Game 2: Wolf and the cats

wolfieThe Phillies just finished up with batting practice here at the Bank and the Rockies are getting ready to run through their paces before Game 2. Better yet, let’s hope they play the game at a rate comparable to Game 1 where the always efficient and quick-working Cliff Lee kept everything moving.

That was so much better than the debacle that went on in Los Angeles last night where the Dodgers and Cardinals played the longest nine-inning game in NLDS history. It damn-near went on for four hours thanks largely to 30 runners left on base between the teams.

Imagine how frustrating it must have been for the Dodgers and Cardinals to leave all those runners out there. In that regard, the teams were pretty evenly matched, too. The Cards left on 16 and the Dodgers stranded 14, only LA made their hits count a little more in the 5-3 victory.

Nevertheless, right smack dab in the middle of the marathon effort was ex-Phillie turned Dodgers’ Game 1 starter, Randy Wolf. In his first ever playoff game Wolf needed 38 pitches to get through the first inning on his way to 82 in just 3 2/3 innings. Had he been able to get four more outs he would have received the win. Instead, 11 base runners against 11 outs ruined the debut.

That’s a shame, too, because based on past discussions with Wolf, I know how badly he wanted to participate in playoff baseball. Being in the playoffs was his greatest wish in his career and I know it pained him to see both the Dodgers and the Phillies in it last year while he was off playing for Houston.

“I was extremely happy for them,” Wolf said about watching his old team win the World Series, “But I was little jealous, too.”

It’s not like Wolf didn’t have a chance to be a part if the Phillies during the past three seasons. Before testing free agency and going home to California to play for the Dodgers and Padres, Wolf had an offer on the table from the Phillies. In fact, general manager Pat Gillick went to visit Wolf at his home in Los Angeles before the 2007 season to persuade the lefty to re-sign with the Phillies.

Gillick thought he had a chance to get Wolf, too… that was until he saw the cats.

You see, Wolf and his then girlfriend packed up their house in Conshohocken and had it shipped to the other coast. That included the pet cats, which was Gillick’s tip off. If a guy goes as far to move cats 3,000 miles away you can pretty much bet it’s not going to be a round trip.

It’s much easier to lug a dinette set from Pennsylvania to California than it is to wrangle up the cats, get them in a vehicle and take them across the country. Add in a girlfriend and you’re really talking about commitment.

So as soon as Gillick left the pitcher, the girl and the cats in the house in California, he scurried to the airport where he immediately phoned up the agent for Adam Eaton and offered him the deal he was going to give Wolf.

The rest is history.

Reliving deadlines past

gillickA year ago we were in Washington wondering what was going to happen. The Phillies were supposedly involved in the bargaining for Manny Ramirez as well as a handful of relief pitchers as the trading deadline approached. Ultimately, nothing happened, but that didn’t make the day any less fun.

Shane Victorino, a player who was rumored to be the chip in some of those supposed deals, put on a show by pretending to sweat out the final minutes to the deadline. The reality, as we learned, was that the talk was just a lot of hot air. However, in looking back at quotes from then-GM Pat Gillick, the Phillies nearly made some deals.

One of those was, indeed, Manny Ramirez.

“I think at some point we had a good feeling about it,” Gillick said after the deadline had passed a year ago.

Good? How good?

“We were talking,” Gillick said then. “We were involved. We just couldn’t get where they wanted to be, and we couldn’t get where we wanted to be. So it was just one of those things.”

“Good” and “talking” are such ambiguous terms. The truth is some people talk about doing things that make them feel good all the time, but instead end up following the same old patterns day in and day out. Plus, everyone’s interpretation of “talk” isn’t always the same. For instance, it would be interesting to hear if Boston GM Theo Epstein had the same “good feeling” about sending Ramirez to the Phillies, but in the end it turned out to be “just one of those things.”

In retrospect, the Phillies were better off without Ramirez. They have three All-Stars in the outfield and the worst thing that happened to any of them was an extended trip to the disabled list for Raul Ibanez.

Otherwise, smooth sailing.

In looking back, the Phillies nearly pulled off a deal for a starter, too. It was going to be a three-way deal according to Gillick and one insider with the club portrayed the starter as, “decent.”

At the last minute one of the teams backed out.

“It was a three-way deal and we got agreement form one club and they were trying to get agreement on players from another club,” Gillick revealed of the unknown starter last year.

Think about this for a second… what if the deals had gone through? Would they have changed the season in any way, shape or form? Could it be the best deal the Phillies made last year was not making a deal at all?

IT’s difficult to speculate because the Phillies got so hot in mid September and tore through every team all the way to the end. Guys like Jayson Werth, a player who emerged during that hot streak and carried into his All-Star year, like to point out how strong the Phillies always play in September and beyond.

It’s difficult to argue with the results.

But now that Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco are with the team, it’s interesting to wonder “what if.” Would Lee even be here if the Phillies had gotten that “decent” starter in the three-way deal? We’ll never know, but in the meantime Lee will make his debut with the Phillies on Friday night… hours after Pedro Martinez wraps up a rehab start in Triple-A.

That’s decent.

*
falafel houseLast year at this time the Phillies were in Washington where a dude like me got to visit The Amsterdam Falafel House. It was such a good time that I thought I’d re-post an excerpt of it here:

Now I have never been to Amsterdam or Holland, but folks who know better say the Adams-Morgan Amsterdam Falafel Shop is as authentic as it gets. In fact, one giveaway to the authenticity of the TAMF (not sure people call it this, but you know, I’ll put it out there) is that they serve brownies and make it a point to inform the consumer that they are not “enhanced.”

Enhanced is my word. On the menu they were called “virgin” brownies.

Yeah.

Anyway, the menu is very basic at The Amsterdam Falafel Shop in Adams-Morgan, located just a half block from the famous Madam’s Organ – the place Playboy magazine named the best bar in the United States. In fact, they serve just falafel (two sizes), Dutch baked fries (two sizes) and un-enhanced brownies (square shaped).

Each sandwich is made to order and each diner can add any of the 18 different sauces and toppings from the garnish bar.

It’s definitely a treat, man. Plus, they usually stay open late (but not past midnight on a Sunday as I learned last month) so if you find yourself in the area and get a hankering for authentic Dutch falafel, by all means, drop in.

After lunch, I drove to the ballpark via Capitol Hill where it looked as if there was a lot of governing going on… a lot of gentrification, too. It seems to me that The District has at least one Starbucks for every household. Interestingly, neighborhoods that were once talked about in hushed, scared tones are now filled with people walking around in madras shorts and business suits with a chai latte in hand.

Good times… good times.

//

Opening Night: First inning

myersIt’s kind of hard to believe that Brett Myers is making his third straight Opening Day start. After all, Myers pitched out of the bullpen just a handful of starts after his maiden Opening Day start.

Last year, of course, he still had his head in the ‘pen during the opener. In fact, the Phillies more or less admitted that Myers got the nod over Cole Hamels as a reward for being a good soldier in 2007.

This year Myers got the start because Hamels wasn’t ready to go. Because of that Myers might be more ready to pitch since he does not have the first-time jitters nor his mind wandering about being a closer.

Hell, he might just allow himself to go out and pitch this year. Pretty novel concept, huh?

Anyway, Myers pitched cautiously to cleanup hitter Brian McCann after Chipper Jones laced a two-out, two-strike single.

Apparently it wasn’t cautious enough because after falling behind in the count to McCann, Myers left a fastball up and it ended up in the second deck. Just like that Myers was in a 2-0 hole.

So much for our theories, huh?

Against Lowe, the Phillies went in order though Chase Utley gave the fans a start when he flied to the warning track in right.

On another note, Pat Gillick threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Jayson Stark, sitting to my immediate right, offered that the ex-GM probably warmed up in the ‘pen before delivering a solid strike across the plate to catcher Chris Coste.

I countered with Gillick was probably wondering how he was unable to get rid of Coste after all this time.

Monday clips


During the winter when there wasn’t much going on and I was fighting to come up with mainstream sports-related ideas to write about for this site, I did a little morning clips or “clicks” feature. Guess what? As a regular feature we’re going to get busy on that again, only we’re going to focus on what people are writing and saying about us from outside of the so-called Delaware Valley.

This will be baseball-centric for now, so just deal with it. Though I’ll admit that between attempting to squeeze in everything in order to entertain the kids and catch some of the doubleheader from Shea (more on that coming up), I actually saw some of the Eagles in the opener. Yeah, on a sunny Sunday I was actually inside for a bit – how about that?

Nevertheless, from what I saw – and the post-game numbers bear it out – the Eagles looked good in the opener. Most notably, rookie DeSean Jackson  made a nice catch for his first NFL reception and went on to pile on 106 yards.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Now do it again.

Anyway, it was an eventual weekend for the Phillies, who gained ground on the Mets in the NL East. The thing about that is it wasn’t quite good enough. Despite strong pitching performances from Brett Myers and Jamie Moyer as well as a pair of clutch homers from Greg Dobbs in the first two games of the series, mixed in with a call-to-arms e-mail from Mike Schmidt, Cole Hamels came up small.

With a chance to pitch the Phillies into a tie for first place with 19 games to go, Hamels gave up two home runs to Carlos Delgado in the last visit to Shea Stadium that were rather Strawberry-esque in distance and flight.

All was not lost for the Phillies, however. Still just two games behind the Mets, the Phillies chances were greatly improved when word came out that Billy Wagner likely will not return this season.

Remember when Phillies’ GM Pat Gillick chose not to re-sign Wagner because he said the medical reports didn’t look good? And now the Phillies have Wagner’s replacement from Houston closing games for the Phillies.

The circle of life…

Speaking of the Mets, it didn’t seem as if they were too impressed with the e-mail Mike Schmidt sent to the Phillies. Never mind that early reports indicated that the players didn’t really take the time to move their lips as they fought through those nine sentences from the Hall of Famer.

Regardless, back when everything was bad and falling apart and it looked as if there was going to be fights and mutiny in the Mets’ clubhouse, someone stepped up and delivered the rallying cry that restored order.

But instead of an e-mail sent from Jupiter, a player sat down with a pen and paper to rally the team and bear his soul.

Would you believe it was Marlon Anderson?

Yeah, that Marlon Anderson… the guy who was the stop-gap starting second baseman for the Phillies between the Mark Lewis and Chase Utley eras.

Since leaving the Phillies, Anderson has pinballed to the Devil Rays to the Cardinals, to the Mets, over to the Nationals and Dodgers in one season, and then back to the Mets. In every stop, which included a World Series appearance with the Cardinals in 2004, Anderson has provided clubhouse leadership, the ability to play a bunch of positions and a solid bat off the bench.

Interestingly, Anderson led the National League with 17 pinch hits in 2004 and though he was developed as a second baseman since being drafted by the Phillies, Anderson has played just 92 games at the position since 2003 and just once in the past two years.

Rather than his bat or glove, it has been Anderson’s writing that has made the most impact with the Mets this season. According to The New York Times:

The Mets seem to have righted their ship just in time. Back in the hideous month of June, they came back from San Diego with a 30-32 record. They held a union meeting before the first home game June 10, when Anderson distributed a sheet of paper with some numbers on it.

It was as if a certified public accountant were writing the Declaration of Independence – mostly about statistical curves and the like. But it forced the Mets to face their accruing mathematical mediocrity.

Anderson, a 34-year-old utility player in his second tour of duty with the Mets, had the clubhouse status to issue a few slogans as well as the notation that the Mets needed to play .667 ball the rest of the season. According to his study of the first 12 years of the wild card, the Mets needed a record of 92-70 to qualify for the postseason, which meant they needed to win 62 of their final 100 games, actually a .620 pace.

So how about those former Phillies and their writing? Not bad, huh?

Speaking of ex-Phillies, Scott Rolen has been hitting eighth in the lineup for the Blue Jays over the past month. Usually, Rod Barajas hits seventh.

Clicks:

Ailing Wagner Might Not ReturnThe New York Times 

Phillies Still Chasing MetsBats Blog

Mets Rise Began After Some Simple AccountingThe New York Times

Manny and the deadline

WASHINGTON – Charlie Manuel says he can handle it. If presented with a chance to manage a player who might be a bit of a discipline problem, Charlie doesn’t see it as an issue.

“I like talent,” Charlie said.

Of course the subject of the talent was potentially ex-Red Sox superstar Manny Ramirez, a player Charlie managed in the minors and coached in the big leagues with the Indians. In the past, Ramirez said he wouldn’t mind being reunited with his old hitting guru.

Manuel says he doesn’t think the Phillies need to add a hitter, but if they did he has one guy in mind.

“Manny Ramirez would be the hitter,” he said. “My time with Manny was very special,” Manuel said. “He was a kid then. He’s grown up a lot. Well, he’s gotten older. I feel like I know him to a certain degree.”

But that would mean Ramirez is heading to Philadelphia, which doesn’t seem to be the case.

According to the banter making the rounds in the press box at Exxon (Nationals) Park, the Red Sox, Pirates and Marlins were ironing out a deal that would send Jason Bay from Pittsburgh to Boston and Manny from Boston to the Marlins. In fact, newspapers in Florida are reporting that a tentative deal has been struck.

That means no Manny for Charlie. But could it tip the balance in the NL East to the upstart Marlins who stand just 1½ games behind the Phillies?

Maybe.

“One player can make a lot of difference,” Manuel said, “if you get the right player.”

If a deal does occur and the Marlins get Ramirez, or if the Mets pull off a deal before the deadline, what does that mean for the Phillies? Will they try to keep pace?

“You don’t like to react to someone else,” general manager Pat Gillick said. “I’ve always said you like to do what you think is proper for your club. If the Mets or Marlins improve their club, they improve their club. We’ll hopefully try to improve our club, but we’re not reacting.”

The GM might not be reacting, but the Phillies fans definitely will.

On another note, how did the relationship between the Red Sox and Ramirez get so bad? Why is Manny saying things like, “the Red Sox don’t deserve me…” They are paying him $20 million! How is that disrespectful.

Maybe they want him to run the bases?

Going up top

It took the three tries for the legendary, prolific mountaineer Apa Sherpa to summit Mount Everest. Only after hooking up with Peter Hillary, the son of Sir Edmund, and a group of Kiwis was ol’ Apa able to reach the rooftop of the world.

But since that first successful ascent up Everest, a lot has changed for Apa. Raised in the foothills of the mountain in Nepal in 1960 or 1962 – the Nepalese don’t keep track of such trite things such as one’s birth year – Apa moved his family from the highlands of the Himalayas to the Rockies of Utah, because, as he once told an interviewer, “the schools are better.”

He also summated Everest 17 more times since that maiden effort with Sir Ed’s boy. That’s more than anyone in the history of mountaineering.

Like Apa Sherpa, I moved from the Philadelphia suburbs to Lancaster, Pa., because “the schools are better.” At least that’s what I tell people from Philadelphia. This morning on the shuttle bound from the car rental joint to the main terminal of Denver International, I told some Texans I was passing the time with that “Philadelphia is the ugly step-brother of New York, Washington and every other major Northeast city.”

But as my man DMac says, “Philadelphia will do…”

At least for the time being.

Anyway, unlike Apa, I reached the summit of the first peak I aimed for. I also did it without any technical gear other than a pair of Brooks Radius shoes and blue and red-trimmed Brooks running shorts. Yessir, I ran to the top of Twin Sisters Peak, which is located to the east of the more famous Longs Peak in the Rocky Mountain National Park. I ran to the top of Twin Sisters in 67 minutes, took a short drink, checked out the view where I saw the town of Estes Park, some clouds, what I think was the city of Boulder, and a whole bunch of lakes. I stood there with the view and felt the stiff wind through my flimsy clothes and looked down at the tree line a few hundred feet below the edge of the peak as one of those dreaded altitude headaches began pounding against my temples.

That was my cue to get down.

With that, I headed down the same route from which I climbed. Fifty-four minutes later I was at the trailhead where my rented car was parked.

Yes, 67 minutes up and 54 minutes down for the slowest nine miles I ever clocked.

And yes, unlike Apa Sherpa, I ran up my first mountain on the first attempt…

Of course Twin Sisters Peak (pictured above from the back porch) isn’t quite Everest. My run started at 9,000 feet of altitude and rose to a little more than 11,400. Though it’s quite a bit of climbing packed into those four-plus miles of trails, Apa’s mountain is three-times higher than mine. For a sea level dude like me, the daily runs in Colorado from 7,500-feet up and over 8,100-feet are pretty substantial. Going up to 11,400-plus takes some effort.

Apa, of course, probably looks at something like Twin Sisters as a walk in the park. In fact, a walk in the park might have been the best way to describe my pace as the trail became rockier and the wind a little more fierce as I pushed on past the tree line. If I can run up over the tree line with relative ease, Apa probably would have skipped up while juggling flaming torches.

Hey, I’m not exactly Jon Krakauer here… or even CSN’s Lance Crawford, who once did a technical climb up the famed diamond of Long’s Peak. Lance, our resident Apa, took mountaineering classes in Estes Park, practiced on some smaller climbs, and then took down one of the most famous “14ers” in the Rocky Mountain chain.

Legend has it that Lance performed a series of one-armed, fingertip pushups at the summit of Longs.

I believe the legend.

And while I was in Colorado running up a mountain and visiting such places as Boulder, Black Hawk and the exquisite Sundance Lodge [1]in Nederland, I also was privy to a few more tales that could be called legends, stories and, better yet, rumors. The fact is stories and rumors are the currency of ball writers everywhere and this is no different in Colorado. In fact, folks I talked to told me that the Colorado Rockies are debating whether or not to trade away All-Star outfielder and 2007 MVP runner-up, Matt Holliday. Because the Rockies were/are beset with injuries all season and Holliday’s contract status doesn’t exactly give a ballclub much wiggle room when contemplating a move toward rebuilding, the so-called conventional wisdom looks at Holliday’s days as a Rockie as numbered.

The Phillies, they say, are a team that could package a deal for a player like Holliday.

I’m not so sure. After cornering the market for overweight, right-handed and underachieving Opening Day starters in the acquisition of Joe Blanton, the Phillies cleaned out the cupboards and sent the top-notch minor-league prospects to Billy Beane in Oakland. Therefore, to get a star like Holliday, the Phillies would have to pick up all of the remaining years on his contract and throw in some big leaguers like Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth and whomever else the Rockies fancy.

Meanwhile, after being told the Holliday tales, I countered with the idea that the Phillies had long been interested in side-wheeling left-handed reliever Brian Fuentes. The Phillies have just one lefty in their solid corps of relievers and Fuentes has always given them fits. But when I broached the idea of Fuentes being dealt from the Rockies to the Phillies, I was told, “Take him. You can have him.”

From the outside Fuentes seems like a good fit for the Phillies’ bullpen. After all, he strikes out more than a hitter per inning, has a respectable 3.23 ERA and has saved 16 games in 20 chances. Plus, Fuentes has not allowed a run since June 30 and is hell against the Phillies. In 16 career appearances (including three playoff games), the lefty has never allowed a run when facing the Phillies.

But Fuentes has whetted his peak in the closer pond and likes it. In fact, he told the Denver Post in last Sunday’s edition that if he gets traded, he would like to go somewhere to be the closer. A free agent at the end of this season, Fuentes said he would seek out a gig as a closer during free agency.

That kind of eliminates the Phillies right there. Brad Lidge is going to be the closer until at least 2011.

So that leaves us with a lot of unfinished stories with plots left to twist. The non-waivers trading deadline is just nine days away and even though the Phillies already made a move for Husky Joe, it doesn’t seem as if Trader Pat Gillick is finished with the wheelin’ and dealin’.

At least it doesn’t seem that way if ol’ Pat wants to go out standing on top of the mountain.


[1] If you ever find yourself in Nederland or on the Peak-to-Peak Highway an hour west of Boulder and Denver, you owe it to yourself to have a meal at the Sundance. The first time I ever heard Ted Leo’s song “La Costa Brava” I immediately thought of the little spot just off the road near Nederland. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Sundance; have an ever-changing menu with tons of choices and some of the best fresh-brewed iced tea ever tasted. Plus, the view can’t be beat. It’s always hard not to stare at snow-capped mountains through large picture windows (or on a sun/windswept deck). My wife and I snuck away for a quiet dinner last Thursday where she had homemade chicken marsala and I had tofu steaks with a citrusy teriyaki that came with grilled veggies and fantastic mashed potatoes. Man, what a place.

Lidge signed for 3 more years

After a spate of surprising moves made by the Phillies this week, one has to wonder if there is more coming. Could a big trade be looming on the horizon? With the team in first place in the National League East and the team’s brass on the record indicating that they would like to bolster its pitching staff, it’s a fair assumption.

That assumption is greatly enhanced by the developments this week.

It started on Tuesday when the club announced that it had coaxed maligned Opening Day starting pitcher Brett Myers to accept an option to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in order to iron out his difficulties on and off the mound. A season removed from working as the team’s closer, Myers struggled with the transition back to a starting role in 2008. In 17 big-league outings, Myers was 3-9 with a 5.84 ERA and had allowed a Major League-leading 24 home runs.

Upon accepting the… ahem… mental rehab trip to the minors, Myers told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he preferred pitching out of the bullpen and saw a future as a big-league closer.

“I want to be great, and honestly, I realized last year that I’d only be a good starter,” Myers told the Inquirer. “I felt like I had rock-star status as a closer. I enjoyed the bullpen. I felt like they liked me in that role. But it was easier to get a closer than another starter. (Closer Brad) Lidge has done a hell of a job for us. I don’t think I could do better.”

Based on the developments on Sunday morning, the Phillies don’t think Myers could (or can) do better, either. As a result, general manager Pat Gillick announced that the club had agreed to a three-year contract extension with Brad Lidge worth $37.5 million. The deal lasts through the 2011 season with a club option for 2012 plus a few performance incentives and bonuses thrown in.

So if Myers is going to pitch for the Phillies in the future, it won’t be as the team’s closer. Yet then again, the Phillies did sign Myers to a three-year deal worth $25.75 million before last season to be a starter.

Clearly, the Phillies were serious about that.

“People have drawn the conclusion that he would rather close, and that may be the case, but let me put it this way: There’s a lot of things in life that a lot of people don’t want to do. But you’re getting paid, and you’ve got to show up for work and do the best job you can,” Gillick told reporters on Sunday morning. “He’s a gamer, and I think he’ll give 100 percent whether he’s in a closer situation or as a starter.”

Frankly, Gillick and the Phillies need Myers to start.

“We’re kind of stubborn. We think that Brett can start,” Gillick said. “We don’t see reason he can’t start. If he gets his mechanical issues straightened out down there, I don’t see any reason he can’t be in our starting rotation.”

Myers began his minor-league stint last Wednesday in Allentown for Triple-A Lehigh Valley where he allowed three runs and five hits with six strikeouts in five innings against the Yankees top Triple-A club, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The big right-hander will make his second start in Allentown on Monday against Louisville and Reds’ top pitching prospect, Homer Bailey. But whether Myers will be elbowed out of the Phillies’ starting rotation appears to be up in the air, too. Of course if Myers irons out his trouble, which Major League and Minor League coaches say is mechanical and mental, then, yes, the Phillies will have a spot for him.

However, all indications are that the team will had another arm to the rotation. Rumors abound, of course, with names like starters C.C. Sabathia, Erik Bedard, A.J. Burnett, Jarrod Washburn, Greg Maddux, Bronson Arroyo and Randy Wolf, as well as reliever Brian Fuentes linked to a potential trade with the Phillies. Moreover, advance scouts from the Twins (Dennys Reyes? Livan Hernandez?) and Mariners have been watching the Phillies closely during the past week.

Yes, the future will be interesting for the Phillies.

While Myers’ place in the Phillies future is the great unknown, Lidge, 31, the closer acquired from Houston for Geoff Geary, Mike Costanzo and Michael Bourn last winter, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Though he could have tested a very lucrative free-agent market this winter, Lidge figured that all things being equal, he’d rather be in Philadelphia.

“Coming into the year, I knew that this was my free-agent year, but pretty early on, I started really enjoying everything here,” Lidge said. “I understand what [free agency] could be like, but for me, this is an easy decision. I’m enjoying everything so much here. I don’t know where I could go that would have a team with a better opportunity to get to the World Series, to win a World Series. For me, that’s the most important thing, so where better than Philadelphia.”

The Phillies appear to have gotten a relative bargain with Lidge, too. During the past three winters, Billy Wagner signed a four-year, $43 million contract with the Mets; B.J. Ryan signed a five-year, $47 million deal with the Blue Jays; and Francisco Cordero signed a four-year, $46 million contract with Texas last winter.

Based on Lidge’s statistics so far (19 saves in 19 chances, an 0.77 ERA in 35 games and 47 strikeouts in 35 innings) he could have earned a fatter paycheck if he played the market.

The Phillies, obviously, went going to let it come to that.

“Right out of the chute, when we made the trade, we knew this wasn’t going to be a one-and-done type of guy,” assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said in announcing the deal on Sunday morning. “We view Brad as somebody who can help us contend for many years. We all know how important it is to close out games you should win. This is an important piece to our organization’s future.”

Interestingly, Lidge has thrived in Philadelphia after a rough ending to his time in Houston. Between a few injuries and a crushing home run allowed to Albert Pujols during the 2005 NLCS, Lidge struggled with effectiveness and his confidence in his last year with the Astros. But during the second half of the 2007 season, Lidge regained what was missing and has reestablished himself as one of the best closers in the Majors.

The fact that some hitters say his slider is the nastiest pitch in the game certainly helps, too.

Nevertheless, Lidge has found himself with the Phillies.

“I think if you’re closing and you’re going through a rough time, it’s difficult no matter where you’re at,” the newly named All-Star said. “I was really excited for this challenge. For whatever reason, coming in here, I felt like this was where I needed to be. I enjoy the fact that the fans here are so passionate about the game. That gives me a lot of energy. I love it here.”

And Philadelphia loves him back… so far.

Next, is a deal for Pat Burrell in the works?

Stay tuned.

Coming up: The team that loved Tom Gordon and even more from the Olympic Trials.

Little pebbles make a big splash

Carlos ZambranoOf the piles of theories I have about things, only a handful are as solid as a bronze statue. One of those theories is that everyone has eaten a loogie at one point or another. Hey, I don’t mean to be gross, but let’s face facts – there are a lot of disgruntled people out there and most of them work in restaurants.

Another good theory is that sometimes it’s the smallest and seemingly insignificant bit of news that triggers much larger events. For instance, it took the 1914 assassination of an otherwise obscure Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria to light the powder keg that exploded into World War I.

Who would have guessed that Ferdinand would have ever become the presumptive heir to Austro-Hungarian throne, let alone his death spur the calamity that followed?

Along those lines it’s interesting to note that the reports out of Chicago are that ace pitcher Carlos Zambrano is headed for the 15-day disabled list. Certainly that’s big news for the Cubs since they currently have the best record in the National League and could be on the way to the World Series for the first time since 1936. Obviously it’s big news because the Cubs need Zambrano if they want to have any chance at all in the post-season.

Regardless, Zambrano should be able to help the Cubs relatively soon. That’s important because even though Zambrano has bum shoulder, an MRI revealed that the big right-hander has no structural damage. Unless something unforeseen occurs, Zamrano will be back pitching for the Cubs in no time.

Here’s why the MRI results, a two sentence bit of info in the fourth graf of the wire story, could be the powder keg of the National League pennant race:

Because if the Cubs have Carlos Zambrano, they probably won’t need to go out and make a big-time trade to land C.C. Sabathia or another pitcher of that ilk. Oh sure, they can still do it and it may even be cost effective noting that the Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908. But they don’t have to.

It also means the Phillies might have a better shot at making a trade for a pitcher like Sabathia (or one of that ilk) if they can cobble together a package big enough to entice the Indians. That’s the really important part as it concerns us.

Nevertheless, despite reports that the Phillies have dispatched scouts to take a gander or two at pitchers like A.J. Burnett of the Blue Jays, Bronson Arroyo of the Reds, Greg Maddux of the Padres as well as Sabathia, general manager Pat Gillick told the gang on the Daily News Live! panel that it’s much too early to contemplate such a move. For one thing, most teams are still in the playoff chase even with the non-waiver trading deadline still a little more than a month away.

That means the annual summertime dance where teams get into position to get in position is just beginning.

Can’t you hear the music?

Still, it’s interesting to note that Gillick says he would not rule out the possibility of trading away one of the players on the current 25-man roster in order to get the piece the team needs.

Would that be interesting?

In the meantime, let’s keep an eye on Archduke Zambrano. The state of his shoulder could decide a lot.

Another whiff

Ryan HowardThroughout the team’s history, the Phillies have always been attracted to those hitters that always seem to swing and miss a lot. Mike Schmidt was one of those guys. During his career he whiffed 1,883 times, which is the seventh-most in the history of the game.

Schmidt’s teammate Greg Luzinski averaged 133 strikeouts per 162 games. That duo of Schmidt and Luzinski led the National League in strikeouts five times.

Dick Allen, Lance Parrish, Bobby Abreu, Juan Samuel, Pat Burrell, Scott Rolen and Darren Daulton all routinely whiffed more than 100 times per season, though those guys were hardly in the same league as Jim Thome and Ryan Howard.

Thome, the heir to Schmidt, is third on the all-time strikeout list and set the club record for whiffs in a season with 182 in 2003. Like his time in Philadelphia, Thome’s reign on the top of that list was short when Howard racked up 181 strikeouts in 2006 before establishing the new Major League record in 2007 when he nearly became the first man to reach the 200-strikeout plateau with 199.

Just think what type of numbers Howard would have posted if he hadn’t missed nearly all of May.

But they wouldn’t be the Phillies if the strikeouts were exclusive to the batters’ box. Oh no. Actually, the entire franchise is kind of one big caught-looking enterprise. They do strikeouts well. After all, no professional team in the history of sports has surpassed 10,000 losses like the Phillies have and it seems as if there is no executive in league history to have been spurned more than Pat Gillick has this winter.

In terms of striking out on the free-agent market, Gillick and the Phillies have made Howard, Thome and Schmidt look like Wee Willie Keeler.

Yes, it happened again on Wednesday afternoon. In what has become a weekly rite during the winter the Phillies were told thanks but no thanks by a player that the team really could use in order to recapture the National League East. First it was Mike Lowell, who would have been the team’s answer at third base. Instead of signing on with the Phillies to play in cozy little Citizens Bank Park where he once slugged three homers in a game, Lowell took a lesser contract offer to remain with the Boston Red Sox.

Apparently, there was just something about all the money and the years that turned off Lowell about the Phillies.

Then there was Randy Wolf, the left-handed starting pitcher who came up through the Phillies system, pitched for the team for eight seasons and earned his first (and only) All-Star appearance with the club during the 2003 season. But after recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2006, Wolf took a lesser deal to pitch for the Dodgers in 2007. Two weeks ago the Phillies came knocking again and – once again – Wolf took a incentive-laden (in the parlance of the game) one-year deal to pitch for San Diego.

Gillick and Wolf’s negotiations went something like this:

Gillick: We really like you, Randy, and we really want to sign you to a multi-year deal. Is that something you would be interested in?

Wolf: Well, Pat, I grew up in Southern California and all my family is here and I would really like to be closer to them. Plus, the ballpark is a little more conducive to my style of pitching. It’s nothing personal and I really liked pitching for you guys for eight years, but I think I’m going to go to San Diego.

Gillick: Whore.*

Aaron RowandNo one wanted to sign with the Phillies. Not even Tadahito Iguchi, the second baseman who asked for his release and eschewed arbitration, passed up a chance to be the Phillies’ everyday third baseman by signing a one-year deal with San Diego, too.

So let’s add it up. Lowell to Boston; Wolf to San Diego; Iguchi to San Diego; Melvin Mora – no dice; Curt Schilling back to Boston; Geoff Jenkins, maybe; and Scott Rolen, anywhere but Philly or St. Louis.

What do the Phillies have to do? Move the franchise to San Diego? Configure a more pitcher-friendly ballpark on the parking lot where the Vet used to be? Give Kyle Lohse or Carlos Silva the worst contract in the history of Major League Baseball?

All of the above?

Really, though, the more interesting question is how does Aaron Rowand fit in here? If they just could have lured Rowand back into the fold it all would have been OK. Right…

Sigh!

By all accounts, Aaron Rowand, the fan and media favorite, really, really wanted to return to the Phillies for 2008 and beyond. It’s just that he didn’t want to do it for less than five years. Only the Phillies offered three and apparently there was no middle ground. They couldn’t split the difference and get together on four years.

And what’s four years in the scheme of things? Come on, really… Four years is a presidential term? It’s 80 percent of one’s collegiate work? It’s just four years! That’s it. It goes by in a heartbeat.

Instead, Rowand got his five years (and, he says, the cash he was expecting) from the San Francisco Giants – a team that came in last in the NL West last season at 71-91. With Barry Bonds gone and a young corps of pitchers still finding their way around in the unforgiving world of Major League Baseball, the Giants should be slated for the cellar again in 2008. But Rowand will be there, crashing into walls, charming the fans and doing what he can to help the Giants get better.

It’s doesn’t seem as though Rowand will duplicate the offensive statistics he posted for the Phillies during the 2008 season at whatever corporation currently owns the naming rights for the Giants’ ballpark these days. But does that really matter? All that matters is that he won’t be doing anything for the Phillies anymore and that’s the really big whiff.

One thing is for certain – the “sources” were only off by a year and $25 million. But, again, that doesn’t help the Phillies much.

——————————————————————————————

* Actually, Gillick said: “Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. We went after him a couple times, and it didn’t work out last year and this year. So, it’s pretty evident that he doesn’t want to play for our team. If someone doesn’t want to be part of the team, it’s better if he plays somewhere else.”

Pickin’ and Grinnin’

Minnie PearlIn doing some research last night I learned that the television program “Hee Haw” was taped at Opryland. Actually, it was just accidental research – I was really looking for pictures of the famous “Hee Haw girls.”

I didn’t find those pictures, but then again I didn’t look too hard. I guess I was struck by the idea that Roy Clark, Buck Owens and Minnie Pearl strutted their so-called “stuff” in the general vicinity where the Tigers traded for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, thus knocking the balance of power in the AL Central completely off kilter.

But Hee-Haw… come on. Back when we had only 12 channels, Hee-Haw was on one of them. That means someone must have liked it. Someone in Kornfield Kounty was doing something right.

On an unrelated note, I listened to an interview by Terry Gross with John C. Reilly this morning on the ol’ podcaster and it was revealed that Reilly viewed a lot of adult-themed movies in preparation for his role in Boogie Nights. Reilly then cleared up the facts and pointed out it wasn’t just for Boogie Nights that he watched a lot of adult-themed films. In fact, he joked (was it?), he watched a lot of those movies to prepare for every role he played.

These days though, Buck, Roy and Minnie don’t have the run of Opryland. At least until Thursday, the world of organized baseball is the talk of the complex. And in that regard, there is a lot of interest amongst the baseball establishment in what kind of stunt the Phillies and general manager Pat Gillick will pull off next. So far the Phillies have left a bit to be desired in the pursuit to bolster the club for another run at the NL East in 2008. They whiffed on Mike Lowell and Randy Wolf and then pulled the ol’ “blessing in disguise” guff afterwards.

That’s mostly because the “I know you are but what am I,” schtick didn’t apply. Hey, that’s about all they have to work with.

In regard to Wolf, though, the Phillies comments/behavior seems especially childish, which for our purposes is fantastic. When Wolf spurned both the Phillies and his ex-GM Ed Wade and the Astros in order to sign an incentive-laden deal to sign with the San Diego Padres, Gillick took a little backhanded swipe at the fan (and media)-friendly lefty.

Gillick said:

“Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. We went after him a couple times, and it didn’t work out last year and this year. So, it’s pretty evident that he doesn’t want to play for our team. If someone doesn’t want to be part of the team, it’s better if he plays somewhere else.”

Frankly, Gillick sounds like a spurned teen-aged boy who after a good-looking girl tells him gently that, “I’m sorry, it’s not going to work out. Your ballpark is much too small and I have my ERA and sanity to look out for,” in turn calls the girl, “ugly.”

So which is it, dude? I thought you liked her (or in this case, Wolfie).

It also seems that Gillick was more interest in his needs and desires and not what someone else might want or need. If a person is genuine and compassionate, they would understand that Wolfie needs to be in San Diego. After all, he is a Southern California kid whose mom can easily make the trip south from Los Angeles to see her son pitch in San Diego. Plus, the Padres have a starting rotation that has Greg Maddux, Jake Peavy and Chris Young. That’s five Cy Young Awards and definitely one Hall of Famer. Warming up for the ninth is Trevor Hoffman, who is known to blow a few from time to time, but he’s saved at least 37 games in every complete season he’s pitched since 1996. That adds up to 524 saves, which is more than everyone ever.

Should we continue on about San Diego? No, well we’re going to anyway. In San Diego it’s a sunny 70 degrees every stinkin’ day of the year. In fact today, as the snow and wind whipped around and made travel and outdoor activities miserable, it was sunny and nearly 70 degrees in San Diego.

San Diego…

Forget the fact that the Phillies’ ballpark is slightly larger than the one in Williamsport, San Diego’s park was the toughest in which to score a run in during 2007. It was also the most difficult to get a hit in and the second most difficult in which to club a homer.

So there’s that, too. But listening to the Phillies it sounds like they are tired of people telling them, “No way… not in that ballpark.”

Or are they?

Tadahito IguchiApparently the Phillies and Tadahito Iguchi met up at the ice cream parlor the other day. It also seems as if those kids had a few things to discuss, too. The Phillies, badly in need of a third baseman (as well as a pitcher or two and a center fielder), could be willing to make a deal with Iguchi for 2008 and beyond. Iguchi, for his part, hit the open market and learned that all the second base slots for the good teams were spoken for. But third base in Philadelphia looks wide open.

But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Because the Phillies released Iguchi after the season (as he wished) and did not offer him salary arbitration or sign him to an extension by Nov. 15, Iguchi would not be able to play for the team until May 15. Iguchi’s agent, Rocky Hall, believes the parties can find a loophole and some juggling and wrangling in order to get by the rule, but then there is that whole collective bargaining thing.

If Iguchi does it, then someone else will do it and then everyone will do it and all we’ll have is anarchy. Is the destruction of labor-management practices in the United States worth all of that just to allow Tadahito Iguchi to play third base?

Sure, the Phillies need a third baseman better than Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs, but I’m siding with the American way.

All this for just a little information

Tony Orlando & DawnThe first places most folks look for when they are on the road and far from home and need a little action are the bars and/or the hotel lobby. Everyone knows what goes on in a bar so there isn’t much need for explanation there, but the hotel lobby – specifically if it also has a bar – is like Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, Times Square during rush hour, and Broad Street during a parade.

At least that’s the way it is during the baseball winter meetings.

Essentially, that’s what the winter meetings are… it’s like Spring Break only no one goes topless. Or, it’s like the South by Southwest Music conference in Austin, Tx. only not cool. Come on, think about it – how cool could it be? A convention in at a resort that bumped Tony Orlando (but not Dawn) so a cavalcade of baseball writers, general managers, those hep cats from ESPN, and a bunch of job-seeking wannabe baseball flaks all under one roof… do we have to get into why that’s the epitome of uncool?

OK.

First there are the baseball writers, who easily are the angriest and most frustrated group of people on the planet. They’re all burnt out from long hours spent at the ballpark and ridiculous travel itineraries for eight months. Better yet, the best way to really drive one of those guys crazy it to say: “Hey, at least it beats a real job, right?”

It's Good to be the KingAs far as the hipness factor goes, I can only speak reasonably knowledgably about the Philadelphia crew and let’s just say TMZ.com doesn’t have a group of photogs staking the gang out. For one thing, one of the guys used to be an actor in Renaissance Faires and, no, he wasn’t even something somewhat cool as the knight on horseback in the joust ring. Nope, he was a pawn in the chess game and it wasn’t like the chess game in Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I.

But, scarily enough, it gets much worse than that. But in the interest in protecting the guilty… aw, forget it. The geeks love online poker, one dork is into long-distance running, another went by the stage name “Todd Cougar,” and still another is pining for a long-ago shorn mullet.

What sane person would agree to spend a summer surrounded by a group like that? But there they are — trolling the lobby in Opryland listening to the tall tales and truth stretching that goes on whenever baseball folks get together. Actually, it’s really not all that different than any other time spent during a summer afternoon only there isn’t a game to be played later in the evening and no one has to drive anywhere, which heightens the stakes a bit. Think about it – who goes to Spring Break and rents a car? Probably no one.

So if the plan is to get the scribes, GMs, job seekers and hangers on all under one roof it will lessen the load for the local law enforcement and make the scene into how it must have been to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race in the desert around Vegas in the early 1970s.

Raoul DukeIf Raoul Duke and his Samoan attorney roll into the lobby at Opryland, everyone should leave – or keep tabs on the grapefruits.

Anyway, the GMs are the reason why everyone gets together for the week. Really, what other reason is there? In a baseball organization, the GM is where the proverbial buck stops. Actually, it’s better than that. The GM is where the information originates and information (not knowledge) is the commodity everyone has traveled to Nashville and camped out in Opryland for. Think about it – is there another resource more important than information. It’s better than gold and almost as good as oil and it’s the reason why ESPN and Yahoo! are snapping up all the top hunter/gatherers in the info set for a premium. It’s also why ESPN has set up something of its own little Green Zone inside of Opryland – information.

It’s the king.

That means the GM-types are the kingmakers. And like any good crowner of things that get crowned, the GM is coquettish as all get-out. You know how the scribes like to cite “sources” in all those rumor mill-type stories folks wolf down like hamsters and their pellets? Well, apparently those “sources” have access to the inner sanctum. They might actually know the GM well enough to collect crumbs of information here and there before running off to feed it to the gluttonous writer-types and their panting public.

SpudsYet even though the general managers from all across baseball are making the scene at Opryland, it’s not as if their presence boosts the hipness factor. Actually, unless one thinks those Hawaiian/Tommy Bahama-type shirts are “cool,” then rollin’ with the GMs is the way to go. After all, this is a set of people who take their cues on coolness from Spuds McKenzie.

Imagine that… instead of covering South by Southwest where one could hang out at the hotel and talk shop with Deerhoof, the writers are left to chase down old men who look as if they just got in from the hunt. Instead of Elvis Costello they get a guy dressed like Elvis.

Incidentally, why is that Elvis impersonators are usually always the fat Elvis?

Apparently, though, there is one GM who is considered cool, but that’s because at 33, Theo Epstein is approximately 40 years younger than all of his counterparts. Epstein is also considered cool because he plays guitar in a cover band called Trouser or something ambiguous like that. Come to think about it, the band’s name could be the most undetailed thing happening with Epstein. After all, a name like Trouser (if that is, in fact, the name) doesn’t befit a devotee of Sabermetrics. Sabermetrics, of course, is the baseball philosophy that likes to take all the life and intrigue out of a sport and assign it cold, hard spots on a sheet of graph paper or an excel spreadsheet. Enough of the thinking, they say, give me data.

ElvisNothing ambiguous like human nature… we need undeniable information!

Nevertheless, Trouser is a cover band that plays cover songs of cover songs, which, frankly, is about as low on the musical food chain as one can go. In fact, it’s the Renaissance Faire of the musical word – the pawn in the chess game instead of the knight in the phony joust.

But really, the baseball winter meetings are all just a phony joust. Oh sure, actual work gets done and trades/deals are made. In fact, Pat Gillick, the GM of the Phillies, says he hopes to leave Nashville and Opryland with a pitcher to add to the roster. Meanwhile, a few of the scribes hope to leave Opryland with one of those Hee-Haw girls.

Here comes the new look (same as the old look)

JimmyWhen you think about it, the current design of the uniforms the Phillies have been sporting since 1992 are getting a little old and stale. Actually, they are catching up in age to those hard maroon unis the team wore all through the 1970s that just seemed to scream, “DISCO!”

The shirts they wear now just whine, “We don’t have any other good ideas.”

Sometimes the best ideas are the ones that are already out there. Take for instance the one the Phillies came up with for their “new” alternate home uniform, which the team will wear for day games at the Bank. Yeah, well, it’s exactly like the shirts and pants the team wore in 1946 to 1949. Guess what? It works.

Really, they are blue and red (with a cream-colored base). How could that miss when blue and red go together like chocolate and peanut butter?

In fact, those uniforms look so good that perhaps the “alternate” uniforms should be the ones they have been wearing since 1992. Let’s not kid ourselves, the Phillies’ look is stale and needs to be freshened up a bit. Not only do they need a third baseman, a center fielder and a few pitchers, but a new wardrobe would surely get the local nine feeling a little better about themselves. Doesn’t a new snazzy shirt or a slick pair of pants make everyone feel better?

Pitcher turned runway model Cole Hamels told reporters that he liked the new/old look.

“It’s nice to have something different. All the teams have been coming up with new uniforms, and you want to be part of it,” he said. “I know it’s going to help out with the marketing campaign because it brings something new and fun to the stadium.”

Wait… this uniform thing is a marketing campaign? Would the Phillies do such a thing just to sell shirts at their team store for $189.99 and caps for (probably) $25? With a recession looming, ticket prices as high as they are and the Christmas season in full swing, wouldn’t the Phillies just want to give away that kind stuff to help drum up support for the hometown team? They didn’t unveil the new uniforms just 25 shopping days before Christmas on purpose did they?

***
Earl WeaverSpeaking of new looks for the Phillies, forget about a trade with the Orioles for Melvin Mora. According to general manager Pat Gillick, the Phillies believe Mora is a good player, but they are sure what the team would have to offer back to the O’s.

Speaking of the Orioles, I always liked that smiling bird cap they used to wear in the ‘70s and ‘80s. It made Eddie Murray and Earl Weaver look like a really friendly dudes, you know.

In the interest of full disclosure, I felt that my American Legion baseball team sponsored by the local Elks club should have had smiling elk caps as an homage to those juggernaut Orioles’ teams. I even tried to design one, but it came out like something Deitch suggested for a new uniform patch for the Phillies.

***
Von Hayes is still the manager of sandlot independent league Lancaster Barnstormers and I promise I will write something about it as soon as figure out a way to do it tactfully. In the interest of full disclosure, ol’ Von is a good hire for Lancaster and he beat out Gary Carter, Wally Backman and the team’s ex manager Tom Herr for the gig. But then again, people I talked to (yep, I talked to real live people about it) say anyone other than Herr would have been good. That guy, one person said, has the personality of a toilet seat…

Oh yeah, tact. I’ll work on it.

***
Rumors and crap
Just as quickly as rumors sprung up regarding a potential trade between the Orioles and the Phillies for third baseman Melvin Mora, they were squashed by general manager Pat Gillick. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Phillies’ GM says the team is focused on acquiring pitching.
Nevertheless, Gillick indicated that the Phillies would have plenty of money to spend on the right player(s) though he noted that “This is not a good free-agent group.”

With center fielder Aaron Rowand expected to sign elsewhere for the 2008 season, the Phillies are rumored to be amongst the teams looking at Brewers’ slugger Geoff Jenkins as a player to bolster the outfield.

I thought you said I was OK, Spider

Richard NixonWhen I was a kid I believed nearly everything adults told me. Well, I believed almost everything they told me until I was about 10. After then, I questioned everything because that’s about the time I learned about Richard Nixon. I figured if the President of the United States could be less than forthcoming, maybe other adults could, too.

That’s also about the same time I learned about Santa Claus, though truth be told the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy never made any sense. That’s especially the case with the Tooth Fairy because that just sounds a little too Uncle Eddie-ish to me. Really, what kind of a person or fairy wants little kids’ ripped out and bloodied teeth? Do they make necklaces out of them like those sharks’ tooth ones people wore in the ‘70s and stuff? Remember Turk Wendell, the Phillies’ former relief pitcher? Yeah, well he had a necklace made out of elk’s teeth and other wild animals he may or may not have shot. Actually, the necklace was kind of gaudy, but not in a P. Diddy kind of way.

Perhaps Turk Wendell was the tooth fairy for the Marlin Perkins set?

Anyway, the point is that I believed what adults told me, but then I stopped and then, for some reason, I believed them again. At least I believed what adult general managers of Major League Baseball teams told me. Seriously, why would they make up stuff? They weren’t after my teeth (as far as I knew) and they weren’t going to bring me or my family gifts every December under the cover of darkness. Better yet, I don’t think there is a single baseball GM who secretly bombed Cambodia or was less than forthcoming about the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters back in ’72. Based on that criterion, baseball GMs are a reasonably trustworthy lot.

That doesn’t mean they tell the truth all of the time. For instance, I recall a time when Ed Wade revealed that a slumping Marlon Byrd was the team’s centerfielder and leadoff hitter for the foreseeable future – who would have guessed that Byrd was living in the future and was to be optioned to Triple-A after a game in which he served as the centerfielder and leadoff hitter? Hey, I’m not saying Wade didn’t make the correct move, I’m just saying that if the end of the game was as far into the future as he could see, then he needs to re-do that Lasik surgery.

DeNiroSo what’s this have to do with anything? Well, it doesn’t. I just like writing about it. Plus, it’s a nice little segue way into the whole Mike Lowell thing, who, as most readers of this site and other like it (could there be others like this one?) will tell you, is the newly re-signed third baseman and MVP of the World Series for the Boston Red Sox. Lowell is a pretty darned good third baseman who played for the Marlins when they won the World Series in 2003 and I remember sitting at Citizens Bank Park the time he hit three home runs in one game for the Marlins. The last of the three came off Billy Wagner and it made me laugh out loud… not one of those obnoxious laughs like DeNiro chomping on a cigar in the movie theater like in Cape Fear, which by itself is a ridiculous scene. But it was a laugh that slips out at an inappropriate time, like say the time your friend was an altar boy at mass at Sacred Heart in 1984 or something and he knocked over a candle that he had just lit. You don’t want to laugh out loud, but you do for that briefest of seconds before anyone realizes that you are the one who a.) Has a bad sense of humor and b.) Can’t control himself in solemn places.

Not that any of that ever happened, of course.

Anyway, Nixon bombed Cambodia, Marlon Byrd was sent to Scranton and Pat Gillick told us not to believe everything we read on ESPN.com. Which one thinks about it, is a rather ambiguous statement. Just look at it:

“Don’t believe everything you read on ESPN.com.”

cigarOK. I guess that’s good advice. But it’s kind of like, don’t dance with a circus bear wearing a Shriner’s hat after it just pedaled a tricycle 50 yards. Or don’t rub the belly of an alligator that was just fed ostrich burgers for a mid-afternoon snack. Does it really mean something or is it just a broad, sweeping statement that is common amongst politicians and large retailers to homogenize us?

Perhaps what Gillick meant to say was, “Don’t believe everything you read on ESPN.com about badminton. But the stuff about the Phillies attempting to sign Mike Lowell to play third base for the team in 2008… yeah, well that stuff is as solid as your Uncle Tim’s brass spittoon.”

So how about that? Despite all the reports that indicated that the Phillies had just a limited amount of cash to spend this winter, and GM Gillick’s contention that the team was focusing on acquiring pitching and that third base was not a “priority,” it comes out that the Phillies are like Diamond Jim picking up the tab for everyone in the saloon. They’re lighting big, fat cigars with $20 bills while trying to figure out how they can spend more money and make offers to guys like Mike Lowell.

Good for them.

But here’s the question: why the subterfuge? Why all the, “Mike Lowell? Who is Mike Lowell? We wouldn’t know Mike Lowell if he walked right up and spit into our mammy’s hand purse…” Doing stuff like that is going to give a guy a reputation. It’s going to make the honest, chaste and diligent folks in the local sporting press to believe the worst in a person. They’re going to think that when Pat Gillick says, “No, no, no,” he really means, “Yes, no, yes!”

I don’t know much about poker or the game’s colorful jargon, but I do bad bluffing when I hear it. Based on this, the Phillies should swoop in and steal away A-Rod from the Yankees at any minute.

***
If the Phillies can’t get A-Rod (or Scott Rolen), maybe they can get Randy Wolf? The former Phillie lefty has received an offer from the team about returning for 2008. The team has made a bunch of other offers to other players, too, including right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who has pitched for the past decade in the Japan.

***
Most of my friends don’t follow sports too closely so they sometimes ask inane questions about how I must be a big fan of the Phillies. I don’t think they get it when I tell them that, “I root for the story.” You see, like the stereotypical, self-centered athlete, I just look out for myself.

Anyway, though I don’t really care one way or another which team wins or loses, I do find myself rooting for the success of certain people in the game. In that regard, a hearty congratulations goes out to Jimmy Rollins for being voted the National League’s MVP in 2007 by the dangerous (and fascist) secret society called the Baseball Writers Association of America. If there is one player who respects, understands and reveres the history of the game, it’s Rollins and I’m certain he will represent the award and the new fame that goes with such an honor well.

Kudos to Jimmy.

Calling audibles

Pat GillickBusy, busy, busy, busy day today for 50 percent of CSN.com (which is moi). There are tons of stories to follow, tons of things to write and tons of ideas floating around in the ol’ coconut atop my shoulders. Unfortunately there will never be time enough to write them all down until all of this is over.

Perhaps then…

In the meantime, general manager Pat Gillick spent a revealing hour with the writers this afternoon, waxing on about the season, the bullpen and the team’s crazy drive for the NL East… amongst other topics.

In a season in which the Phillies were besieged by injuries to key players, the Gillick says he and Lieutenants Ruben Amaro and Mike Arbuckle were scrambling to find players simply to fill out the space on the roster. Strangely enough, some of those players stepped up, as they say.

Big time.

“It’s kind of like walking to the line and calling an audible,” Gillick said. “We called a lot of audibles.”

A couple of those audibles ended up working out. For instance when veteran starting pitchers Jon Lieber and Freddy Garcia were lost for the season with injuries – a cost of at least 20-to-25 wins, Gillick says – rookie Kyle Kendrick and oft-released J.D. Durbin picked up the slack.

“We got 16 wins out of two guys we didn’t expect to be here,” Gillick said. “Kyle was 4-7 at Double-A, but he was good. [However] we didn’t know he was ready to do this.”

Kendrick, of course, is slated to start Game 2 of the NLDS on Thursday afternoon against the Rockies. I know it’s a theme that I keep harping on, but I think it’s very significant that Kendrick won 10 games and was the team’s best pitcher for a stretch, despite pitching in just 12 games above Single-A.

Never mind the fact that Kendrick, apparently, was not even worthy of an invitation to spring training.

“We were in a desperate situation and we had some opportunities for some guys and they stepped up,” Gillick said.

Gillick also contributed a bit of unintentional levity during the Q&A session. When asked if cobbling together a team on the fly for the run at the division title was fun, Gillick gave a terse, stone-faced reply.

“No,” he said. “It’s not fun at all.”

Well… maybe it’s not fun for him, but the rest of us had a blast. From the looks of it, things are just beginning, too.

How far can they go?
An e-mailer sent me the odds (via bodog.com) regarding the Phillies’ chances in the playoffs as seen by the gambling types and it’s worth nothing that the local nine is given a 7-to-1 chance to win the World Series.

It’s also worth noting that amongst all eight teams in the playoffs, that figure is sixth best… bit it’s second-best (behind the Cubs) in the National League. Of the four teams in the NL side of the bracket, the Phillies are a 5-to-2 bet to win the pennant.

Before walking out of the press box tonight, I took a quick poll of the straggling scribes putting the finishing touches on stories that are sure to make Heywood Hale Broun jealous… if he were alive.

Here’s what I was told:

Howard Bryant – ESPN: Phillies vs. Yankees in World Series
Jim Salisbury – Philadelphia Inquirer: Phillies in 5
Dennis Deitch – Delaware County Daily Times: The winner of the Phillies-Rockies series will go to the World Series
Scott Lauber – Wilmington News Journal: Phillies in 5; Phillies vs. Yankees in World Series.
John Finger – Comcast SportsNet: Phillies in 4; Diamondbacks vs. Yankees in the World Series…

Hey, I’m going out on a limb. I like to go against the grain even though it might not be what I believe.

More from the ballpark tomorrow morning… we’re going to go live during the game, again.

Manuel and Gillick on Myers

MANUEL
When I listened to him, it was something that comment they put out described it so there’s nota whole lot more I can add to it.

I didn’t say too much too him.

I think getting back on the mound will be good for him and I think he’s ready. I don’t think this is going to be a big distraction at all for him.

(matured)
I don’t know what I want to say about that.

(Belle)
Not to our players it wasn’t. We faced different problems in Cleveland. Usually when a guy played, he played good. A pitcher pitched god and a player played good.

This morning around 8 a.m.

Gotta be able to take it I guess and handle it.

(Team)
I think they’ll definitely rally behind him. I think if they like him, they’ll get behind him and I think they have respect for him.

(Reaction)
My first reaction was I wanted everything to be all right.

(25 stay with through career)
I think these things have a way of working themselves out.

(Michaels)
I think that we handled that pretty good.

(reflection)
I want our team to be perceived to be what it is. Of the teams in the big leagues that I’ve been around, I think we have an outstanding group of guys. You have problems with every single one of them. Problems are a part of life. Problems are something you work through.

(on Manuel)
Do I think it reflects on me? Absolutely not.

GILLICK
How troubling is this for you and the team?
At this point, it’s a sensitive issue, and I certainly think that anything affects the players or our team, we take it very seriously.

Expect Myers to be mentally ready?
I think he will be. I think he’s the type of guy who, when he gets between the stripes on the field, I think he’ll certainly be competitive. One of the things with Brett is sometimes he’s a little too competitive and overthrows a little bit. I think he might be a little emotional tomorrow.

Support for Brett?
Again, we offer whatever support for he and his wife. Whatever needs they might have, the Phillies are her to support not only Brett and Kim, but any of our players.

Skipping him tomorrow?
You’d have to ask the manager about that. I don’t make that.

As a longtime baseball man, do you think it’s a good idea for him to pitch?
I think he’ll be fine and it’s in the best interests of the club. He’s been our best pitcher. I think it’s in the best interests of the club that he pitches tomorrow.

Spoken to him?
Yeah, I’ve had an opportunity to talk to him.

State his mind?
I can’t comment on that.

Did he tell you what happened?
I can’t comment on that, basically, because this is ongoing from a legal standpoint.

I found out early this morning.

My indication was that he wanted to pitch tomorrow. You’d have to talk to Charlie and Rich, but I don’t think there was much thought about skipping him.

Significant distraction?
I think our players are professional. When you go out on the field, you try to put any distraction behind you, whatever it might be. When you’re on the field, there’s intensity. I think that’s what our players will do.

Reaction?
It’s an unfortunate situation. I wish whatever did occur didn’t occur.

Embarrassment?
I don’t know that it’s an embarrassment. It’s certainly something that we’re very sensitive to. We’re going to be supportive of the players no matter what the situation is.

Discipline?
There have been some charges made, and I think we have to wait until the outcome of whatever proceedings the commonwealth of Massachussetts brings forward. I think you have to wait until the outcome before you think about discipline.

Stand Pat

General manager Pat Gillick made a rare pre-game appearance on the field before yesterday’s game. No, Gillick isn’t avoiding anything, he’s just busy and perhaps I’m still used to seeing the last GM – dressed in suit, jacket and tie – down on the field before every game.

Obviously, Pat Gillick has a different way of doing things.

Nevertheless, Gillick took the time to talk to a few of the scribes before the game and addressed a few issues regarding the baseball team. Among them:

On the recent spate of losses
“It’s more of the way we’ve played. We haven’t played real smart. We’ve made some stupid mistakes. We haven’t played a lot of really good, clean games.”

On the starting pitching
“Our starting pitching has been so inconsistent. That really, I think, sets the tone. Hopefully, we can get some consistency.”

“That’s the only way you put a streak together. (During the team’s May winning streak), when you look at it, our starting pitching earned run average was very respectable. That’s why, I think, we won the games.”

On a potential trade to get more pitching
“I think that those people who are going to move pitching are probably going to wait toward the end of the deadline, closer to July 31st.”

On the amount of deals in the next month
“I think those people who are going to move pitching are probably going to wait until toward the end of the deadline… . Whoever moves, I think they’re going to be getting a premium.”

And most revealing…

“There’s probably clubs out there that have more to offer than we do.”

As he has always maintained, Gillick said the team has no “untouchables.” However, it will be very difficult to trade “5 and 10” guys like Rheal Cormier and Mike Lieberthal, as well as players with high salaries and no-trade clauses like Bobby Abreu, David Bell, Pat Burrell, Randy Wolf (can’t trade a player on DL anyway) and Jon Lieber.

On top of that, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels, players with relatively low salaries, are the nucleus of the franchise and won’t be going anywhere.

In other words, don’t count on the Phillies making a blockbuster this season.