Thursday, August 24, 2006

Philly Ball

In the weeks following the deal that sent Bobby Abreu to New York it was reasonable to expect Phillies’ fans were paying more than normal attention to the box scores of Yankees’ games to see how their former star was faring.  One wonders if Bobby were doing the same thing, keeping tabs on his old teammates.  If not, he sure has been missing something special.

The magical ride continued unabated last night with a taut 2 – 1 victory over the Cubs in Chicago, the Phils’ fifth victory in a row.  The cast of heroes changes daily but the results are generally the same: the Phils are getting timely hits, excellent  pitching and solid defense.  There’s no other way to say it:  they’re playing Philly Ball.

Last night’s game not only had all of the ingredients that have propelled the Phils back into the thick of the Wild Card race, it foreshadowed the future.  The youngsters and the new leadership stepped up and the key to the starting rotation, Brett Myers, tossed a terrific game when his team and especially he needed it most.  The Wild Card leading Cincinnati Reds had lost in an afternoon game and the Phils took the field knowing they could make up ground with a win over the Cubs.  

For Myers it was his most critical start of the season if not his career, coming as it did on the heels of two very poor outings.  He stepped up big time holding the Cubs to one run on four hits, nine K’s and a single walk, which happened to be a four pitch pass to Juan Pierre leading off the game.  Anyone who reached for the dial following that inauspicious opening was rewarded for staying tuned.   Previously, Myers might have self-destructed after throwing four straight balls to start the game, but he settled down immediately and was in control for the rest of the night.

Prior to last night, Ryan Howard had looked awful at Wrigley, going 1 – 9 with five strikeouts in the first two games.  The key things about Howard are that he never gets down on himself and he is always adjusting.  In his first two at-bats last night he crushed the ball but both were outs.  In the first AB he broke his bat, the head flying into the stands, and still managed to hit the ball to the warning track in left.  In his next AB he lined a hard shot straight at centerfielder Pierre.  Howard was clearly locked in and a home run seemed only a matter of time.  Right on cue he delivered his 44th round tripper of the season and the Phils had a 1 – 0 lead.

After the Cubs tied it on a home run by Matt Murton the Phils came back led once again by Jimmy Rollins.  The box score will show Bobby Abreu that Rollins drove in the winning run with a two-out double that scored Abe Nunez, but that would hardly be the whole story.   Let the Inquirer’s Todd Zolecki pick it up from here:

"Just get the win," Rollins said [to Myers] before the Phillies batted in the ninth. "Let somebody get the save."

"I really didn't care if I personally got the win or not," Myers said afterward. "I just wanted to win the game. But it's kind of funny that he said that to me."

It's funny because Myers pitched brilliantly in eight innings to pick up the win, a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs. It's funnier because Rollins provided the clutch two-out double to right-center field to score the go-ahead run, just minutes after he said it. That's after Abraham Nunez worked a two-out walk and pinch-hitter Joe Thurston hit a bloop single to right field for his first big-league hit since May 25, 2004, to keep the inning alive.

"That's playing winning baseball," Rollins said. "Doing what we can to win. Nobody trying to be the hero."

Jimmy wasn’t through, however.  After Arthur Rhodes came in to start the ninth and got the dangerous Pierre to fly out, Charlie Manuel called for Geoff Geary to face right-handers Phil Nevn and Aramis Ramirez.  Manuel handed Geary the ball and departed.  Rollins followed him to the mound and spoke to Geary at length.  This was no just-throw-strikes pep talk.  Geary, as pitchers are wont to do these days, covered his mouth with his glove and spoke with Rollins.  (Geary was facing towards left-field at the time and one can only wonder exactly who he was concerned might be reading his lips, but that’s another story.)   Whether Rollins was going over the probable pitch selection or giving his own scouting report we can only guess.  But there is no doubt that he took control of the situation as a leader should.

Chase Utley and Howard have received most of the press and justifiably, but Jimmy remains the heart and soul of this club.  If he isn’t getting on base or delivering a key hit or defensive play the Phillies aren’t going anywhere.  Rich Hoffman said it best in his fine piece on Jimmy in today’s Daily News:  “He goes, they go.  It really is like the day following the dawn.”

And I might add, like one win following another.


gr said...

despite all the criticism level at rollins, from yours truly included, he's a top-on-of-line all-star the last two months of every season. what gets into him in august, i wish it could be purchased somewhere.

gr said...

terrible mistakes in that comment. sorry.

Tom Goodman said...

Not to worry, gr. I got the meaning.

dane said...

if rollins could be a consistent threat like he is late in seasons, he would be arguably one of the best shortstops in the game instead he is good not great and has three good months a year.

J. Weitzel said...

A lot of people have been talking about the change in dynamic since the Abreu trade, mostly when it comes to Utley in leadership. There's also been a change in Rollins. Before, J-Roll could go almost two weeks without a walk, but in the past month, he's drawing walks just about every other game, sometimes twice a game. It doesn't hurt that he's hitting well, and not getting much to see, but I think his approach has changed, too. When they traded Abreu, they traded their veteran captain. I wonder if players like Utley and Rollins are starting to understand what they must do. Someone must get on base now.

RickSchuBlues said...

Let's let Rollins himself comment:

"We have great players," he said. "We also lost some great players. And, you know, it seems funny to say that any bit of it is selfish. But in the way they played the game, they wouldn't expand outside their discipline. In sports, sometimes you have
to do something you wouldn't normally do in order to help the team win. Some of the players, they came here, they did their job, and it was in the box. It was never outside the box."

Now, just who might he have been talking about? Hm. Sal Fasano? Nah.

I really don't want to hear that losing Abreu didn't have a positive impact on this team. Because it did.