There can be little doubt now Eric Milton, not Billy Wagner, was the most significant off-season acquisition for the Phillies. Subtract his eleven wins and several other quality starts and the Phillies would be scrambling for a wildcard spot in the Mexican League. And then there was his flirtation with a no-hitter on Sunday, July 25, against a very good Cubs team. Though he didn’t get the win, Milton kept his team in the game against an almost equally sparkling Mark Prior. Only a misplayed fly ball by defensive replacement Doug Glanville to open the ninth inning stood between Milton and modest immortality. Having already pitched a no-hitter in the American League, Milton would have joined seven other pitchers who achieved this rarity in both leagues.
The most disappointing off-season acquisition thus far would be Billy Wagner who appears headed for the DL for the second time this season. Wagner was quoted as saying, “It's good that I got overworked. That means we're winning. But that month off, you lose conditioning time, and you come back and you put the pedal to the metal and I think that had something to do with it. But that's part of the game. I threw 86 innings last year.” He threw 1 1/3 innings against Florida on Wednesday, not too much to ask of a closer, and by the big weekend series with the Cubs had declared himself out of commission.
I wouldn’t have guessed Wagner was so fragile. He has already locked horns with Jeff Cooper, the Phillies long-time trainer, over his rehabilitation routine during his first trip to the DL for groin problems. Later things were patched up . . . at least verbally. Now Wagner has shoulder problems and is complaining he has been overworked. While he did say the shoulder felt better when he tested it on Sunday, he still held out the possibility of an MRI or the DL.
Billy has not been as much of a factor for the Phillies as I hoped. The fans love his entrance into the game accompanied by the din of Metallica, something I could definitely do without, and they love to watch the speed of each pitch he throws posted on the scoreboard. (This last phenomenon, by the way, is the latest and by far most annoying statistical obsession in baseball. Who cares how fast the pitches are? Were they strikes and did the guy get the hitter out? Even some TV broadcasts switch between displaying the pitch speed and the count on the hitter.) From my perspective I’d rather have the closer available instead of throwing his arm out topping the 100 MPH mark for the fan’s delight.