In Philadelphia, fans know how they feel about Ryan Howard’s chase of Roger Maris’ ”clean” home run record so it was refreshing to read a similar take by Lance Berkman of the Houston Astros after Howard lost his 57th round tripper of the season yesterday on a call replays clearly showed the umpire blew: I hope it doesn’t cost him the steroid-free home run record. You know you’ve made quite an impression when opposing players are rooting for you!
The only thing standing between Cole Hamels and greatness would probably be Hamels himself. For the third time this season the young left-hander flirted with a no-hitter, this time blanking the Astros though 7.2 innings. Afterwards Hamels told reporters he’d never thrown a no-hitter, not even in high school. I think most of my no-hitters in high school were broken up with my ego. Little things would make me mad, and, all of a sudden, I would do something, and I’d give up a hit. Hamels, you may recall, has also been known to throw an errant punch with his pitching hand, sidelining him for quite a spell. The good news is that at a tender age he knows he’s apt to lose his cool. The really good news is he has a lot of cool to work with. This is one smart kid with a lot of confidence. Throw out a terrible outing in Chicago a few weeks ago and you have the most consistent, reliable and dominant starter on this staff.
Speaking of which, today’s starter, Randy Wolf, will be going on only three days rest, an unusual situation for a guy just coming back from Tommy John surgery. Wolf, however, is making the early return because he only lasted two innings in his previous outing. It is safe to say today’s start will be the most important of his career as a Phillie. Wolf is a free agent after the season and a good showing today, coming at a critical juncture in the Wild Card chase, would do much for his confidence and even more for management’s in him.
Chase Utley’s average now sits squarely at .300 for the season. It would be nice if he could keep it at or above that magic level but the signs haven’t encouraging. Ever since his 35-game hitting streak ended, Utley has been struggling at the plate, his average down 32 points from his season high. Frankly, he is getting lousy swings more often than not, sometimes just half-swings as if he’s had second thoughts midway through. His strikeouts are also up and he is beating a lot of balls into the dirt. Charlie Manuel would probably like to give him a day off, but neither he nor the team can afford to do so. Then, there would be the small matter of telling Utley he would be sitting one out. I can only imagine the cold stare that would elicit.
Could the Phillies be foolish enough to hire Lou Piniella if they dismiss Charlie Manuel at the end of this season? Apprehensive fans want to know. Sweet Lou, so-nicknamed for his swing not his mood, was clearly auditioning for the part during Saturday’s nationally-televised game on the *OX sports network. Piniella had nothing but good things to say about the Phillies, especially looking forward to next season.
RichSchuBlues, frequent commenter extraordinaire, domestic division, had this to say about Piniella in a comment over at Beerleaguer:
Piniella (presumably the spit to [Scott] Graham's intolerable polish) is on one of those broadcast intervals that ESPN and Fox seem to provide as a service for veteran managers between gigs.
Let’s hope Piniella’s connection to the Phillies stops there. The frightening thing is Pat Gillick knows him from Seattle and we all know Pat likes familiar faces.
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In other news....
Ichiro Suzuki is one of the best players of this or any other era and unquestionably the greatest player no one talks about on anything approaching a regular basis. (When is the last time you thought about him?) Unfortunately, he plays on the West Coast for Seattle, which has fallen on hard times lately, and he specializes in small ball at a time when the public clearly still clamors for home runs.
Yesterday, Ichiro stole his 33 consecutive base, a major league record. He also reached 200 hits for the sixth consecutive season, another major league record. Between his years in Japan and in the U.S., the 32-year old Ichiro has stroked 2609 hits and counting. Anyone who wishes to discount those 1278 hits achieved in Japan should look up the winner of the inaugural World Baseball Classic before making his case.
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Isn't it refreshing for once that the current Yankees-Red Sox series is "meaningless" in the standings? Instead of promos every half an hour on ESPN and *ox Sports intoning the curse of the Bambino and visions of Armageddon, we can focus on games that really matter to the rest of us.