Fifth inning: Kendrick in for Pedro

We have Sarah Baicker over here doing some baseball stuff. She’s writing the official, CSNPhilly.com epic on Jamie Moyer while I just write until my hands fall off.

Ew.

Either way, it’s fair to say Pedro didn’t exactly dial it up in his first game back. In fact, he started slow as he normally does in what might be his final start of the regular season. As far as the playoffs go, we’ll see. My guess is Pedro will be the fourth man in the rotation behind Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton.

If it were me, I’d go old-school manager in the bullpen and have J.A. Happ give me a few multi-inning saves if the situation arose.

Nevertheless, if Pedro gets the ball again he has to do something about those first innings. This season hitters are 14-for-40 against him in the first. That’s not too good.

Meanwhile, Kyle Kendrick came on for the fifth and continued his strong work in relief for the Phillies since his recall from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He wasn’t great in last Saturday’s start in Milwaukee, but as a reliever he’s ben pretty good. Heading into Wednesday’s game, Kendrick appeared in five games out of the ‘pen for a 2.89 ERA in nine innings. Take away his first outing of the year against the Red Sox in June and Kendrick has not allowed a run in relief.

That includes the scoreless inning he tossed in the fifth, too.

Who knows… he very well might find his way onto the playoff roster if he isn’t careful.

That playoff berth seems a lot more likely now thanks to back-to-back triples to start the inning from Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino.

Fifth inning: Phillies 7, Astros 3

Second Inning: Instant replay

pedroAnd so the Astros regained the lead very quickly in the second when catcher J.R. Towles belted one just over the fence in left-center. It also was reviewed upon the request of Astros’ manager Dave Clark.

From the naked eye, Towles’ blast looked as if it hit the very top of the fence and bounced back into play. The review, however, proved otherwise.

Maybe they ought to do something to make the replay system work better in baseball. Like how about if every play can be challenged and if the manager proves to be wrong, he loses a visit to the mound or a bench player. Better yet, how about if one of those players is a reliever?

To give a manager one less pitching change per game if a challenge is wrong could really speed up the game. Then again, the whole bit on replay kind of negates any speed a lack of a pitching change would bring.

While we’re on the topic, I wouldn’t mind seeing the warning track be replaced with quick sand.

So in his first outing since Sept. 19, Pedro coughed up runs in the first two innings.

Interestingly, Pedro drilled pitcher Brian Moehler with a pitch after Towles’ homer. The pitch sailed behind Moehler and appeared to get him on the backside.

No harm, though. Moehler went out and got the Phillies in order thanks to a double play grounder by Jayson Werth.

FYI: Werth is 4-for-10 in his last three-plus games, but 5 for his last 34.

Is that a slump or a hot streak?

Second inning: Astros 2, Phillies 1

First Inning: A select club

Get this… only one other manager in Phillies history has guided the team to three straight titles in the NL East (before Charlie, of course). In fact, no other manager in team history has taken the team to the playoffs three times.

There’s Charlie and there is Danny Ozark.

When I first learned about what baseball was, Danny Ozark was the manager of the Phillies. Better yet, when I was a kid, Danny Ozark took the Phillies to the playoffs every year.

It was because of Ozark, who died at age 85 last May, that I also learned the time-tested idiom of baseball that managers are hired to be fired. In August of 1979 Ozark was released from his job as manager of the Phillies, which at the time was baffling to me. My youthful naïveté just saw the three consecutive playoff appearances and the back-to-back 101-win seasons, which is a feat never duplicated before or since in team history

I can’t say I have too many memories of Ozark’s work other than the time I went to game at The Vet when I was a kid and he came onto the field to argue a call or maybe he got ejected. I can’t recall though through the magic of the web site that is Baseball-Reference, I dug up the box score.

Anyway, it seemed as if Ozark was the right man at the time to build up the Phillies to a playoff caliber team. He took them right up to the crest of the hill, but had to step aside so Dallas Green could push them over the top.

From the sound of things, Charlie Manuel nailed it when describing Ozark after his death last May.

“I knew Danny Ozark and I considered him a friend of mine,” Manuel said. “He used to talk to me a lot. I was a player when he managed in the minor leagues. He was great guy – a great baseball guy. He was a dedicated baseball guy. He was a good teacher, too. He loved the game and had a good personality about him, too.”

Calling someone a “good baseball man” is one of the highest words of praise from the baseball fraternity. When one hears another call someone a baseball man, well, you can tell a lot about that guy immediately. So it sounds like Danny Ozark was a good guy and Philadelphia was lucky to have him for a few glorious years.

Ballgame: Pedro got into a jam in the first, but then again that’s just what he does. Three one-out singles loaded the bases, which forced Pedro to bear down. After a strikeout, Hunter Pence worked the count to 3-0, before it got to 3-2 where he fouled off three in a row.

The nice little battle ended when the eighth pitch of the at-bat was outside.

It’s worth noting that those white towels they gave out as fans walked into the park tonight look pretty cool when everyone waves them around. The fans also appeared to believe that Pedro got pinched on a couple pitches to Pence and Kaz Matsui.

The Phillies got that run back, though. Jimmy Rollins led off with a double and moved up to third on a bunt by Victorino. Why bunt so early in the game when the Phillies are known for their ability to score runs?

Simple. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard wear out Astros pitcher Brian Moehler. Headed into the game, Utley was 7-for-20 with a 1.108 OPS against the veteran righty, and Howard was 10-for-20 with three homers, three doubles and seven RBIs.

Of course Victorino was 7-for-14 heading in, too, so who knows if the bunt was a little too conservative. Besides, the Phils manufactured a run on Utley’s ground out to knot it.

First inning: Phillies 1, Astros 1

Baseballtown, USA

reading outsideThe first time I ever walked into Fenway Park, I thought to myself, “Hey, this is just like Reading, only bigger…”

And older, of course. Fenway Park opened shortly after the Titanic went down in 1912. Reading Municipal Stadium, as it was known when it opened, has been hosting baseball games since 1951. That makes it a relic by today’s standards, but the ironic thing is the movement in stadium building (which ought to be about finished now, right? Doesn’t every city, town and hamlet have its own new ballpark by now?) is to be both old and new at the same time.

Reading appears to have gotten that part right in 1951.

I was the last Philly-area scribe out of the ballpark last night following Kyle Drabek’s 10th outing for the R-Phils, and on the way out I flashed back to a few of those times at Fenway. Walking those empty corridors in search for an exit was reminiscent of a time in 2004 when Jim Thome and I (name-dropping!) did the same thing. See, at Fenway, the visitors’ clubhouse opens right out on the main concourse and the ballplayers have to walk through the same halls the fans traipsed through during the game. So when looking for the way out – me to an elevator to write a story before walking back to the Marriott, Thome to his waiting town car – Thome talked about the ambiance of the joint and I mentioned how it reminded me of Reading, Pa.

Back when Thome played in the Double-A Eastern League, he probably saw the same thing. Just like Fenway, the clubhouses at FirstEnergy Stadium (as it’s called now) open right onto the concourses. The difference is that the ballplayers actually have to wade through the fans in order to get back to the showers and training room. Another difference is that the home clubhouse in Reading is larger than the visitors’ clubhouse at Fenway.

Another difference is at Fenway they sell chowder and lo mein on the concourse. At Reading it’s funnel cake and Yeungling.

Anyway, Reading’s moniker as, “Baseball Town” is well deserved. In fact, the web site Minor League News rated FirstEnergy as the second-best ballpark in the country. The funny thing about that is all the other minor-league parks rated in the top 10 all opened since 2000. To me that should give Reading more points since those other places seem to be attempting to create what FirstEnergy has naturally.

It looks like a smaller, chowder-less Fenway inside, a little like old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore on the outside, which opened around the same time as the park in Reading, but was demolished in 2001. But comparisons aside, the little ol’ ballpark in Reading, Pa. is pure baseball through and through.

For those into the game at its bare essence, it’s tough to beat Reading, Pa.

*

view from left-field cornerAlong those lines, Coca-Cola Park in Allentown is nothing to sneeze at either. Chances are Pedro Martinez will be working in his second rehab assignment this Friday in A-town, so some folks who rarely venture out of the city confines might make the trip up the NE Extension, too.

Which brings up an interesting point…

Here in Lancaster they have an Atlantic League ballclub managed by ex-Cardinal/Twin/Phillie Tom Herr where they play games in one of those nouveau minor-league parks that pop up everywhere like a big box store in a strip mall. Truth be told, it’s a pretty nice way to spend an evening in a place where there are a dearth of truly exciting things to do.

Nevertheless, Lancaster’s ballpark will never be a destination for the hardcore baseball fan simply because there is no reason to watch a game there. In Lancaster, the pro team will never have Major Leaguers in town for a rehab game or the hot prospects around for a summer or two on the path to the big leagues. With no affiliation with a big league club in a city that could very well support a Double-A club, the team is filled with guys just hoping for one last chance or just playing for the love of the game.

Nothing wrong with that.

But it doesn’t make for quality baseball. Sure, the majority of folks don’t go to baseball games for the quality of the game, but, you know, I do. And there are other seamheads out there into the same thing.

Quality… why is that so difficult a concept to accept these days? And that just ain’t for baseball, either. Give people something good instead of a sales pitch and they’ll beat down the door.

That’s guaranteed.

Late-night notes from the win over the Mets

Years from now, when they are putting together the book on Carlos Ruiz, it will show that the catcher picked up his first big-league hit against Pedro Martinez. The Pedro Martinez, as in one of those guys who goes only by a first name like Dean, Sammy, Frank, and Liza.

Just Pedro.

Let the record show it was a hard hit ball to right field in the second inning.

Meanwhile, Ruiz has a pretty strong reputation as a solid receiver behind the plate. After working with him in the past, Ryan Madson said Ruiz is easy to throw to and sets a nice target. Following Tuesday night’s start where he allowed five hits and no walks in eight innings — the longest outing by a Phillies’ starter this season — Brett Myers had nothing but praise for Ruiz.

“We were on the same page and he never caught me before,” Myers said. “He’s not intimidated back there.”

***
Aaron Rowand is still hitting the ball well after his rough first week of the season — does anyone remember that at this point? During this undefeated homestand, Rowand is 9-for-22 with four homers despite claiming that he’s a notoriously slow starter. He also said he was pretty successful in losing a few bad habits he picked up late last year.

Such as?

“Leaning in over the plate.”

A World Champion with the White Sox last year, Rowand said the current winning streak is especially good since the Phillies are doing it so early in the season. After all, the season is a rollercoaster ride filled with peaks and valleys and all of those other fun cliches, right?

“It’s nice to get it early than later when it could be too late,” he said.

Meanwhile, as his hand (the same hand he broke by getting hit by a pitch in ’03) swelled up like a balloon and turned a dark shade of purple in the minutes following his plunking by Pedro in the sixth inning of the win over the Mets, Rowand refused to come out of the game. Fortunately, X-rays came back negative, but for a little while it appeared as if Rowand might have had a significant injury.

And if there is one guy the Phillies DO NOT want to lose, it’s Aaron Rowand. The man is a baseball player.

Still, Rowand said his lone at-bat following getting hit was not fun and he was not looking forward to gripping the bat for another. Luckily for Rowand and the Phillies, Bobby Abreu ended the game with his walk-off E-1.

***
When a game is on, I do not root for one team or another. Instead, I hope for something that will be a good story. The story is what I root for. However, there are quite a few players I like to watch more than others, such as Scott Rolen, Albert Pujols, John Smoltz, Jim Thome to name a few. Of this current crop of Phillies, Aaron Rowand is a very entertaining player to watch… next time you come to the park, watch him position himself on every pitch in center field. He can really play that position well.