Thursday, September 28, 2006

Jimmy Rolls On

Jimmy isn’t going quietly.

The Phillies may be stumbling toward the finish line, but J-Roll is firing on all cylinders. At least that’s what I learned after the fact because, truth be told, this old hand was fast asleep by the fourteenth inning last night. Of course, I awakened well past midnight, anxious to find out what happened, and tuned in just in time to see the replay of Jimmy’s game-winning triple.

The contest featured a boatload of missed opportunities, blown saves and, of course, players, 47 in all. By the time it ended, the guy who is the real heart and soul of the Phillies came through once again. Ryan Howard is getting the national press; Chase Utley is winning the hearts and minds of local fans; and Jimmy is putting on another of his patented late season pushes. In the final analysis, the Phillies remain his team. Without him, they aren’t going anywhere and to a man his teammates are quick to say so.

The evening began with a familiar look nearly five hours earlier when the Phils took an early lead on a walk to Shane Victorino and Utley’s double. Utley took third on the throw but was stranded when Howard and Jeff Conine went down in the first of many wasted scoring chances.

Cole Hamels got the start but didn’t bring his A-game with him. Washington scored twice in the bottom of the second to take the lead. Later, Hamel’s cause wasn’t helped when Chase Utley threw away a double play ball in the bottom of the third inning to give the Nationals a 4-1 lead. It was Utley’s second error in two nights, both of which led to runs.

The Phils clawed their way back almost despite themselves and by the end of regulation time handed Flash Gordon a one-run lead to save and protect. Gordon couldn’t find the strike zone and blew the save plain and simple. The Phillies retook the lead in the top of the tenth but an overworked Geoff Geary blew that save as the Nationals tied the score again. The score remained tied until Rollins’ heroics in the top of the fourteenth inning, but this being the Phillies, the excitement wasn’t quite over. Fabio Castro, unseen nor heard since September 6, came in and gave up two hits and threw away a sacrifice attempt to load the bases. Ryan Church delivered a sacrifice fly to close the gap to 8-7 before Castro induced Brian Schneider to hit into a game-ending double play.

Four games remain in the regular season and none of them will be easy, especially with the bullpen so overworked and unpredictable. The phlogosphere is alive with lineup and bullpen suggestions, most of which Charlie Manuel is unlikely to take. (Charlie, I know you avidly read our posts daily.)

Many observers continue to suggest lineup changes that will give Ryan Howard more protection. Pat Burrell is no longer a viable candidate for the role and while Jeff Conine has risen to the occasion a few times since his arrival, the 0-7 collar he took last night hardly inspires confidence going forward. The lone remaining alternative Charlie has at his disposal, David Dellucci, is seeing nothing but breaking stuff since opposing pitchers realized he couldn’t hit them, and he has been more than accommodating.

One suggestion that cropped up was to move Chase Utley to fifth. Utley has 32 home runs, 33 if you want to count the foul pole shot of Tuesday evening, and is batting .312. Those totals along would seem to qualify him as protection for Howard. It is worth noting, however, that while Washington may have intentionally walked Ryan several times in the first two games, they have also pitched to him several times. With Frank Robinson managing, they are going to challenge hitters whenever possible and in Howard's case he did see pitches he could have hit far more than he is likely to see in Florida this weekend. But as noted in an earlier post (See Swing Quartet below), if Rollins, Victorino and Utley are getting on base, opposing teams cannot walk Howard. I wouldn’t tinker with the top of the lineup now.

The bullpen is another matter. Gordon appears to be cooked. Geary is clearly tired. (Despite having a fine year, it should be noted that Geary gives up more than a hit an inning.) Nearly everyone else has been working overtime as well except for one guy, Matt Smith. He would be my candidate to pitch in a pressure situation because he’s handled himself well, Monday night’s performance notwithstanding.

A few days ago the Phillies held their fortunes in their own hands. They led the Dodgers in the Wild Card chase and were facing a team with the worst record in the division. Boy, destiny sure has a way of changing its course, doesn’t it? Just don’t tell Jimmy.


dane said...

I would like to see Rollins put together an entire season the way he plays post all-star break. He hits about .250 during the first half and then picks it up and so do the Phillies. If Rollins put in an entire season like he plays during the final months, this team could play in October

Tom Goodman said...

Everyone would, no one more than Jimmy.

J. Weitzel said...

I say tinker away, if a simple swap of Howard and Utley at 3-4 even qualifies as a tinker.

Yesterday, Howard drew three intentional walks, got a hit, and saw about three balls to hit cleanly. He crossed home plate exactly zero times. Meanwhile, the top of the lineup got on base plenty, but it didn't matter.

Tom Goodman said...

Howard saw more than three pitches to hit last night but he missed a few. The pitchers deserve some credit, too. The night before Cordero clearly challenged him and won.

Swapping them won't accomplish much if anything. They can walk Utley just as easily.

Rev. Smokin Steve said...

Tom Gordon should not be cooked. He had time off in the middle of the season to rest an injury. He should be OK this time of the year.

Walking in the tying run last night is inexcusable for anyone, especially a veteran closer.

And now tonight, as a result of those extra innings that Flash could not prevent, they have to go to Lieber today who's only good for several innings lately and possibly overuse the bullpen yet again.

egrissom said...

To not hit Burrell behind Howard is perhaps the worst decision Manuel makes on a consistent basis. This year Burrell has gotten on base more frequently than Conine has during any of the last six seasons. This year Burrell has hit as many home runs as Conine has in the last three seasons combined. Burrell has driven in 110 more runs than Conine over the past three seasons. This year Howard has been most productive, 332/467/695 with 27 HR in 262 at-bats, hitting out of the #4 spot -- much of that time he was hitting in front of Burrell. His numbers hitting cleanup are better than his numbers overall, he's at 316/422/668 overall. No player currently in the NL has hit more home runs than Burrell in fewer at-bats. Burrell is the obvious, and best, choice to hit behind Howard.

egrissom said...

er, more home runs in fewer at-bats this season.

Tom G said...

Mr. Grissom raises an interesting point. So, which do you let sway you, the season long totals, or the recent and abysmal slump? Do you stick with the horse that brung ya, or do you make a change?

egrissom said...

Me, I'm gonna dance with the horse what brung me and hide my eyes every time he comes to the dish.