Monday, September 13, 2004

Valuable and Not

Third baseman David Bell experienced so many physical ups and downs since signing as a free agent with the Phillies two years ago, whenever his name came up it was normal to ask “where is he?”. Now, it would be more appropriate to ask “where would the Phillies be without him?”.

Since returning to the lineup August 15 after missing a week with back spasms Bell has played a very solid third base, hit .380 for the month of August and .361 through September 12, and has clearly been the Phillies most valuable player. This past weekend series with the Mets was typical of the resurgent Bell as he collected ten hits including a game-winning two run homer on Saturday as the Phillies extended their winning streak to a season-high six games.

Bell’s first season in Philadelphia was a total loss. Severe back and hip problems limited him to only 85 games during which he struggled in the field and at the plate, batting only .195. Many wondered aloud whether the four year contract he had just signed would be an albatross for the Phils. They can stop worrying. While he has missed seventeen games to date, this year nonetheless represents a complete turnaround. Bell is batting nearly forty points above his lifetime average and leads the team in hitting with runners in scoring position.

The Phillies should be so lucky to be saddled with as many clutch performers for the next two years!

Billy Wagner is back, too, but not really back. Oh, he has reappeared in the bullpen after a second trip to the DL, but he hardly appears to be the dominant closer the Phillies acquired in the off-season. Wagner has already missed seven weeks this season due to injuries.

On Saturday he came into the game to start the ninth inning and protect a 2-run lead, the second time in as many innings the Phillies had rallied to go ahead of the Mets. Wagner proceeded to give up the tying runs; then, to cap off his poor performance he imploded on the mound before getting tossed from a game for the first time in his career.

After the game, in an expletive-filled diatribe, Wagner attacked plate umpire Dana Demuth, but in truth Wagner had only himself to blame. His fastball was all over the place including apparently too tight to Cliff Floyd’s body for Demuth. After two close pitches to Floyd, up went the umpire’s thumb and out went Wagner with a blown save. The infuriated reliever ranted and raved, had to be restrained, tossed water coolers and cups onto the field and now faces another “holiday” if the league decides to suspend him.

With the Phillies finally winning some games and still mathematically in the hunt for the wildcard, Wagner’s timing couldn’t be worse or more detrimental to his team. He remains the season’s biggest disappointment.

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