27) vs. RHP Tim Redding (0-2, 6.97)

Working on the weekend

The popular sentiment during the weekend was that the Dodgers-Phillies matchup was a preview of this year’s NLCS… sure, sounds right to me.

Nevertheless, if the season were to end today (it doesn’t) the playoff matchups would have the Dodgers hosting the Mets and the Phillies in a rematch against the Brewers in the NLDS.

In the American League the matchups would pit the Yankees against the Tigers and the Red Sox vs. Rangers.

Why mention this? Well, 28 years ago tomorrow playoff spots actually were decided on June 10.  Yep, on this date in 1981, the players went on a two-month strike that did not end until July 31. As a result, the owners decided to split the 1981 season into two halves, with the first-place teams from each half in each division (or a wild card team if the same club won both halves) meeting in a best-of-five divisional playoff series.

It was a terribly flawed system because the Cincinnati Reds finished with the best record but didn’t make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Royals snuck in with a 50-53 record.

The Phillies also got in thanks to being in first place when the players walked out on June 10. Eventually, they lost in an entertaining five game NLDS series to the Montreal Expos even though the St. Louis Cardinals finished the season with the best record in the NL East.

Weird, wild stuff.

If you don’t want to see, close your eyes

metsA few years ago another scribe and I were shooting the breeze with Pat Burrell before a game. If I’m not mistaken, the conversation covered all of the ground regarding the ex-Phillies outfielder’s workouts at the prestigious Athletes’ Performance Center in Arizona and golfer Phil Mickelson’s empty locker in the joint as well as his alleged penchant for gambling.

You know, basic pre-game fodder.

But then the question was posed to Burrell if he had read something written about him in one of the local papers. This was the final year of Larry Bowa’s tenure as the manager of the Phillies so some of the stories written by some of the folks in the press weren’t the gentlest of critiques of the teams’ play. The story in question was definitely one of those.

Burrell, however, never saw the story and didn’t seem too interested, either. His general thoughts on the local press (supposedly) was that they (we) are “rats.” It’s an unfortunate description especially since I prefer to use the cunning and quick-witted fox to describe some members of the press corps. Yeah, there are a few rats, but they are more like that Templeton from Charlotte’s Web.

Anyway, Burrell then revealed that (one) of the reasons why he didn’t see the story was because the team was not allowed to have newspapers in the clubhouse. Yeah, there was freedom of the press to assemble in the clubhouse, but by edict of manager Larry Bowa, the work of those meddling reporters was verboten in the inner sanctum lest some of the words over-boil the blood of the ballplayers.

In fact, it wasn’t until Charlie Manuel was hired as manager of the Phillies that newspapers were strewn about the common areas of the room. Better yet, ballplayers were able to fold over the pages and sit comfortably to do the daily crossword puzzle, Sudoku or jumble without engaging in subterfuge or the threat of scorn and fines.

Yes, it was a great day for literacy when Charlie Manuel became manager of the Phillies.

But in New York another manager named Manuel is not so as enlightened as our Charlie. In fact, Jerry Manuel of the New York Mets has enacted a Bowa-esque media blackout only with a certain caveat:

The USA Today is allowed in the Mets’ new clubhouse at CitiField, but The New York Post and New York Daily News, well, those papers aren’t quite up to the Mets’ Major League standards.

The edict, apparently, was to avoid “bad vibes,” which is fair. Look, if I don’t like a radio station, I turn the station. If I don’t like a TV show, I turn the channel. And you sure as shoot better believe that if I don’t like a periodical, I’m not going to lug it around town or have it delivered to my home and/or office.

So why should the Mets?

When word of Bowa’s paper banned leaked out the consensus seemed to be shrugged shoulders or bemused laughter. I looked at it as Nixon-esque paranoia by a guy wrapped a little too tight because I knew the papers weren’t banned because of the political bent of the Op-Ed pages. The sports section of some of the local papers rankle some delicate sensibilities – it’s OK.

Different strokes.

But in New York, the exorcism of the papers made all of the papers – and blogs. Better yet, the game story in the Post the other day led with the “controversy.” Sure, Beltran is hitting the ball like crazy, but he can’t read the Post or Daily News after the game…

Stop the press!

Or don’t… the Mets couldn’t care one way or the other.

**

In the Times, a newspaper not listed on the Mets’ clubhouse ban (though it could be), our old pal Doug Glanville dives into the latest A-Rod controversy regarding the tipping of pitches to the opposition.

Good stuff from Doug, again.


graphic from The Sports Hernia

Oh, it’s the Mets

stairsHere come the Mets.

Or should that be, HERE COME THE METS!

Certainly the last one seems to be the sentiment of folks from New York City. In fact, it’s trickled down this way that the Mets’ fans are so fired up that the TV station carrying the game took out special ads featuring Cole Hamels calling the New York team, “choke artists.”

Apparently the truth doesn’t always set some folks free.

Though the Mets’ players have been quite chatty lately in regards to the Phillies, the Phillies didn’t seem so geeked up about playing the Mets. Of course the clubhouse was virtually bare of ballplayers after the loss to the Nationals last night, but the guys who were around just kind of shrugged off the prospect of the bug weekend series against their arch-nemesis.

“I think you guys have more fun with it than we do,” Canadian Matt Stairs said.

Stairs, of course, is a reasonable man. He rarely flies off the handle unless he’s talking about post-homer celebrations in the NLCS or hockey. Otherwise, Stairs is as cool as can be.

But on the other hand, Stairs has only faced the Mets once as a member of the Phillies going 1-for-2 with an RBI (no, it wasn’t a homer) in a doubleheader last Sept. 7. So maybe he’s not the best guy to weigh in on the topic.

“I’m not going to approach the Mets any different than Washington or San Diego or whoever it is,” he said. “The crowd is going to be into it and have fun with it.”

But guess what? Stairs’ sentiment is pretty much the norm in the Phillies’ clubhouse. Mets? Yeah, big deal.

So since there wasn’t much interest in the Mets’ arrival at the Bank this weekend – or the Phillies’ first trip to Bailout Ballpark next week, I thought I’d just trot out something I wrote last January.

Call it a virtual rain delay.

Here it is:

Trading places

metsA 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 in 2006, 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?”

See, it was a really good question. It was such a great question that there really wasn’t any way to answer it. After all, does gloating count as interest? Does finally feeling like the vindicated underdog constitute as interest?

Is it fair to answer a question with another question or is that just some sort of a trick?

C’mon, man… what’s with all the questions?

But for lack of anything better to say, I answered, “Yes.” Albeit hesitantly. A very unsure yes like I was trying to convince myself of my answer as I was giving it. Kind of like when you visit someone’s house for dinner and they say, “Hey, would you like a second helping of Brussels sprouts?”

Uh, yes? Please…

Anyway, I couldn’t convince myself if Phillies’ fans are obsessed with the Mets. Oh sure, fans of the local nine really, really despise the Mets. Probably in much the same matter as they dislike the Dallas Cowboys. But, more importantly, unlike those Dallas Cowboys fans, the New Yorkers are thinking about the Phillies. They’re losing sleep, tossing and turning with angst over Cole Hamels’ nasty changeup, Brad Lidge closing out the ninth and a batting order with Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

Yes, how’s that for changing times… New York is worried about Philadelphia.

For so long it was always the other way around. Whenever the Mets turned up to wreak havoc on our friendly little hamlet, they always brought a cavalcade of weirdos. Yes, there was Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden in the 1980s, and then Mike Piazza during the last decade. There was even a few that traded places like Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell joining up with the Phillies while Billy Wagner took the long money for three years of falling short.

They had Tug McGraw, but we kept him. He’s ours.

Do the Phillies get to the playoffs in ’07 and then win the World Series in ’08 with Wagner instead of Lidge? Let’s just say the Phillies got the better deal with Wagner going to the Mets.

Still, when the Mets came to visit, they emptied out the outer boroughs and caravanned down the Turnpike. In most years, the New York faithful outnumbered the Phillies’ fans, which was really, really annoying. No, it wasn’t annoying because Mets’ fans out-numbered the hometowners. That’s fine. After all, the locals knew that Matt Beech and Gregg Jefferies weren’t getting it done. Actually it was annoying because the New Yorkers were hardly good guests. They came early, stayed late, made themselves a little too comfortable and generated way too much noise.

They acted like they owned the place, but in some sense they did.

So the very idea that a New York dude who has an affiliation with Mets asks if the Phillies are as “obsessed” with their team as the New Yorkers are over the Champs, well, that can only make a Philadelphian smile a little bit. Yep, for a change they’re thinking about us

How sweet is that?

Just think how good it is to be a fan of the Phillies these days… go ahead think about it. First, the most bitterest rival is actually jealous of a Philadelphia team. When does that ever happen? Secondly, the Phillies built their new stadium and funded it properly at just the right time. Look at the Mets – they’re going into their new park named for a bank that pulled a choke job worse than anything their owners pulled in any September.

Shoot, the new CitiField ought to be called Taxpayer Ballpark. Better yet, it ought to be repossessed and given back to the hard-working folks in Flushing, Queens.

But to paraphrase W.C. Fields’ epitaph: “Here lies the New York Mets. Wouldn’t they rather be living in Philadelphia…”

No one goes there anymore… it’s too crowded

yankeePerhaps the biggest story of the early part of the baseball season has not been the home runs or the pitching or anything happening on the field. For a change there hasn’t really been all that much talk about MLB’s drug and alcohol problems or the crazy contracts some players got from a few clubs.

And to think, Manny Ramirez and CC Sabathia didn’t even have to wear a mask or play the Powerball to get all that cash. Good for them.

No, aside from the tragedy of Nick Adenhart and the deaths of Harry Kalas and Mark Fidrych, the biggest story this season has been all about the new ballparks in New York City.

As if it could be anything else.

Clearly there is the New-York-as-the-center-of-the-universe silliness at the forefront. After all, when something happens in New York it’s as if it never happened anywhere else. That’s the way they think – never mind that every team that was ever going to build a new ballpark had already done so, how can it be possible that Pittsburgh has a nicer ballpark than the two New York teams.

Apparently that’s the case. Not only are there a cavalcade of stories out that the Mets’ Bailout Ballpark and the Yankee Tribute to Avarice and Greed Stadium are, well… underwhelming, but the fans aren’t turning out either.

Who builds a $1.5 billion stadium in the South Bronx anyway? The poorest Congressional district in the country has the most expensive ballpark ever built… funny how that works.

It’s also kind of funny to see all those empty seats behind the dugouts in the new joint, too. The really funny part is all those smart guys running things for the Yankees didn’t get that a lot of folks don’t want to pay $295- to $2,625 for one baseball game. Really… what were they thinking? They still play 162 games per season, right? They’re on TV and everything, too…

“I’m sure they’re thinking, ‘It’s just April,’ ” Jon Greenberg, executive editor of the Team Marketing Report, told The New York Times about the lack of sellouts. “But it’s lost revenue they anticipated getting. This is the worst possible time to debut a stadium.”

Yeah, that’s where the arrogance part enters the picture. Despite the fact that nearly every business is tightening their belts, the Yankees still had the belief that they were immune to the global economic crisis. You know, because if a family has $2,625 burning a hole in its pocket, the thing they need to spend it on is one ticket to a Tuesday night game at the new Yankee Stadium against the Kansas City Royals.

Otherwise, the reviews indicate the new ballpark is pretty nice. It might not be $1.5 billion nice, but nice nonetheless. In fact, one person who has been to the new parks says the Mets’ park might be nicer, but neither is as good as Camden Yards, the park in Pittsburgh or San Francisco, which sounds a bit sacrilegious.

Heck, CBP in South Philly has its charms like two big highways filtering down to the complex as well as plenty of parking. There’s even public transportation nearby. Who doesn’t love the Broad Street Line?

The Yankees aren’t the only New York team struggling to get people to the park. Even the NL East contending Mets are drawing just 37,740 per game, which is 89.9 percent of the capacity at the new ToxicAssets Park. There are more variables at work here, too. One is that it costs 60 percent more to buy food and other extra items not included in the price of the ticket at the Mets’ new park.

But the most interesting part is that the Yankees and Mets appear to be operating like the airline industry. Here’s what the Times wrote:

But the slow start in New York is striking considering how much the teams here spent to build and promote their parks. Like airlines that break even on economy tickets and rely on first-class travelers to turn a profit, the teams need to sell their most exclusive seats to help repay the hundreds of millions of dollars of tax-free bonds they issued to finance their new parks.

The unfilled seats in New York are even more glaring compared with how robust sales have been for previous stadium openings. The Baltimore Orioles sold out 67 of their 80 home dates in 1992, when Camden Yards opened. The Cleveland Indians sold out 36 games in the strike-shortened season in 1994, and were filled to capacity 455 consecutive games from 1995 to 2001.

After moving to their new park in 2001, the Houston Astros drew 3.1 million fans, 300,000 more than they ever attracted at the far larger Astrodome. The Pittsburgh Pirates, a perennial second-division team, sold 2.4 million tickets in 2001 when PNC Park opened, 700,000 more than they ever sold at Three Rivers Stadium.

The answer for the Yankees? Yeah, that’s right… they’re going to raise ticket prices by 4 percent.

The most interesting part about the Mets and Yanks struggling to draw fans to their pricey castles to themselves is that the early leaders in attendance are a pair of teams that have no intention on building a new ballpark…

Ever.

The leaders:

1.)    Red Sox 101.6 percent of capacity

2.)    Phillies 96.9 percent

3.)    Cubs 96.3 percent

4.)    Angels 92.7 percent

Wrigley and Fenway aren’t going anywhere, and CBP clearly is just digging in. Maybe the answer isn’t so much as building a new ballpark as it is fielding a good team with reasonable prices?

Anyway, check out the story on how the Red Sox make do with tiny and out-dated Fenway… can’t manufacture history.

It’s when, not if for Phillies

Last season the Colorado Rockies finished the season by winning 14 of their final 15 games. Carrying that hot streak into the playoffs, the Rockies won seven more in a row to land in the World Series. The crazy part about that was the Rockies were in fourth place with 12 games remaining in the season and third place at game No. 161. Had they gone 13 for 15, it would not have worked out.

Certainly the Rockies’ hot streak through the last two weeks of the season and into the playoffs was one of the greatest closing runs ever. Six times they won by two runs or less, including a pair of extra-inning affairs.

In the understatement of all time, things just clicked for Colorado.

Meanwhile, things certainly are clicking for the Phillies these days, too. With five games remaining in the season, the Phillies can one-up the Rockies great closing run by winning 15 of their final 16 games. But unlike the Rockies, it doesn’t seem as if the Phillies are going to need the all-or-nothing surge. Instead, the Phillies fans aren’t thinking about “if,” the big question is, “when.”

As in, “When are they going to clinch?”

Yes, going 10 for 11 during the season’s final fortnight has a crazy way of putting things into better focus. After all, it wasn’t even three weeks ago when the Phillies left Washington, D.C. after a crippling 9-7 loss to the hapless Nationals that put their playoff hopes teetering on the balance. The slightest slip up at Shea Stadium against the Mets could have sent things spiraling out of control. A week later, after dropping a three-game series to the Marlins at the Bank, the margin for error got even tighter. Trailing the Mets by 3½ games with 16 to go seemed like too big of a mountain to scale.

Instead, 11 games later we’re sitting here wondering “when,” not “if.”

“Things happen. Sometimes you get the breaks, sometimes you don’t,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “You’d be surprised. When you’re going good, somebody will hit a screaming foul ball. It goes foul by about six inches. What happens if he hits it on the line or something?”

Certainly Manuel isn’t losing much sleep over things like balls that land centimeters on one side of the line these days. Everything is working out for his club these days – every move is the right one, like when September call up Greg Golson entered Monday’s game as a pinch runner only to go from first to third before a pitch had been thrown.

In the ninth, with lights out closer Brad Lidge unavailable after a full weekend of closing out games in Miami, Brian McCann’s long fly ball to left field off Ryan Madson just missed being a two-run home run by inches. Rather than cutting deep into the Phillies’ lead, McCann’s hit was a simple double – nothing more than a chance for the Braves to pad their left-on-base totals.

So with five games to go in the regular season, the Phillies can seal things up before the weekend. Another victory over the Braves on Tuesday coupled with a loss by the Brewers ensures a Game 163 playoff game even if the Phillies lose their final four games. Better yet, two more victories ought to be enough to sew up the NL East and most likely send the Dodgers to Philly next week for the NLDS.

But if the Mets fold up again and the Brewers slip past them for the wild card (the Mets lead is one game with six to go), then the Phillies get to host Milwaukee again.

No matter the scenario, the Phillies are sitting pretty. Two more does the trick…

It not a matter of if, but when.

***
Speaking of which, it seems as if the Mets’ pitching is in full self-destruct mode as the games become more important. On Monday night, the fans at Shea were masquerading as empty, orange seats after an early battle against the Cubs turned into a laugher when pitcher Jason Marquis slugged a grand slam to break open the game as if it were a 10-pound bass.

So that’s the way it is, huh? Are the Mets nothing more than a dead fish waiting to be carved up?

Maybe so.

Either way, the Mets are not getting too far ahead of themselves like they did last year when it appeared it was simply a matter of “when,” not “if.” Because of that, the team installed extra seats near the dugouts to handle the overflow crowd and high-rollers in need of tickets for the playoffs — a plan that became foolhardy when the Phillies caught them on the last day of the season.

This year the Mets aren’t acting so quickly on the extra seats. With six more games to go and a wild-card berth looking more like the best post-season possibility, the club will wait to install those seats.

In the meantime, manager Jerry Manuel is looking to infuse his with the proverbial shot in the arm(s). Though it seems tenuous at best, starting pitcher John Maine could come off the disabled list in time to work out of the bullpen.

The best bet for the Mets, however, looks to be the notion that the Brewers are an even bigger dead fish with no more fits and flops left in them for one last push.

In the meantime, the Phillies could have the luxury of resting a few arms before learning who their first-round opponent will be.

***
The Philly scribes now have all angles of the J.A. Happ-as-Marty Bystrom bit covered. At least we do after Rich Hofmann chatted up the always loquacious Dallas Green for the latest update on the premise.

Big D’s big quote in Rich’s story?

“Marty did one hell of a job,” he said. “We don’t win without him – that’s for sure. We’d probably still win without Happ but we wouldn’t have won without Marty. He was 5-0, he started two games for us in the playoffs and the World Series. He was a hell of a pitcher, he really was, for a kid. He just got himself all messed up afterward. He got a sore arm.

“He never really got, I mean, that was Marty’s shining light, that September,” Green said. “Hopefully J.A. will get a little more than that.”

My favorite part of the other Bystrom story by that other guy was when it retired pitcher revealed that he did not know he was going to pitch in the decisive Game 5 of the NLCS until after the Phillies won Game 4. That meant all Bystrom could do was go home and take a nap before attempting to pitch the Phillies into the World Series.

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

I guess Rich’s story is better… at least it’s shorter.

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.”

National League independence

It seems like a long time since we were at ol’ Citizens Bank Park, but here we are on an easygoing Independence Day Friday. Depending on how quickly we get out of here tonight, I might roll by the Graff House as a little tribute to Thomas Jefferson (as well as John Adams and Benji Franklin) for the fantastic document they wrote here in Philadelphia back in the summer of 1776.

But more on the task at hand here at the Bank where the Phillies can seek their independence from the rest of the NL East with a good weekend against the Mets. In fact, there’s some talk in these parts that the Phillies can properly bury the Mets with a four-game sweep…

Perhaps, but there remains a ton of baseball left to be played. However, a sweep by the Phillies puts the Mets 8½ games back and increases the intensity of the bickering and fighting amongst members of the league’s most dysfunctional club.

Regardless, the Mets will trot out their top pitchers this weekend with Johan Santana working tonight, John Maine slated to go Saturday night, the delicate Oliver Perez set for Sunday, and Pedro Martinez in Monday night’s finale.

The Phillies counter with J.A. Happ in his second big-league start, followed by Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton.

Yes, with that lineup a sweep will be difficult.

But this ain’t APBA or Strat-O-Matic… let’s see what happens.

***
Between the top and bottom of the first inning, the Phanavision showed Chris Wilson in the crowd. Chris Wilson, of course, is the excellent drummer for Ted Leo & the Pharmacists.

I’m sure I was the only person who picked up on the deserved celebrity of Chris Wilson…

That’s a damn shame.

***
Finally, it’s a big night in Eugene for the Olympic Track Trials. In addition to the semifinals of the men’s 1,500-meters, Hayward Field will be blazed up for the finals of the women’s 5,000 meters and the men’s 10,000 meters.

Villanova’s Jen Rhines is a favorite to make her third straight Olympic team in the 5,000, while Millersville University’s James Carney is a legit darkhorse in the 10,000.

Maureen McCandless from Nazareth Academy had one of the fastest qualifying times in the 5,000 and should be a threat, too.

Apropos of that, the 2008 track Trials have been some of most entertaining ever. If you aren’t watching you are missing out.