Relying on the classics

The Washington Generals were due. Make that overdue. Big time. See, the Generals’ losing skid dated back to January of 1971 when Meadowlark Lemon missed a would-be buzzer beater that would have given his Harlem Globetrotters the victory.

Certainly a lot can happen in 38 years. Lifetimes are lived and eras of history are defined over less time. But losing streaks? Thirty-eight years? How could it be?

Oh, it be. Even with the accusations of point-shaving, some suspicious play and questionable calls, the Globetrotters always figured out a way to win during crunch time.

But the Harlem Globetrotters had never found themselves in the setting they were placed in during Thursday afternoon’s tough, 36-24, victory over the Generals. This time the ‘Trotters not only had to battle the wily Generals, but also the sunshine, a little ice and snow, stiff winds, slightly above-freezing temps, and, of course, heights.

Heights?

Continue reading this story…

It’s when, not if for Phillies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It not a matter of if, but when.

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

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

Maybe so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big D’s big quote in Rich’s story?

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

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

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

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

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