World Series: Gotta get to Mo

mo riveraPHILADELPHIA—It was back in Washington, probably in late August or early September when all we did was write about the proper way to use a relief pitcher and closers. Needless to say it was during one of Brad Lidge’s many rough patches of 2009 and there was a whole bunch of name dropping and philosophizing by the likes of me.

It wasn’t just willy-nilly name dropping, either. Oh sure, there was Eckersley, Sutter, Goose, Sparky Lyle, Mike Marshall and, of course, Fingers. But we also waxed on about Rawly Eastwick, Will McEnaney and the socialism of baseball with its division of labor and labels.

Labels, we decided, were bad. However, since the Phillies seem to have their label/labor issues figured out, there is no need to go overboard when discussing the best use of the so-called “closer.”

Besides, Mariano Rivera makes that Rawly Eastwick look like Will McEnaney.

Oh yes, Mariano Rivera. His two-inning save against the Phillies in Game 2 of the World Series on Thursday night might have been a record-breaker, but it wasn’t exactly a study in the efficiency of pitching. The Phillies made Rivera throw 39 pitches in order to get his 10th career save in the World Series. They also brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the eighth inning, and the tying run in the ninth.

These weren’t mere flash-flood rallies either. In the eighth with one out Rivera had to face Chase Utley with Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino on base. Utley had ripped two homers the night before to pace the Phillies to the win, but this time Rivera got the inning-ending double play.

Sure, the TV replays showed that Utley was safe, but it was significant enough that Rivera got Utley to hit into a double play considering the lefty hit into just five of them all year and has grounded into just 49 double plays in his entire career.

Indeed, the lefty hitting Utley got one of those cutters Rivera throws.

In the ninth Matt Stairs faced Rivera with two outs and a runner on with a chance to tie it. Stairs, as we know, has had some success against big-time closers, but this one ended just as it has so many times with Rivera.

As soon as Stairs made the final out of the game, the talk started. For instance, there are a few that suggested that even though the Phillies didn’t score against Rivera, they got to him a bit. They saw those 39 pitches, of course, and sent eight hitters to the plate in those two innings. The idea, as it’s been written and spoken, was that the Phillies got a good, long look at Rivera and will be ready for the next time.

“Now you have a game plan,” Rollins said. “We didn’t really see Mariano during the season. Spring training, he comes in, I’m out of the game. So, it’s a mystery. Like, we know what he’s going to do. It’s no surprise. It’s not a secret. You’re getting a cutter. All right. You’re getting another cutter. All right. Now here comes another one. That’s what makes him such a good pitcher, because he’s not trying to trick you. But when you see him, you figure out how much his ball is moving. Once you find your approach, you’ve got to be stubborn with it because he’s going to be stubborn with what he’s going to do to you.”

Manager Charlie Manuel was one of those who believed the Phillies’ long look at Rivera was beneficial.

“We can hit Rivera. We can hit any closer. We’ve proved that,” Manuel said. “He’s one of the best closers in baseball, if not the best. He’s very good. But I’ve seen our team handle good pitching and we’re definitely capable of scoring runs late in the game.”

Here’s the big question from all of this… what makes this time so different? What is it the Phillies get that no other team, for the last 15 years, couldn’t figure out?

What makes the Phillies so darned special?

Certainly the Phillies didn’t need to see 39 pitches to know all about Rivera. He throws the cutter and like Pedro Martinez, Rivera is a force of nature. Hitters know what he’s going to throw and when he’s going to throw it, but he still turns bats into kindling. The Phillies, like every other team in the world, send scouts to watch Rivera pitch, they’ve seen him on TV, during spring training and on a continuous loop on the monitors in the clubhouse.

Really, what makes those 39 pitches any different?

“I don’t think you can be scared of anyone in baseball,” Victorino said. “You have to have the resiliency to say, ‘This guy is good. but we can beat him.’ His numbers show how good he is, but you can’t go with that mindset because then you’re beating yourself.”

OK, fine. But in the carefully choreographed world of relief pitching, Rivera is just like all those names we dropped earlier. Actually, check that… he’s better than them. That’s because in 21 World Series appearances—one fewer than Whitey Ford’s all-time record—Rivera has pitched 33 innings, finished 16 games and notched 10 saves.

Needless to say the 10 saves are the best in World Series history, with Fingers second with six. More notable, Rivera has saved four World Series games with multi-innings outings. Again, that’s another record.

So why is it that the Phillies think they can do what only one other team has done in 21 tries?

Maybe it was the 11-pitch at-bat from Rollins in the eighth where he earned a walk (like he really earned it) after falling behind in the count 1-and-2 and then fouling off five pitches. That’s the harbinger.

After all, the last time Rivera threw as many as 39 pitches when going for a two-inning save, the Red Sox rallied for a victory in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS and began the greatest comeback in baseball history.

The NLCS: Greatest Phillies team ever?

Comparisons between teams of different eras are not only difficult to do logically, but also they are odious. Seriously, the game changes so much from generation to generation that there is no way one can compare, say, the 1977 Phillies to the 2009 Phils. The game does not exist in a vacuum (or whatever). We see it just by looking at the stat sheet.

Needless to say, baseball statistics are essentially meaningless.

Take that with a grain of salt, however. The numbers are the only proof that a lot of people have to understand if a player is performing well. But I don’t need to look up Garry Maddox’s VORP or OPS to know that he was a better center fielder than Shane Victorino. Sure, there are numbers on the page and I suppose they have meaning. But if you ever got the chance to watch Maddox go gap to gap to chase down every single fly ball hit into the air, you just know.

Nevertheless, since the Phillies are on the cusp of going to the World Series for th second season in a row, those old, odious comparisons come up. They kind of have to, right? Well, yeah… after all, there really aren’t very many good seasons in the 126 years of Phillies baseball to compare.

The good years are easily categorized. There were the one-hit wonder years of 1950 and 1993; the stretch where ol’ Grover Cleveland Alexander took the Phils to the series in 1915; and then the Golden Era from 1976 to 1983 where the Phillies went to the playoffs six times in eight seasons.

Then there is now.

Obviously two straight visits to the World Series are unprecedented in team history. Actually, the five-year stint in which Charlie Manuel has guided the team are the best five years in club history. At least that’s what the bottom line says.

In just five years as the manager of the Phillies, Manuel has won 447 games. Only Gene Mauch, Harry Wright and Danny Ozark have won more games in franchise history and those guys were around for a lot longer than five years. Interestingly, Manuel ranks fourth in franchise wins and seventh in games.

That pretty much says it all right there, doesn’t it? Based on the wins and accomplishments, this is the greatest era of Phillies baseball and the 2009 club could very well go down as the best team ever—whether they win the World Series over the Yankees (Angels are done, right?) or not.

Still, I’d take Maddox over Victorino, Steve Carlton over Cole Hamels, Bake McBride over Jayson Werth; Bob Boone over Carlos Ruiz; Greg Luzinski way over Pat Burrell (and Raul Ibanez, too); and, obviously, Mike Schmidt over Pedro Feliz.

But I’d also take Chase Utley’s bat over Manny Trillo’s glove; Jimmy Rollins over Larry Bowa; and Ryan Howard over Pete Rose or Richie Hebner.

Those are the easy choices. Those Golden Era teams had some underrated players like Dick Ruthven and Del Unser, but they would have been much better with a Matt Stairs type.

No, the truth is I’d take the 2009 Phillies over those other teams and it’s not because of the players comparisons or the win totals. It’s because they are a better team.

Yeah, that’s right, these guys are the best team.

Of course I never got to go into the clubhouse to see Larry Bowa’s divisive act, Steve Carlton’s oddness, or Mike Schmidt’s diva-like act. You know, that is if the stories from those days are true…

Nope, give me a team instead of one that had the indignity to run into a pair of dynasties in the making. First the Phillies had to contend with the Cincinnati Reds and The Big Red Machine before those great Dodgers’ clubs emerged. There is no team in the NL East or National League, for that matter, that is as good as the Phillies have been.

The Mets, Dodgers or Cardinals? Nope, no and nah.

More importantly, now that Pat Burrell is gone the Phillies don’t have a true divisive force in the clubhouse. There is no more of that creepy us-against-them battle anymore considering the relief corps did a reality show with the MLB Network.

Think Warren Brusstar and Kevin Saucier would have been asked to do something like “The Pen” if they were playing these days?

No, the these Phillies have nothing as obnoxious or weird as Bowa or Carlton. They are not the 25-guys in 25-cabs team. It’s a real baseball team.

We’ll see what happens when (and if) the Phillies get to the World Series, but in this instance we’ll go with Victorino gang over Maddox’s group.

Pittsburgh, baseball and Clemente

Roberto_Clemente_bridgePITTSBURGH – Once, Pittsburgh was a great baseball town. In fact, Pittsburgh is a lot like its cross-Commonwealth sister city, Philadelphia, in that sense. Baseball with its rhythms, consistency and old traditions was a perfect fit for cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh because those traits meant something.

But times change and things that were once popular sometimes fall aside. Sure, baseball is still popular in Philadelphia. A team just coming off a victory in the World Series can’t help but be popular. That’s been obvious all summer when fans from the east have traveled all over the country just to say they saw the hometown team in a different place.

Nowhere was that more evident than in Pittsburgh this week where the team’s hotel was overrun with fans, autograph seekers and gawkers hoping to catch an eyeful of the baseball champs. More amazed than perturbed, the Phillies’ traveling party could only curse Pittsburgh’s coziness, proximity to Philadelphia, and magnificent ballpark for folks desire to camp out everywhere the team went.

The difference between the two cities is that in Pittsburgh its football and hockey teams win championships. Aside from serving as reigning champs in both sports, the football team has won six Super Bowls in seven attempts, while the hockey club won its third title last spring.

Oh, don’t think Philly fans aren’t a touch envious. That’s especially the case considering the football Eagles are going on 50 years without a title, while the Flyers are inching toward their 35th straight Cup-less season.

Meanwhile, the baseball team just can’t seem to put together winning seasons or fill its beautiful ballpark. Unless the Pirates go on a historical run, they will finish the 2009 season with a losing record for the 17th year in a row. Nope, the Pirates haven’t ended a season above .500 since Barry Bonds left town for San Francisco.

Remember when Bonds played for the Pirates? You know, back when there were just two divisions in each league and Pittsburgh and Philly played each other 18 times a year. The Pirates were in the NL East back then and featured some really great teams. Bonds’ teams came so close to going to the World Series in three straight seasons with Jim Leyland in the managers’ seat.

Those were hardly the best Pittsburgh teams, though. The 1903 Pirates lost to the Red Sox in the very first World Series ever played, while the 1909 club is regarded by some baseball historians to be the greatest team ever. They won 110 games that season during the tail end of Honus Wagner’s career. Wagner, of course, is regarded as the greatest to ever play shortstop in baseball history. Ol’ Honus retired playing after the 1917 season and died in 1955, but he still olds the Pirates records in games, runs, triples and times on base.

first_WSAsk any Pittsburgher about their team and there will be stories about Dave Parker, Dick Groat, Elroy Face, the Waner Bros., Pie Traynor, and, of course, Willie Stargell and the fantastic run in 1979. Of course in the late 1970s there were always those brutally tough games against the Phillies that always seemed to determine which team would make it out of the NL East and into the playoffs.

There’s (rightfully) a larger than life statue of Willie Stargell outside of the ballpark where he seems ready to take a big swing and knock one into the far reaches of a ballpark somewhere. Until the new ballparks were built in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Stargell hit the longest homers in the Commonwealth. That old Stargell Star at the Vet was always a beacon as well as something of a tourist destination.

Of course what the Stargell statue in Pittsburgh does not depict is that whirly bat twirl he performed in the box before every pitch. How many kids from the ‘70s grew up imitating Stargell’s routines?

Moreover, there is a historical marker in a grassy area on the waterfront next to PNC Park pinpointing the approximate spot where the Pirates hosted the first World Series game in a National League city. In fact, Pittsburgh’s baseball history is a year older than in Philadelphia with the Alleghenys/Pirates starting in 1882.

Nevertheless, it’s been a rough decade-plus for the Pirates and baseball in Pittsburgh. Perhaps the thought was the beautiful new ballpark would spur a rebirth of sorts, but when every team has a new stadium or a bona fide historical site in which to play, the cachet and novelty of such a thing wears off pretty quickly.

In other words, there’s only so much a new ballpark can do for a club.

The argument that Pittsburgh is just the 20th biggest media market in baseball doesn’t explain things, either. After all, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Oakland have all made the playoffs in recent years. That means there is no reason why a cash-strapped or smaller market ballclub can’t get it done.

Yet for some reason Pittsburgh hasn’t been able to win and that’s perplexing. The football team in Pittsburgh has won the most ever Super Bowls, while the hockey team is always competitive playing in a building that looks as if it popped out of some sort of futuristic Disney concoction from the late ‘60s.

In the future, man will play sports on ice indoors during the summertime.

With so much going for them such as a picturesque city that enticed the French traders with its lush hills carved out of the terrain by the confluence of three major rivers in one location, it’s a wonder the baseball ops folks can’t get it done. Really, they have it all:

Nice ballpark – check.
Beautiful city – check.
Earnest and diehard fans – check.
Historical franchise – check.

What’s the deal then?

Until the Pirates figure it out, there will be one name that represents all that is good about baseball anywhere.

clementeRoberto Clemente played for Pittsburgh and he was the man.

Certainly everyone knows all the important details of Clemente’s life and career by now, but if not, pick up Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss biography. In the meantime, it’s tough for students of baseball history to walk the streets of the city and not think of Clemente. Simply put, he was more than a baseball player – they don’t name schools, parks and awards after mere ballplayers.

And that’s not just in Pittsburgh. All over the country homage is paid to Puerto Rico’s prince. Some have suggested that Clemente’s No. 21 be retired all over baseball just like Jackie Robinson’s No. 42. It’s not a bad idea since some folks view Clemente’s emergence as a star as a touchstone moment not just in baseball or sports, but in the larger culture.

They say Clemente is as significant a figure as Jackie Robinson. Considering the influx of Latino players in professional ball, they just might be onto something, too.

In baseball the Roberto Clemente Award is given to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team,” as voted on by baseball fans and members of the media. The Phillies’ most recent nominee for the award is Shane Victorino who was born long after Clemente died in a plane crash on a humanitarian mission to earthquake ravaged Nicaragua on New Year’s Eve of 1972.

But Victorino understands Clemente’s legacy and his place in culture. No, he doesn’t sense Clemente’s spirit when in Pittsburgh, but he’s impressed with what he has been able to glean from highlight footage. After all, in some ways Victorino is the same sort of player.

“He played the game hard and had an unbelievable arm,” Victorino said. “He was someone who changed the game. The way he played the game, he could do it all. He wasn’t just good at one part of the game.”

What impressed Victorino the most was the footage from the 1971 World Series where Clemente did everything. His throws from right field and helmet flying off his head as he dug for a triple left undeniable marks on the game and became something more than a MVP-type ballplayer plying the intricacies of his craft. It was fodder for art and culture. In a city that was once defined as the manufacturing center for steel and industry, Clemente was the graceful hero. He was elegant as opposed to the brutish nature of football that now keeps the city rapt.

It’s a shame that baseball is not popular in Clemente’s town, but maybe that’s a good thing, too. Clemente set the bar so high that maybe it will be impossible to match those glory days.

Then again, maybe the best way the modern Pirates can do proper honor to the legacy of Clemente and his brethren is to get it together.

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.

//

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.

Taking it easy

raulThe nice thing about ballplayers is they all get on the same page. They are consistent. They have a staple of tried-and-true clichés that they like to trot out in certain situations and they work. It’s reasonable. Smart.

Sometimes there is just nothing to say or anything to talk about.

After last night’s loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, Shane Victorino rolled through the clubhouse on his way to the shower/training room/dining room when some media types asked him if they could ask him a few questions. But without breaking stride and offering just a short glance over his shoulder, Victorino gave the press the Heisman.

“I didn’t do bleep,” he said.

Uh, yeah… that’s the point.

Nevertheless, the main problem for the 6-7 Phillies appears to have universal acceptance. It’s history. The Phillies are notorious for their poor Aprils so why should it be any different this year? The problem this April is that the team just can’t find its mojo. Every time they get going it rains, or there is a day off, or another ceremony. It makes it even more difficult for a team that finds comfort in the mundane and routine like the Phillies.

They are “rhythmatic.”

But really – who complains about too many days off? Sure, the part about not being able to find a rhythm is understandable, but days off… really? In baseball? It’s a long season as it is and the Phillies have 149 games and six months left to play, which means they better enjoy those off days now. Come September they might even be begging for a day off just to be able to set up the pitching rotation properly.

Hell, it won’t take long for those off days to be few and far between. Starting today the Phillies play 17 games in 18 days with 10 of them at home and two in New York. If there was ever a time to start racking up some wins, it’s now.

Better yet, the Phillies play 19 of their first 31 games at home. Wait until they get out on the road late in the season without off days or even the threat of rain on the horizon. Maybe then they’ll remember April and the opportunity they had.

*

This morning the train station was crowded with high school track teams making the way to Franklin Field for the first day of The Penn Relays. Today’s action is mostly high school races before giving way to the traditional “distance night” when the some pretty good local runners will duke it out on the famous track.

But if you’re looking for the big-time names at this year’s relays, forget it – this is the year after the Olympics which sometimes means the big-timers lay low for a bit.

Still, the Penn Relays might be the best spectator sport festival in the city. It’s very difficult not to get swept up in all the action so if you haven’t been to Franklin Field to watch the races yet, get there. It’s definitely one of those things every Philadelphian should see at least once.

*

Last night the windows in the press box were closed down after the first inning as the wind and rain took over the region. Hey, it got cold… why should we be comfortable? This isn’t 1865… we have electricity and indoor plumbing.

Nevertheless, when the windows began closing a few fans sitting in the proximity of the press box began heckling members of the local sporting press for being “wimps” or worse.

Can you believe it? Heckling the sensitive and delicate press corps?

How rude!

However, this morning I was alerted to the fact that a certain Phillies broadcaster also resorted to name-calling and tongue-clucking when the windows came down. That’s his right, I suppose. Still, it seems a bit hypocritical that the same broadcaster came to sit in the warmth of the press box when he was neither on radio nor TV.

The nerve of that guy…

Good idea, bad execution

Punto!Ed. note: This post was supposed to be a little ol’ post here, but it turned into something bigger over at the CSN site. It’s not all that different, just longer.

The second biannual World Baseball Classic is in full swing, and already the disinterest and speculation over its relevance is palpable.

Or maybe not. I have yet to hear anyone say, “Hey, did you see that big play in the Mexico vs. South Africa game at the WBC?” In fact, I haven’t heard anyone talk about the World Baseball Classic at all. I haven’t read it in the blogs, either. It just doesn’t seem to be gaining a foothold.

Certainly that’s no knock on the WBC. After all, there is a veritable media saturation of sports, leagues, players and everything else that goes with it. Adding one more event into an already stuffed buffet is probably not the greatest of marketing plans.

Nevertheless, there are ways to spice up the WBC. For instance, it seems as if one’s country of nationality is no deterrent for which team(s) a guy can play for. Look at Alex Rodriguez – he was born in New York, raised in Florida and was playing for the Dominican Republic. Nick Punto was born in San Diego, raised in Mission Viejo and is playing for Italy in the WBC.

In fact, Hawaiian Shane Victorino was approached to play for Italy before the first WBC in 2007. The odd thing about that is Victorino isn’t Italian. He’s Portugese, Asian and Polynesian. In other words, American. He was asked to play for Italy simply because his surname sounded Italian.

So that gives me an idea…

If A-Rod can play for the Dominican Republic and Punto for Italy, why not just hold a draft. Open it up for all the nations kind of like that sketch from “The Chappelle Show” and let the players join the team that claims them. Let David Ortiz play for Italy or David Wright for China.

Since players can seemingly play for any nation even if they aren’t a citizen, just go ahead and make it All-Star tourney. Hey, if they are going to make a joke of the borders and citizenship, why not make a joke of the entire thing?

Better yet, why not just have trades? Say Mexico needs a left-handed bat at the top of the order – why can’t they trade for Ichiro? Hey, if Nick Punto can play for Italy, Ichiro ought to be able to play for Mexico.

Right?

Perhaps the best reason why the WBC is just plain silly comes from one of this site’s favorite topics, Curt Schilling. As jingoistic an American as there is, Schilling says he would turn down an invitation to play for the U.S. (or maybe Norway, too) in the WBC because it’s not fair to the pitchers. In fact, Schilling wrote in his blog, “38 Pitches,” that if he were a big-league GM he would not allow any pitchers on the 40-man roster to participate.

Schilling wrote:

… you just can’t ‘be ready’ for until you are truly ‘ready’. Until you’ve worked your pitch counts up, had a tough outing or two in the spring, stepping into a ML stadium full of fans ramps it to a whole new level.

If I were, and I know I am not, a GM I would have some sort of protection in contracts prohibiting any pitchers on my 40 man roster from participating.

I can’t speak to position players because their lives and their preparation are so vastly different than pitchers, but I can tell you as a pitcher that the last thing on this planet I would want to do would be to be asked to go ‘full tilt’ (and make no mistake about it, what you are seeing from them is everything they have at that point) at this incredibly early time in the season.

So is the solution batting tees or batting practice pitchers? Should the WBC become just a glorified home run derby kind of like the one they have at the All-Star Game?

Maybe if they did it that way people would talk about it.

Nevertheless, the WBC seems to be one of those “good in theory, bad in execution” deals. Like Marxism.wa

Anyone else get the idea that the Phillies are feeling pretty loose?

The loquacious Shane Victorino took the time to chat with Tom McCarthy and Chris Wheeler during last weekend’s Grapefruit League game against Tampa Bay and had the session hijacked by another Team USA member and fellow Gold Glove Award winner:

What’s with the lasso? That’s, um… weird?

Video via The Fightins

Are we excited or what!?

LOS ANGELES – I’m out of it. Stuck in a bubble, if you will (will you?). I know what the Phillies’ big, come-from-behind victory in Game 4 means and all of that, but sitting out here in Los Angeles make it difficult to grasp how folks are reacting back home.

Are people excited? Cautiously optimistic? Giddy?

Can they believe that the Phillies are just one game away from going to the World Series?

The mood at the workout at Dodger Stadium was as loose and carefree as if the Phillies were in town for a three-game set in August. Shane Victorino held court for a bit and then took the time to chat about some things in the quiet of the runway between the dugout and the clubhouse.

Meanwhile, the small, antiquated clubhouse was filthy with media types. They were in town from all over just trying to get to the bottom of these Phillies and if they can get to the World Series.

One more win…

How did we get here?

***
I observed an interesting moment last night while waiting to get into the victorious clubhouse after the game. While fighting my way through the crowd, I heard a familiar voice complaining about manager Joe Torre’s handling of the pitching staff and how James Loney has been the team’s best RBI man all season long.

The voice was so familiar (and loud) that when I turned to look where it was coming from, I crashed right into its source:

It was Meat Head.

Yep, as he walked out of the special seats behind home plate after Game 4, Rob Reiner was playing armchair manager for everyone to hear.

And yes, everyone heard. If only Carroll O’Connor were around to tell him:

“Stifle it, will you…”

So yeah, I ran into Meat Head. Apparently he had seats near Barbara Streisand, who also attended the game.

I didn’t run into Babs (her outfit complete with black beret was like buttah), but I bet she spent the walk back to the car wondering why Jonathan Broxton challenged Matt Stairs with the heat.

More later… back into the bubble.

Third and fourth innings: Pay back time

LOS ANGELES – Here we go!

After Brett Myers threw one behind Manny Ramirez in Game 2, and Russell Martin got plunked by Jamie Moyer and crop dusted by Clay Condrey, Dodgers’ pitcher Hiroki Kuroda fired one over Shane Victorino’s head.

Gee, wonder what he was trying to do there?

After the purpose pitch, Victorino rightly gestured at Kuroda to drill him on the body if he’s going to do that crap and not up near his head. The conversation continued after Victorino grounded out to first base. Again, he told the pitcher to hit him instead of playing that head hunting bit.

Fine. All over, right? Message sent and received.

Or not.

As the benches spilled out onto the foul territory, Manny Ramirez exacerbated the situation by doing that chicken hold-me-back bit. Then Larry Bowa began chirping again and gesturing, which incensed things even more.

Yes, imagine that – Bowa stirring it up.

Here comes the cheap shot(s):

Hey Larry, how come Charlie could take these guys to the playoffs and you couldn’t? Go back to coaching third, tough guy.

Why can’t Davey Lopes just do the earth a favor and punch Larry Bowa in the mouth? C’mon Davey, I’m sure there are at least a few dozen guys behind you ready to pile on.

Anyway, the Phillies went quietly in the fourth. J.A. Happ has settled things down for the pitching, too. After giving up a one-out single to Matt Kemp, Happ retired four hitters in a row until he walked Manny. Happ also walked Martin, which set the table for Nomar Garciaparra’s two-out, RBI single.

End of 3: Dodgers 7, Phillies 1

Seventh inning: Close calls and Nomar

Things are starting to come together nicely for manager Charlie Manuel this afternoon. Actually, I guess it’s the evening now – it’s after 7 p.m.

Semantics aside, the game is playing out just the way ol’ Charlie likes it. He just had J.C. Romero in the seventh with set-up man Ryan Madson warming up for the eighth. For the last two months, Madson has been as sharp as he ever has at any point of his career. In the eighth, Madson has been as reliable as closer Brad Lidge has been in the ninth.

Meanwhile, Lidge isn’t throwing, but he’s stirring around out there in the bullpen.

Interestingly, though, Manuel looks as if he’s going to lean on Madson to get four outs tonight. After Romero gave out a two-out walk to Matt Kemp, manager Joe Torre sent in Nomar Garciaparra to pinch hit.

Isn’t it amazing that Nomar is pretty much just a pinch hitter these days? Remember how good he was before all the injuries took their toll? Remember that six-hit game he had at the Vet in the wild game that ended with Todd Pratt belting that walk-off bomb?

Mayhem reigned in that one.

Speaking of mayhem, the scene nearly broke into a state of anarchy with two outs in the inning when Casey Blake drilled one 400-feet to center field. The crowd actually gasped when it was hit, clearly thinking the worst. But when Shane Victorino measured it up, leapt up against the wall and hauled it in, the roar from the stands reverberated.

Just looks like any other out in the box score.

End of 7: Phillies 8, Dodgers 5

Third inning: Brett Myers – Professional Hitter

There’s an old sports saying that goes something like this:

The series doesn’t start until the home team loses for the first time.

If that’s true, this could be one of those series where the home team wins every game. Or, the series could truly begin on Sunday night if the Phillies take care of business at Dodger Stadium with the chance to go for the sweep on Monday.

A Phillies sweep to go to the World Series? Really? What world are we living in? Does gas still cost more than $3 per gallon?

Did I just jinx it?

Anyway, Brett Myers gave back a run on a two-out single by James Loney. As is the case with just about everything in baseball, it wasn’t the hit that hurt Myers the most, it was the two-out walk to Andre Ethier and the one-out walk to Russell Martin.

Oh, those bases on balls…

Myers nearly waded into the mess up to his knees after Greg Dobbs booted a grounder with two outs to load the bases. After that, the pitcher got out of the inning with a strikeout on Blake Dewitt in which Myers seemed to throw nothing but curves.

As we all remember all too well, Myers got into the most trouble when he got away from his fastball and leaned on the deuce too much.

For one reason or another, Billingsley just seems to be finding trouble for himself. Pat Burrell laced the first pitch of the inning to left for a single before Jayson Werth lined an 0-2 pitch into the corner in left for a double. An intentional walk to Greg Dobbs to load the bases set up a force at the plate on a soft grounder hit by Carlos Ruiz.

That made it look as if Billingsley could wiggle out of it or, at the very least, that manager Joe Torre was going to bring in a reliever after the intentional walk. With Myers heading to the plate with one out and the bases loaded, it looked like an easy second out as well as the light at the end of the tunnel.

After all, why would Myers go to the plate looking to swing the bat. He has six hits going back to the 2004 season and once was told to go to the plate and leave the bat on his shoulder. Certainly in this situation – bases loaded and one out in a playoff game – Myers would be told to stand there and take pitches simply to avoid hitting into a double play.

But that would be too easy. It also would make sense.

Myers swung at the first pitch and hit one that rolled with all of the alacrity in which Burrell or Myers run the bases. The hit was slow and sloppy, which means in some weird sense it was perfect.

It also opened up this game as if it was a 10-pound trout with its tanned belly glistening in the sun. Myers’ ugly single sent two more runs scurrying home and also provided the impetus for us to watch the big pitcher go from first to home on Shane Victorino’s two-out triple.

Billingsley struck out four of the first six hitters he faced, but wasn’t around it to get four more outs.

Weird.

2 1/3 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 5 K – 59 pitches, 36 strikes.

I hope this game ends in time for me to catch my flight tomorrow morning.

End of 3: Phillies 8, Dodgers 2

Sixth inning: Big swings

Yes, the Phillies continue to struggle with the bats. Derek Lowe entered the sixth having thrown just 75 pitches, which puts him in excellent position to give the Dodgers’ bullpen a big rest tonight.

However, the Dodgers’ offense isn’t exactly lighting it up either. Though the Dodgers have put five runners in scoring position (resulting in a pair of runs), they are just 1-for-6 with the ol’ ducks on the pond. Because of that the Phillies are a lucky break and a big swing away from changing things around.

In the sixth, the lucky break came when Rafael Furcal’s throwing error on (another) ground ball hit by Shane Victorino gave the Phillies their first real threat.

The big swing came a few pitches later when Chase Utley knocked one into the right-field seats to knot the game at 2.

Earlier this week manager Charlie Manuel said he believed Utley was very close to breaking out of his second-half and post-season malaise. Earlier tonight I wrote that Utley will be the key to this series…

Looks like the second baseman made Charlie and me look smart.

How about that?

Pat Burrell made Mike Gill look smart by popping a 3-1 pitch into the left-field stands to give the Phils a one-run lead. At the same time, the homer forced Joe Torre to summon reliever Chan Ho Park to finish the inning.

Just like that Derek Lowe’s gem turned into a short night… sometimes it’s funny how fast fortunes change in this game.

Lowe’s line:

5 1/3 IP, 3 R, 2 ER, 6 H, 1 BB, 2 K, 2 HR – 90 pitches, 55 strikes

Let’s see how Hamels handles pitching with a lead.

End of 6: Phillies 3, Dodgers 2

Game 3: Brewers 4, Phillies 1

MILWAUKEE – Ryan Howard, Greg Dobbs and Shane Victorino made it very interesting when he singled off closer Salomon Torres to start the ninth. Yet again, the Phillies put a runner in scoring position, and yet again they did so with one out or fewer.

Bases loaded with no outs in a three-run game… how do the Phillies respond?

Not well.

Pedro Feliz laced a grounder to third that was turned into a 5-4-3 to chase in a run to cut the lead to two…

Or not.

Actually, instead of sliding into second game, Victorino ducked instead and barreled into Craig Counsell. After manager Dale Sveum petitioned the umps, the run was erased when Howard was forced back to third and Dobbs to second.

If that did not typify the Phillies’ evening, nothing did.

So there we are: the series is 2-1 with big-game pitcher Jeff Suppan ready to go on Sunday morning and CC Sabathia waiting in the wings for a Game 5 start back in Philly.

Yes, this could get troublesome for the Phillies very quickly.

Heading to the clubhouse… more later.

End of 9: Brewers 4, Phillies 1

Sixth inning: Settled in

Through six innings it appears as if we figured out the whole Jekyll and Hyde thing with Brett Myers. That is, of course, he can keep it together before turning things over to the bullpen.

But after another 1-2-3 inning in the sixth, Myers has retired seven in a row and 16 of the last 17 for 79 pitches.

Size this up: Myers threw 21 pitches in the first inning and 58 from the second to the sixth.

Yes, it is safe to assume he has found his groove.

The same could be said for Shane Victorino, who doubled to deep center to lead off the sixth. At the same time, Victorino picked up the Phillies’ sixth double of the game, which tied a franchise record for most doubles in a post-season game. In Game 3 of the 1976 NLCS against the Big Red Machine, Garry Maddox, Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa, Jay Johnstone and Mike Schmidt pounded out six two-baggers.

The Phillies last that game (and the series) when the Reds rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth. George Foster and Johnny Bench led off the inning with homers off Ron Reed before Ken Griffey singled in Davey Concepcion with one out off Tom Underwood.

Needless to say, it doesn’t look like the Brewers are going to morph into the Reds (or the Phillies) any time soon.

End of 6: Phillies 5, Brewers 1

Fourth inning: Loud and proud in Philly

I’m a little getting it together for this inning so we might as well double up… I had to grab a drink and a chocolate-chip cookie and chat with ESPN radio’s Mike Gill of the Mike Gill Show. If you’re ever in New Jersey, tune in and listen to Mike – he knows his stuff.

Meanwhile, Brett Myers held the Brewers in check in the fourth, but the most important thing the pitcher did was force Sabathia to throw 10 more pitches during his second at-bat. Clearly the big lefty is laboring and after Myers’ latest epic plate appearance, Jimmy Rollins laced a two-out double.

That forced Sabathia to issue an intentional walk to Victorino. It alos pushed his pitch count even higher. Through four, the big fella has thrown 98 pitches.

And the Philly fans are screaming after each and every one of them. Typically I’m not one to pay much attention to the fans in the stands, but the hometown crowd here at the Bank has been stellar and smart during the first two games of this series. They cheered really loud during Myers’ at-bats, gave Victorino a curtain call, stayed on top of every bit of nuance and cheered like hell when Sabathia exited the game after giving up a walk to Chase Utley to load the based.

As he walked off, Sabathia appeared to say something in the direction of Victorino. It didn’t look like he said, “Nice hit, dude.”

Sabathia’s line: 3 2/3 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 5 K – 98 pitches

End of 4: Phillies 5, Brewers 1

Third inning: Victorino’s grand slam

According to whiz kid Kevin Horan of Phillies.com, Shane Victorino clubbed the first-ever post-season grand slam by a Phillie.

In fact, the Phillies have only hit 45 playoff homers, a list in which Lenny Dykstra tops with six, followed by Gary Matthews and Greg Luzinski with five each.

My partner in crime at CSN.com, Andy Schwartz, pointed out that the chart should show:

Dykstra, 6*

Victorino is quickly climbing the charts with his second post-season blast. He also hit one in Game 3 at Coors Field last season for the Phils’ only run in the deciding game.

Needless to say, the affable (and boisterous) centerfielder will undoubtedly have a lot to chirp about amongst his teammates on the charter to Milwaukee after the game. Better yet, Victorino needs a triple and single for the cycle. In his first two innings he already has a double, stolen base and the slam.

Good move by Charlie for putting Victorino in the No. 2 hole and sliding Jayson Werth down to sixth.

Meanwhile, Myers sailed through the third inning with his second straight perfect frame. Perhaps he needed to shake out the jitters in the first inning in order to settle in? If so, it worked.

CC Sabathia whiffed the next two hitters after Victorino’s slam, but Werth smacked another double and then swiped third . Interestingly, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard account for four of Sabathia’s five strikeouts.

End of 3: Phillies 5, Brewers 1

Second inning: Charlie says, ‘Relax’

In the playoffs, the game is all about pitching and defense. Actually, those two things are not mutually exclusive. The stat geeks all seem to agree that half of good pitching is really defense and the best indicator of how good a pitcher is comes from the whiffs-per-nine-innings ratio.

So when the game is all about pitching and defense it makes it difficult for the guys in the throes of a hitting slump. For the Phillies, that means Pat Burrell and Jayson Werth.

Burrell’s late-season swoon has been well documented. In fact, if the left fielder is back with the Phillies in 2009, I’m just going to write a whole bunch of stuff about a massive hitting slump and save it for the inevitable moment when he goes into the tank. Why not? It happens every season.

Burrell’s woes are exclusive to the last two months of the season while Werth has slowly been falling into a slide of the last two weeks. Though he has five hits and a homer since Sept. 20, Werth has whiffed 13 times during that span, including a hat trick in Game 1.

As a result, Charlie Manuel dropped Werth from the No. 2 spot in the order to No. 6 tonight.

“It might help Werth relax a bit,” Manuel said. “He’s been trying too hard. I told him to slow down and stay on top of the ball more, relax. Also, I like Victorino hitting second off CC. Left-handers that throw hard, especially when Victorino makes the pitcher bring the ball down, he can have strong games at times.”

Guess what? Charlie might be on to something.

Werth smacked an 0-1 offering to left-center for a one-out double to start a game-tying rally highlighted by Pedro Feliz’s double just inside the chalk line in left.

That was where it ended for the Phillies. Myers has thrown 32 pitches through two, while the Phillies’ plan to get Sabathia to throw, throw, throw and then throw some more appears to be working as the big lefty fired 51 pitches to this point.

The fans really got into a nine-pitch at-bat from Myers, who worked the count full, fouled off three pitches and then walked. Jimmy Rollins followed with a four-pitch walk to load the bases.

Then it happened…

… and my question was, “Has a Phillie ever hit a grand slam in the playoffs?”

Shane Victorino has. He just did it. I saw it… CC Sabathia laid one tight and Victorino put it in the left-field seats.

Is it over already?

End of 2: Phillies 5, Brewers 1

First inning: Here comes the heat

Harry Kalas threw the ceremonial first pitch and didn’t do too badly. Upon picking up the sign from Chris Coste, Harry laid one in there just off the corner.

It looked like a fastball from here.

Just like Harry, Brett Myers came out throwing his fastball, too. Actually, that’s just about all Myers threw in the beginning of the game. The first 11pitches Myers threw were all the ol’ No. 1. Perhaps even the four pitches he tossed up there to Price Fielder during an intentional walk could have been considered fastballs, too. If that’s the case, Myers’ first 15 pitches were fastballs and it took until the fifth hitter for him to throw a breaking pitch.

The inning started and ended well for Myers, too. It was just the middle that was the difficult part.

After striking out Mike Cameron on three straight pitches, Myers walked Ray Durham on four straight. Ryan Braun followed with a double off the wall to make it second and third and forced the walk to Fielder.

That’s when Myers turned to his curve. That’s also when the trouble began. Myers walked J.J. Hardy to force in a run and looked like he was on the verge of an early knockout when Corey Hart bounced one back to the mound for an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play…

The ol’ 1-2-3.

The Phillies’ plan seemed to be to force CC Sabathia to throw a lot of pitches. To a degree that worked as the big lefty chucked 17 in the first, including one that turned into a double down the for Shane Victorino. But after Victorino swiped third base with one out, Sabathia whiffed Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to end the threat.

And the inning.

End of 1: Brewers 1, Phillies 0

Eighth inning: Phew! That was close!

Brad Lidge has been in a few big games during his career. Actually, he’s been in some really big games with everything on the line, including that one in Houston in the NLCS when Albert Pujols hit that home run.

Yeah, everyone remembers that one.

Though he seems relaxed and laidback away from the field, it’s obvious he gets amped up when he gets the ball. Even if the game is tight and the pressure is about to boil over, Lidge wants the ball.

After last night’s game when the prospect of pitching in the ninth inning of a clinching game was broached, Lidge’s eyes lit up.

“I don’t care if it’s 100-0 – I will be available,” he said. “There is no scenario where I won’t want to be out there.”

Of course Lidge usually only comes into the game when the Phillies have the lead. That thin thread became even more precariously delicate during the eighth inning when Ryan Madson entered and promptly got into a jam.

Unlike Lidge, this is the first time Madson has been in these high-pressure situations. Last season he was on the disabled list when the Phillies made their march to the post-season so all he could do was celebrate with his teammates and watch from the bench.

This year Madson gave up a leadoff single to (Phillie killer) Cristian Guzman and a long double to Ryan Zimmerman. Things really got worrisome for the 45, 177 in the house when Lastings Milledge lifted a blooper into short center field that shortstop Jimmy Rollins somehow hauled in.

But in doing so, Rollins collided with Shane Victorino — seemingly kicking him in the shins – as Guzman tagged and scored. After the play, Victorino remained on his back, but remained in the game.

Madson stayed in, too and got Elijah Dukes on a broken –bat grounder before whiffing Aaron Boone to end the inning.

When Boone swung and missed, Madson screamed and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

The Phillies tacked on one with two-outs in the bottom half of the inning when Victorino legged out an infield single and came around to score on Pedro Feliz’s RBI double.

Here comes Lidge…

End of 8: Phillies 4, Nats 2

Dancing, not fighting, the night away

If I had my way, you know what I’d do? Form a big circle and see who wants to fight. I’ve seen that before and nobody fights.
— Charlie Manuel

The silliest occurrence in sports is the baseball fight. Nothing gets accomplished aside from a lot of posturing, some shoving and maybe some bruised egos. The goofiest thing about baseball fights is that they often begin with the pitcher throwing a ball or making some sort of gesture from a sizable difference from his combatant. As a result, the players have to travel a distance to get at each other.

It’s kind of like when the British navy declared war on the Falkland Islands during the ’80s, hopped in the boats and harrumphed, “We’ll see you in six days! It’s on!”

As well as behaving like one island country attacking another island located in a different hemisphere by water vessel, baseball fights are like sumo wrestling. One guy does his dance to call out the other dude, who in turn strikes his pose. When the histrionics are complete, they dash at one another, bump bellies and fall to the ground.

The really absurd part comes when players dash from the dugouts and bullpens in order to mill around with the other guys. It’s kind of like watching a mosh pit at a Neil Diamond show.

Be that as it is, the Phillies and Braves – more specifically, Shane Victorino and Braves’ reliever/lunatic, Julian Tavarez — did the tango during the eighth inning of last night’s debacle of a ballgame. With the Braves leading by six runs, Victorino at third base and left-handed pull-hitter Matt Stairs at the plate, Tavarez suddenly dashed off the mound to chase Victorino back to the bag. The curious thing about that move wasn’t the fact that crazy, gangly Tavarez just started running off the mound toward third base. Certainly that was an odd sight, because when has anyone ever seen a pitcher chase after a base runner just before he was getting set to go into his windup?

Never. It’s never happened. Ever.

Anyway, with the third baseman playing in the shortstop spot with Stairs at the plate, Victorino was given the chance to take a generous lead. But out of the corner of his eye, Tavarez caught Victorino turn to talk to third-base coach Steve Smith and figured it was his chance for a stealth attack.

The problem with that tact was there were 41,000 people sitting in the stands screaming at the sight of the weirdo running off the mound toward the runner leading off third. Not to mention, Smith clearly saw the not-so covert mission and alerted Victorino.

If it had ended it there it would have been enough. Victorino could have gone back to taking a gigantic lead, Tavarez could have threatened to run off the mound again, and the whole cat-and-mouse game could have taken the next step.

If only it were that easy.

Anyone who has ever seen Shane Victorino play baseball or had the chance to chat with him in the clubhouse can quickly determine that taking the easy way out of things just isn’t his style. It’s not uncommon for Victorino to miss a sign, throw to a wrong base or good-naturedly tease a teammate over something rather pedantic. The mouth and mind are always moving with that guy, which, frankly, is quite entertaining.

So when Tavarez did his about face to return to the mound after his little dash, it didn’t take a systems analyst to figure out that Victorino was going to say something. Actually, make that a lot of things.

Meanwhile, Tavarez has a history of on-the-field meltdowns. During his 16-year nig-league career, Tavarez has served a handful of suspensions for sparking brawls and once had to wear a protective glove in order to pitch in the 2004 World Series after he punched a dugout phone during the NLCS.

I guess the damn thing wouldn’t stop ringing.

Anyway, Tavarez has played for 10 different big league teams, including three in 2008 alone. One of the thing one quickly learns after spending a bunch of seasons around a Major League club is that if a guy bounces from team to team there is usually a pretty good reason he doesn’t stick around with just one team. Meanwhile, Tavarez reportedly had two ambitions as a child growing up in poverty in the Dominican Republic. One was to be a Major League Baseball player (mission completed) and the other was to be an adult film star…

Yeah.

Tavarez was in no mood for amore as Victorino continued to chirp. After the speedy Phillie gestured toward the pitcher, seemingly inviting him to take another run at him, Tavarez did just that.

And then it was on!

Well, kind of. Tavarez was quickly pushed away by the home-plate ump while Stairs and Smith blocked Victorino’s path giving him the perfect chance to fall into a “hold me, back! Hold me back!” display. Not to be shown up, Tavarez did the same as players spilled out of the dugout and rolled in from the bullpen.

Order was quickly restored when the slightly rocking mosh pit dissolved under its own silliness.

Afterwards, neither Victorino nor Tavarez made themselves available to deconstruct the events with the local press. However, when asked about it, manager Charlie Manuel seemed rather disgusted by the whole act, or at least the notion of exiting his spot in the Phillies’ dugout where he more than likely finally fashioned a warm and toasty groove into the padding over the rail where he likes to rest his arms. Then he had to get out onto the field to separate a bunch of guys who were out there to do nothing but sashay with one another in the first place.

Sheesh.

“That was nothing,” Manuel spat. “If I had my way, you know what I’d do? Form a big circle and see who wants to fight.

“I’ve seen that before and nobody fights.”

It looks like the Phillies have a little more than a tango left if they want to fight their way into the playoffs this weekend. With a magic number steady at three with three games to go, all the Phillies have to do is beat the Washington Nationals this weekend. Failing that, they have to hope the Brewers and Mets lose, too.

Last year all the variables worked out.

Eighth inning: Big relief

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Brett Myers is turning in his best outing of the season. Who knows… maybe it’s the best outing of his career. Sure, he might have had some overpowering and dominant performances during his career, but for what the Phillies need right now Myers is delivering big time.

Double headers are always taxing on pitching staffs and coaches absolutely loathe them. When the notion that the Phillies and Brewers would prefer to play a double dip on Sunday, one could see a cold shudder go up and down the spines of Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee. The havoc that would become of their pitching staff was just too much to fathom.

But up stepped Myers and down sat the bullpen. Thanks to seven innings from Joe Blanton in the opener, Manuel should have a stable of fresh arms when the Phillies go to Atlanta on Tuesday.

Through eight innings Myers has allowed two hits and has thrown just 88 pitches. Better yet, there is no one warming up in the bullpen. In fact, Myers received a well-deserved standing ovation and hanky wave when he walked up to the plate in the eighth.

How huge would a complete game be?

Meanwhile, Shane Victorino singled in the eighth to cap off a 4-for-4 game, while Jimmy Rollins drew his third walk to reach base safely in five straight plate appearances.

More from Leslie
I’m a big fan of Ned Yost, but either he’s making some bad calls or the inmates are running the asylum… and poorly. Yost’s team is exceptionally undisciplined. They’ve allowed Brett Myers to go deep in this game by routinely swinging at the first pitch. 88 pitches through 8 innings!!! This is a dream come true for the Phillies. They got 7 innings out of Blanton in game 1, tying his high as a Phillie… and now this out of Myers. With the day off tomorrow the Phils will head into Atlanta (a place they’ve dominated this year) with a lead in the wild card race and a well rested bullpen, thanks to the Brewers.

Could Yost have actually looked past this series and to their next series with the Cubs? At what’s soon to be 3-11 in their last 14 games, the Brewers are falling fast. Yost will likely finish out the season in Milwaukee, but at this rate, he won’t be there past that.

Phillies 6, Brewers 1

Friday morning: Short rest and small ball

The concept of short rest is one the Phillies’ starting pitchers are going to have to wrap their heads around in… ahem… short order starting now. After Jamie Moyer picked up his 14th win of the season by turning in nearly six innings of solid ball on just three days rest, Thursday night, Brett Myers might try to pull the same stunt on Sunday.

A lot can happen between now and Sunday, but depending on the reviews of a regular, between-start bullpen session on Friday, Myers likely will declare himself ready to go with just three days rest, as well. But then again Myers would start both ends of a doubleheader if manager Charlie Manuel let him. The point is the Phillies aren’t leaving much to chance with just 15 games to go.

“I’ll pitch [Thursday], I don’t care,” Myers said after Wednesday’s start. “If it gets us to the playoffs, whatever it takes.”

Deep down, Myers probably wasn’t joking.

Technically, Manuel has a handful of options for this Sunday’s series finale against the Brewers, though only one seems to be a sure bet. So for the sake of argument, let’s just say Manuel could choose the following options:

  •          Kyle Kendrick – Sunday would be his normal turn in the rotation and the young righty has missed just one start (later made up) all year long. However, Kendrick has been downright dreadful in his last six starts. Though he has 11 wins in 29 starts, Kendrick is 1-4 with a 11.35  ERA since Aug. 11. Numbers like that make it difficult for Manuel to be confident with Kendrick on the mound.
  •          J.A. Happ – The lefty has pitched well in two starts this season, but sending Happ to the mound in the middle of the pennant race for just his fourth big league start seems like a big risk. Happ will have a solid Major League career, but he’s not going to be Marty Bystrom for the Phils this year.
  •          Adam Eaton – Yeah, never mind.
  •          Brett Myers – The opening day starter has worked on short rest just once in his career, however, last season he pitched nearly every day down the stretch out of the bullpen. Is there a difference? Yeah, most definitely. Nevertheless, the pressure is something Myers thrives on. If the Phillies take the first three games of the series, look for Myers to go after the sweep on Sunday.

Expect a hint about a decision on Friday afternoon.

***
The Phillies added an important insurance run during the eighth inning of Thursday’s win over the Brewers with a suicide squeeze from runner Shane Victorino and bunter, Carlos Ruiz. With one out in the inning, Manuel said he waited for the right chance to flash the sign, which came on a 2-1 pitch.

Ruiz laid it down perfectly to allow Victorino to score with ease.

“I guess I’m finally acting like a National League manager,” Manuel joked. “I figured it was time to show them I knew the squeeze sign.”

The inspiration to give Ruiz the sign came from the catcher himself, Manuel said.

“I heard Ruiz when he went up the steps. He turned around and asked, ‘What’s the squeeze sign?’ That kind of told me … he wants to squeeze. Seriously, that’s the truth. I figured I might as well let him squeeze.”

Good idea.

***
Elsewhere, Bob Ford chronicled the rise of Mr. September, Ryan Howard. The big fella added to his league-leading home run and RBI totals in the win over the Brewers and just might have inserted himself into the MVP discussion again.

Fonzie, Richie Cunningham, Joanie, Chachi, Laverne, Shirley, Jeffrey Dahmer, Liberace, Heather Graham and Todd Zolecki all come from Milwaukee. But only Todd wrote about the Brewers’ September swoon and Jamie Moyer’s top-shelf effort on short rest.

Coming up: Floyd Landis preparing for a comeback? Plus, regular-season awards.

Counting down to the deadline

WASHINGTON – We’re back here in The District and man is it ever steamy. It’s just flat-out hot and humid, which kind of makes sense seeing as they built the city on top of a swamp.

Generally, swamps are warm. I try to avoid them.

But I don’t try to avoid Washington, D.C. Despite the unpleasant weather and the oppressive humidity, it’s far and away the best city in the NL East. There is just so much to do and so much going on that it isn’t hard to believe that folks stay away from Nationals’ games in droves.

Word around the campfire is that a few members of the Phillies traveling party took in the Spy Museum this afternoon.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Spy Museum… I haven’t been there yet. A few months ago, my four-year old and I hit the National Museum of Natural History, followed by lunch at Old Ebbitt’s and then a full afternoon in the National Air & Space Museum.

It was a nice touristy afternoon for this self-described native that we’re sure to repeat as soon as possible.

Anyway, here’s a fun fact about our nation’s history: Back when the Continental Congress was figuring out where to locate the permanent capital, a little down in Pennsylvania called Wright’s Ferry decided to lobby for the gig. Figuring its location along the banks of the mighty Susquehanna River that separates York and Lancaster counties was perfectly located and easy for delegates from the other colonies, Wright’s Ferry challenged for the privilege to be capital.

First things first… Wright’s Ferry had to do something about its name. It needed something catchy or something that befit a burgeoning nation. Therefore, in 1789 Wright’s Ferry changed its name to Columbia.

Perfect, huh? With a name like Columbia, how could the little town on the western edge of Lancaster County go wrong?

Location? Check.

Infrastructure? Check.

People of influence on its side like George Washington? Check.

Name? Done, done, done and done.

Nevertheless, southern states Maryland and Virginia carved out a rectangle of unwanted swamp land along the Anacostia and Potomac rivers not too far from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Next thing the folks in Columbia, Pa. knew the District of Columbia had edged it out by one vote and the rest is history.

Some influence that George Washington had, huh?

Anyway, since it had the name and the location, Columbia attempted to become the capital of Pennsylvania. Again, it had the location, the name but maybe not the influential supporters. Instead, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania went with the more centrally located Harrisburg to be the seat of its government.

Since then, Columbia became most well known for burning down the bridge connecting it to Wrightsville in York County (called the Wright’s Ferry bridge – picture above) to ward off the approaching Confederate Army in 1864. As a result of this act, the Confederates and Union armies got together in Gettysburg for one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.

And perhaps once again, Columbia missed out on centuries worth of historical fame.

***
Otherwise, all is quiet here in The District as the trading deadline looms. Oh sure, the rumors are flying around like crazy with all sorts of interesting names. Suffice it to say, those names belong to left-handed relief pitchers.

But rumors are the domain of the weak-willed who cannot find the truth. If we can be called anything it must be that we are seekers of truth here at the little web site that could (be ignored).

Therefore, we will arrogantly tell you, the reader, to go elsewhere to learn about Ron Mahay, John Grabow, Brian Tallet, Jesse Carlson, Jack Taschner, Brian Fuentes, George Sherrill or anyone else.

I’m not saying anything.

But I will say that Shane Victorino had a good time joking about his chances of sticking with the Phillies past the July 31 trading deadline. As the digital clock in the clubhouse here at the soon-to-be named Exxon (Nationals) Park rolled over to 5 p.m., Victorno shouted that he had 47 hours to go until the deadline.

The clock is ticking.

Measuring up

CharlieDuring the past month it’s been very difficult not to get excited about the Phillies. They have scored runs with impunity, won games at nearly a 1993 rate all while the bullpen corps established itself as one of the better groups in the game. When it comes to rallying for a lead in the middle to late innings before the relievers come in and nail it down, the Phillies are as good as any team in baseball.

In the process, the Phillies have established themselves as the best team in the NL East and baring a collapse of New York Mets-like proportions, the Philllies should return to the playoffs in 2008.

But that’s where it gets complicated.

Yes, the Phillies are a playoff-caliber team. And, yes, the ’08 Phillies are better than the version that slipped into the playoffs during the 2007 season. Those two points are given. But what complicates things is that the Phillies are now forced with a pretty difficult decision that must come to a conclusion by the end of next month.

What are they in this for?

Do the Phillies simply want to improve on last season’s short ride through the playoffs, or are they going for the rings, trophies and champagne?

Sure, it sounds like an easy question to answer. Every player on every team – even the ones who secretly know they have no shot – say they won’t be satisfied unless they win the World Series. That’s the whole point of playing, they say. But the facts are much more austere. Some teams just aren’t built for the long haul of a 162-game season. Others are built to win a division or a wild-card berth, but flame out in the playoffs.

But only a couple of teams every season are built to go all the way. With some clubs the brass gets together to compile the components that will carry the team during late October. Sometimes those teams even go on autopilot for the first few months of the regular season.

The Phillies saw firsthand what those really good teams look like when the Boston Red Sox came to town for three games this week. The players and the management got to see how the Red Sox set up the Phillies’ pitchers, patiently waiting for a pitch to bash for extra-base hits or base-clogging walk. The Red Sox made the Phillies hurlers work and then they exposed all their little, tiny weaknesses.

If that wasn’t enough, the Sox pitchers worked over the heart of the Phillies’ batting order and held Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell to a combined 1-for-24 (.042) during the final two games of the series and 6-for-36 (.167) during the entire three-game series.

No, the Red Sox didn’t come right out and embarrass the Phillies. After all, Cole Hamels pitched splendidly in the Phillies’ 8-2 victory last Monday where Howard, Burrell, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino spurred the offense. Instead, the Red Sox treated the Phillies as if they were a tiny winged insect there for amusement and all they had to do when they got finished plucking the wings off one-by-one was stomp on them.

“Obviously they’ve been successful a long time and there’s a reason why. They have some good players over there,” Utley said. “I thought we played well the first game. We faced a tough pitcher the second game and today we had some opportunities we didn’t capitalize on.”

This was the Red Sox with Jon Lester and Justin Masterson and not Josh Beckett or Dice-K. It was the Sox with Sean Casey and J.D. Drew leading the way and not sluggers David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez or Kevin Youkilis.

It wasn’t exactly the B-team… that was the Phillies. Better yet, it was a Phillies club that came away from the series with a handful of lessons.

“The first night, we went out and won and everybody’s talking about the Phillies finally proving they can do it. Then, we lose the next two,” Victorino said. “It’s not a learning process. It’s just a matter of seeing what they have.

“I think we match up with them. I know we can.”

Thinking it and doing it are two different things. As a result it has become quite clear that if the Phillies are interested in playing the Red Sox again this season, they need to make an addition or two. That’s because the only sure thing the Phillies have in the starting rotation is Hamels. After that, it’s pray the bats are hot.

Fortunately for the Phillies and their fans, management was hip to the team’s weaknesses all along. In fact, reports have surfaced which indicate the team has dispatched scouts specifically to watch the Indians’ C.C. Sabathia and the Padres’ Greg Maddux pitch. Both players could be available for a trade before the July 31 deadline, though the price won’t be cheap.

Meanwhile, the proverbial gauntlet has been thrown down for Opening Day starter Brett Myers, who thus far has limped to a 3-8 record with a 5.58 ERA. Both manager Charlie Manuel and assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. have stated that the big right-hander has to improve quickly…

Or what?

Fortunes turn fast in baseball. Suddenly the Phillies have lost three straight series and six out of their last nine immediately on the heels of a stretch in which they won 12 of 14 games. Plus, the first-place Los Angeles Angels head to town this weekend. Like the Red Sox, the Angels are another tam built for games to be played when the leaves have dropped from the trees and the air takes on a chilly bite.

Have we seen the real Phillies or are they still on the way?

“I’m concerned, I’m not worried,” Manuel said. “We got three more games on this homestand. I’d like to see the Angels come in here and finish this homestand real well. I’d to see us get some things going.”

Ryan Howard’s long bomb

WASHINGTON – According to the dusty old archives stashed back in the vaults at Nationals Park, Ryan Howard’s home run in the fifth inning of yesterday’s 12-2 victory over the Nats was not only the first ball to reach the upper deck at the stadium, but also it was the longest fair ball ever struck in The District’s Southeast quadrant.

Apparently the homer went 441 feet. That’s like Tiger Woods taking a three-quarters swing with a 9-iron.

Anyway, here’s Howard’s bomb:

[redlasso id=”578480d6-85dc-4dab-a1b6-4d8399f3ee97″]

It should be noted that there is no happier room in the country than a big-league clubhouse following a win on the road just before they leave to go to another city. The Philadelphia ballclub was downright giddy after pasting the Washington Nine for 12 runs last night. Jimmy Rollins even interjected into Shane Victorino’s post-game deconstruction of his 3-for-5 performance (double, HR, 3 runs, 2 RBIs) with some members of the local press.

“Anything Ryan can do, I can do,” Jimmy said, mimicking Victorino. “I hit a double, he hits a double…”

But…

“I hit a home run,” Rollins laughed, still imitating his teammate “but he hits a BOMB!”

You don’t see that everyday

Jayson WerthIf a guy gets the chance to get out to the ballpark a lot during the course of a baseball season, chances are that guy will see some anomalies every once in a while. Sometimes it’s deviant behavior like a dude (or dudette) in his underwear dashing around on the outfield grass. Other times the notable event is a cycle or a no-hitter or something that borders on the historic.

And by historic we mean how it pertains to baseball and its string of seasons.

Eight years into the gig of watching baseball games and making up sentences about them, I’m into collecting the anomalies. It’s kind of like baseball cards for the brain, but instead of pictures on cardboard, I have lines and symbols in a scorebook.

So far here’s what I’ve gathered:

  • I’ve seen a game decided when a pitcher named Jose Santiago missed the routine throw back to the mound from the catcher.
  • I saw two cycles (David Bell and Brad Wilkerson).
  • Incredibly, I saw a guy dressed as Thomas Jefferson take a header on the infield turf at RFK Stadium.
  • One no-hitter… ever. And that’s counting little league.
  • I watched a stadium implode.
  • I saw pitcher Robert Person smash two homers for seven RBIs in game against the Expos.
  • I saw the Phillies play in the World Series (talk about an anomaly.)
  • I saw a media dude fall down the dugout steps on his back and another writer work out mathematical equations to determine that the distances on the outfield fence were wrong.

There are other crazy things, too, though I’m saving those for the book. Meanwhile, I saw a new one at the Bank last night that was kind of lost in the shuffle of the big story of the Phillies’ 10-3 victory over the Blue Jays.

How about a caught stealing that went 2-unassisted? Anyone ever see that one?

Here’s what happened: Shane Victorino took off from first in attempt to steal second base only to find Jimmy Rollins standing on the bag. Apparently Victorino may have thought a sign was flashed for a double steal, which didn’t seem to be a call that made much sense considering there were no outs and Chase Utley was up. No, I’m not one of those trendy stat heads that shudder at the thought of bunts and stolen bases, but sometimes with the Phillies’ offense, the Earl Weaver approach to managing might be the best tact.

With two on and no outs and Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell due up, there’s a better than average chance that the Phillies will score a run. I’m not basing that idea on any proven mathematical theory, but I’d say it is a pretty good hunch that the Phillies get something in that situation unless some sort of oddity occurs.

That’s where Victorino came in sprinting toward second base with his head down and arms pumping. When he finally looked up and caught a glimpse of Rollins standing like a statue on second, Victorino quickly became a meek, cornered deer. First he lurched back to first, then changed direction, did a little juke move and then just gave up and stopped in his tracks.

That’s when catcher Gregg Zaun, running with the ball in the infield lest an errant throw allowed Rollins to circle the bases, finally slapped a tag on Victorino.

There it was. CS-2U.

You stick around long enough and you get to see something new every day.

As far as three home runs in game goes – yeah, I’ve seen that. Actually, I think I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve seen three homers in a Major League game. I remember Andruw Jones doing it at the Vet in a meaningless September game during the 2002 season. I also seem to recall Mike Lowell doing it for the Marlins during the opening homestand at the Bank in 2004.

Ryan Howard did it in 2006 in a September game and of course Jayson Werth did it in last night’s game.

But one thing I had never seen before was a guy picking up eight RBIs in one game. In fact, Jayson Werth was still three years away from behind born the last time a Phillie had eight RBIs in a game.

***
Hey… why don’t you do yourself a favor and read Bob Ford’s column from Pimlico? You can thank me for the suggestion later.

Good to the last drop

coffeeRegular readers of this site don’t need to be told that I love coffee. To be more precise, I believe in coffee. Loaded with antioxidants and natural goodness, coffee is one of those little pleasures in life. Sometimes when it’s quiet in the house and everyone is asleep at night, I catch myself pining for the morning so I can get downstairs and pour that first batch of the day into a big, blue cup.

Some research indicates that coffee appears to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver and gout. Better yet, because it’s loaded with those glorious antioxidants, it stops free radicals from damaging cells.

Better yet, coffee can be a load of fun. Once, for no particular reason other than I was in college and had nothing better to do, I drank nothing but a Colombian hazelnut brew continuously and stared at my face in the mirror until I actually saw the hair on my face grow.

Then we went bowling.

I don’t recall what my score was from that outing on the lanes, but I bet it was pretty good. That’s because coffee can also be classified as a performance-enhancer. In fact, the glorious caffeine that is the main stimulant found in those roasted beans is classified as a banned substance by the I.O.C. in certain doses. Actually, because of the ban on greenies and other amphetamines in baseball, coffee urns are quite prevalent in big-league dugouts and clubhouses.

For folks that like to train for and run marathons, coffee is very much a part of the training regimen. Speaking for myself, I don’t move very well in the morning without coffee chased by approximately 90-fluid ounces of water/electrolyte replacement.

It’s a strict drug regimen that helps keep my mind limber.

However, if there is no time for the coffee to settle in before I have to get out the door extra early, a glucose gel fortified with about 100 calories and caffeine does the trick.

After all, the point is to pile up the work in order to make the lungs and legs stronger than Babe the Blue Ox. Because there is no limit to a human’s aerobic capacity, strength over a long distances is a matter of piling on as much work as possible. Sometimes it’s a balancing act between health and injury, which very well could be the issue with Shane Victorino and his seemingly chronic calf problems.

Victorino, the Phillies’ center fielder, is on the 15-day disabled list with a calf injury. Worse, it’s the second time the so-called “Flyin’ Hawaiian” has landed on the disabled list since last August with an injured calf. The calf muscle, of course, is the engine of the leg. If a person has trouble with their knees, hamstrings or quads, chances are the problem began in the calf.

Meanwhile, calf injuries are largely preventable. Most times they are caused by tightness, tiredness, hydration issues, or weakness. Certainly all sorts of variables could lead to those problems, but usually it doesn’t take anything more than a few strengthening and training adjustments to correct the problem.

Then again, maybe Victorino wasn’t properly healed before he jumped back into the action last season. Healing, after all, takes time just like building strength does.

***
Speaking of coffee, I finally got a chance to try out the Pikes Place blend at Starbucks the other day. The much-heralded blend from the uber-coffee shop is an attempt for the company to go back to the old days when it was all about the coffee and simplicity and not all the other stuff it seems to focus on these days.

The hook with the Pikes Place coffee is that it isn’t over-roasted like all of Starbucks’ other blends. In fact, each shop posts when each particular batch was roasted in order to advertise some sort of bourgeoisie-ness in which the date a coffee is roasted is vital information.

People need to know this.

Anyway, according to a story in Time Magazine the Pikes Place blend is supposed to be lighter and crisper cup of coffee for “people who don’t like Starbucks.”

I don’t know… I guess that’s right. Then again it seems as if my palate is ruined from drinking Starbucks coffee too much.

Kind Coffee of Colorado… now that’s a cup of coffee.

***
In other news, Chelsea Clinton dropped into my neighborhood today — with Ted Danson, too…

Yeah, I didn’t see it. I’m too busy watching Michael Bourn beat the Phillies.

Apparently her mom is in Philly doing something on the other end of town.

Victorino… out

Shane VictorinoYes, the injury gremlin has reared its ugly, green head filled with razor-sharp teeth and venom.

In other words, the Phillies lost their second leadoff hitter in less than a week on Saturday night when Shane Victorino injured his right calf running for home on a wild pitch in the fifth inning of Saturday night’s victory of the Cubs.

It’s the same injury that sidelined Victorino for three weeks in August last season.

“He was hurting when I took him out of the game,” Charlie Manuel said.

More on Victorino’s injury, the calf muscle and other stuff tomorrow morning. I want to go home.

And then there was offense… kind of

ScribesIt should be noted that there is a full Philadelphia media throng here in Denver tonight. All of the newspapers are represented in sizable numbers, including six writers from the Inquirer and a bunch from the Daily News.

And get this: The Daily News doesn’t even print an edition tomorrow and the rest of the papers are already past deadline.

Ah, but they all have web site… that’s right guys – embrace the technology.

All of a sudden the offense shows up!

With one out in the seventh Shane Victorino knifed one through the wind and into the seats atop the high, out-of-town scoreboard in right field. Just like that and the Phillies have some offense.

They might even have a little spark.

Victorino knew it was gone as soon as he hit it. He reacted with a few short fist pumps as he dashed down the first-base line and was prodding on his teammates throughout the inning. Perhaps Victorino and his home run got the Phillies going? After all, Carlos Ruiz followed it up with a single to chase rookie pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez in favor of veteran Matt Herges.

After Greg Dobbs pinch hit for Abe Nunez and grounded out, Charlie Manuel pulled back Jamie Moyer for pinch hitter Tadahito Iguchi with two outs and a runner on second. We all know that things tend to happen whenever Iguchi steps onto the field.

This time, though, all that happened was an inning-ending pop out.

Moyer’s line: 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 2 K – 88 pitches/56 strikes

Here comes the Phillies’ bullpen. Buckle up.

Back in it

Aaron RowandOh, I just couldn’t resist. Hamels is back to dealing after sitting down the Rockies in the fifth in order. That’s 10 in a row, with only two coming on fly balls. Was it a matter of getting back to the changeup, or is he still working that curve?

It’s hard to tell from my vantage point.

And here comes the Phillies…

Just like that and the crowd is back into it thanks to back-to-back home runs from Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell. Both were CBP Specials, which means it’s doubtful that they would have carried out of any other ballpark. Maybe Coors, but there the aid of low-altitude is somewhat significant.

But as the M-V-P! chants rained down on Jimmy Rollins with two outs in the fifth, and Chooch Ruiz swiped second base on a 2-2 count, it appeared as if it was Jeff Francis’ turn to scuffle. Rollins walked on a full count to put two on with two outs for Shane Victorino.

Before the game Charlie Manuel said he put Victorino in the lineup against the lefty instead of Jayson Werth because he wanted to the Hawaiian’s speed at the top of the order. Who would have guessed that it would have been the catcher to swipe the first base of the series?

Either way, it’s 3-2 heading into the foyer of the late frames.

Lohse’s outing could pay off

Kyle Lohse, the big deadline pick up by the Phillies’ GM Pat Gillick, delivered a pitching performance that could resonate deeper than just in the standings, after the 5-2 victory over the Braves. In turning in seven, efficient innings in which he gave up just two runs and only allowed one hit after the fourth inning, Lohse probably didn’t save the Phillies season, but he may have ruined things for the Mets.

By beating the Braves, Lohse not only gave the ragged and weary bullpen a rare short and easy (relatively speaking) night, he also helped drag the always fickle pendulum of momentum over to the Phillies’ side of things in the sprint to the finish in the NL East.

You don’t think the New York Mets and their fans don’t know what Lohse and the Phillies did last night? Guess again. The midnight callers to the late-night shows on WFAN weren’t as half as desperate sounding as the body language emanating from the Mets’ players during the last few innings of the loss to the lowly Washington Nationals.

Worse yet, how do the Mets get sweep by the Nationals with everything hanging in the balance? Seriously, the Nationals?

But perhaps more interestingly, Lohse very well could have earned himself a Brink’s truck full of money after beating the Braves last night.

Really?

Despite a 9-12 record and 4.63 ERA split between his time with the Phillies and the Reds, the 28-year old right-hander might be a sought after commodity on the free-agent wire this winter. For one thing, there aren’t too many pitchers Lohse’s age with six years of big league experience under their belt to go with three playoff appearances. Then – again, despite the numbers – Lohse just always seems to win games. At least that has been the case for the Phillies.

In 11 starts since joining the Phillies in the trade with the Reds in late July, Lohse is 3-0 with a 4.76 ERA. Opponents have hit a lusty .313 off him and he’s registered 39 strikeouts in 58 2/3 innings. Nope, that’s nothing to write home about there. But in those 11 starts the Phillies are 9-2 and Lohse has taken the game to the seventh inning in seven of those starts.

In other words, you know exactly what you are going to get with Kyle Lohse.

“Looking back, getting Lohse is probably the best move we’ve made all season,” said Aaron Rowand, though his manager Charlie Manuel stated that the deal to pick up Greg Dobbs was a great move, too. “He has the stuff, the makeup and the intelligence to go and attack hitters. He’s been solid.”

But what do the Phillies think they can get from Lohse and his uber-agent Scott Boras this winter? After all, the Phillies did “rescue” Lohse from going through the motions and playing out the string for the lowly Reds this season, and put him right in the middle of a pennant race. Plus, admittedly Lohse enjoys his new teammates and the chemistry on the club.

However, if the Phillies want to talk to Lohse and Boras at the end of the season, they are more than welcome to extend an offer. If not, well, there are a lot of baseball teams looking for pitching.

“To be able to come here and jump in a playoff race with this group, it’s good to finish it off in this kind of atmosphere,” Lohse said after beating the Braves. “But I’ve kind of earned the right to go out there. I owe it to myself to see what’s out there. This is a great situation, but we’ll see how it works out. Every player, once he gets six years [of Major League service time] has earned the opportunity to see what’s up.”

Undoubtedly, Lohse will get the chance real soon.

In the meantime, though, Lohse could be called on to make one more start for the Phillies this week. If that happens it would be in a playoff game for the right to go to the playoffs on Monday.

Victorino answers the call
Though he hasn’t started a game since Sept. 20, and has been in the lineup just three times this month since his late August return from the DL with a calf injury, Shane Victorino came through last night.

Pinch hitting for Lohse in the bottom of the seventh of a two-run game, Victorino turned on an inside pitch from the Braves’ hurler Tim Hudson and rocketed one deep into the right-field seats.

“It’s exciting to hit a home run and all, but the bigger thing is that we won,” Victorino said. “Whatever opportunity I get I’m going to do what I have to do to help this team win.”

Hitting homers and helping the club is the easy part. The difficult part has been getting onto the field. After injuring his calf while running out a ground ball in Chicago in late July, Victorino has been hitting the brakes more than a car driving down a steep hill. In mid-August the right fielder returned to the lineup, only to tweak his calf again and miss even more time. Since then Victorino’s calf injury has flared up from time to time in such a way that he didn’t need to go back on the disabled list, but it was just enough to relegate him to pinch-hitting duties.

Plus, with Jayson Werth swinging a hot bat through late August and September, Manuel has opted to go with the right-handed hitter in right field.

Needless to say it’s been rather tough for Victorino.

“It was just frustrating. I tried to come back too quick and I just wasn’t ready,” he said. “I just wanted to go out and play, but the next time I know to take my time.”

However, when Manuel gives the call, Victorino says he won’t be stopped.

“I’m ready. It’s his decision to make,” he said. “But when things are going good like they are, it’s kind of like you don’t want to break your rhythm.”

Victorino’s homer off Hudson was his first since July 8 and just his 10th hit (in 34 at-bats) since July 31.

***
More coming later today …